always been a rainbow coalition of sounds for Uncle Kracker, a
mélange of rock, hip-hop, country, jazz, soul, blues and more.
That's what they played on the radio (remember the radio?) when Kracker
was growing up, and that's what he has played ever since.
has literally been in music since he was a kid – he first hooked up with
his first mentor Kid Rock when he was only in middle school. After
years touring as part of Kid Rock's posse, he and the Kid worked
together on his first solo disk (remember disks?) Double Wide,
which came out in 2000 and housed the huge smash hit "Follow Me."
spent the rest of the decade recording and touring, periodically hitting
it with radio smashes like his cover of 70s classic "Drift Away" (which
was done as a duet with the original singer of the song, Dobie Gray),
his country cross-over hit "When the Sun Goes Down" with Kenny Chesney,
and another country-vibed nugget called "Smile." Kracker's most recent
album Midnight Special came out in 2012 on the storied indie
label Sugar Hill.
is currently taking part in the latest version of the Under the Sun
tour, Mark McGrath's annual 90's Fest in which McGrath's band Sugar Ray
hooks up with three of the biggest bands of the decade and travel the
country in a festival. Previous tour members have included Smash Mouth,
Gin Blossoms, Blues Traveler, Vertical Horizon and Fastball. The
current lineup, which is made up of Sugar Ray, Uncle Kracker, Better
Than Ezra and Eve 6, is crossing the country as we speak, stopping at
Xfinity Live in Philadelphia on August 22, 2015.
called us from the road to catch us up on what's going on Under the Sun.
did you get involved with the Under the Sun tour?
year Mark McGrath called me and asked me if it would be something I
would be interested in. Of course I said yes, I would be totally
interested in that. I've known McGrath for a long time, probably 20
years. He's helped me out tremendously in the past. We've been good
friends ever since. It just sounded like a fun tour to hop on, to be a
of the bands on the tour over the years are 90s bands, but your first
solo album came out in 2000. Why did they make that exception for you?
really know why, actually. I don't know, maybe because it was close
and you were working in the 90s, just not doing solo work.
you enjoying touring with Sugar Ray, Better than Ezra and Eve 6?
Everybody's fun. Nothing's hard out there. Everything is easygoing and
is what it is. There's no ego tripping out there with anybody. It's
just: hey, man, this is fun. Let's play! Everybody does about 40
minutes. They do their hits and they get out of there. Nobody is
trying to sell a new record. Nobody's trying to shove nothing down
nobody's throat. It's just fun.
Before you started working solo, you were part of Kid Rock's posse. How
did you start working with him?
long time ago I met him. I was probably 13 or so. I worked with him
when I was about 14 or 15. About 16 he asked me to DJ for him. I was
pretty cost efficient. I was free. (laughs) He loves free.
did you decide you wanted to move on and do your own music?
doing my own demos with Kid Rock before all that stuff. When I DJed for
him, I was always still making my own stuff. It was just always in our
plan: when the Kid Rock gig started unraveling, I would just be an
extension. We thought we would piggyback me off of him, or something.
Spawn my record off of his, anyway. It just made more sense that way.
Eventually that's what we ended up doing.
first huge hit was "Follow Me," which sort of draws the equivalent
between love and drug addiction. Was it fun to play with a dichotomy
(laughs) I like doing that. I
really like doing that stuff. I don't do enough of it. It's fun to
just draw astray. It's just writing. Songwriting 101, I guess.
Fifteen years after the hit, do you still look at love as a drug?
Yes. Definitely. It's definitely something I don't look at like I used
to look at. (laughs) I'm older.
Double Wide and particularly "Follow Me" ended
up being huge hits. How surreal was it for your first single to be all
over the radio and TV and all?
beyond surreal. We were touring with the Devil Without a Cause
album [by Kid Rock] for almost three years straight. I thought that was
pretty awesome, and like hitting the lottery itself. Then when we put
my first record out and it did... (laughs) well it didn't do near
what Devil Without a Cause ended up doing, but it did pretty
sweet. It was like hitting the lottery twice, really.
were able to record "Drift Away" with the original singer Dobie Gray,
who has since passed away. Why did you decide you wanted to cover that
back when my first record came out, I had "Follow Me," but that was my
only hit off of that record. In fact, that single would just never go
away. We never even could come with a single after that because it
lasted so long. When I would show up to do shows, people only knew that
song. The house contracted you to do shows for like 75 minutes or 90
minutes. It's hard to play 90 minutes of music to people that have
never heard any of it before in their lives. I just followed these
people who knew "Follow Me" and Kid Rock had suggested to me a long time
ago "While you're there, you should maybe cover 'Drift Away' or
something like that." I was covering "Drift Away" in the live shows,
doing acoustic sets at radio stations with it, just because it had some
familiarity with people. It helps ease the pain of sitting there. It's
brutal when people are just staring at you and they haven't heard what
you're doing before.
was it decided to record it?
playing an acoustic set in New York City. Scott Shannon was the program
director, a legendary disk jockey. He had called the guy at my record
label and said, "If Uncle Kracker doesn't cut that for his record it
would be a big mistake." Because I was doing that just kind of
acoustic-y at a morning show there. Of course Scott Shannon gets fired
up and everybody at the record label gets fired up, like "Ooh, Scott
Shannon says...." Which is good. It worked out awesome, but that's how
that shook down.
was Dobie like to work with?
was a nice man. A very nice man. He was always professional. He would
just come and he always delivered. We did a couple of things with him.
I didn't expect him to come and do the video, or when we went to radio
with the single, when we played Jay Leno, stuff like that. I didn't
expect him to do all that, but he was more than helpful. He was above
and beyond kind. He was great. He was great.
on the same album you worked with the legendary Jordanaires [a gospel
group that often worked with Elvis Presley] on "Memphis Soul Song." How
did that happen and what was that like?
what? I never even made it into the studio with them. There were a lot
of scheduling conflicts with that. I remember obviously wanting the
Jordanaires for the harmonies and all that stuff. I just remember there
being like, one guy couldn't make it because he had to go fishing. The
other guy couldn't make it because he had a haircut appointment he
didn't want to skip out on. (laughs) Which is awesome, you
know? Then I think I couldn't make it one day because I was on tour.
The version we ended up with was super sweet [because of] them guys.
But, yes I never got to make it into the actual studio. Then we
couldn't get them in the video with me because we were shooting in a
bar. They didn't want to shoot in a bar, probably because it was
secular. Which I get. They're just legendary and I'm just lucky to
have had them sing. I wish I would have been in that studio with them
while they were doing it. It would have been awesome.
About that same time you hooked up with Kenny Chesney for
"When the Sun Goes Down" and touring. In fact, your whole next album
72 and Sunny was
mostly country. Why did you feel you wanted to follow that direction?
you know what? I'd always toed the line. Even with some of Double
Wide, the first record, we still used a lot of pedal steel and there
was a lot of rap stuff. Second record I was just going in not any one
direction or another, anyway. I hadn't really claimed anything. Still
haven't to this day, which is probably why I have been able to stick
around so long. I have been really lucky to not have been pigeonholed
into any one thing or another. I don't know what to attribute that to,
but that third record, I guess it did toe the line between adult
contemporary and country. I probably made the mistake of not committing
one way or the other again, to be honest.
like you just said, your music has touched on lots of genres: rock,
soul, folk, jazz, hip-hop, country. When you were growing up, did you
listen to lots of styles of music? Back in the day you could hear all
those things on the same radio station, which you really can't now.
Right. I just didn't know anything different. Growing up in Detroit,
you didn't even have to change your radio station dial. You put it on
one station and it wasn't all pop, or all rock, or all anything else.
You could hear a R&B song after a rock and roll song. The disk jockey
came on to let you know what you were listening to and who it was. Why
it was good. Growing up, I didn't know any real difference. My dad
listened to either all Motown or Patsy Cline and George Jones. My mom
listened to James Taylor or BJ Thomas. It was one end of the spectrum
to the other. I think it was just growing up with that so you weren't
crossing the line on anything, either.
has your wide range musical tastes changed your music?
as I got older, just DJing at clubs, the one thing I learned was you
didn't necessarily play everything you liked in a club. You were
playing for other people. So that opened the door for me to listen to
things that I normally wouldn't listen to. Just opened my mind up a
little bit to other things. There's always room to grow if you let it
in. I'm like the kid that – well, I'm not a kid anymore, I'm way old
now – but I'm like the guy right now that a radio station will come on
and I'll be like, "That's fucking sweet. Who is that?" Everybody will
look at me and go, "That's Led Zeppelin, dummy." I'm like damn! I love
it. Just when you think you've heard everything, you haven't. I love
hearing something new that makes me think or makes me want to do
something other than sit there like a dummy.
really loved your single "Smile," which sort of continued your country
trail. At that point, it had been a few years since your last big hit,
was it nice to return to the charts?
but I'm used to that. I'm used to not being on there. (laughs)
You can put one out, it doesn't do anything. You put another out it
hits. It just is what it is. I've been lucky all these years to still
Your most recent album,
Midnight Special, was released on the legendary
indie label Sugar Hill. After doing all your previous albums on majors,
what are the positives and negatives of working on an indie?
for example on an indie you may have a lot more control over the final
obviously there's positives and negatives on each of them. Mainly the
advantages of being on a major label are greater, obviously. They can
pull somebody with more strength, depending on what you're looking to
do. I guess that would be the advantage of being with a major against
being with an indie. [On Sugar Hill] I did have whatever I needed,
creative freedom to do whatever I wanted to do, but I had that on the
major label, too. Since I was a little kid I've always heard artists
crying: Waahh, the label made us do this. Ohh, the label made us do
that. They don't make you do anything, really. One thing I found on a
major label is they just want hit songs. If you don't want them, you're
not going to have them, pretty much. That's the reality of it. They
have the guns, you just give them the bullets. You either want them or
you don't want them. It's how bad do you want it, and how bad do you
not want it?
do you think of the current state of the music business? The label
system even you came up in is obviously broken with piracy, bad sales,
low-streaming fees, but young acts do have many more outlets to get
things out there. Do you think that an artist like you could have
gotten an audience in this atmosphere?
what? I don't know. I'm glad I did get in when I got in as opposed to
now. I do think there's a lot fewer records being put out. Not as many
albums get attached to gate keepers. There's a ton less. But I think
the internet makes up for lack of anything new coming out. I would like
to think that music would get better, to be honest. People being a
little bit more creative with themselves, as opposed to letting somebody
else do it. I see it going back to the way it used to be.
has social media changed the way you get your music out there and
interact with fans?
what, that's how dumb I am. I don't take advantage of that type of
thing. People always tell me all the time how much I should be tweeting
or something else. I guess you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
(laughs) With so many years of not doing it, you just don't even
think to do it. Once in a while I tweet, but if I do start engaging in
that, I usually get myself in trouble. So I put it down.
would you like for people to see your career?
just say they have to see it as they see it. I've had a lot of fun over
the last 20 years. If somebody couldn't see that, it would be a shame.
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