I was surprised when David Lowry told me that Cracker (“Teen Angst,” “Cracker Soul”) had never played Ithaca. To paraphrase a character from Barton Fink, “Cracker? College town? Whaddya need, a road map?” That all changes on December 1, when Cracker plays the Haunt, with openers Mike Brindisi & John O’Leary of the New York Rock. David Lowry spoke to the Ithaca Times about his influences and trolling back in the day with Camper Van Beethoven.
IT: What were you listening to as a kid that then informed Camper Van Beethoven and then Cracker? I understand the two bands dovetailed nicely.
DL: My father was in the military, so we lived in England and Spain and Texas and Southern California. My parents listened to really eclectic music, so I heard a lot of country music and bluegrass and stuff like that growing up. Because believe it or not, if you grew up in the late 1940s, early 1950s in the U.K., that was what you listened to, ‘cause it was cool American music, as well as blues and stuff like that. When I lived in Spain, there was music always around us. And then I go to Southern California, and it’s like the height of the hippie psychedelic late ‘60s, early ‘70s stuff. I felt like there was always music around me. And then you’d start hearing surf music. My background was such that we weren’t just listening to what was on the radio, so it was kinda cool that way.
Camper [Van Beethoven] kinda really grew out of [the fact] that there were punk rock bands, and they were playing the same clubs that, like, ska bands would play, and L.A. had a mod movement. Camper was kinda playing with all of that stuff, and then throwing in this hippie element to kinda troll our audience in a way. I mean, we wouldn’t have called it “trolling” back then, but that’s basically what we were doing, so that everybody talked about us! They were like, “Have you heard those weird hippie guys that are playing ska and Eastern European music and punk rock?” Part of it just sort of grew out of us trying to find our own niche by doing something slightly different than what everybody else was doing.
IT: That’s always a good way to go.
DL: There’s also a level of just mischievousness in literally playing Black Flag’s “Wasted” like a hippie, country hoe-down in front of a bunch of punk rock skinheads at a VFW in Chino, California. Right? It’s definitely trolling an audience of 800 skinheads that are waiting to see the Dead Kennedys play. That’s actually a show that happened, right? And sometimes that would go well, and sometimes it wouldn’t. And if it went bad, what we would do is play those Eastern European-sounding ska tunes, and then they’d go back to liking us. We’d just play ‘em really fast, and the punk rock kids would go, “Oh, ska’s cool, we’re cool with that.” That would sort of save us.
IT: Damn, that’s…
DL: [laughs] It was very situational. We were responding to certain situations, but then that became a thing, and people liked it, liked that we didn’t do that. And then we kinda started writing kind of more serious songs, kind of real songs as we got better. And then eventually we got to the point where we could kinda play the music that we sort of liked, that we really, really liked. By the time we get around to Cracker, we’re playing, like basically classic rock, you know, country rock, classic rock kinda stuff that we grew up on. I don’t know. It was kinda the stuff we stuff that we fell back on.
IT: When I think of you guys and the Dead Milkmen and the Dead Kennedys, I think of a smart, snotty sense of humor.
DL: I hope so. I mean, it’s definitely an evolution of the band, from Camper, from being a sort of chaotic presence and not giving a f**k to sort of later, “Ehhh, actually, we’re giving a little more of a f**k.” [laughs] You know? We’re trying to take this more seriously, and we’re sort of mashing up all these styles and kind of invented kind of a style for us, out of all of it.