Cracker’s David Lowery finds fresh inspiration



By Steve Newton

Inspiration isn’t always an easy thing to come by, especially if you’re a 48-year-old rocker who’s been leading the same band for 17 years. So what is it that fuels the fire of Cracker singer-guitarist David Lowery on the songwriting front? Is it all the crazy shit happening in the world these days, or what?

“That never really hurts,” replies Lowery, on the line from his home in Richmond, Virginia, “but where one finds inspiration can vary greatly. A lot of times I just pick up on phrases that I hear people saying. I can make a song from those a lotta times.”

That’s exactly what happened with “Hey Bret (You Know What Time It Is)”, the rockingest track on Cracker’s latest—and possibly greatest—CD, Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey. The song originated when Lowery pal and Built to Spill member Brett Netson walked into Cracker’s dressing room one day and jokingly asked how he’d know “when it’s time to start dragging rich people from their cars and killing them”. That line evolved into a text-message exchange between Lowery and Cracker drummer Frank Funaro, and eventually morphed into a rollicking boogie arrangement that deserves to be a classic-rock radio hit. (I’m talkin’ to you, Mister Program Director at CFMI.)

Most of the other songs on the new CD owe more to the quartet’s glam and pop-punk influences, with the exception of “Friends”, a country tune written by Cracker cofounder-guitarist Johnny Hickman that features a vocal duet by Lowery and Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood. It had as its starting point a Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard collaboration off their famed Pancho and Lefty CD, “Reasons to Quit”, which Cracker used to cover.

“Johnny wrote ‘Friends’ as not really an homage to that song, but just to sort of play with the country-buddy kind of thing,” notes Lowery. “He put it on his solo record, and did not do it as a duet, and I thought that that was kind of a shame. I was like, ‘It needs to be told with two people.’ ”

Former X bassist-vocalist John Doe also fills a guest spot on Sunrise, providing backing vocals on the propulsive rocker “We All Shine a Light”. Lowery has known the L.A. punk-rock icon since the days of his pre-Cracker indie band, Camper Van Beethoven. “The style of the vocal melody on that song reminded me of X,” he relates, “so I thought, ‘Well maybe I’ll be Exene [Cervenka] on this and he can be John Doe.’ ”

All tunes considered, Sunrise is an awesome guitar-rock album that’s sure to make many a top-10 list this year. So what’s the secret to Cracker sounding so damned impressive after all this time?

“You just make the record that you want to make,” asserts Lowery, “without regard to what other people might think.”

Leave a Reply