Good Times, Bad Times

Alt-rock veterans Cracker make more out of less

The music industry is in shambles, but that hasn't fazed veteran alt-rockers Cracker. Even though they were dumped their record company in 2003 after recording hits like "Low," "Eurotrash Girl" and "Teen Angst" in the '90s, they've soldiered on, taking a semi-independent route and continuing to record and tour without major-label bucks. But for frontman David Lowery, whose roots go back to '80s indie-rockers Camper Van Beethoven, it hasn't been a huge ordeal.

"I think [the industry] has come back to where it was when we first started," says Lowery. "Basically, there were a few major labels, and there were a bunch of genres they were interested in — stuff like hair metal, country music and the other crap, and that's where they are now. It's pretty much where they were then. The only cool music was coming from small, totally independent or self-released records. These artists were played by very few stations, and they had to develop mailing lists and work hard to create a following. And that is how it is today."

One difference: It's easier to get your music out there now.

"Technology is there [so] you don't have to pay stations get the music out there," he says. "Other than that, we can all compete with major labels through our own independent efforts."

Cracker's lack of commercial-radio airplay doesn't faze Lowery either.

"We haven't really been on any Clear Channel-like radio stations for 12 or 13 years," he says. "For the last decade, we just managed to survive and keep a strong band following, so this is nothing new for us."

Cracker have just released Sunrise in the Land of Milk And Honey, one of their strongest albums in recent years. Among the best tracks is the down-tempo Kinks-inspired "Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out With Me," a commentary on the current economic situation that shrugs: Since everything is going down, it's better to just "take a break" from it all. And another highlight, the boozy, country-driven "Friends," looks at the importance of long-standing friendships.

The band's approach to recording was to revisit its early days, when the group played songs audiences didn't know from their records.

"We actually played everything live at gigs before we even went to the studio," recalls Lowery. "Not many bands do that today. But a lot of younger bands play songs before they put out their first record, writing the arrangements before they get to record them."

Though playing unknown material onstage might be risky for some bands, Lowery says it actually works for Cracker. "We've never been the most popular band in the world, but to people who come to see us, we're their favorite band in the world," he says. "I don't know any other way to describe it, but we have a totally different relationship with fans than other groups do. There will probably be a couple of hundred people there, but I guarantee you that for these people, we're their favorite band and they're gonna know all of our songs."

Lowery says that going back into the indie scene hasn't bothered him, although he admits that touring without label support is a challenge. "The various freedoms that we have are good, but I'd proportionally rather not spend eight hours a day dealing with promoting, marketing and things like that," he says. "It would be nice to be on a major, but it ain't gonna happen. So if you are in a situation like 'this ain't gonna happen,' then you can deal with it. There is a plus that we get to make records that we want to make, and that's great."

For the upcoming Cleveland stop, Lowery says fans should expect a lot of tunes from Sunrise, along with older favorites like "Eurotrash Girl," "Get Off This" and their well-received cover of Led Zeppelin's "Good Times Bad Times," which appeared on the tribute compilation Encomium in 1993. "It's always a blend," he says. "We play something from all the records — we'll play some of the new tunes and 10 or 15 songs from past records."

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