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Cracker barrels onward

The indie-rock godfathers celebrate two decades of droll devotion



Cracker has cultivated a steadfast cult following over the course of its 20-year existence. Fans of the band's punchy indie-rock sound are known as Crumbs, the kind of tribal appellation more typical of jam bands — which Cracker most definitely is not.

Whether you're a diehard fan, or have just heard the band's hits, there are good reasons to gravitate toward Cracker's fusion of alt-country with punk-rock underpinnings: Songwriters David Lowery and Johnny Hickman fashion hooks so effortlessly ingratiating that we may one day discover they've been in cahoots with Fagin and the Artful Dodger. Whether the indelible wah-guitar riff of "Get Off This," the surf-inflected lead of "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)," or the ringing call-return drone at the foundation of "Low," they make undeniably catchy music.

And that's not even their strongest point. They're also damn fine lyricists with a sly, often ironic sense of humor reminiscent of Warren Zevon.

"Zevon's one of my favorite songwriters," says Hickman, brightening at the mention. "We also like Randy Newman and Captain Beefheart. Guys that have a skewed perspective on reality and a slightly twisted sense of humor."

Although Hickman and Lowery were teenage friends in Redlands, Calif., they spent the next decade making music in other bands. But after Lowery's critically lauded Camper Van Beethoven called it quits, the two musicians happened to find themselves without bands at the same time. They committed to partnership and vowed not to succumb to the standard bullshit that broke up Camper Van Beethoven.

"We made a decision to stay the course," Hickman says of Cracker, which released its self-titled debut back in 1992. "You bury the hatchet and move on. You realize that you make great music together and the odds of that happening — finding someone you can write songs and make music with year after year — is a rare thing. So we value it."

The bandleaders have given each other room to do other projects, and each released a solid solo album in the past year. But nothing's prevented a steady stream of strong Cracker albums. It's the kind of catalog and longevity that attracts fans of all ages.

"Those are one of the things that keep you going, the next generation of fans. It's fantastic and we've been very fortunate that way," he says. "A big part of the reason we've retained our stability as a band is that we never did get so big that our ego got in the way of the nuts-and-bolts business of going out and saying hello to people after shows."

If you want, you might talk to Hickman about Colorado. When not on tour, the former California resident's happy to call Loveland home.

"Every time we'd come through, in the back of my mind I'd tucked away the thought of retiring here someday. Then I met my now wife and I made her a deal if she moved to California for a couple years, I'd move to Colorado with her," he says. "I've been here about 11 years now. I don't think I'll ever move again, I absolutely love Colorado."

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