Cracker: "To me and David (Lowery), the song is king. We are good at setting aside our egos and let the song tell us what it wants" (Johnny Hickman)

  • Spanish version.

  • Many of you may remember hits such as “Low” or “Teen Angst (What the World Needs to Know)”, back in the nineties, by Cracker, one of the favorite bands for some member of GKGRock. So, given that not long ago a DVD plus Cd live was released under the title “Live At The Crossroads/Rockpalast Festival”, we have the chance to speak with Johnny Hickman, Cracker’s guitarist and co-founder, and know a bit more about the band from the inside.
    First of all thank you very much for attending us, we know you are busy. With all the different projects you are involved with, how do you manage to combine them all?
    When you love your job as much as I do it's not difficult. Sometimes is seems that everything I do is part of trying to get back on a stage or into a recording studio. I remember having jobs that I hated when I was very young and for the past 20 years I have loved what I do so I am happy being so busy.

    You are starting the year the same way you finished the last one. Playing some gigs which is great! What do you expect from this new year? (Have a very happy and prosperous 2011, by the way)
    Thank you. David has his first solo album coming out in February so I will continue working on my second solo record and on another record with my alt country band The Hickman Dalton Gang. Some time in the next few months David and I will get together and begin writing new songs for another Cracker record.

    Cracker has been there for twenty years regardless the trends and fashions of the moment. Tell us a bit about how you feel when you see all that you have achieved and how the road to get to that status has been?
    From the beginning of starting Cracker David and I have basically ignored what other bands were doing and just made music to please ourselves. It's really not a selfish thing or ignoring our fans. We have found that our true fans are happy that we just do our own thing. The "Crumbs" expect us to re invent our sound a little bit on every record. I think that is part of why we have lasted for so many years as a band. I am very proud of that. As far as how far we have come, it has not always been easy but it has always been worth it.

    Cracker albums have always been very enjoyable and fun to listen to, not only for the eclectic sound but the witty lyrics. Where does all that inspiration come from?
    Thank you. I think that David is one of the most unique lyricists in the business. It is a real pleasure to write songs with him. He always surprises me. We have a similar sense of humor and irony but he is the master of putting that into words which makes it a great partnership. In the case of most songs, my part of the equation is to come up with sketches of songs and the main guitar riffs. I am always extra proud when he sometimes sings lyrics that I have written. To me and David, the song is king. We are good at setting aside our egos and let the song tell us what it wants. We do whatever we can to make every song as good as it can be.

    At this point in your career, do you pay any attention to the chart performance and sales?
    Of course we want a record to succeed, but what does that mean anymore? In this new era we are in the internet is more important than radio. If you have a you tube video that gets 30 or 40 thousand hits that is better promotion than radio or charts. The music business is changing every minute. When I talk to new Cracker fans all over the world they always say they heard about us from friends or on the web. That's what we concentrate on now.

    Let’s talk a bit about Cracker’s last album “Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey” which feels like a perfect balance of songs with an edge and very humorous and some others more “made for the masses” but always with attitude, very much like in your first records, would you agree?
    It's not a conscious thing but as I said, every album starts with a different feel...usually whatever feels right in the moment to us. When we were writing "Sunrise..." we simultaneously came up with things that sounded kind of like the music we were listening to when we met as young guys which was mostly new wave or punk rock. The first thing we worked on the first day was an idea I brought in called "Time Machine". I didn't have lyrics yet but I had that punk rock riff and the title. I wrote the words later and David added some great parts too. I think that set the tone a little bit for the sound of the record that we started writing.

    On the song “Friends” you have Patterson Hood from The Drive By Truckers on vocals with David, and there are more collaborations in the album, how was the experience?
    I had written and recorded "Friends" for my first solo album Palmhenge, and David and Velena our manager (also David's wife) really liked it. We decided it would be cool to record it again for Cracker with Patterson singing it with David. That is extra cool because I was thinking about David and I and The Drive By Truckers when I wrote it. It was great to have friends of ours like John Doe from X and Adam Duritz from Counting Crows sing on the record too.

    Do you have a method of work when writing songs?
    Not really. All different methods work for us. Often David will have a song completed and just show it to us. Sometimes I will. A lot of times one of us will have an idea that we then start working on finishing it together. Sometimes it starts with a title, sometimes with a guitar riff.

    What’s new with your other projects,The Hickman-Dalton Gang, Crazysloth and All Thumbs Trio?
    I am working on a new solo record and we just started recording the next Hickman Dalton Gang record. I am also exited to start writing with David again later in the year. Other than that we will of course tour a little bit too. All Thumbs Trio is probably finished. The other two guys don't really get along very well.

    In your website you have a road blog with "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians" which I love. You haven’t updated it in a while now, are you planning on taking it up again?
    Thank you. I have had a lot of suggestions to start writing again. I have just begun writing some new autobiographical blogs...just Cracker stories and my personal history...some funny, crazy stories. I will put it out soon, I promise.

    In some of your entries you talk about your worries about this internet era, with the social networks, the unsolved issue of illegal downloads, people, especially younger people, taking for granted that art and mainly music is free and so on. I like the way you compare nowadays with the fall of Rome. Well, recently, we had all the wikileaks revelations, what’s your opinion about it?
    Well things are changing so fast it makes your head spin. Everything is available for free including art which is sad. It is going to keep good art from being made because that's how we make out living. I don't mind giving SOME free music away but we have to pay our bills too so please don't just steal music if you want more good music. No one wants to work very hard and not get paid for it.

    You are also quite outspoken about politics. Can I ask you how do you value Obama’s administration so far?
    President Obama inherited the worst mess of any president in United States history. He is doing his best to fix that mess and I support him for that even if it is an impossible task. Our citizens feel as if we are on the verge of another civil...this time between the right wing and the left wing. You as Spaniards understand that harsh, frightening reality very well of course. President Obama is calling for peaceful negotiations but we can only hope for that.

    Coming back to the music and in a more playful mood, we have realized you play a Les Paul customized with drawings and things, what are all these decorations?
    They are just something to do when I am bored but they are the names of my loved ones, decorations and also a tiny piece of wood from Muddy Water's birthplace glued on with his name. Good mojo!

    What music do you listen to? Do you have any new bands that you like?
    I love The Fleet Foxes and most things that Jack White is involved with. I listen to lots of music both old and new. I also like Jamey Johnson and outlaw country a lot.

    What’s the best part of touring?
    The fans are the best thing about touring. Meeting new ones and playing for them is why I do this. Working with guys you love and getting on that stage every night is wonderful too. Almost everything else about touring is exhausting or boring....or both.

    You were touring the UK last December, so is there any chance you will be heading this way soon? Any chance to see you in Spain in 2011?
    I will tour in Spain any chance I get. It is our favorite country in the world to play in. We will be working on new music this year but I am sure we will be back next year. We can not stay away!

    Would you like to leave any message for our readers in Spain?
    Yes. Thank you for supporting Cracker. Thank you for the wonderful friendships we have made there. Thank you for the best food, wine and people we have ever enjoyed. We truly love your country. And one more thing....go see the band Eurotrash Girl! They are our dear friends and a great band. Hope to see you all soon!

    Thank you for your time. We definitely will go and see Eurotrash Girl! And we also hope to see you very soon!

    Texto: Arancha R.