Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CB Q/A #12: Frank Funaro of Cracker

This is the twelfth time I've posted an interview with an particular artist I'm geeked about coming through town. Previous Q&As have included conversations with folks like PUSA's Andrew McKeag, The Horse's Ha's James Elkington, and Akron/Family's Seth Olinsky - all of which being musicians I respect and dig - but today's participant takes the cake.

In preparation for their gig in town on Friday, I recently contacted the publicity folks for Cracker and was able to arrange an email interview with drummer Frank Funaro. Cracker has been a favorite band of mine for what seems like forever - I think I've been a listener since right after Camper van Beethoven broke up in the very early 1990s, and although he wasn't the band's original drummer, Funaro has been manning the kit since at least the excellent Gentleman's Blues album came out.

So, clearly, it was a treat for me to score this exchange, but actually doing it turned out to be the best of any of the twelve, as Frank Funaro is approachable, straightforward, funny, and honest. Plus, he's a hell of a drummer (as well as a thoughtful fan of his instrument). He's also a huge lover of Cleveland, which you'll see in his answer to my last question. Check out the interview below and, for sure, the show this Friday when Cracker hits the Beachland. Being the end of the month, I'm strapped and, thus, will happily allow you to buy me my beers.

1) You guys probably have as many recognizable hit songs as any other band from the 90s - to what extent do you feel the need to continue in that sound now? Or is it easy for you to continue evolving as a band into the latter part of this decade?

I don't think it's all that calculated, to be honest. Before this new record, David and Johnny did all the writing, so you would have to ask them about that. As for this record, it really came about in an organic sort of way... four guys in a room showing ideas to each other. The sound comes out of the style that everyone plays in. Mash four guys influences together, and interesting things happen. Then, you put David's sensibilities, his unique perspective on the world... you put that lyrical icing on top of the cake, and, viola! The "sound."

2) What's your favorite song to play live?

Well, you know, it varies from gig to gig, or week to week, or month to month. Or tour to tour. Right at this moment, I'd have to say "I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right." If you had asked me last year, it would have been "Give Me One More Chance." And there's always been "Big Dipper." I love to play that one.

3) How do the songs on Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey differ from the work you've done previously?

Well, in the past, David and Johnny would come in to the recording studio with some songs totally finished, and some songs in various states of construction. David would often have a specific idea what direction to go with them. Or else, he would just start playing a song, and I would start playing what I felt naturally on the drums. That would then either be accepted, or tweaked further.

On this record, we did a lot of rehearsal... jamming, if you will, with tape running. We came up with 22 songs, I believe. There were some moody pieces that didn't seem to fit with David's conception for the overall shape of the record. After you start narrowing things down from a double album's worth of songs, a record starts to take shape. Then, David will have things to say, and start to plug lyrics into the musical ideas. I wouldn't say that David makes "concept" records per se, but by the time he has all the lyrics written, there is usually some sort of narrative thread connecting the songs.

4) If you were asked by a younger musician about to embark on his/her first tour or recording session, what advice would you give him/her?

As far as touring goes, I would say, have a good time, enjoy yourself, but take care of yourself as well. That might sound a little un-rock and roll, but I'll tell you, my most memorable hangovers are in the rear-view mirror at this point. If you insist on making the same mistakes I made over the years, make sure to hydrate. The most important part of your day is going to be that hour and a half to two hours you spend onstage. It's an honor and a privilege to be a traveling minstrel, so you've gotta be great, no "phoning it in", EVER. And don't forget, you're traveling with others. Be respectful. The pressure cooker of a vanful of people can only be made worse if you're bitching about things constantly, you know, complaining. Make yourself easy to live with. Also, use condoms.

First recording session? Um, be prepared. Have your parts ready so that you feel relaxed and capable and ready to do your best work. Nowadays, with Pro Tools and all, there's a temptation to "fix it in the mix." Don't be lazy like that. Have your shit together going in.

5) Any pre- or post-show rituals you have found yourselves following over the years?

Not really, no band prayer or anything. Speaking for myself, I'd have to say that before the show I'm just real low-energy, just saving it up for the stage. As a matter of fact, people see me yawning in the dressing room prior to a show, and before they have a chance to comment, I just pump my fist and say "rock and roll." What can I tell you, I don't like to "leave it in the locker room." After the show we like to go out and meet the fans, sign CD's and whatnot, so I suppose that's evolved into sort of a ritual.

6) Any favorite artists/songs out there you'd love to cover, but just haven't done it yet?

Me and Johnny have always spoken of putting a band together to play the Kink's "Muswell Hillbillies" album from start to finish, get a dixieland horn section, the whole nine yards... We've been talking about this for years, though, so, perhaps it's in the realm of fantasy at this point.

7) Last but not least, any memorable Cleveland experiences?

It's funny you should ask, because Cleveland has been a sort of home-away-from-home for me over the years. I used to come here once or twice a year with my first band, the Del-Lords, play Peabody's, this was in the 80's.

Later on, I had a friend from New York who had gotten a job out here and moved away from NY, and lived in Euclid, and I used to come out and hang with him for a week at a time. He's an HVAC guy, you know, air conditioning and refrigeration, and we'd go into the city and he'd take me up on these warehouse roofs, and we would smoke cigars and dig on the skyline and watch trains go past.

Then, I got a call from Jack (Blackjack) McDowell to be in his band, Stick Figure. We would rehearse and play shows in Cleveland during Indians home stands, and I had this gigantic laminated pass that allowed me access to the pressbox and the clubhouse and the dugout, and I could sit in the seats behind home plate. I never felt comfortable going to the dugout, that always seemed sacred to me, but I used to love to watch the game in the pressbox, you know, really concentrate on the game. They had this sign up on the back wall that said "No Rooting", and right next to it was a perfectly baseball-sized hole where a foul ball had smashed thru the sheetrock. This was in '96, and the Tribe were real heart attack kids, 9th inning walk-off homers and extra inning games, Albert Belle and Omar Vizquel and Jim Thome... a great team... I was certainly in the right place at the right time for all that excitement. And after the 7th inning stretch, I would make my way down to the seats and soak up the excitement in the crowd, I mean, everybody just KNEW in their bones that the Indians were going to come back and win these games. Electric.

Then later still, my friend Kenny was in Cracker, and I had told him that if they were ever looking for a drummer, I would love to be in that band. I was here in Cleveland with Jack, and Cracker came thru, playing the Odeon down in the flats. We went down to hang with them at the show, that’s when I first met Johnny and David, and then about a year later, to make a long story short, I wound up in the band. So, I met them here in Cleveland.

And then, to top off my home-away-from-home Cleveland experience, I met my girlfriend when I was playing Peabody's with Cracker about 5 years ago, so, I guess you could say I've had memorable experiences in Cleveland. It’s a great town.

Be sure to catch Frank and the rest of the fellas in Cracker at the Beachland Ballroom this Friday night. Doors are at 8, with opening duties going to local rockabilly superstars, Whiskey Daredevils. I don't know about you, but I can't hardly wait.

1 comment:

Train Writer said...

Great interview. Frank is a true rock god for all of us in NY. Saw Cracker and Van Beethoven last night at the Highline...first time in a long time...keep it going