The Crazier Side of Camper and Cracker: David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, May 26 at the Redstone Room Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 05:31

David Lowery

David Lowery saw no reason to make a solo album.

For more than 25 years, he’s been recording and releasing music with his bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker – a pair of “very diverse and flexible ensembles,” he said in a phone interview last week. “And so usually pretty much any piece of music I write, I can kind of put it with either one of the bands or the other.”

And both bands remain active, regularly touring together since 2002. “I know the Cracker and Camper audiences overlap like 90 percent,” he said. “And it’s just a little artificial sometimes to feel like, ‘Tonight the billboard says Cracker, and we’re only going to play Cracker songs.’”

But in February, at age 50, Lowery released under his own name The Palace Guards, a collection of nine songs that, he has said, gives “a sense of what it is that I’m kind of bringing to the bands.”

Lowery will be performing a duo Cracker show (with bandmate Johnny Hickman) at the Redstone Room on May 26 – which will include some Palace Guards songs – and he’ll also record a Daytrotter.com session while he’s in the Quad Cities.

Lowery said that Hickman inspired him to do the solo record when he observed that “sometimes the demos I made were a little crazier than ... how the songs ended up sounding” with Cracker. The Palace Guards, then, was “my attempt to sort of flesh out the demos, knowing that they would become sightly different than how they are with the band.”

The result, he said, was “a little different style of song,” with more emphasis on the lyrics, and the music supporting his words. A couple of songs – “Big Life” and “Baby, All Those Girls Meant Nothing to Me” – had been tried with his other bands, but the remainder were written specifically for the solo record.

AllMusic.com noted that although “parts of it sound and feel quite a bit like his work with Cracker and occasionally it reveals shadows of Camper Van Beethoven’s eclectic gumbo of sounds, the mood of The Palace Guards is decidedly different than what Lowery has offered us in the past. The Palace Guards is a far cry from a serious statement on the world, but for a guy who has built a career out of being a surreal smart aleck, this album embraces a worldview that’s decidedly somber and contemplative.” That’s epitomized by the lovely “I Sold the Arabs the Moon,” which sways in waltz time but has a patient, literate urgency.

Despite his long history in the music business, Lowery said he was anxious about doing The Palace Guards. “I didn’t know whether it was [that] people kind of liked what I did or if they liked what the guys that surround me do,” he said. “Really simple.”

So he sat on the album. Most of it, he said, was finished prior to Cracker’s most-recent album, 2009’s Sunrise in the Land of Milk & Honey.

But now that it’s been released, The Palace Guards functions in part, as Lowery intended, as a document for posterity. In a similar vein, last year he began the “300 Songs” blog (300Songs.com), a “song-by-song history of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven.”

“I feel like when people write a biography of their band ... they tend to end up lying,” he explained. “They tend to create this coherent narrative.”

That’s also true in histories of musical movements, he said, with “backwards-looking narratives” that impose order on chaos and focus on winners at the exclusion of influential but relatively unknown bands. “Every single book you’ve read about the indie-rock scene is completely false,” he said. “A fiction about what was actually happening.”

So 300 Songs is meant as a corrective, an intentionally messy and sometimes conflicting tale. “To tell the history of the band and the time that we came up in, it’s better to start with each song and remember what you knew about each song,” he said. “And even if your narrative can at times contradict itself – when you might come across the same event and tell it in a different way – overall, this is a better history.”

David Lowery and Johnny Hickman will perform a semi-acoustic Cracker show at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 26, at the Redstone Room (129 Main Street in Davenport). Tickets are $15 and available from RedstoneRoom.com.


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