By Kerry DooleGrowing old gracefully is a rare achievement for a rock'n'roll band, but Cracker are certainly fitting the bill. Their career now spans 18 years and has spawned a discography in the double figures. While they may not regain the platinum-selling level of commercial success or status as college radio favourites they enjoyed in the early '90s, they have retained a loyal international audience. Their new disc Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey betrays no sign of complacency, and it frames the imaginative lyrics and sardonic wit of main-man David Lowery with full-blooded rifferama. Pleased with the reaction to Sunrise? Yes, I am. It's been getting some great reviews and it appears we've actually been selling some copies too. That's nice in this day and age when people don't buy albums. It has been three years since we put out a new record so it's fun to go out and play some new songs. I guess its three years since your last gig here in Toronto? That's right, at the Mod Club with Greenland. We actually have fans all over the world, and they come out of the woodwork. It's different in different countries. Oddly enough the place in the world we get to play for the most people is Spain. It's even better than it is in the States for us.
There are worse places to be famous than Spain. Indeed. At least the food's good. You can be popular in England, but the food's not very good there! The new album sounds like it was fun to make. What it is, it's that it's largely recorded live. What you're hearing, with a few minor exceptions, is the four of us all playing at the same time in the studio. A lot of people might go, "well, don't all bands do that?" Actually no. That's not the way records are made anymore. Of course you overdub the vocals and a few other things, but there is the live energy. And this may seem counterintuitive to people who don't know how it's done, but we had actually played all these songs before we went into the studio. Maybe they ended up a little differently, but that hasn't really happened since our first record. This is really typical with bands. You make your first record after you've played some shows. You've written and rehearsed all the songs, and you make your first record. After that, you get into this cycle where you are going into the studio and the songs aren't really finished. If they are finished, you haven't really played them out live, as you've been playing the last record. That's the cycle most bands stay in. This time we tried to break it. We started writing the songs about a year before and started trying to play them when we did have concerts, and this is kind of the result. I think that's why it has that sound.
I gather you messed things up in the songwriting, doing it more as a band? Yes, it was stuff that came out of these songwriting sessions we'd have every two months. We'd take a week and go into the B room at my studio, set up live. Our goal every day was to write two pieces of music that were more or less songs. It didn't really matter if they were good, the idea was to just finish two pieces of music.
Is that discipline useful? Sounds a bit like those Nashville writing sessions where country writers are on the clock, usually with awful results. Yes, that is horrible. If there was hell, for me it would be something like that. There was a little bit of that too. We did start in the morning, but the characters that play in my band hardly come from that kind of background. Our drummer, Frank Funaro, was in bands like the Dictators and he played on Joey Ramone's solo record. It'd be hard for him to turn out dreck, or work in some kind of song factory.
It's a pretty up-tempo album, without many of the moody ballads we sometimes get from Cracker. That come from the band dynamic and playing the songs live? I think the guys in my band, their strengths are playing loud and fast. It sometimes goes against the grain to get them to turn down and play more subtly. I don't mean that negatively, that's just the more natural thing for them to do.
You recorded in Athens with David Barbe. Had you thought of producing yourself, or good to have an outside ear like David? It was kind of produced by us and David. There used to be producers and engineers, but now you don't usually have those separate roles on a record anymore, unless it's a really expensive one. David is more like an engineer/producer, kind of in between the two. A lot of production came from us. A tune like "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out," that is kind of our single and getting lots of radio play now. We had recorded that and it wasn't really exciting to me. Then one day in my apartment by myself, I was thinking "this just isn't right. I think that song is better than the reaction it's getting right now," so I quickly sketched up a demo, doing it differently. David agreed we should try it that way. The point is, yes, he's the producer, but there's a lot coming from us about how the songs go. So we re-recorded that track one day, and it became the single.