Interview: Cracker’s Johnny Hickman

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It seems like Cracker has been around forever, right? Well, only since 1991, but that’s still a long time! And the group is still touring! They’ll be at Highline Ballroom on Friday, January 15, along with Camper Van Beethoven (buy tickets here). I got a chance to speak with co-founder Johnny Hickman about everything from their new album Sunrise in the Land of Milk Honey to the group’s Spanish fanbase:

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Big Apple Music Scene: You and David Lowery have been the two band founders and steady members since 1991. Do you feel like Cracker has maintained its persona and sound through the many changing other members through the years?

Johnny Hickman: I feel as though we’ve never stop challenging ourselves or searching for the perfect “Cracker”. Even though we may never get there, the attempt is what keeps us going and is the pleasure of it. With every record we push it a little further while at the same time have remained true to our original idea of the band which was to make exactly the music we want to make right there and then. The positive aspect of a changing line up is that every player we’ve worked with has brought a little something unique to the sound at that time. It always ends up sounding like Cracker to me because at the core is the conversation between David’s lyrics and my guitar melodies.

BAMS: You guys have been touring and putting out albums pretty much nonstop since 1991. Do you still truly enjoy it?

JH: We both do, yes. As I like to say you don’t have to do this, you GET to. There are negatives that come with the territory of course, like the elusive balance of maintaining any kind of relationship outside of the band. This is simply because you are always gone. I’m talking about both love and friendship. There have been a more than a few shattered relationships in our wake but that’s who we are. We tour. If I had it to do over again I definitely would. I know who I am after all these years. I’ve learned that If you deny who and what you are you’ll be miserable. I smile every day….”lucky bastard” as David’s sings in “Big Dipper.”
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Image: via Tony Bonyata at Pavement PR

BAMS: Your latest album, Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey, has gotten a positive response critically and in terms of sales. Do you feel that this album is better than the previous ones that had a more lukewarm response? Or do people just “get” this one more?

JH: I’m extremely proud of all of our records. We just make them, set them free to walk to earth and never know which are going to show up on the radar. On Sunrise the punk blood of our fledgling days boiled a little hotter and the topics throughout reflect the precarious times we are in as a nation so maybe it was just the right time and place.

BAMS: Your heading out on tour with Camper Van Beethoven through mid January and then you head off to Spain by yourselves. Do you have a large fanbase in Spain?

JH: We had heard about our Spanish audience a few years before we met them which was about halfway through our career. Our management at the time was fine with us playing mostly in the states but David and I like to explore new territory whenever possible. When we finally made it to a festival and tour in Spain the response was huge. It was like….”Where have you been? What took you so long?” To this day we have an ongoing love affair with Spain. We have more fans there per capita then we do in the states even. It’s like heaven to us.

BAMS: After Spain you return to to the U.S. and have several shows billed as “Acoustic Duo.” What will that involve exactly?

JH: David and I have been doing the “Cracker Acoustic Duo” shows for about six or seven years now. We play to about as many people as the full band does and the fans really seem to enjoy it. I should point out that it’s not your typical “acoustic” show. I play electric guitar and harmonica and David is both acoustic rhythm guitar and the rhythm section. He spent years in Spain as a kid and has that percussive style where he beats hell out of his nylon string guitar. It’s sounds spare but huge, the two of us. And it also get whisper quiet at times, making for very dramatic renditions of the songs.

BAMS: What do you have planned for the future of Cracker?

JH: We’ll continue to tour behind Sunrise In The land Of Milk And Honey into next year and then take a short breather and see where we are. We don’t plan to far in advance. We’ll know when it’s time to start writing and go back into the lab for another bunch of songs. It could go off in any direction. We love the unknown and reserve the right to do whatever we choose. All we know is that we will do it 100% or not at all.