We are drawing closer to the newest festival to hit SoCal: Flannel Nation. The ‘90s celebration is hitting at the perfect time: the ‘90s are back in a huge way, and OC Music News is highly anticipating the event.
With Sugar Ray, Everclear, Soul Asylum, Filter, Fastball, Sponge, Cracker, and Candlebox, it would be amazing on its own. But, it is also coming to you from the same company that gave us Like Totally Fest and So Cal Hoedown. OC Music News has been chatting with the bands and Cracker’s David Lowery is our latest victim.
But before there was Cracker, there was Camper Van Beethoven. Many SoCal Gen Xers may remember Lowery’s previous band thanks to “Take the Skinheads Bowling” and its airplay on KROQ. When CVB disassembled in 1990, Lowery joined forces with Johnny Hickman to launch Cracker.
Their 1992 self-titled album featured the single “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” which shot up to number one on the modern rock chart.
Cracker’s sophomore album, “Kerosene Hat,” brought them even greater success courtesy of “Low” and “Get Off This.” Recorded in Pioneertown, CA (more on that connect shortly), the singles found a home on the modern rock/alternative charts at a time where alternative rock was becoming mainstream.
Let’s not forget their 1994 mega-hit, “Euro-Trash Girl.” That song endeared them to the masses on both sides of the pond.
Perhaps that is what is so exciting about events like Flannel Nation… the music in that era has left an incredible legacy and remains fresh to new listeners today.
As for Lowery, he is not just a regular band guy. Dr. David Lowery is a professor of music and activist for artists in the recording industry. The right kind of guy to chat music with…
Traci: I see you are back on the road and have quite a few shows this summer.
David: Yeah, not as busy as most summers. It’s still kind of an odd year. Last summer we went on the road and there were really not a lot of people on the road, and it was pretty great. This summer it’s kind of the opposite. Everybody’s on the road, probably too many people. When we started to figure that out, we decided we’re not going to actively look for that many because it is probably not going to be totally back to normal till later this fall.
Traci: I noticed you have a show in September at Pioneertown and I just learned that is where you recorded “Kerosene Hat.”
David: Yes, we’re going to Pioneertown. I grew up in Redlands, California, and both Johnny Hickman and I are from the Inland Empire. I spent a lot of time out in the dirt growing up, and especially once I got older, around Pioneertown. Even though I moved up to Santa Cruz, I was in L.A. a lot. Me and friends of mine started going out to the high desert a lot, or even go out to Pioneertown to Pappy and Harriet’s in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
He continued; I had a house out there as well, so I was kind of not exactly a local, but I was around there quite a bit. We recorded “Kerosene Hat” in what they called the sound stage out there, which is really just a sheep barn, but we recorded in that. Pappy and Harriet was sort of our catering for the recording of that record. I knew both Pappy and Harriet for a long time, and when Linda and Robyn took over Pioneertown, which is sort of where it really becomes the internationally acclaimed venue that it was, we were one of the first acts to be playing out there. We had our festival for 15 years at Pappy and Harriet’s, from 2005 to 2019, and that was largely in collaboration with Linda and Robyn, who made it what it is. They sold the place, and we stopped our festival, but we still intend to play there as it’s important to our band, and many of our fans live out there.
Traci: When you do go on tour, what do you do in your downtime?
David: Well, I don’t do a lot of the stuff that I probably did when I was younger because I have a lot of other endeavors. I’m the senior lecturer in the music business at University of Georgia, so I actually have a fair amount of university business that I’m often doing during the day. This week is probably the last week of the summer where I don’t have to do some university work every day; usually that starts at the beginning of July. So I spend a lot of time actually in my hotel or on the bus, or back stage, where I’m actually working with my students or other faculty people or preparing lectures and stuff like that. I also have a blog that I write about artist rights, and I’ve sort of become somewhat notorious for that. I’ve been in front of Congress twice.
Traci: And you were recently honored for your work in that area.
David: Yeah, I end up advising a lot of people on things to do with their royalties and stuff like that. So that’s what I do on the road, partly because when you’re on the road, it’s not really a good time to be creative; there’s too many distractions. I record and write songs when I’m home, but being on the road is a little different to me these days.
Traci: Do we call you Doctor Lowery?
David: My students call me Doctor, but most of the time, the fans don’t even know that I have a doctorate.
Traci: Since it’s Flannel Nation and going back into the “old” days, I was going to ask you, “Which Cracker song was the first one you heard on the radio,” but you founded Camper Van Beethoven, so you had already had music on the radio. Was “Take the Skinheads Bowling?” your first song on the radio?
David: Yes, after we made that first Camper Van Beethoven album – and the album probably had only been out like six or seven weeks and really almost nobody had heard of us – we had a little following on the West Coast, and into maybe Arizona and Texas, but we were a real college underground band. My mom is English and half of my family’s in the UK, and I got a letter from my cousin. Basically the equivalent of the all caps text that says, “They are playing you on the BBC. I just heard ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling!’” So that was probably 10 days after the event had happened because of international mail in 1985, whenever that was (laughing), but that was actually our first.
David continued; the BBC started playing “Take the Skinheads Bowling” and it ended up being a minor hit in the UK and that washed back over to the States. That’s also how we got better distribution; because it was a British record label called Rough Trade. So that’s how I first heard about it, and then we were already getting played on college radio in the Bay Area because they played totally underground local music. It was very gradual, we were getting played around the country on college radio, and then there started to be these stations that they called modern rock stations. Modern rock was like this niche little format that maybe existed in about 10 cities in the country in say, 1986. There was 91X in San Diego, KROQ in Los Angeles, just a handful of these kinds of commercial stations around the country. That’s when it really started to really be a trip to us. “They’re playing ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’ on KROQ.”
Traci: I was an intern at KROQ in the early ‘90s and whenever we played “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” the phones would light up. Then when you created Cracker and “Teen Angst,” and then “Low” hit, every time they played, the phones would light up with “What’s that song about getting stoned?” (laughing)
David: There’s an interesting story about that song on KROQ, and you were front row to this probably, the record company thought that would be a difficult song to work the radio. The video director we’d hired to make a video for a different song said, “We have got to make a video for ‘Low.’” Virgin Records moved to another song, they’d moved to “Get Off This,” and I believe somebody at KROQ said, “No, you can’t do that because every time we play that song (“Low”), the phones ring off the hook.” It was a good thing we didn’t, because it did eventually take off all over the country.
Traci: Even in the years after, it remained popular at any station I worked at.
David: The weird thing is that song probably gets spun almost as much now as it did back then.
Traci: That’s crazy!
David: Yeah, it’s weird. This song has some staying power, doesn’t it? But I’m sure nobody will know about it in 10 years, right? 30 years later! It’s pretty funny and it’s weird, in general, alternative rock has a lot more staying power than people really would have thought that it would. My sons are young adults, 19 and 22 now, and their friends know all the alternative rock bands and stuff like that. So it’s not just my sons know these songs because they were kind of raised in the family business; their friends all know this stuff. It’s interesting.
Traci: My son is 16 and his first choice in the car is Sirius/XM Lithium. He loves all the ‘90s stuff and there’s such a passion for ‘90s with teenagers right now. I went to a ‘90s-themed birthday party this weekend and a lot of the people borrowed clothes from their kids because that’s what the kids are wearing right now.
David: Crazy, right?
Traci: With you being so involved with artist rights and technology, how do you prefer to release material? One song at a time, whole album, vinyl, etc.?
David: There’s actually a number of tracks that I released on YouTube from my solo album, and it was interesting for a minute, but then I discovered something. There’s something to going away for a while. When you do a record, that’s 18 months, two years that album cycle people used to do. Your fans are excited because you’re back, you’re going to put out a new album and you’re going to put out a bunch of songs all at once in a big splash. Rather than being constantly on social media, releasing little snippets and doing all that other stuff, it sort of makes a little bit of a splash. It actually works better with throwing one big rock into the pond instead of continuously a bunch of pebbles. So that’s my rationale on it. That’s what I tell my students. I think that they really shouldn’t try to have a career in the music business where they’re making albums and they go just make two songs, singles and give up. Don’t forget how powerful the album is.
Traci: As a music fan, I want to support the bands in the best way possible. How can I do that as a consumer with all the options available?
David: Interesting times, right? We could put an album out digitally, but there’s no money in that. You end up just making the platforms rich if you just go digital. You draw your traffic and all that stuff to the platforms instead of your own websites and channels. CDs are so underrated because, one, they don’t spy on you! You can always have a digital copy by putting it in your computer. Also, I think the CD was really underrated as a format because it sounds fantastic. It’s not just nostalgia for the ‘90s; I just actually think they’re better format. They hold up better. I should probably try vinyl again at shows, but we found we had vinyl for sale at our shows, and a lot of people come up and they’d handle the vinyl, and they’d look at it and be like, “Pretty nice. Look at this artwork. Do you have this on CD, though? I don’t have a turntable.”
Traci: Yeah. I know the vinyl looks pretty and it’s cool with bands doing all the different colors and limited editions, it’s art. I just prefer having the actual CD, which you should have at Flannel Nation.
David: We actually know quite a number of these bands. We know Soul Asylum. Toured with Soul, toured with Everclear. I played a show with Candlebox. I know some folks in Fastball. I’m excited for this!
OC Music News is excited to see David Lowery and Johnny Hickman as Cracker, plus everyone else. Flannel Nation will invade the Port of Los Angeles with a 12-acre space and the Lane Victory battleship on site. The festival runs 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. and kids under six are free. In addition to all the fantastic bands, there promises to be tons of delicious food trucks, craft beer, full bar, and retail vendors for shopping.
Flannel Nation tickets are on sale now and we expect this is going to become one of our favorite new annual festivals!