Cracker New CD Release “Berkeley to Bakersfield”

By Dave Gil de Rubio

According to Google Maps, the geographic distance between Berkeley and
Bakersfield, California is 276.4 miles. For David Lowery, it’s also
two places influential enough to the sound of his band that Cracker
recently released a 2-CD set entitled “Berkeley to Bakersfield.”

The first CD crackles with guitar-driven alt-rock like the jangly
“Beautiful” and its mention of pink mohawks and Doc Martin boots and
the stomper “Life In the Big City.”

Move on to disc two and out comes the pedal steel and fiddle, whether
it’s on the twangy “Almond Grove” and its banjo nuances or the
honky-tonk shuffle “King of Bakersfield.” And while this combination
may seem odd, that blend of roots rock and country riffing has
been a hallmark dating back to the band’s 1992 self-titled debut, when
Lowery’s guitar-playing creative partner Johnny Hickman juiced up
songs like the defiant “Can I Take My Gun to Heaven” and anthemic “I
See the Light” with riffs that pulsed with the influence of
Bakersfield legends Buck Owens and Don Rich.

“The country thing is something that’s been around throughout our
whole career,” Lowery explained in a recent interview. “So in
2004 we put out “Countrysides” as a way paying homage to our roots in
that way. In 2013, we thought it was time to touch on that again, so I
started writing these songs that were largely sort of country-based,
which was sort of the idea for the next Cracker record. It was going
to be a sort of Americana record.”

Around this time, the Texas native had also been working with drummer
Michael Urbano, who not only played with Lowery in his other band,
Camper Van Beethoven, but also an earlier Cracker lineup. Joined by
bassist Davey Faragher (currently of Elvis Costello’s Imposters), the
trio wound up with recording nine songs of original material that were
distinctly different from the nine songs Lowery had started out
recording for this project. It proved to be an interesting conundrum
according to Lowery.

“[“Berkeley”] was this sort of three-day, songwriting demo session
with me, Davey [Faragher] and Michael that’s not exactly perfect,” he
recalled. “There’s a little bit of overlap but that’s basically what
it did. When we listened to it back and compared these two batches of
songs, they seemed different enough that they were two different
albums. So that’s what we did. We turned it into two different sets of
albums. It’s not something that we planned, but it became apparent
that it really explained who and what the band is. It sort of explains
who our rock and country roots are.”

While Lowery has been pulling double-duty spearheading Cracker and
Camper Van Beethoven, dating back to the latter’s regrouping in the
late ’90s, he’s also developed an interest in using geography of his
adopted state of California to drive his most current wave of
songwriting.

More recently, it came via the most recent CVB albums, “El Camino
Real,” from 2014, which draws its inspiration from
southern California and 2013’s “La Costa Perdida,” which is more about
the northern part of the Golden State.

But for Lowery, who is currently teaching a course on the economics of
finance in the music business at the University of Georgia and is
working on his long-delayed mathematics doctorate, his
geographically-driven creative urges were actually stoked by authors
Joan Didion and William Vollman.

“I’ve become fascinated with writers like Joan Didion,” Lowery said.
“[She] wrote this wonderful book made up of essays on the grimy part
of California called “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” about the end of an
empire. And then I got fascinated by William Vollman who is a really
hard-to-describe author. He’ll write a 1,300-page book that’s really a
loose collection of long and elegant essays that spans 400 years
that’s about the Imperial Valley of California, which is both in
California and Mexico.

“So I wound up being fascinated by this writing style and I started
out doing that with the Camper records,” he said. “I looked at it as
being our Didion phase. I haven’t taken this geography thing that far,
but it’s definitely part of something that I’ve been thinking about
for the last four or five years. The songs aren’t really about the
geography. They are just excuses to tell other stories.”

Dichotomy has always been a way of life for Lowery, dating back to his
original days in the early ‘80s with Camper Van Beethoven, a band he
once described as being like, “a bunch of hippies from the English
empire taking acid and making Appalachian folk music mixed with
psychedelic rock.” After CBV split in 1990, Lowery formed Cracker and
tread more of a rocking, Americana-flavored path just as grunge was
blowing pop culture up. Such is the case with Berkeley to Bakersfield,
which is a 2-CD set being released at a time when many artists are
releasing singles and EPs to suit a market that is trending more
toward downloadable fare.

“With this album, it’s the political divide, which becomes a metaphor
for the country and for myself,” Lowery said. “I’ve always felt myself
the odd man out in the music business. I feel completely
disenfranchised from politics, yet I’m completely involved in them
with public policy about songwriters and stuff like that. I think
California represents that in this really great way. People think
about it coast-to-coast as being all about hippies and vegetarians and
Hollywood, but at the same time, just drive through the Owens Valley
sometime. It’s like being in Wyoming. There are herds of thousands of
cattle out there and cowboys. You could be in a completely different
time.”

And while the idea of a rock and roll star teaching a college level
class seems radical, professor Lowery doesn’t seem to think there’s
much of a difference between educating the masses and his regular day
job.

“To me, it’s the same thing as doing a show,” he pointed out. “You’ve
got to plan what you’re going to do, make a set list, get up in front
of people and keep their attention for an hour and 15 minutes. What’s
the [frigging] difference? The only difference is that the audience
that I’m speaking to is considerably younger. And as far as I know,
most of them are not drunk or high.”
Last Word Features

Cracker Feature – short version
By Dave Gil de Rubio

According to Google Maps, the geographic distance between Berkeley and
Bakersfield, California is 276.4 miles. For David Lowery, it’s also
two places influential enough to the sound of his band that Cracker
recently released a 2-CD set entitled “Berkeley to Bakersfield.”

The first CD crackles with guitar-driven alt-rock like the jangly
“Beautiful” and its mention of pink mohawks and Doc Martin boots and
the stomper “Life In the Big City.”

Move on to disc two and out comes the pedal steel and fiddle, whether
it’s on the twangy “Almond Grove” and its banjo nuances or the
honky-tonk shuffle “King of Bakersfield.”

And while this combination may seem odd, that blend of roots
rock and country riffing has been a hallmark dating back to the band’s
1992 self-titled debut, when Lowery’s guitar-playing creative partner
Johnny Hickman juiced up songs like the defiant “Can I Take My Gun to
Heaven” and anthemic “I See the Light” with riffs that pulsed with the
influence of Bakersfield legends Buck Owens and Don Rich.

“The country thing is something that’s been around throughout our
whole career,” Lowery explained in a recent interview. “So in
2004 we put out “Countrysides” as a way paying homage to our roots in
that way. In 2013, we thought it was time to touch on that again, so I
started writing these songs that were largely sort of country-based,
which was sort of the idea for the next Cracker record. It was going
to be a sort of Americana record.”

Around this time, the Texas native had also been working with drummer
Michael Urbano, who not only played with Lowery in his other band,
Camper Van Beethoven, but also an earlier Cracker lineup. Joined by
bassist Davey Faragher, the trio wound up with recording nine songs of
original material that were distinctly different from the nine songs
Lowery had started out recording for this project. It proved to be an
interesting conundrum according to Lowery.

“[“Berkeley”] was this sort of three-day, songwriting demo session
with me, Davey [Faragher] and Michael that’s not exactly perfect,” he
recalled. “There’s a little bit of overlap but that’s basically what
it did. When we listened to it back and compared these two batches of
songs, they seemed different enough that they were two different
albums. So that’s what we did…It sort of explains who our rock and
country roots are.”

While Lowery has been pulling double-duty spearheading Cracker and
Camper Van Beethoven, dating back to the latter’s regrouping in the
late ’90s, he’s also developed an interest in using geography of his
adopted state of California to drive his most current wave of
songwriting.

More recently, it came via the most recent CVB albums, “El Camino
Real” from 2014, which draws its inspiration from
southern California and 2013’s “La Costa Perdida,” which is more about
the northern part of the Golden State.

But for Lowery, who is currently teaching a course on the economics of
finance in the music business at the University of Georgia and is
working on his long-delayed mathematics doctorate, his
geographically-driven creative urges were actually stoked by authors
Joan Didion and William Vollman.

“I’ve become fascinated with writers like Joan Didion,” Lowery said.
“[She] wrote this wonderful book made up of essays on the grimy part
of California called “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” about the end of an
empire. And then I got fascinated by William Vollman who is a really
hard-to-describe author. He’ll write a 1,300-page book that’s really a
loose collection of long and elegant essays that spans 400 years
that’s about the Imperial Valley of California, which is both in
California and Mexico.

“So I wound up being fascinated by this writing style and I started
out doing that with the Camper records,” he said. “I looked at it as
being our Didion phase. I haven’t taken this geography thing that far,
but it’s definitely part of something that I’ve been thinking about
for the last four or five years. The songs aren’t really about the
geography. They are just excuses to tell other stories.”

Dichotomy has always been a way of life for Lowery, dating back to his
original days in the early ‘80s with Camper Van Beethoven, a band he
once described as being like, “a bunch of hippies from the English
empire taking acid and making Appalachian folk music mixed with
psychedelic rock.” After CBV split in 1990, Lowery formed Cracker and
tread more of a rocking, Americana-flavored path just as grunge was
blowing pop culture up.

“With this album, it’s the political divide, which becomes a metaphor
for the country and for myself,” Lowery said. “I’ve always felt myself
the odd man out in the music business. I feel completely
disenfranchised from politics, yet I’m completely involved in them
with public policy about songwriters and stuff like that. I think
California represents that in this really great way. People think
about it coast-to-coast as being all about hippies and vegetarians and
Hollywood, but at the same time, just drive through the Owens Valley
sometime. It’s like being in Wyoming. There are herds of thousands of
cattle out there and cowboys. You could be in a completely different
time.”

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