Cracker goes from ‘Berkeley to Bakersfield’ to Aspen
The Aspen Times
If You Go …
Where: Hi-Fi Concert Series, Gondola Plaza
When: Saturday, Feb. 14, 6 p.m.
More info: http://www.aspensnowmass.com
Over the last 20-some years, the band Cracker has oscillated comfortably between country-folk and harder-edged rock. On the new double-album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” the band – which plays the Hi-Fi Concert Series at Gondola Plaza Saturday – decided to split those two creative impulses into separate discs, linked in one project with a geographic theme.
The band was shooting a documentary last summer, which reunited frontman David Lowery with Cracker’s original members. At the time, he had already been recording a “Bakersfield sound” country and Americana album with the band’s newer lineup. But the original cast – Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny Hickman and Lowery – decided to write some songs together for the first time in nearly 20 years.
They decamped to Urbano’s studio in Berkeley, California for a few days, writing and recording their “Berkeley” songs, which came out sounding like garage punk.
“It was fortunate that we started the ‘Berkeley’ disc in the middle of it,” Lowery said from Athens, Georgia, where he teaches in the music business program at the University of Georgia. “It gave the project two poles, and we were able to work between the two. It gave structure to the whole project.”
Their time recording in Berkeley turned out to be a period of unrest in the Bay Area that included the Google bus protests and demonstrations on economic inequality. That environment, and the political history of Berkeley – from the ‘60s hippie era through its ‘80s punk heyday – made its way into the new songs.
“All of this stuff was going on, so it made sense that the music from Berkeley should have a political protest edge to it, and should contrast Bakersfield,” he said.
The result, on the new album, is a disc of California country and another devoted to more aggressive rock.
Among the stand-out songs on the Berkeley portion is the punky haves and have-nots anthem, “March of the Billionaires.” Asked about whether he’d play that particularly appropriate song at Saturday’s show at the base of Aspen Mountain – a noted billionaire playground – Lowery laughed.
“Yeah, we’ll play it there,” he said. “It’ll be awesome.”
Lowery said the Aspen show would be evenly split between the new material and Cracker’s older songs. He’s bringing a six-man lineup on the current tour, including piano and pedal steel players.
Cracker’s biggest hits from the 1990s – “Low,” “Euro-Trash Girl” and “Get Off This” among them – have endured through radio play, and somehow stayed a part of the evolving pop culture landscape of the last two decades. Lowery credited that longevity to the band’s approach early on, which aimed not to conform to trends of the time. Lowery formed Cracker after his time with Camper Van Beethoven, a resolutely college rock band of the 1980s. With Cracker, he and his bandmates wanted to do something more timeless.
“We wanted to be an update on the classic sort of country- and blues-based rock bands of the ‘70s and ‘60s,” he said. “We saw ourselves as a modern-day classic rock band from the beginning. We lucked out in getting on the alt-rock charts when grunge was really big, but the fact that the band’s songs are still played on the radio 20 years later, I think, speaks to the fact that the music wasn’t really stuck in any one period.”
Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s new fall lecture series will run weekly from Oct. 20 through Dec. 6. The lineup consists of artists nationwide who will be spending one to three weeks at the ranch completing projects within their area of expertise and exploring new work in the studios.