Uncle Kracker – Interview [2000]

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Uncle Kracker

I know you are wondering who Uncle Kracker is. You’re going to be really surprised to find out you’ve been listening to him for some time now and just didn’t know it. During the day, Matt Shafer is a father and a husband, but at night he is the turntable wiz behind Kid Rock. Kracker not only mans the mix but also co-wrote most of Kid Rock’s highly successful Devil Without A Cause.

Quiet and laid back, it would seem that Kracker would never get on with a loudmouth like Kid Rock, but they truly work perfectly together. Kracker has been satisfied being the number two guy. It’s only now that he finds his time to shine. Double Wide should make Kracker a star. Even if it doesn’t sell as many albums as Kid Rock’s previous release, it has certainly proved Kracker’s ability.

Out of the shadows and into the light comes Uncle Kracker.

Hey, what’s up?

Oh, man, a lot actually.

I know you’ve been busy.

Yeah. It’s better than not being busy, right?

Exactly. It has to be insane doing all the Kid Rock stuff and now promoting your own album.

It is. It is cool though. I’m just happy to have my own record out now.

Speaking of the record, the first thing that hit me when I heard it was what in the world did you grow up listening to? Because even though Kid Rock’s album hits a lot of areas, you seem to have even more.

I grew up listening to Motown, country, like Patsy Cline and George Jones, all from my dad. And I grew up with it not by choice.

Same as me.

It wasn’t until high school that I realized there was other things going on. My mom always listened to classic rock so I guess it was just a mix of all that. And when I joined up with Kid Rock it was all about mixing in classic rock beats and incorporated it.

Were you writing before you met up with Kid?

When I first met him, I was twelve. It was then that I first started writing. He was already doing demos and stuff. I was like, ‘Wow.’ He was older than me so I looked up to him and still do. Because of that, I’m doing what I do now. I had my own deal when I was sixteen, a solo deal, and he got me out of that. I always wrote and it was after that, he got me out of that deal, that I started writing with him. Whether it was little or whatever, but we became best friends. A lot of people don’t know that I co-wrote the Devil Without A Cause record. All but two songs I wrote with him.

The thing is that I think that people see a dj and they probably think he just picked you up at some club or something. I think a lot of people see djs as disposable, you know?

Yeah, like I was a straggler or something. Back in ’91 he really did just throw me up there and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. (laughs) He just threw me up there because he had to have someone to back him up on vocals. It was cost efficient. He could take me on the road and do a show that was like three hours away, so we’d drive there and come right back home because we didn’t have no money. So either we could get a hotel room and split it among all of us or we could get Denny’s and drive home. So we went with Denny’s. I was cost effective because he didn’t have to pay me nothing. I looked up to him and it was all good.

How long were you sitting on the songs for this album?

Actually we didn’t really sit on them at all. We did everything on the fly, like in the parking lots, hotel rooms, and on the bus. I didn’t dig for old material at all. That is the one thing that Kid and myself are against, and that is digging up old material for new stuff. We figure if you can write a good song today, then you can write a new song tomorrow. And if you can’t, then you need to find something else to do. Because you get a lot of bands that get their record deals and they take their songs and rerecord them and polish them. They’ve played these same songs hundreds of times so obviously they sound good. There are a lot of bands that have really good first records because they’ve been playing those songs forever, and then the second record sucks because they had to write on the fly.

You’re right. I find that a lot of bands say their first album has songs that are eight years old or something. I always wonder why they don’t try to update the songs.

I know. What is that old saying? It takes an artist his whole life to write his first record and six months to write his second one. We never were like that. Me and Bob just write songs daily. We pride ourselves on always coming up with something new.

It must be nice because you don’t have to worry.

Yeah. So I’m not like, ‘Oh my God, I need some inspiration.’ Fuck that.

Do you write from strumming on the guitar or humming a melody?

You know, I find that I write better to a piano than anything else.

Is it tinkering or do you know how to play?

I tinker and I only know a few chords on the acoustic guitar. I know enough to write a song.

That’s insane.

I know. I don’t call myself a musician. I’m more of a songwriter. I don’t want to change anything.

That is crazy because there are guys who are sick guitar players and yet they can’t write a song to save their lives.

You’re right. That is the thing. They learn everyone else’s riffs and chords and when it comes to writing their own thing they can’t, but that is par for the course, I guess. Some of most talented musicians are sitting there playing in their basements because they don’t know anybody or they are too talented to talk to anybody, know what I’m saying?

Yep.

A lot of people are like, ‘I don’t want to sacrifice this.’

Or they think they are going to give up their integrity.

Yeah. Fuck all that. A lot of people are just so full of shit.

So is it a relief to finally get your album out?

Yeah. Especially because I feel like I put out a really good album. I’m really happy about the record. It isn’t the record I set out to do, but I’m really happy about it.

What did you set out to do?

I was looking to do more towards the Kid Rock

It’s great for you because he’s gone through all the shit which means you don’t have to.

Exactly. So I don’t have to get screwed. He is always looking out for me. So I’m taking what he is helping me do and running with it. It’s do or die and the iron is hot right now. He’s helped me take life less seriously.

You get to enjoy it and you aren’t stressing all the time.

Yeah. He made me feel that there is light at the end of every tunnel and that there is really nothing to ever be mad about. He made me feel a lot of things so much more different than I had to. I actually could probably give a frogs fat ass about anything. (laughs) People are people. I used to get spooked by people who I felt inferior to. Now I just realized that people are people no matter if they make a million a year or five grand.

I know exactly what you mean. I’ve interviewed bands of all shapes and sizes, all different levels of talents, and, you know, the biggest bands in the world who could have the biggest egos can often be the coolest and the bands that are just starting have the biggest chips on their shoulders.

One thing Bob has taught me is to just be me. Like I said, I love him for that. He’s helped me as a person before he helped me with everything else.

You couldn’t possibly get better lessons than what you are getting.

You are right. I fucking thank God every day. I don’t wake up and thank God every day. (laughs) But I am really thankful. I’m happy just to be a part of that fucker’s world.

Like you’ve done the biggest show ever at Woodstock.

I know. Where the fuck else could I have done that? He’s taken me so far. How many times do you get to go around the world with your best friend?

The coolest thing is that the album is good. I think a lot of people might just blow you off because they’ll say you are just getting a deal because you happen to be in Kid Rock’s band.

The one thing that I found out that getting a record deal absolutely means dick. That is just a starting point.

I hear that. We get a ton of cds and we’re like, ‘Man, they’re just handing these things out.’

(laughs) I know. It is weird, some of the people who end up with record deals. It doesn’t mean dick. I think what they do is they’ll hear a band and will be like, ‘Hey, they sound like so and so,’ and they’ll sign them. They sign them off of what? Because they sound like the happening thing at the time? Nobody looks ahead. That is the fucked part. That is why music is always seeming to lag.

I know. I was curious about the album. Was the melody for the song “Heaven” a Hank Williams Jr. track?

Yep. That was the only thing that I actually stole. The rest is totally original. I’ve always wanted to make that and make it into a different chorus. I actually got his blessing for it a few weeks ago.

Really?

Yeah. It was great. He is the epitome of cool.

I expected the album to be like a lot of rap and rock, but then you get a track like “Follow Me”. That threw me.

That was a surprise to me too. I kind of got reamed for that. That was one of the days Bob wasn’t around and I made it and Bob came back and remixed it. So that was kind of cool.

I know you said you don’t want to dig up old stuff, but do you ever go back and look at the Kid Rock album and go, ‘Damn, I should have kept that.’?

(we both laugh) No. But you know, as far as taking hot lines that you never used before, I’ll dig for that. It might not fit then, and in like two weeks it might. But as far as full songs, I never go back and dig those up. But I think there are some stuff that we never used on the Kid Rock record that I should dig up.

Yeah.

But I don’t know. It just means more to me to just keep it in the shoe box. Maybe I should pull out all the stops, but you are selling your soul as it is. Why give them everything? I’m not talking like I’m against the machine, but some things are just more sacred than others. I think my daughter will get more out of them than some record company guy.

Do you have any idea where your gift for writing melodies has come from?

Dude, you know what? Before this record, even before the Kid Rock record, I never wrote hooks. I wrote rap songs with rap hooks, but I didn’t sing myself until this record. The first song I recorded was “Better Days”. These melodies just pop into my head. I think I get them from old country records. The only approach that I could possibly take and get the job done. To me, hooks with harmonies are just great. I think my album is very melodic.

I don’t think music listeners generally realize that melodies are the hardest things to write. I mean, that is all these boy bands are about. The hook and the melody that comes with it.

Exactly. It keeps you humming.

Even if you don’t know the words, you can still hum it or fake it.

Right. That is what keeps them coming back. You couldn’t have told me that five years ago because we were rapping and trying to incorporate a guitar.

I can understand the country and classic rock things because they are both big on anthems.

I know. A lot of songs don’t even compare to songs back then. I think people in general are lazier than they were and I don’t think they put their heart in it as much.

I think it’s because of the stuff Kid and you bring in is why you get compared to Lynard Skynard so much.

I know. We always get compared to them. They had only one top ten hit with “Sweet Home Alabama”. What we did with Devil Without A Cause hasn’t been done since Lynard Skynard did it. To be compared to them is just amazing. Bands of that era weren’t getting paid close to what bands today get, but their hearts were in it. They busted their asses.

Back then, groups just cranked out anthems. The thing is a lot of those songs were timeless.

We’re all about making some timeless songs. I think “Only God Knows Why” is timeless. I might be biased because I wrote half of it, but that is one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time. (laughs)

So are you going to be able to go out on the road to support the album?

Yeah, probably in the fall. I’m not leaving the Kid Rock thing. So when he is taking a vacation, I’ll be back doing the grind.

It has to be a million times harder having a daughter.

It is. She just turned a year old. Fuck, every time I come home she is bigger and it just gets harder and harder to leave her, but I figure she is still young and doesn’t know what is going on. I mean, what is the average career of an artist? Four years?

Probably.

If I can put in a few solid years and set her up straight, I think I’d be less of a father and husband.

Plus then you’ll have all the time in the world. You won’t have to work some job for forty years.

That is what I’m thinking. That is the plan, I guess. Hopefully everyone is good in the end.

+ charlie craine

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