CVIndependent

Sat10312020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Warning: The Campout, the popular Pappy and Harriet’s Labor Day Weekend staple, is being held a week early this year, Aug. 27 through Aug. 29.

However, David Lowery—the frontman of hosting bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker—promises the move is just for this year, and that the event will be as good as ever.

During a recent phone interview, Lowery discussed the fact that Cracker is often viewed as a mainstream band, thanks in part to the hit single “Low.” Cracker released a new album last year, Berkeley to Bakersfield.

“I think for Cracker in general, a lot of people seem to think of us in a more mainstream perception than an alternative-rock band from the ‘90s. In actuality, that’s a very short kind of piece of our career, which has stretched on for about 25 years now,” he explained. “We’re a fairly eclectic group; we play a lot of Americana/roots and country stuff, and we’re widely accepted in that role.”

Lowery said he never expected to do more than make a living when he teamed up with Riverside’s Johnny Hickman to form the group after the wildly successful Camper Van Beethoven disbanded in 1990. (The group would reunite in 1999.)

“We made a living, and we didn’t sell enormous amounts of records,” Lowery said about Cracker. “In fact, our first album … the fact it was more heavy on folk and the blues meant there were a lot of people at the label and other places who weren’t expecting us to garner mainstream radio play—which we managed to do with those first three albums. We weren’t really expecting it, either, but it was certainly nice. Those first two albums went gold and platinum, and the third album never really reached gold, but it was a pretty good run there.”

Two and a half decades later, the band faced some challenges while recording the critically lauded new double album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, the group’s first studio effort in five years. Most notably, drummer Frank Funaro suffered a severe arm injury that continues to sideline him.

“I think it was a case where we took the situation and worked with it. … We embraced the challenges and restrictions we had,” he said. “The first one is we were working with a group of studio musicians in Athens, Ga. That’s the band that’s on the Bakersfield album. At the same time, we got back our old drummer, Michael Urbano, and worked in a studio in Berkeley just to see if we could write any songs. We ended up more or less banging out most of that album in three days up there. … We kind of just embraced the situation and came up with these two really cool discs, which at first were going to be separate albums.”

The project is similar, in some ways, to Camper Van Beethoven’s recent releases, La Costa Perdida and El Camino Real, which were about Northern and Southern California.

“We released 40-something songs in a little under two years. It’s been kind of crazy,” he said about his two bands. “Going back to 2009, it’s been like every 18 months, we’ve been putting out an album. It’s been pretty interesting. It’s been a very productive period for both bands, just to concentrate on writing songs. It’s what separates us from our peers in the alternative-rock scene in the ‘90s—we’re still writing and releasing records. Camper Van Beethoven also has two new songs coming out that are on the Sharknado 3 soundtrack. We’re always working it now.”

David Lowery has been touring with both bands over the past couple of years; Cracker played at Pappy and Harriet’s in the spring. With all of the touring, writing and recording, one has to wonder how Lowery has time to sleep.

“I think down in Southern California, you hear quite a bit of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, so it probably seems we tour more than we do, but it’s been pretty busy this year,” he explained. “We have a full schedule through Labor Day weekend; we’re doing five or six shows a week until then, and a little recording probably during the days we’re not working. Eventually, at the end of the year, we’ll go to Europe and wrap it up.”

What can attendees expect at the Campout this year? Lowery said it’s more of the same, prominently featuring the varied groups in which the members of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven are intertwined.

“We’ll be bringing the Bakersfield lineup from Athens; we’ll be bringing the full extended country band lineup,” he said. “We’ll also have a lot of the side projects happening. Victor (Krummenacher) will be playing; Jonathan (Segel) will be doing stuff, and it looks like Johnny Hickman is going to do his side project, the Hickman-Dalton Gang, with Roger Clyne of the Peacemakers. We have Jesika Von Rabbit again, and it’s, as usual, based on family and friends.

“I think it’s going to be at least as good as last year, and it’s going to be warmer this year, because we had to move it into August. With all of the other things that are going to happen up there in Yucca Valley this year on Labor Day, we were colliding on the same weekend.  So we moved into August, and we’ll move it back to September for 2016.”

Campout 11 takes place Thursday, Aug. 27, through Saturday, Aug. 29, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $25 for each individual night; three-day passes start at $75. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

Published in Previews

David Lowery, the frontman of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, doesn’t think some musicians fully understand their rights.

“A lot of the younger artists don’t realize that the pay was considerably higher about 15 years ago,” he said. “It’s kind of like a one-two punch. First, you’re affected by online piracy, where that knocked off about a third of our income, and then the thing that’s happened lately—and none of us saw coming—is that our share from online streaming services is so low.”

Lowery is bringing Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker to the bands’ 10th annual Campout at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, from Thursday, Sept. 11, through Saturday, Sept. 13.

During a recent phone interview with the Independent, the former Redlands resident said that while he loves streaming music, there is a big downside to it.

“I have Beats Music on my phone; my kids have it on their phones, and we listen to it and find it convenient,” Lowery said. “But between the services and the record labels, the artist is getting a really small premium from that revenue that comes from streaming. With Spotify being valued at $6 billion now, and Beats Music being sold to Apple—and that’s $3 billion there—it doesn’t seem right to us. It’s not that we’re against streaming; it’s the share of revenue.”

He said that most people don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes regarding streaming music.

“It’s really hard to explain it to the general public. Basically, when the labels cut their deals with the streaming services, it looks like they trade in equity, given they own a part of Spotify,” he said. “Universal Records owns part of Beats Music, and Apple gave them a big payout. So, essentially, the labels traded our songs for … ownership in the services.”

Lowery conceded that the struggle between musicians and record labels is not new.

“There are these stories that go back to the ’50s about the blues band going to the record label and saying, ‘Hey, where’s my money?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, we got you this Cadillac.’ The Cadillac was worth less than the royalties. By the way, this story about the Cadillac: It’s true, because my mother-in-law worked for Sun Records, and my father in law was a car-dealer, and that’s exactly how they met each other. That really did happen!” he said with a laugh.

However, Lowery said there was a progression toward protecting artists and their royalties.

“There was a period in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s where the artists kind of finally worked it out,” Lowery said. “Between our unions and our songwriter groups, that were kind of like unions for songwriters, we could work out some pretty equitable pay arrangements—and we’re sort of back to square one right now. It’s not like it can’t be worked out, but it’s not going to get worked out without us bitching, moaning, screaming and holding these people’s feet to the fire. That’s how it’s going to get sorted out. It’s not pretty, but that’s the way it’s going to go.”

At stake, Lowery said, is the standard of living for a lot of musicians, some of whom struggle to make ends meet even after a hit song or record.

“They’ve seen their revenues fall from maybe having a nice middle-class existence to, ‘Oh, shit, I can’t even support my family on this!’ So, it’s tough times. It’s going to take guys like me, East Bay Ray from Dead Kennedys, John McCrea from Cake, and some (other) older musicians with a sense of what’s fair in this industry to speak out and explain this to people.”

He said the modern economics of the music business have led to some musicians deciding not to record new material, because it’s no longer economically beneficial.

“There are a lot of artists doing that,” he said. “I’m essentially an optimist for the long-term. Eventually, I assume these streaming services are going to have to start paying more to give people the incentive to make albums again. It’s going to have to work itself out.”

Camper Van Beethoven has recorded two albums in recent years: La Costa Perdida, which Lowery said is Northern California-themed, and El Camino Real, which is Southern California-themed. Cracker also has a new album in the works.

As for this year’s Campout, Lowery conceded he’s had some booking challenges, but he promised it’s still going to be a lot of fun.

“We had a few people who were in, and then they were out, and then someone bigger might come in, and we’ve delayed announcing a lot of details,” he said. Chris Shiflett from the Foo Fighters was going to come and do his country thing again, but he had to drop out. But we do have Brant Bjork from the Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age family. We have The Dangers from Riverside; we’ve got the various Camper side projects … and there will be local people like Jesika Von Rabbit, who’s going to do some stuff again. It’ll be great and just as good as last year.”

The 10th annual Campout with Camper Van Beethoven and Camper takes place Thursday, Sept. 11, through Saturday, Sept. 13, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $75 for a three-day pass, or $25 for one day. For tickets or more information, visit crackersoul.com.

Published in Previews