“I came out of a band where it was six people all making decisions about what we were gonna do together,” says David Lowery, singer-guitarist of mid-’80s college-rock faves Camper Van Beethoven. “And when I started Cracker, I was just looking to not have to do that.” On the phone from his home in Richmond, Va., Lowery laughs. “Not because I wanted to have to make every decision myself, but just because it’s too cumbersome otherwise. I don’t care if a band says they’re democratic or what. It’s always a couple of people that really drive a band—the good ones, anyway.”
Cracker’s a good one. And whether or not Lowery’s right about other bands, his method has certainly worked for him and guitarist Johnny Hickman: they’ve been making screwy little roots-rock records with a rotating cast of sidemen since 1992, when Lowery formed the group shortly after breaking up CVB. (In 2002, Lowery masterminded a CVB reunion, so these days he gets to relive the experience of democracy.) Some of Cracker’s stuff you know—“Low,” for instance, was a huge alt-rock radio hit. Some of it you might not, such as the band’s latest, Greenland (Cooking Vinyl), the first album of original songs they’ve released in nearly four years.
Scene: You’ve spent much of the last few years producing records by other artists and playing with Camper Van Beethoven. What inspired you to write and record a new Cracker album?
David Lowery: I guess the main impetus was really no impetus. Let me clarify that: we started on this record briefly after we finished Forever [in 2002]. I mean, we’ll get a little batch of songs and then we’ll just go in and record them. A little while later I had a few more songs and we went in, sort of worked on those. We did this four or five times to make this record, but it was spread over a period of four years. Eventually we had like 30 songs.
Scene: And you whittled those down to the 14 on Greenland?
Lowery: Yeah. I went, “I think I have a coherent record here. I’ve just gotta narrow it down to which songs it is.” And that’s kind of what I did. I went through the songs that kind of spoke to me personally, just because I really needed it as an outlet, a way to express myself. I don’t know if it’s dark, but it’s sort of a record about loss or the promises that didn’t pan out—losing stuff, the loss of youth.
Scene: Do you like working piecemeal like that?
Lowery: I think it’s actually better. It’s much more similar to how we recorded when we were first a band and we didn’t really have that much money, so we had to record here and there when we had some money from gigs. Really, since the ’80s, since recording studios have become fairly accessible to most bands, I’d say the majority of records you hear—especially records in sort of the indie world—are created that way. The cool thing about it is it’s a nice way to do it if you’re self-producing, because you just have all this time. You listen six months later and you’re like, “Oh, that vocal does suck. And those words are a little wooden.” You have the opportunity to go back and refine things if you want to. Or you have the opportunity to go back and listen to a rough mix or a demo that you did and go, “Oh, that was it right there. All this other stuff that we did was just ruining it.”