Call Uncle Kracker an optimist — and a realist.
The Harrison Township singer and former Kid Rock protégé is the first to say that he’s “never had a big debuting record,” and he had only modest expectations for his new album, “Happy Hour” — which means he wasn’t disappointed when it came out of the box at No. 38 on the Billboard 200 chart when it was released in September.
But don’t mistake that attitude for pessimism or resignation. Kracker is still very, well, happy about the prospects “Happy Hour” has.
“I’m feeling excellent about it,” says Kracker, 35, whose real name is Matt Shafer. “It’s probably the first time I’ve felt good about a record. Just knowing I went in with an actual plan for this album and having it finished and out ... I’m really stoked.
“I’m kind of a grower, not a show-er. So I don’t worry. It’s all part of a plan, really. A big plan.”
There is, in fact, a 22-month campaign designed for “Happy Hour,” much of which revolves around keeping Kracker on the road — as he is currently, opening for Train. And since it’s been five years since his last album, 2004’s “Seventy Two and Sunny,” there’s a sense of re-introducing him to the marketplace and reminding fans that he’s the same guy who had hits with “Follow Me” and a remake of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” as well as a charttopping 2004 duet with country star Kenny Chesney on “When the Sun Goes Down.”
“He’s got a great record,” says Kid Rock, who co-wrote and produced one song, “It’s Good to Be Me,” on “Happy Hour.” “He needs big records right now. He’s a pretty low-key guy. He just stays in Mount Clemens with his family. There’s no story there. It’s not like anybody’s missed him.
“So his stuff is strictly based on the music, and my (advice) to him was, they’ve got to be great songs. There’s no room for B.S. He’s got to have real songs. It’s do-or-die for him right now.”
Kracker did not intend to take five years between albums. In fact, he had recorded and planned to release a new album about three years ago, but a leadership shake-up at his record company delayed its release and gave him some time to stew over what he’d done.
“When I got done with (the album), I had to sit on it for about six, seven months, and throughout that time, I wasn’t really convinced that I had the right record,” says Kracker, who during the interim toured as Chesney’s special guest and was arrested for alleged sexual assault charges in North Carolina in 2007, ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor. “If you give me any amount of time sitting on something like that, I’ll change my mind fast.”
Kracker made a few other switches during that time. He shook up his management, jettisoning brother Mike Shafer. And after deciding “to make a whole new record,” he decided to part ways with Mike Bradford, who produced his first three albums — including 2000’s double-platinum “Double Wide” and 2002’s goldcertified “No Stranger to Shame” and the aborted project — and sign on with Rob Cavallo, who also worked on Kid Rock’s double platinum 2007 release “Rock and Roll Jesus.”
“He kicked my ass,” Kracker says of Cavallo. “There was a lot of cussin’ going on at first. It took me out of my comfort zone. It took me out of everything I knew and backed me into a corner pretty much.
“Everything just felt different, but I got to a point where I thought different was better for me. I couldn’t be happier, to tell you the truth.”
Kracker — who owns a bar, Mug Shots, in Mount Clemens — wanted “Happy Hour” to be “an upbeat record, something people would walk away from with a smile.” That’s certainly borne out on the first single, “Smile,” as well as the cleverly twisted relationship lament “My Girlfriend” and feel-good tunes such as “Good to Be Me,” “Livin’ the Dream” and “Hey Hey Hey.” Kracker also delves into a bit of social commentary in “Corner Bar,” which was co-written with Martin “Tino” Gross of the Howlin’ Diablos.
The eyebrow-raiser, however, may be the closing track on “Happy Hour” — a cover of Bob Seger’s “Mainstreet” that was suggested by Atlantic Records artists and repertoire man Pete Ganbarg.
“I’ve been reluctant to do a cover since ‘Drift Away,’ ” Kracker acknowledges, “but I was like, ‘Bob Seger?! Of course I’ll cover that thing.’ It’s a song I grew up listening to and loving and I just love Seger, so I didn’t want to let that chance slip away.
“I tried to keep it faithful and didn’t want to mess with the sincerity of the original. I’ve always thought of Seger’s stuff as so timeless ... I’m anxious to see how ‘Mainstreet’ on my record resonates with young people, ’cause they may not have heard (Seger’s version).”
Of course, Kracker is also anxious to see how “Happy Hour” clicks with any people, young or old, though he doesn’t feel like he has anything to prove, even after a protracted time without new music.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all,” he says. “There’s no big expectations I have to live up to. As long as I keep touring, as long as I keep spreading the good word, I don’t think we’ll see any real problems.
“I’m happy with the record. I’m content with it. I know I gave it my best shot. As long as I know that, I won’t feel any different in the end.”
Train and Uncle Kracker perform Tuesday (Nov. 3) at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $32 in advance, $35 day of show with a $177 VIP package that includes a band meet and greet. Call (248) 399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre. com.
Send your thoughts and comments to