Cracker's 40-year rock odyssey: From alt-rock darlings to bluegrass innovators


Updated September 18, 2023 at 4:24 p.m.


Closing in on 40 years as a touring band with millions of records sold, Cracker has carved out their own space in alternative rock, Americana, and folk/bluegrass. They started as darlings of alternative rock radio in the late 80s with a debut that sounded nothing like the grunge tidal wave, and yet hit No. 1 on the alt-rock charts.

Founder, songwriter, guitarist, and singer David Lowery spoke to Connect Savannah about their long career, what it’s like to be in two bands, and their upcoming Alzheimer’s charity show at Coach’s Corner on Saturday, Sept. 23.

CS: How did you get involved in this charity and playing this show?

DL: The same folks had organized a couple of Alzheimer’s benefit shows we had done, and my mother passed away from Alzheimer’s, so that relationship translated to this, and it seemed like a good cause.

CS: Are there any other tour dates or is this strictly a Savannah show?

This is kind of a one-off, we’re pretty much done with summer touring, but since we're based in Athens, we can get down to Savannah and do this.

CS: What else has the band been up to? 

DL: Well, we did about 30-something shows this summer touring around the country. Which is basically what we do these days, we play a lot of festival-y type things mixed in with club shows pretty much throughout the summer. 

You know, there's not really a lot of recording really going on or anything like that. As it's just not really cost effective anymore to make recordings. Streaming…it’s not to complain but, you know, is kind of our complaint, streaming revenues don’t justify spending much on recordings. 

That said I have done a series of solo albums over the last four years. So I have done that, but those are pretty stripped-down things.

Those are things that I do at home with my friends virtually, I send them files and they track things in Australia or Sweden or wherever they live, right? But that's basically what the band’s been doing. 

I always think that, you know, eventually people are going to forget about us, but we seem to still do pretty well with the summer stuff. 

CS: As far as recordings, one of the other things I've recently, discovered myself is the bluegrass album you did with some covers of older Cracker songs. How did that come about?

DL: That is an album we did in 2003, so it’s the 20th anniversary of that. In 2003 we had done some shows with Leftover Salmon where they would sort of back up me and Johnny in their bluegrass, folk, country, even reggae sort of style and that's basically just going the studio for a day and a half and just basically tracking live in the studio.

Some reinterpretations of some of the classic cracker songs. Anyway, we realized this spring that it was the 20th anniversary of that album. It’s had a kind of a culty following with our fans for a number of years, so we re-released it, essentially in May.

CS: Would you say that kind of music lends itself to live, in-the-studio recording?

DL: Yeah, sure. Because all that bluegrass and country are ensemble stuff is like…a song is really just a sketch and you fill it out with various improvised solos and stuff like that, it’s very in the moment, right? So that’s what Leftover Salmon is good at, so our songs were sort of the framework for them to do their thing on top of it with us.

CS: Looking back on 30 years in music business, which is very hard to accomplish, is there anything specific, or one or two things that bring you the most satisfaction pulling that off?

DL: Well, you know, it's actually 38 years since I released the first camper van Beethoven album. 

Just, for one, being around, for 38 years, I mean, who would have thought that like? In the mid-80s, when I first started, releasing albums at that time from Camper van Beethoven. I mean that would have been like acts from WWII still performing. That’s quite a span of time. The fact that we’ve been around and able to play for 38 years, that’s pretty remarkable, I think.

C5: The first Cracker album had some success in alternative rock and may have charted No. 1 on the alternative charts if I'm not mistaken. But the second record the bigger radio hits. It was that something you were expected or surprised by?

DL: That the first album had radio hits on it was the big surprise. If you go back and listen to that first album…it’s kind of what started happening about 10 or 15 years later, which is the Americana sort of movement, right? Even though that album has tracks that work well in the modern rock or alternative rock format, it's very much sort of the roots rock Americana album, and you wouldn't see that stuff commercially succeed until much later. 

I was kind of surprised without first album did hit. And then, I want to quote, what my A&R guy said to me when we turned in that album. He said he liked the album but basically, we were releasing an “Americana country rock album,” I think is what he called it.

A country rock album when the biggest forms of Music in the United States were essentially rap and grunge. This had nothing to do with what was being played on the radio at that moment.

So the expectations were low on what we’d sell. 

But, you know, we were kind of surprised. We did have a number one modern rock album that was largely driven by the song Teen Angst, which is pretty raw. 

But there are others that are roots-y like “This is Cracker Soul” and “Mr. Wrong” that got airplay, but it was very sporadic in places around the country.

CS: And then the second record came out.

DL: I should point out that maybe “Low” has some grungy elements to it, but, you know, “Euro Trash Girl,” go back and listen to that. That's a country pop song also, right? And that was the second hit globally for Cracker behind “Low,” the second most important song.

CS: Do you think the lyrical topics threw people off from the musical style?

DL: Yeah, that it was “Eurotrash Girl” is kind of funny here, whatever.

CS: Yeah, it doesn't sound like a country song. I mean, the title.

DL: It doesn’t, and it kind of fit in with a lot of grunge stations. On 99x in Atlanta, which kind of was, you know, a traditional alternative rock station, right? They played it a lot

CS: You started Cracker after Camper Van Beethoven broke up, but then you revived them a few years later. What was the impetus behind that? And how do you manage being in both bands?

DL: Like I said, we don’t play a ton of shows, especially Camper because we are on three different continents in five different time zones. I was first doing some recording with Jonathan Segel, the multi-instrumentalist from Camper van Beethoven previous to that, and then Victor (Krummenacher) the bass player in Camper van Beethoven had been subbing on bass for Cracker. We just kind of fell back into it, we finished up this Oddities record… 

Well, that's a long story. We got we sort of secretly got back together. Like we were releasing these Oddity records. And for instance, we claim that we were releasing our cover of the Fleetwood Mac album “Tusk” that we've recorded in 1986, but we actually recorded that the week before New Year's 1999. 

We had some fun playing around with it, and officially released a reunion album. But we don't do a lot of recording. It's still an ensemble that's around, but I'd like we haven't played anything since before Covid. 

So, there might be something. We have a 40th anniversary coming up in 2025 for Camper van Beethoven. I think we'll probably do some recording or some tour as an anniversary for that.

CS: That kind of answers — and feel free to expand on it — my next and last question, what is next for you and the two bands?

DL: Well, that probably is the next thing. I mean I have the solo albums that are slowly becoming weird because I only released as physical product, I haven’t put them on streaming services. Basically, we release one every year now, usually on New Year's Eve and sending them mail-order direct, but those are slowly getting more and more popular, it's really generating some interest. Those solo albums will come out. I'll release this digitally and globally in May 2024 and I will tour solo for that. I don't have like a slog through with Cracker yet. It's like I said, financially, it's very challenging to make a cracker record. So yeah, that's what we're doing. 

CS: Can you see a tour where it's David Lowery solo, Cracker, and Camper van Beethoven all on the same bill?

DL: Probably, I might do that. We'll see.

FODAC, Friends of Disabled Adults and Children, and The Alzheimer's Music Fest present CRACKER, live at Coach’s Corner, 3016 E. Victory Dr, Thunderbolt, Ga., on Sat., Sept. 23.

Published September 18, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

Frank Ricci

Frank Ricci is a freelance writer living in Savannah, Georgia. In his career, he's contributed to many Las Vegas megaresort brands owned by Mandalay Resort Group and Mirage Resorts. He’s also worked with Dell, Root Sports Network, Savannah College of Art and Design, ad agencies in Las Vegas and New York, and a...
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