“It’s Work and It’s Art and it should be valued.”
Leading up to the release of Cracker's tenth studio album -which happens to be a double- From Berkely to Bakersfield, DUENDE!'s Jeff Howitt and co-founder Johnny Hickman spent a half hour on the phone during a break from rehearsals for their tour that kicked off in Tampa, FL on November 28th and hits The Magic Bag in Ferndale, MI on December 2nd.
MCB: When was the last time you played in Detroit?
JH: I think the last time we played there was about five years ago with Reverend Horton Heat. It was a pretty long tour so it gets a little blurry but it was a really good night. We kept it in the back of our mind that when it was time we'd go back.
MCB: Was doing a double record kind of a relief to present your guitar driven and roots leanings equally?
JH: From the very beginning we've always put a little twang in the records. David and I had already known each other since we were Punk Rock kids, and at that particular time when Camper Van Beethoven broke up, he gave me a call. I was down in Bakersfield playing in Country bands but I was as big a fan of Led Zeppelin as I was of Johnny Cash. We've always mixed it all together on Cracker records. This time we were working with two separate groups of musicians. We regrouped the Kerosene Hat line up with Davey Faragher and Michael Urbano in Berkeley and went to a studio up there and it sounds exactly like Kerosene Hat but with a little more funk and soul because we grew up hanging around Eastern California where groups like War were from. The other record we recorded with a bunch of our good friends from Georgia. Some great young musicians. In that all are these really great stories. David has always had a very unique storytelling song writing style, so that fit a little more on the Americana side. It doesn't sound like Nashville Country at all. David and I separately had grown up on Air Force bases throughout the South because both our dad's were military. We met out in California as teenagers and already had an appreciation for everything going back to Hank Williams.
MCB: Did you know it was going to be double record or were you just writing at first? JH: A little bit of both. We had the idea early on to have a small cluster of songs grouped with different musicians. For a little while we thought putting it on two different discs like six months apart. The label really liked the idea of it as a double and have it together but as separate groups of songs, with a different atmosphere and sound. We just went from there. Michael and Davey were such great players and brought so much to the songs. It was really a satisfying thing. We hadn't played with those guys in twenty years. They've been out there keeping busy ever since. Davey has played with Elvis Costello. Right now he's recording with Lucinda Williams. Just a phenomenal bassplayer/singer. A great arranger to have around while we're nailing the songs together. Michael is also one of the best drummers in the world. He's played with everyone from John Hiatt to you name it. Quite a resume.
MCB: I know you guys became part of the debate about revenue sharing from streaming as far as what a million plus plays gets you these days on a service like Pandora. Any new insights into how musicians make their money?
JH: I don't think it's too much to ask to spend ten dollars on a CD for a cluster of songs that people have worked very hard on and spend money making them. Studios aren't free. When you make a record you start off in the red, ya know? You can make one in your bedroom but typically those records aren't that great. It really requires good microphones and a decent engineer. All these major artists that are pulling their music from streaming services like, Taylor Swift or Radiohead, they're looking out for the little guy. The new bands. It's work but it's work that we love. It takes a lot of the incentive out for the young bands. People don't write books to give them away for free. Or paintings or beautiful photography. It's Work and it's Art and it should be valued. A society who doesn't value that is on it's way down, ya know? It really pisses me off when someone like Dave Grohl will say it's good publicity to have your music on Spotify. It isn't. He's a guy who made a fast fortune before the big rip off of streaming began, so of course, he accepts it. "I don't fucking care". That was his quote. People who have already made millions saying it should be free.
MCB: How much of the new record will make it to the stage?
JH: Quite a bit of I think. What we tend to do even when we're on the road, we'll rotate songs in and out of the set. Quite often in the Cracker fan base, they call themselves Crumbs, which is pretty adorable. There's Crumbs UK. Crumbs Spain. Crumbs Southern Contingent they call themselves. A lot of the times they'll bring two, five, ten friends to a Cracker show so we do try to make sure there is something familiar like "Low" or "Euro Trash Girl" too. Real word of mouth. That's how it's supposed to work. I've been doing some producing so I'm always telling new bands to have a killer live show. They'll come back to see you. David and I never thought of ourselves as The Beatles or The Stones but more like the Kinks with a small but loyal fan base. The Kinks thought nothing of putting out a concept album or a Country album or do a song that was almost like it's own film or a play.
MCB: I hope to call myself a Crumb one day.