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Cracker's tenth and most recent studio effort, the double-album, Berkeley To Bakersfield, finds this uniquely American band traversing two different sides of the California landscape -- the northern Bay area and further down-state in Bakersfield.
Despite being less than a five-hour drive from city to city, musically, these two regions couldn't be further apart from one another. In the late '70s and '80s a harder-edged style of rock music emerged from the Bay area, while Bakersfield is renowned for its own iconic twangy country music popularized, most famously, by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in the '60s and '70s. Yet despite these differences, they are both elements that Cracker's two cofounders, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, have embraced to some degree on nearly every one of their studio albums over the last two decades. On Berkeley To Bakersfield, however, instead of integrating these two genres together within one disc, they've neatly compartmentalized them onto their own respective regionally-titled LPs.
Cracker has been described as a lot of things over the years: alt-rock, Americana, insurgent-country, and have even had the terms punk and classic-rock thrown at them. But more than anything Cracker are survivors. Cofounders Lowery and Hickman have been at it for a quarter of a century -- amassing ten studio albums, multiple gold records, thousands of live performances, hit songs that are still in current radio rotation around the globe ("Low," "Euro-Trash Girl," "Get Off This" and "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me" to name just a few), and a worldwide fan base -- that despite the major sea-changes within the music industry -- continues to grow each year.
Camper Van Beethoven
We didn't want to jump right back in and make that 'Bad Reunion Record' that most bands make when they try to reform. We were more concerned with getting used to each other and figuring out that we could still make music together, before we made a big deal out of announcing that we were back."
In the second half of the 1980s, Camper Van Beethoven-David Lowery (vocals, guitar), Victor Krummenacher (bass, vocals), Greg Lisher (guitar), Jonathan Segel (violin, guitar, keyboards) and Chris Pedersen (drums), plus late addition David Immerglück (guitar and various stringed instruments) -- was one of its era's most original and influential indie rock bands. The quintet effortlessly combined an iconoclastic, irony-laced lyrical stance with a free-spirited eclecticism that encompassed a dizzying array of stylistic influences, from punk to folk to psychedelia to all manner of world music. Camper's visionary embrace of disparate genres established them as innovators, while their songs' combination of barbed satire and poignant humanism stymied those who'd attempt to pigeonhole them as a mere novelty.
Camper Van Beethoven have always been rule-breaking outsiders, even by indie-underground standards. "The reason Camper originally came to exist," Lowery asserts, "was because we were rebelling against the dogma of punk rock and post-punk-rock. To us, rock had started out as a very eclectic musical form that incorporated all different kinds of things. But by 1982, punk rock had adopted all these strict rules, which rubbed us the wrong way. So we always saw ourselves as being in a tradition of classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Little Feat, The Kinks and The Beatles, who were comfortable trying different kinds of things. We came right at the end of the first generation of the hardcore/punk-rock thing, and our earliest supporters were people who liked the Dead Kennedys. And then we came into what became indie rock, where we were basically running around throwing little musical molotov cocktails."
Indeed, the times seem to have come around to Camper Van Beethoven's way of thinking. "I think it's a great time for us now," states Segel. "We can run our own labels and make the music that we want to, without worrying about convincing other people that it will sell. And we've got the freedom to do other things. David can still make Cracker records, and I can go play improvised electronic noise music. We're just having a lot of fun making music together. We've had our personal differences, but we're over them now. We were young men, and young men are assholes, and if you're lucky, you grow out of that. When you start out, being in a band is like being in a gang, but we're much more like musicians now. We couldn't have written this record in 1985, and we definitely couldn't have played it then."