Between stints in Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, David Lowery has spent a good chunk of his creative life touring and recording. Along the way, he and his merry band of musical vagabonds have had a chance to show off a number of fanciful cover songs. Here are a trio of Lowery’s favorites.
Paul Williams “Rainy Days and Mondays”
“We did ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ with Cracker but it was really weird, because Johnny [Hickman’s] brother died that week. So it was kind of an emotional thing and Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse plays the minimal guitar parts on it. What’s really cool is that we put that thing out and I’m at the studio and there’s a letter to me and the return address is from Paul Williams. I’m thinking it’s some guy named Paul Williams but it turned out to be the song’s composer—it’s this really great letter about how he loved the recording of that song, because he wrote it. He said there was something about the recording of the song that he said was the version he wished had been done. It was really crazy.”
Traditional “O Death”
“For Camper, our version of ‘O Death’ borrows heavily from the traditional ‘O Death,’ which borrows from Kaleidoscope’s version of ‘O Death,’ which borrows heavily from Dock Boggs or someone like that. For me, to hear that, it really stands the test of time for me, and covers don’t always do that. It stands the test of time because we sort of brought what is Camper to that song while preserving what it stood for as a traditional song. You’ve got 400 years of stuff in it or more. That’s really hard to navigate.
The Grateful Dead “Loser”
“‘Loser’ is just so off the cuff. You know that it’s just us playing that in the studio while sort of getting sounds. I think Johnny knew it. Davey [Faragher] wasn’t really familiar with the Grateful Dead and Michael [Urbano] wasn’t really familiar with them. So we were just showing it to them, so we we’d been going through it cycle after cycle, which is why it fades up and fades out. That’s just a mix to two-track. I think the drums are panned to one side and the vocals are panned to another side, because nobody is actually mixing that. It’s just cool because there’s no pretense to it. It’s candid and it’s like someone accidentally took a snapshot and there are all these interesting things going on in the snapshot to make the composition really interesting. It’s not like it’s consciously authored.”
Q: If memory serves me correctly, you guys opened for the Dead.
“Yes, that led to us opening for the Dead. I met Jerry Garcia for 30 seconds and the story about that is we were about to go on and we were standing by this row of Porta-Potties. The stage is an enormous structure and there are a lot of people working on and under the stage as well as in the rigging. So there’s this row of Porta-Potties at the bottom of the stage and I’m standing right by them as we’re waiting to go on stage and the Porta-Potty door bumps me and he apologizes for bumping into me. He says, ‘You’re Cracker’ and he starts shaking my hand and saying, ‘I love your version of ‘Loser.’ I’m not a germaphobe, but for some reason during that minute I was thinking that there was no sink in the bathroom. I stumbled over what I was saying because I was distracted by all of this stuff and then he walked off. I thought, ‘God damn it—I just wasted those 30 seconds.’ (laughs). But that’s really great, when I meet him. That’s like the Fates playing a cruel joke.”
Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven will be appearing on Jan. 20 at Sony Hall, 235 W. 46th St., NYC. For more information, visit www.sonyhall.com or call 212-997-5123.