Cracker’s David Lowery on The Big Lebowski, Camper Van Beethoven, and Forever



By Steve Newton

After a few listens to the new Cracker CD, Forever, I came to the conclusion that the title track—with its infectious jangle and big-toned, Duane Eddy–style guitar riff—was the standout among the disc’s 13 tunes. My overwhelming fondness for that song had me wondering if Cracker singer-guitarist David Lowery named the album after it because he felt that way too.

Boy, was I off the mark.

As Lowery explains in a call from just outside of New Orleans, he chose Forever as the title because the word looked good strung across the bottom of a photo of four folks standing around a trailer park. “At the time we didn’t have a title for the album,” he explains from Highway 10, “but we had that photo, and when we put forever under it in big letters it wasn’t like a good forever or anything like that—it was a little darker. When you look at that cover, it doesn’t look like those people are gonna be together forever.”

The bored-looking women pictured next to Lowery and his long-time Cracker cohort Johnny Hickman were recruited from the band’s management office, and asked to pose unattractively in dressing gowns and hair curlers at an Arizona trailer park. That murky vibe of white-trash despair continues on Forever via another Lowery-Hickman composition, “Don’t Bring Us Down”, during which Lowery vehemently spouts: “God gave you life, so get out of mine, and take your sorry ass back to Florida.” His nonrosy sentiment wasn’t directed toward anyone in particular, though.

“I don’t really have that interesting of a life,” Lowery points out with a chuckle, “so most of my songs are fiction. And the main thing is that a lotta that stuff I just hear people say, and I kind of work it into songs. There was a couple at a truck stop or someplace when we were on tour a few years ago, and they were having this loud argument in the parking lot, and the woman says to the guy, ‘Take your sorry ass back to Florida!’ and it just sorta stuck in my head.”

Lowery produced Forever at Richmond, Virginia’s Sound of Music Studios, which he says he “inherited” a few years ago, along with engineer-mixer John Morland. “It was sort of the only old-school analog studio in Richmond,” he relates, “and now people from all over the world come there to record.” The band’s previous CD, 1998’s Gentleman’s Blues, was recorded in L.A. with noted knob-twiddler Don Smith, who also helmed the band’s self-titled ’92 debut and 1993’s Kerosene Hat. But Lowery says he wants to be at the console from now on. “I like Don and everything,” he explains, “but I’m not really into doing ‘producer records’ anymore. I’m probably just gonna make my own records from now on, ’cause I’m too old and crotchety to work with a producer.”

When he’s not recording himself or others—Lowery’s production credits include Magnet, Sparklehorse, Joan Osborne, and Counting Crows—he likes to just kick back and listen to a good CD. The last one he purchased was the soundtrack to the Coen brothers’ 1998 comedy, The Big Lebowski. “It’s a great movie,” he asserts, “and there’s all these great pieces of music on it, too. In fact, I think we’ll be covering ‘The Man in Me’—you know, the Dylan song that’s in the dream sequence, it starts it out with [sings] ‘La-la-la laaa. La-la-la-la la-la-la-la laaa’. And we’re probably gonna cover Kenny Rogers’s ‘Just Checked In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’. Psychedelia!”

A rowdy rendition of the latter classic could turn out to be the high point of Cracker’s show at Richard’s on Richards on Friday (May 3). Or perhaps the magnetic “Forever” will take that honour. Then again, maybe Lowery will raid the vaults for a dusty gem by his old band, Camper Van Beethoven. But anyone holding out for a reunion by those SoCal indie-rock warriors would be encouraged to get a life.

“If you go out and do a show of music that’s all, like, 12 years old, I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing that you really want to do,” says the singer. “If you wanted to see Camper stuff, I think it would be much better to go see a band that does a tribute to Camper, because they’d probably take it more seriously than we would.”


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