Cracker soul delivers a musical wake-up call

August 21, 1992|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Cracker

When: Monday at 8 p.m.

Where: Hammerjacks, 1102 S. Howard St.

Tickets: $5.

Call: (410) 695-7625 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets.

When former Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery decided to call his new band Cracker, he wasn't thinking Ritz.

"I was born in Texas," he says, over the phone from his home in Richmond, Va. "I've got family from Arkansas. I probably know all the different ins and outs of that word as well as anyone."

And what are those ins and outs? "Well, 'cracker' is really just a harsher version of like, 'white trash,' " he explains. "To me, it's almost more comical, in a way. Like, some of my family from Arkansas, with their friends and stuff, it's always 'cracker-this' and 'cracker-that.' They call each other 'peckerwood,' too. It's the same thing."

There's another dimension to the term, though. Although "cracker" can be an affectionate term when it's one dumb white guy referring to another, it has also become a potent insult among non-whites, who -- as Lowery well knows -- apply the term to ignorant white racists.

This has led some critics to accuse Lowery of being a racist himself, something which he says took him totally by surprise. "That really messed me up when somebody said, 'Oh, you guys are racist,' " he says. "I was like, 'What?!?' I abhor racism.

"But I started thinking about it. And really, if you look at it, the root of racism in this country among white people is that white people tend to think of themselves as the normal people. They don't think of themselves as having ethnicity; they don't think of themselves as a minority in the world, which is what they are. They think of themselves as the normal people."

Cracker, then, is a sort of wake-up call for those folks. "I think it's good to be reminded if you're white that you're a minority in the world," Lowery says. "You're not the normal people. You're just another kind of person in the world."

It's a good point, but Lowery would be the first to admit it wasn't the reason he and his bandmates first embraced the name. Originally, he says, it had less to do with ideas about ethnicity than with this new band's attitude toward music.

Cracker started up a little over a year ago, after the Camper Van Beethoven called it quits. Lowery was hanging out with a couple of his high school buddies from Stockton, Calif. -- guitarist Johnny Hickman and bassist Davey Farragher -- jamming and listening to music.

"At the time, everybody else was playing kind of funk- or dance-oriented rock," recalls Lowery. "I remember that for about a year, every time we went down to the Metro [in San Francisco], it was some dance-funk-metal band playing.

"And here me and Johnny are, playing all this white boy roots stuff, totally against the grain out of everything else. So we started calling our music 'cracker soul.' "

Lowery adds that no matter how much he and Hickman seemed out of step with the rest of the Bay Area music scene, it wasn't because they were trying to be trend-busters.

"It wasn't really a conscious thing," he says. "It's just what we play. We grew up listening to Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks -- as well as Talking Heads and various punk rock bands. But basically, what we're doing is country and country-blues based."

So how is that different from the neo-Southern sound of bands like the Georgia Satellites or the Black Crowes?

"Because we grew up playing punk rock, basically," answers Lowery. "I mean, the records that I buy are really not that much different than your classic college/alternative radio-listener. I listen to Ride, I like the Pixies, I listen to the Smiths. So of course the music's going to come out different."

Another factor that goes into determining the sound of Cracker soul is the fact that Cracker has a fairly loose attitude toward musical discipline. Or, as Lowery puts it, "We don't rehearse."

"I'm serious," he says, laughing. "We rehearsed for about a month when we were getting the songs together -- about a year ago. Then we went out and played some shows. And then I think we've rehearsed about five times since then."

Nor does he worry about the band being ill-prepared for performances. "I just didn't want to burn out on the music," he says. "I'd rather be kind of sloppy sometimes. We've done like 100 and something shows since November. So you've got to figure that we're playing pretty much every few days.

"This band's kind of stupid," he adds. "The music's kind of stupid. It's a lot looser, and we just like try to keep that attitude, you know? So it just works better to not rehearse."

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