Maybe you remember Uncle Kracker as Kid Rock’s best friend and DJ, but it’s more likely that you remember him from his days as a leading rap-rock-country singer on his own. His 2000 debut album Double Wide was certified platinum, and its lead single “Follow Me,” a deceptively warm and breezy country song about cheating and drugs, catapulted him to pop radio, MTV, and the number five spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Born Matthew Shafer, Kracker continued to release music steadily after the popularity of his debut, with other successful hits like “Drift Away,” “Smile,” and “When The Sun Goes Down” with Kenny Chesney. But over the years, his popularity has waned. A 2007 arrest for a sexual misdemeanor charge (a charge he’s disputed but plead guilty to), and struggles with his marriage caused him to take a break from music to focus on his family.
After going the indie route for an album in 2009, Uncle Kracker is now back on the major label, Lava, that first signed him and Kid Rock at the beginning of his career. He talked to BuzzFeed about what it’s like to be back out on the road with fellow early 2000s bands like Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth, and what he’s been up to in the years since his heyday.
I met Kid Rock when I was probably 12 or 13-years-old and we quickly became best friends. And then I started DJing for him back in like ‘90 or ‘91. We wrote a lot of songs together. And then he got this deal through Atlantic Records back in ‘98 and we went in the studio and cut his first record which was Devil Without A Cause. The record label had seen what I’d written with him, and [they were] like, “Well, we’re gonna give Uncle Kracker a solo record deal.” I put my own solo record out in 2000.
[In 2007] I’d recorded a whole [fourth album], and then finally when it was done, it just didn’t feel right. It just felt like I was kinda beating a dead horse and I wasn’t having as much fun as I thought I should be while writing, while recording, while anything. So I just went back in, and everybody was mad that I was canning the whole record. That was a debacle. Once you spend everyone’s money in the studio and everything’s in place, and the record is supposed to be done and out — even the artwork and shit was finished, everything was done. And I just yanked it. It didn’t go over good. It gets cold over there when you bail on shit like that. People get mad and your phone calls don’t get answered as much.
Craig Kallman, who was the president of Atlantic, was just like, “Look man, if you don’t feel like it’s right, then we’ll do it again.” It seems like very few people over there get it. Everyone just wants to release and go, but, shit, I’m the one that has to go sell it every night.
Ever since then I haven’t really done anything that I didn’t want to do anymore. I did the indie thing for the last record, but I’m back to a major for this one. I feel lucky to have a record deal at this point. The guy that signed me and Kid Rock 15 years ago signed me again, three months ago. It’s so relieving to have someone at the other end of the phone who gives a fuck. My manager and Jason Flom [president of Lava] have been buds for years, so something just popped up and he called my manager and was like, “I think Kracker would kill this thing,” and let’s do this and that. It’s funny how things come around like that. I’m not upset about it.
When I decided to bail on that record, my kids were a little bit younger at the time. They were listening to Hannah Montana. I remember being in the garage smoking a cigarette, and my oldest kid, Skylar, comes in off her bike and I was just kinda picking her brain and she was like, “Well, we never listen to any of your songs, Dad.” And I was like, “Well, why’s that?” And she was like 8 at the time, and she was like, “You can’t dance to them.”
I remember sitting there and going, “Well, I get it.” I didn’t think that I needed to make a dance record immediately but I did think I needed to kick myself in the ass more. When she hit me with that, I could tell just by listening back to the things I’d been doing, like, listen to me, I’m a fucking miserable prick. It’s easy to make shitty songs. People do it all the time. It’s easy. It just wasn’t fun.
[The period during my 2007 arrest for a misdemeanor assault charge] was an absolute nightmare and nothing I ever want to see again. An awful experience for everybody involved. My wife, my kids, and even everybody else. It was resolved, and thank god, because it needed to get over with quick.
Even talking about it right now, I’m not supposed to say things one way or the other. And even that’s horrible in itself, you can’t even talk about it. And I didn’t get to say my side either, because once the [court] bell was rung, I was like, “Well, what the fuck am I gonna do?” It’s just one of them incidents where it definitely wasn’t what everyone thought it was, that’s for sure.
I have three girls, 15, 14, and 10 years old. You know, you can only teach them right from wrong, and you can only do your best at that and then send them on their way. It’s nerve-racking, and annoying and it’s everything. It’s like they’re the biggest blessing and the biggest nuisance all at the same time. They’re still so young, but I remember when I was 15. So my eyes are peeled. But they got a good mom and a lot of love around them, so I’m not really concerned. There’s no handbook to parenting, there’s just opinions and statistics. Just love ‘em.
One of my daughters is all into Lil Wayne and Drake, things like that. My other one is all 5 Seconds of Summer, One Direction, and then, it’s odd, my 10 year old, she’s all Sam Smith and John Legend. That’s what’s so fun about kids, every one of them is different. Once in awhile I’ll catch them playing my songs. I think they’d be trying to catch me doing something I shouldn’t be doing in one of those songs maybe. They listen to everything else, but they study mine.
Kid Rock and I talk every other day. I was home last week for a few days and I’d go out to his studio and we’d write still. We hang out when we can. There are some fun nights after a few drinks where you just kinda look around and go, “How the fuck did we do this?” It’s always fun to reflect and just be thankful that things turned out the way they did. In this business I’ve seen a lot of really, really talented people come and go, but it never was the easiest business to get into. I’m thankful to still be sitting around making records, I gotta be honest.
The Under The Sun Tour is awesome; it’s like a high school reunion for me. It’s very nostalgic. Everyone was kinda jockeying for radio positions at the same time back in ‘99 to 2001. It’s just fun. People come and you can watch 40 minutes of hits from one minute to the next. There’s not a lot of fillers. I’m not out here trying to sell my new single. If you’re coming to look for new music, you shouldn’t even come. It’s just something fun for people who have listened to us in the past.
You’ll see a lot of people out here that listened to it back in high school, so the crowds are mellow and fun and they sung along to it years ago and now they sing along to it too. It’s good fun summer stuff, something they can take their kids to if they wanted to, like, “See what we used to listen to when we were kids?” It makes me feel old even thinking like that, but that’s what’s going on here this summer.
I got lucky. I got lucky with that first Kid Rock record thing and then just to be able to do the solo thing – and to do it again, it’s like hitting the lottery twice. To still be out here after 15 years, still touring, still making records – to be doing that still is just lucky. Blessed.
Kracker’s new single “Endlessly” is out today on iTunes. His sixth album will be out this year via Lava/Universal Republic.