By Rick Coates
Uncle Kracker returns to Northern Michigan with a Smile on his face. He is kicking off the second leg of his tour in support of his latest release Happy Hour this week in Michigan and will perform Saturday night at Ground Zero Nightclub in Traverse City.
Uncle Kracker has a fondness for Northern Michigan; he grew up in Mt. Clemens and has a place up here where he hangs when he is not touring. Best known for collaborations with artists such as Kid Rock and Kenny Chesney, as well as his own hits, such as Follow Me, and a cover of Dobie Grays Drift Away, Uncle Kracker collaborated this time with another Michigan native singer songwriter JTX on several songs, including the smash hit, Smile.
He took time from rehearsing with his band to answer a few questions for the Express.
Northern Express: Your new song Smile has vaulted you back to the top of the charts. Talk about the writing process and co-writing it with JTX (Party Like A Rock Star fame). What inspired the song?
Uncle Kracker: A bad night, to be honest, we had a bad night of writing and the next morning I said lets just try and write something fun and positive and Smile just came out and it took us about an hour to write. Its funny, but so many people have connected with the song it has taken on different meanings depending on who is listening to it. JTX is my buddy and a great writer, a Michigan boy.
NE: You even shot the video in Northern Michigan, in Hale (between Rose City and Lake Huron) where you have a second home, that must have been a lot of fun?
Kracker: Anytime you can do anything in Michigan it is a good and fun thing. I picked the Fourth of July Weekend because I knew people would be smiling. I didnt want forced smiles; I wanted to catch people just naturally having fun. There was a parade going on and people at the beach and then a concert at the local bar. It was really cool to make this video in Northern Michigan.
NE: You took five years between albums, why so long?
Kracker: I had another album done about two years ago and then my daughter, who was eight at the time going on 28, said to me, Dad me and my friends dont like your music, we cant dance to any of your songs. Then a couple of days later I was talking to my mom and told her I had just finished a new album. She said I hope it has some songs I can dance to. I dont think it was a conspiracy but I went back to the drawing board called up a couple of buddies including JTX who I know you guys in Northern Michigan love because you put him on the cover of the paper, and we started writing songs.
NE: So do your daughter and mother like the new CD?
Kracker: Yes they love it and they say they can dance to it. I like it to because it is the first time I put out a record that had a theme to it. This album is all about being happy, having fun. there was no pressure to write songs.we just let the songs come to us.
NE: Speaking of songs, many people might not know that you co-wrote that hit for Kid Rock, All Summer Long, and you perform it in your live shows. How did that come about?
Kracker: Rock called me because he was into this mash-up concept where you take other songs and mash them together and write a new song. He had mashed together a Warren Zevon and Lynyrd Skynyrd song and called me and asked me to come over and help him write a song. Well we both had had plenty of experiences in Northern Michigan, so it took us an hour to write it.
Funny you would think this would be a summertime anthem just for people who live in Michigan but it is an anthem for people everywhere. Rock gets a huge response no matter where he is at and so do I. I can be anywhere in the country and the audience sings along with that song (maybe Travel Michigan should use it in their next ad campaign).
NE: If you were to go into the Uncle Kracker song vault, what song are you most surprised didnt become a hit?
Kracker: That is a hard one because I am biased -- I think they all should be hits. I guess if I were to pick one it would be Memphis Soul Song. I was sure that would be a hit. I quit doing it at my shows and people come up and ask why afterwards. It just didnt connect with the masses, but then again neither did my last CD, so you never know.
NE: The last song on Happy Hour is Mainstreet, a Bob Seger cover. You (who isnt) are a big Seger fan, why this song and what has the response been?
Kracker: Segers music has always been the soundtrack of my life. I cant remember ever doing anything important growing up where I didnt have a Seger song playing in the background.
For me personally as a singer-songwriter I hold no musician in higher esteem than Bob Seger. In my opinion no one in this business is able to package it all together better than Seger, what I mean by that is no one can write a song, sing a song and perform a song like Seger does. he is flawless. I hope that someday I can be half of what he is musically. I have been criticized by some for not putting my own spin on Mainstreet, but how can you make a Seger song better? You cant. I wanted to honor Seger and my hope is somebody will get the CD here and search out Seger if they are not familiar with his music.
NE: You started out in Kid Rocks band and became a solo artist 10 years ago, some critics quickly panned you as a one hit wonder, but 10 years later you have proved them all wrong, you have to feel pretty good about your career.
Uncle Kracker: I feel better than good, I feel great and I feel extremely blessed. Look, I was DJ in Kid Rocks band when he started. We hit the big time but Rock didnt make much money at first so he figured he needed to start putting forward other musicians to make money and I was one of them and I had early success, selling two million copies of my first CD.
So to be here in this business after 10 years is a great feeling because the shelf life for most musicians is five years. But I will tell you this, I am not planning on going anywhere because I am committed and passionate about music, it is who I am and when you put commitment and passion together it is a bad mother-f*cking combination. In fact I held a couple of songs back from this CD that are smokin to give me a jump start on the next CD. I have been in rehearsal with my band and we are ready to hit the road. I have Rehab, one of my favorite bands touring with me. I am kicking off my tour in Michigan and I cant wait to come to Traverse City this Saturday. I love Northern Michigan, even if it aint summertime.
Uncle Kracker and Rehab (Bartender Song) will perform this Saturday at Ground Zero Night Club (formerly Streeters/The Terminal). Only a few tickets remain. For additional information or to purchase tickets go www.groundzeroonline.com or call 231.932.1300. For sampling of Uncle Krackers new music and to watch the Smile video that was filmed in Northern Michigan go to www.unclekracker.com .