Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker's David Lowery on Texas, Barry Goldwater, and John Wayne
David Lowery stands at the helm of two well known bands -- Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker -- and he's playing with both of them tomorrow, Tuesday, September 13, at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale.
David Lowery and Cracker
Not only is Lowery pulling double duty, but both bands will be playing seminal recordings in their entirety, with Cracker performing Kerosene Hat and Camper doing Key Lime Pie.
Up on the Sun caught up with frontman/songwriter David Lowery to speak about sharing with fans, the Red State/Blue State distinction, Barry Goldwater, and John Wayne.
Up on the Sun: This is an interesting tour, because you're playing with both of your bands and playing seminal works from both bands. I've read some interviews where you talk about what divides the two groups, but it would seem at this point that there's a pretty close relationship between both of your musical outlets.
David Lowery: Um, yeah. I mean, if I wasn't in both of the bands, I think there would be more conversations about the similarities of the two bands, rather than the differences. A lot of people tend to emphasize the differences... a lot of people tend to accentuate the differences between the bands. There is a difference between the two bands. Camper Van Beethoven is rootsy, but almost in a more Eastern European, psychedelic way. Cracker has stayed firmly planted in the South and Southwest, in a rootsy way. It's, you know...they are eclectic in their own way. They both kind of mix rock music with sort of this and that. It's just that the 'this' and the 'that' is different.
It seems like they are both sides of your musical expression. How difficult is it to know what's Cracker and what's Camper when you're working?
Most the time it's kind of who I write the songs with, [who I] arrange the songs with. There might be something I write on guitar, a riff or a chord progression, that I go, 'That is clearly a Camper thing, or a Cracker thing.' A lot of times I just sort of play it with both bands and see which one is more interested. Most of the time I just kind of know. I don't know how to describe it. There's even been cases where I've worked on song for a while that [was] intended to be Cracker song, but when you put it in a "Camper voice," it clicked...I don't usually know what it is, I just sort of know in my head.
You guys have a big BBQ thing coming up at Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown, California. It seems like you've been very open to interaction with your fans, and open to discussing and explaining how you do stuff, with your 300 Songs blog.
I haven't always been that way. It's kind of a phase I've been in for the last decade. And I might be shifting out of it. It's like, 'Do I really have to Facebook?' I think we were early on this. Our festival is very much a fan fest. It's not so much about the bands, just kind of a egalitarian thing or something. It's not trying to be Bonnaroo, or moe.down, or even what Roger Clyne did down in Mexico. It's only 700 tickets, designed to be fairly intimate. It's built a real community around the bands, and I think it's really good...
But there are certain elements about the social networking you don't enjoy. Is it taxing to always be doing that?
Yeah, it's just... I don't want to just be 'David Lowry from Cracker or Camper Van Beethoven.' It would be nice to use Facebook for family, and not my persona...Maybe we've gone to far in the other direction and now we need to come back to being a little more mysterious. The only way I could take this farther is to do a reality show. Which is not really what I want to do...that would be the next logical step [laughs].
At the same time, both bands have this legacy of fan involvement. It's really cool to create something, but we're not really in control of it anymore. I really like that.
The last Camper record, New Roman Times discusses the political climate of the US in exaggerated ways. As someone in Texas, I feel like you have more understanding of what being from Arizona is like.
Oh yeah. We sort of have these political extremes, in your state, and Texas too. In New Roman times, Texas isn't just Texas, it's parts of Northern Mexico, and it goes all the way into the oil fields of Alberta. A lot of times I've been driving between Calgary and Edmonton, you say, 'Shit, this is Texas!' So it sort of represented this 'other,' it wasn't literally 'Texas.' The idea of that record was exaggerate the notion of the Red and the Blue states. Because, Texas has both.
Right. And Arizona has both. But people don't think that.
California has both, really extremely. too. But it tends to be more Democratic, so people don't' realize that. It's just a hilarious thing. One of the supervisors in my old county, San Bernardino County, where Cracker and Camper really got started, they wanted to secede. We were like, 'If you want to live in a right wing state, why don't you guys all just move to Arizona or something like that?' It was really funny, but yeah, I understand.
We rarely like politics, we played Gerald Ford Amphitheater (in Colorado) last month, but yeah. But you know, we're playing in the hometown of Barry Goldwater, so we had a funny description of the show.
From Facebook: "Another Republican politician that had a groundbreaking band was Barry Goldwater. His Rockabilly ensemble Goldie and the Extremists in Defense of Liberty was a lively ensemble. It featured Barry Goldwater on his flame decorated stand up bass. Barry would twirl and spin the bass while standing atop it while lead singer John Wayne would encourage him with shouts of "Ride em Cowboy" or "Mexican Prostitute"."
Which some of our Republican fans didn't like. They thought we were just making fun of Republicans, but I thought it was cool. What was John Wayne's obsession with Mexico? What was he always doing there?