Click Here

Touring the East Coast this February and March (3/5/99 and 3/6/99 at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City), David Lowery, frontman of Cracker and former singer of sadly missed cult band Camper Van Beethoven, seems to be a workaholic rivaled only by Henry Rollins. For Lowery there appears to be no boundaries. Not content with limiting his role to that of singer-songwriter, he opened his own studio, Sound of Music, in Richmond, Virginia where he produces underground bands such as Sparklehorse and Lauren Hoffman, and well-known artists such as Joan Osbourne. He has also produced the Counting Crows at their Los Angeles studio. And what, you wonder, does Lowery do in his spare time? That is, when he isn’t writing, recording, and touring with Cracker or producing other artists. Well, he can be found acting, in films such as River Red and This Space Between Us, or serving as label boss of Pitch-a-Tent Records. And rather than being stressed out by all of this, the man seems as relaxed as a gentleman reading his morning paper or sipping his morning tea.


  NYROCK:
David, isn’t it a bit time consuming to produce other artists, especially after you record your own albums?

  LOWERY:

I’ve been producing pretty much for the last couple of years. But lately the artists are bigger. They’re more important artists, I guess. Certainly more popular, but that isn’t what matters. You get new influences. You learn a lot about how other musicians work and you’re detached enough. You have the detachment you’re lacking as a musician who’s recording his or her own songs. I find my work as a producer quite rewarding.

  NYROCK:

Don Smith was the producer for Gentleman’s Blues...

  LOWERY:

That’s what I was talking about, the detachment, a producer has the detachment you’re lacking as a musician. But you know, a producer who’s working with Johnny [Hickman, vocals and lead guitar] and me [lead vocals and rhythm guitar] needs to have an ego, self-confidence. We both know how things are done and how they should be done. He needs to have his own ideas and he must be able to push them through, and he shouldn’t be afraid to confront us. That and his work on our first album made him our choice.

  NYROCK:

It seems to be a Cracker tradition to work with a number of guest artists on your albums. [Guests on Gentleman’s Blues include keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell (Tom Petty), bassist Tommy Stinson (ex-Replacements, ex-Bash In Pop, Perfect), bassist Davey Faragher (Cracker compadre emeritus), singer Kristin Asbury (September 67), percussionist Charlie Drayton, and singer LP (Lionfish).] Is it unsettling getting used to new faces, new musicians?

  LOWERY:

It’s like producing. It’s very rewarding and for Johnny and me it’s almost like a Cracker concept, a concept that was never verbalized, but working with guest musicians is really important for us. You know, they have an energy and idea input. There’s a certain dynamic in working with strangers and we both like that. We always make sure to invite a couple of musicians we’ve never met before.

  NYROCK:

Did it ever influence your songs to a large degree?

  LOWERY:

Yes, it did. In the process of working with guests on the songs, sometimes the songs even underwent dramatic changes. It keeps them fresh in a way.

  NYROCK:

Gentleman’s Blues is an odd title. What made you choose it?

  LOWERY:

That’s funny, I was playing a little tune on the piano and Johnny heard it and said it sounds like an old Southern gentleman who’s trying to play the blues. We both liked the image and so we decided to call the album Gentleman’s Blues. It’s almost disappointingly simple, isn’t it?

  NYROCK:

Gentleman’s Blues sounds a bit like a soundtrack, very tight and with a lot of atmosphere, almost visual. Are you recording albums like soundtracks?

  LOWERY:

We did that with only two songs, one of them is "Lullaby." I gave it to Eric Drilling while he was still working on the script for the movie and he wrote a scene for the song. The other song is "Hold on Myself," Johnny wrote that for a movie.

  NYROCK:

Is Gentleman’s Blues autobiographical?

  LOWERY:

This is my tenth album [fourth with Cracker]; I think that hardly a songwriter has enough experience to fill more than two albums with autobiographical songs. There are a few exceptions like Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Dylan, but the majority just keeps recycling their experiences. They warm up things. That’s a bit stale, isn’t it?

  NYROCK:

How do you solve that problem?

  LOWERY:

I invent characters. I write songs with some sort of script in the back of my head. I invent the characters and give them characteristics and features, and I let them talk in the songs. I let them express their views, their emotions, their passions. A lot of people think they’re my own, but they’re not.

  NYROCK:

Like an actor who creates a character on stage?

  LOWERY:

Exactly. I invent characters and see life through their eyes, from a completely different perspective. I get to experience certain things I would never have experienced otherwise. That’s really cool; somebody else is doing the dirty work for me.

  NYROCK:

In a lot of ways Cracker has a very different approach than other bands. Why is that?

  LOWERY:

Because we’re one of the last bands that believe in rock as an exotic sort of art form.

  NYROCK:

What is your favorite rock band?

  LOWERY:

That’s really difficult to decide, but the Beastie Boys are great. They’re actually a great rock band. I don’t think most people call them a rock band. They’re totally great. Besides, it’s pretty much music journalism that cares about genres, labels stuff. Most people don’t really care that much about genres. They certainly cross genres when they listen to music. Well, I do. I don’t like trends. I don’t think trends have much to offer. I like music, and I don’t care if it’s a trendy genre or not. It has to grip me.

  NYROCK:

When did you write the songs for Gentleman’s Blues?

  LOWERY:

Now we’re broaching a touchy subject. Ha ha. Well, to be honest, they aren’t all just new songs. There were a couple of songs - actually the majority of the songs - which were like eight to ten years old. We just recorded them again. They were songs we always liked, but we never recorded them in a way that satisfied us, that expressed what we wanted to express... But in the context of Gentleman’s Blues they sounded right, all of a sudden they were just right, perfect.

  NYROCK:

I heard that you don’t work with set-lists. How do you remember all the songs you want to play?

  LOWERY:

We don’t. I dropped the set-lists quite a while ago. They never really worked for us. There’s a certain mood at every concert and I want to catch that mood, so I announce the songs I think would fit in and we play them. Pretty simple.

  NYROCK:

That easy?

  LOWERY:

Yes, but we make quite a lot of mistakes because the songs are not rehearsed, but it’s a lot of fun and it keeps things fresh and exciting. Nobody can tell you what a Cracker concert is going to be like. Every show, every evening is different and that’s exciting. It’s exciting for the audience too. They don’t know what to expect.


NY Rock Home Page