For 25 years, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, the co-founders and creative forces behind Cracker, have been delivering their unique blend alternative rock, Americana, country, soul, blues and even funk while writing and recording music on their terms. And if they see something in the music industry that’s not on the up and up, they’re not afraid to point it out.
Their debut self-titled album, which contained the hit “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now),” was followed by their breakthrough album, 1993’s Kerosene Hat, which produced the hits “Low” and “Get Off This.” Since then, Cracker has been a constant fixture on alt-rock radio with songs like “Cracker Soul,” “Euro-Trash Girl,” and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me.” They have also embraced their alt-country side, releasing an album of mostly country music covers in 2003, appropriately titled Countrysides.
Their latest album, the double album Berkeley to Bakersfield released in 2014, has Cracker embracing both of their personas, with the Berkeley disc celebrating their punk-rock side and Bakersfield showcasing Lowery and Hickman’s California country influence from the ’70s and ’80s.
Lowery, who also founded Camper Van Beethoven and has been called the godfather of alternative music, has also received notoriety in the past year for not only being outspoken about online music streaming services that fail to fairly compensate artists, but for also taking action rather than doing nothing. In December, Lowery filed a $150 million class action lawsuit against Spotify, claiming unpaid royalties due to artists from the world’s largest online streaming service. A month later, Lowery combined his lawsuit with songwriter Melissa Ferrick’s $200 million class action suit against Spotify.
If ever there were the perfect person to take on Spotify, Lowery might be it. Not only is he a veteran, accomplished recording artist, but he’s a certified mathematician and teaches classes in music business at the University of Georgia.
Remember, this is the band that re-recorded their greatest hits and released their own version of a greatest hits album on their own label on the same day their former record label, Virgin, released a greatest hits album without the band’s input. Cracker’s Greatest Hits Redux ended up selling better than Virgin Record’s version.
Even though he isn’t a plaintiff in the suit, Hickman fully supports his partner’s action. Both he and Lowery are very active on social media. Last week, Cracker posted an article on social media noting that a songwriter would need “288 Million Spins to equal average Spotify employee salary.”
Recently, the very busy – and always extremely personable – Hickman did an email interview with the Deseret News while on tour. Cracker will return to Park City on Friday for a show at OP Rockwell.
You’ve been touring on Berkeley to Bakersfield for something like a year-and-a-half now. Talk about the feedback you’ve been getting from fans and the success of the double album.
JH: Well Pat, I’m happy to report that both the overall fan response and reviews have been great. Admittedly, it was a little bit of a crazy thing for us to do, putting out a double album and one with a concept no less. Our long time fans have come to expect us to change things up a bit regularly and they seem very pleased with B to B. We’ve been on the road with the musicians from Athens, Georgia who played on all of the Bakersfield disc and some of the Berkeley disc, all incredible players. The live shows have been some of the best we’ve ever done and the fans have been packing the venues and expressing a lot of love every night.
I’m sure you’re always writing. But is there a game plan for a new Cracker or JH solo album in the relatively near future?
JH: True, we’re always working on something either separately or together, rough ideas, full songs and what not.. but we still have the entire summer of touring to do before we start seriously planning the next Cracker record. I have a few things written or in the works, probably for another solo record. Of course these songs sometimes become Cracker songs or Hickman Dalton Gang songs so we’ll see. David writes constantly and at some point decides if a particular song is right for Cracker or Camper Van Beethoven. The best thing to do is to stay creative and write, regardless of where the song eventually finds it’s home.
David has been making headlines for his lawsuit against Spotify and his continuing fight against unfair music streaming services as much as his music lately. What are your thoughts on the Spotify lawsuit? Do you share his passion? And do you think there’s any other artist with the business and industry smarts combined with their status in the music industry than David who could haven taken this on?
JH: I’m 100% behind David’s efforts in his fight to ensure that songwriters and musicians stop getting ripped off. He and a handful of others are at the forefront of a very worthy battle here. With his mathematics background and decades of experience in the music business, I can’t think of anyone more qualified to get in the boxing ring with these criminals than David. This music doesn’t just materialise out of thin air. It takes a great deal of hard work, time and expense to make it. Does anyone want to work for free? Of course not. We have kids and bills to pay like anyone else. What a lot of people don’t realise is that there are corporate CEOs making billions of dollars by using what we the musicians create and are paying us practically nothing for using our copyrighted, intellectual properties. It is, indeed a criminal offence in the true sense of the term. We just want to get paid like anyone else, mainly so we can keep doing what we do.
Talk about the feedback you’ve gotten from other artists regarding the lawsuit.
JH: What’s encouraging to me is that over the last year or two, not just the little guys like us but several of the most successful musicians in the world have come forward in defence of this fight. Many, like Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, have nothing but compassion for artists who are just getting into the music business because things have gotten so corrupt since they started their own vastly successful careers. I have high hopes that the streaming companies will finally, either by force or wise business sense will begin to play fair with artists.
Both of you guys are pretty active on social media. You actually post and reply on your own pages rather than have a PR person write for you. What do you like about Facebook and other social media? What do you dislike?
JH: I’ve always believed that it’s smart business to have a good rapport with the people that keep your band together and thriving. Without them we wouldn’t exist, so we try to let them know how much we appreciate their continued support. Aside from that, I enjoy the interactions overall too. I only wish that Facebook would allow more than 5,000 friends. It’s fine to have a public page with no number limit, but it’s just not quite the same as being able to interact with folks, let them know what you’re up to and ask their opinions of what that might be at any given time.
What are the deets for this year’s Campout?
JH: Thanks for asking. This will be year 12 of the Campout and will take place August 25, 26 and 27. I’m starting things off with a solo show early evening on Thursday the 25th. If last year’s attendance is any indication, this year will be even bigger. 3 days and nights of musical celebration with Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven and many of our side projects and guest artists.. so come early folks!
Anything else going on with Johnny Hickman, Cracker, HDG, or anything else you want to plug?
JH: At the present it’s all about Cracker so I’ll just say that we’re very happy to be returning to Park City on June 3rd. We have a long and wonderful history with Utah and look forward to playing for you all soon. Our friends The Artisan Thieves are performing with us again and as before, I’m going to join them onstage so come early everybody!