Uncle Kracker Serves ‘Happy Hour’ With a ‘Smile’
Uncle Kracker (born Matt Shafer) may have gotten his start as a DJ for buddy Kid Rock, but his songwriting definitely helped secure the decade-long career he has enjoyed since with hits like 'Follow Me,' 'In a Little While,' and his country duet with Kenny Chesney, 'When the Sun Goes Down.'
After a five-year hiatus from recording, and fresh from co-penning Kid Rock's 2008 hit, 'All Summer Long,' Kracker entered a Nashville studio and recorded a project, only to scrap it months later, re-evaluate the process, and as a result, find the fun in making music again. The resulting project, the aptly titled 'Happy Hour,' recorded with renowned producer Rob Cavallo, has already yielded an undeniably catchy hit, 'Smile,' leaving Kracker doing just that at the thought of finding joy again in the musical process after a few years of struggling.
Taking part of his moniker from an Uncle Dave Macon poster he spied while stuck on a layover in Nashville years ago, Kracker explains that he has always been a country music fan and continues to be inspired by the roots music of his youth along with rap and his other influences.
It's been about five years since your last album, so you had quite a bit of time between records. In the meantime you co-wrote Kid Rock's smash, 'All Summer Long' ... Did the good vibes that came with that put you in a place where you could write positive songs again?
It really did. It wasn't until I wrote 'All Summer Long' and I let my kids listen to it and my oldest child -- she was probably 10 at the time -- she was really into it. It's such a fun song, and she was like, 'Why don't you have any songs like that, Dad? We just don't listen to your records, Dad, because you can't dance to them!' And a few days later, I was talking to my mom on the phone and she mentioned the same thing. So it really made me think, and they were trying to tell me that a lot of the fun was missing from what I was doing. And I just scrapped it and made an effort to have more fun with everything I was doing at that time. I just took a few months and reassessed and made a decision to do something that made me happy again.
Did you change any of the things you had been doing in your life to sort of inspire the music this time around?
I started working with a couple of different people I had never worked with, just to mix things up a little bit. We brought in a different producer ... I had a couple of buddies I always wanted to write with that I never did, and I went in and wrote with them, and it was basically just to shake up what I was doing. And I had a whole bunch of fun doing that. I definitely started seeing more of that in the record as the record progressed. And I found myself at a point where for the first time in my life I had an actual gameplan for an album, and I had never had that before. It had always been write a song, write a song, write a song, and when you've got enough for an album you put an album out.
'My Girlfriend' is such a fun song, rumored to be inspired by someone from the country world. Would people be surprised who it's about?
I don't know if I can say anything about it without getting anybody in trouble! It's another fun song that was definitely inspired by someone we all know, but it's also something that's relevant today. It started out as a joke. We were sitting on the patio and it was probably 90 degrees in Nashville. We were talking about something that someone clearly didn't want to be talking about, and we were just joking around. It started out as a joke – in no way was it meant to be a song on the album, but it was just so funny and it worked out for the better to have it on the record.
'Smile' was on the pop, AC and country charts, and it's been everywhere -- even on TV commercials. How do you feel about having that crossover success?
I'm not trying to step on anybody's toes with it crossing over. I think it's a good, fun, positive song that can stand on its own and not be questioned. I'm a big fan of country, and I grew up listening to a lot of country. My old man was into country. A lot of people don't realize what a big country thing Detroit is, it's a huge fan of country. And I know a lot of people from down south migrated up north to Detroit for jobs at Ford and Chrysler a long time ago. I know that's got to be a big part of why we have such a big fanbase in Detroit, but it's definitely been a big part of my life. And to see something like 'Smile' being played on country radio, that's not to sound cliché but it makes me smile.
It's just a great town. There's no other place that's a country music mecca -- pop and rock guys don't have a city like that where everybody's into the same thing. It's comfortable there and everything we love is there. I can't go back to Detroit and find the things to do that I can find in Nashville to do. You go down to a corner bar and watch a singer/songwriter every hour on the hour, every night of the week. And the town is full of other musicians and artists that are just creeping around and trying to find something to do and have fun. It's a great spot for a lot of cool things to happen, with a lot of talented people floating around. And for people like myself and Kid Rock and other people who love music, there's not a better place to spend some downtime.
Do you like to write songs when you come to town?
I'm a little more laid back when it comes to writing. I don't like to do scheduled writing-type stuff. However, I've written quite a few things in Nashville and I love the guys I've written with. They're great talented people but I like to be on a little more relaxed schedule than that. I like to write at my cabin up north in Michigan, and I find there are a million other things to do to take my mind off what I'm thinking about if I get stuck for a minute. I like to go at it for about 10 minutes, and if 10 minutes goes by and I haven't thought of anything, I'll just put it down and figure out something to do -- maybe go fishing or snowmobiling. I'll disappear for about 40 minutes until something pops into my head. But I guess there's no pressure up there.
You and Kenny Chesney had a smash with 'When the Sun Goes Down' a few years ago. Do you still keep in touch?
Yeah, I talk to Kenny probably every other day. We became really good buddies out of that. Having toured with him for the couple of years that I did, we got really close. He's a great dude, and one of my best friends in the whole world and just a genuine person. He's another of those people who are genuinely passionate about music and loves what he does.