Let's be quite clear: Cracker/Camper van Beethoven front man David Lowery doesn't play the rock-star game.
"The night before the news broke about bin Laden being killed, we were playing this private party in a biker bar," Lowery recalls. "A guy dressed in a dinosaur costume comes up afterward and wants to do a photo. And I just said no.
"That's all I need, some photo of me and a guy in a dinosaur suit or me and some guy dressed like bin Laden circulating on Facebook. You draw the line someplace, I think."
Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven
8 p.m. Thursday, May 19, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, 713-862-3838 or www.fitzlivemusic.com.
Lowery, coming to town en route to an Austin City Limits taping of Cracker's 1993 breakthrough Kerosene Hat and Camper's beloved 1989 album Key Lime Pie, is one busy rock and roller. He's recently released a solo album of singer-songwriter material, The Palace Guards.
He also commutes from his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, to Athens, Georgia, where he is an instructor in the music-business program run by Drive-By Truckers producer David Barbe and Houstonian George Fontaine. Lowery describes it as a great diversion.
"I've been at the rock and roll thing for 27 years," Lowery notes, "and it's other interests, the things outside music, that keep life interesting. One of the great things about being a musician is a fairly flexible schedule, and I really enjoy teaching my one class. It's really important if you're a long-term career artist to have other things besides music."
Lowery, a University of California-Santa Cruz graduate, calls himself "a math guy" who also has a background in finance. Fontaine, who has never met Lowery in person, says Barbe insisted that they hire him.
"Once I looked at [Lowery's] résumé, I knew Barbe had the right guy," says Fontaine, also a partner in New West Records. "It's hard to find people who combine his educational background with his personal experience.
"He's not some dry academic type, he's been out there and done it, so he's just the kind of guy who gives our program credibility with the students," Fontaine continues. "It doesn't matter whether they are do-it-yourself musicians or kids who want to go into management or promotions or engineering — they all benefit from being in front of a guy like David Lowery."
Both Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven have large, rabid, cultish followings and host communal style "camp-out" festivals several times a year. As leader of these two successful music franchises, Lowery probably understands the ins and outs of making a living at music as well as anyone.
"With the drop in sales of recorded music, the pressure to be on the road working all the time is tremendous today," he notes. "Touring and merchandising have to make up for the money that's no longer there from CD sales.
"We got a good boost from our last album,"explains Lowery, referring to Cracker's 2009 LP Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey.
"It did well, we got some great reviews and quite a bit of notice in other countries, and that all combined to allow us to tour more," he says. "We also got more attention from certain kinds of radio, and we've benefited from a little crossover with the Drive-By Truckers crowd."
His duet with the Truckers' Patterson Hood, "Friends" ("Well, I'd never sleep with your ex-girlfriend / Even if she starts to flirt with me again"), got heavy rotation on Sirius/XM's Outlaw Country channel. Lowery also notes that "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out" was used on an episode of Showtime's Californication, which further extended the life of the album.
Sunrise is filled to the brim with Lowery's trademark droll sarcasm, clever counterculture diatribes and lots of irate-citizen vitriol. Perhaps no one on the scene today finds the humor behind the insanity as adroitly as Lowery does.
Some of what doesn't make it into his music winds up on his Facebook page, where Lowery is known to rant prolifically. One of the most popular items was a scathingly sarcastic piece titled "Why You Should Unfriend Me; A Raging Moderate's Manifesto: Let's Drop the F-Bomb" that skewered the Tea Party crowd.
An excerpt: "Yes, it's time for us moderates to get uncivilized. Let's drop the f-bomb. It's time for us moderates to get all Bill Hicks on their asses. Let's openly mock them and call them names."
"Yeah, that's one of my pressure relief valves," laughs Lowery. "There's just so much uninformed, stupid stuff in politics these days. Every now and then I just go off."
Political debate aside, what Lowery truly seems excited about is his music.
"With my solo thing going, I've got three solid projects to work, so that keeps me busy," he says. "When Camper Van Beethoven got back together, we decided that we weren't going to go at that full-time, that we'd play some choice dates every year and that would be enough.
"Cracker, on the other hand, is pretty much a full-time working band," he continues. "And lately I've been doing some solos or working in a duo with guys like Dave Immergluck or whoever I can get to play with me. So musically, I'm seldom bored with any one project."
According to Lowery, he and his mates are excited to have the opportunity to play what are considered their classic albums live on the current short tour.
"We've been doing that for about a year now, playing these at our camp-outs, and then Austin City Limits expressed interest in taping us, so we put together this run of dates around that," says Lowery. "And we're just going to jump in the van and work our way over to Austin from Athens to warm up and get back in our groove."
Lowery laughs when we remind him that he's been quoted as saying, "I don't party," although his lyrics are full of drinking, pot smoking and hell-raising.
"When we first started Camper Van Beethoven, I guess you could say I was the odd guy, kinda innocent, kinda nerdy," he says. "I didn't drink or smoke. Then I had some years of that, but around 2004 I just decided I needed to stop. It was no fun waking up every day with a headache, and it certainly wasn't making our music any better.
"I go back and listen to some of the shows we played when we were partying hard and they just make me cringe," says Lowery. "If we're going to play, I want it to be good, really good.
"It's a job, not a party."
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