'Shameless: The Matt Shafer Story'
Known to friends and family as Matt Shafer, Uncle Kracker is the man behind the turntables in Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker band. But with the release of his debut 2000 solo album ’Double Wide’ already assuredly under his belt, this kickin’ DJ is ready to once again step out from behind the decks to take a well-earned piece of spotlight for himself.
On the sophomore follow-up, ’No Stranger To Shame’ Uncle Kracker - the laid back Yin to Kid’s thunderous metal Yang - once again serves up a tasty helping of funky Detroit rock ‘n roll stew; blended with Motown, country, southern rock, hip-hop, and topped off with the DJ/MC’s own flowing, loose-limbed, story-telling raps.
Shafer, tattoos and diamond-studded smile aside, is truly a down-to-earth 28 year-old whose faded T-shirt and mesh John Deere cap style is as symbolic of him as it is natural. Chatting with my Uncle Kracker, while he resides in Mount Clemens at his parents, I first wondered at what point he had decided to change his name: ”Kracker was the nickname. So just from being white I’m ‘Kracker’ by default. And then the Uncle we had to put on front of it because there was already a band called ‘Cracker.’ So, for legality reasons we had to put something on it before the Kracker or after the Kracker to make it legal.”
Didn’t the other band ‘Cracker’ start with a ‘C’ though ?! ”It did but there’s like this common radio law where it doesn’t matter how you spell it. It’s like you couldn’t open up a fast-food chain and spell McDonald’s different, you know.”
You met Kid back in ’87 when you were a 13 year-old, but would you be where you are today without him ? No, I wouldn’t. I would not. I would probably still be pumping gas, totally.”
Is it true that when Kid asked you to join his band as a DJ that you had no idea how to work the turntables ?!”No none,” he laughs. ”I had a basic idea, but I just kinda learned on stage. It was either learn fast or look like a dick !”
And did you make yourself look like a ‘dick’ at any point’ ?! ”Oh yeah. I still do,” he laughs again. ”All the time I’ll do something and think what the hell did I do that for ?!”
On this rollercoster life of yours now, is there ever a time you would wish for it to slow down ... or even stop ? ”I always feel like I need to slow it down, but that’s just me; that’s just my nature. I’m a very laid back guy. I’m not a fast guy at all.”
What’s the worst part of success for you these days ? ”I don’t mind the public, and I don’t mind the money and I don’t mind anything like that, but I’ve learnt to give up the glitz and the glamour, because I don’t get into all that stuff. That might be the worst part trying to tip-toe around all that.”
No Stranger To Shame is the album title. Why ? ”’Shame’ was just kind of a nickname. We rode five years with a bunch of guys and every time somebody got back to the hotel later than they needed to – you, know, maybe when the sun was up and whatever they were doing – it was always a joke that they would feel ‘shame.’ So, No Stranger To Shame is kinda like being in the penalty box, you know. Remember that hockey movie ‘Slap Shot,’ there was the guy in there that couldn’t speak good English and they were doing interviews with him and they were asking him, ‘So what does it mean to go in the penalty box ?’ and he’d be like, ‘Look, you just skate on the ice, you f**k up, you go in the penalty box two minutes you feel shame.' So, ever since then it’s been a big deal, like ‘Yeah, you feel shame. Ha, ha, ha.' So, basically, it’s being no stranger to the penalty box.”
Were you really nose-to-nose with that alligator in the publicity shots for the new album ?! ”Yeah, we were down in Louisiana. I was about twenty feet away from it at one point and I just kinda inched my way up to it. They pulled that thing out of the swamp that morning. You know what it was though, it was a good time of year, because they hibernate – or something like that – so they yanked it out of the mud. So the thing was kinda tired anyway !”
Whose idea was it ?! ”I like alligators. I love alligators and sharks for some reason, I don’t know why. But the alligator just seemed like a good idea to me, plus I was trying to see if the record label would pay for it.” he laughs.
Sum up you feelings at the time you recorded these two album tracks:
‘In A Little While’ - ”That’s about my wife. We fight, we argue and stuff like that, but no matter where I’m at and what I’m doing, I’m always thinking about her.”
‘Letter To My Daughters’ - ”I needed to record a song for them so that not matter what happens to me they’ll always know; there’s always some type of an explanation. It might not be the best explanation but it’s the only way I know how to give something to them. To let them know that I am sorry for being gone.”
Explain the feel of this new album ”I like to make stuff that sounds like you could have played it twenty years ago and stuff that sounds like you could play it twenty years from now. I just don’t do all the bells and whistles, you know what I mean. To me that’s crap, but that’s just my way of thinking. I like basically simple stuff, because I’m definitely not trying to reinvent any wheels.”
Which songs on the new album are your own personal favs ? ”They would have to be the one to my daughters, ‘Memphis Soul Song’ – which is a song to my wife, and I guess ‘To Think I Used To Love You’ is kind of a song to my life, I guess. Those probably might be my three favorite songs.”
What’s the most dumbest thing that you’ve ever done in your life ?! ”Shit, there’s a lot of them at this point,” he laughs.
What do you love about Michigan the most ? ”I love the people here. People are so open and honest here and I’m an honest and open person and I want to be somewhere where they are. You kinda know what people are doing around here. You know how people are thinking and how they’re gonna react to what you say. There’s a safety net thing in there that I love. I absolutely love it.”
What kind of a school boy where you ? ”Er, I was probably a C student. I slept a lot and didn’t care too much for high school. I didn’t care too much for my teachers, actually.”
Growing up did you have an alternate job description in mind for your future ? ”I never really knew what I wanted to be, but I had thought I wanted to be a Veterinarian. I had thought that I wanted to do that, but then I just wanted to pump gas too, but this was always something that I wanted to do.”
Being the prolific DJ/MC that you are, if your house was burning down with your record collection inside, is there any one record that you would rush in a save ?! ”Nope,” he gently laughs. ”I may love music, but I don’t love it that much. The one thing that I’ve learned is that music I love, but its not my life.”
How old were you when you had your infamous ‘Kracker’ tattoo on your arm ? ”This is only about four years old, but I had it somewhere else but I had it covered up and then I had it put there. The old one was a crappy, cut-the-budget tattoo. It was actually on my upper arm.”
So, with that visual aid always around, everyone now knows exactly who you are ! ”Well, no, now people know me as the ‘Follow Me’ guy. That’s kinda like my moniker that this point,” he laughs. ”I’m trying to shake that.”
Even though that put you on the map as a solo artist ? ”I know, but it didn’t really get me over the hump, you know. It sold me a lot of records and made me a bunch of money, but there’s so much more I wanna do.”
But isn’t there a correlation between the sing-a-long tunes ‘Follow Me’ and the new single, ‘In a Little While’ ?! ”I think there’s always room to advance as a songwriter and I think I have advanced. And I don’t think that I’m gonna quit doing the songs with the big sing-a-long hooks because I like them kind of songs and I believe that other people like them types of songs. People just want to sing-a-long.”
What’s the most interesting thing to know about Uncle Kracker ? ”I’m not that interesting, Russell,” he laughs. ”I’m not, in fact, my life is pretty bleak at this point man. I’m not a fancy guy, I don’t get wrapped up in none of this. I love the fans, I love the music and I love playing to all these people, but I don’t like the record companies ! I don’t like none of that stuff and I don’t get caught up in the glitz and glamour. I’m just kind of an average, every day, regular guy.”
Interviewed By Russell A. Trunk
To win a copy of No Stranger To Shame just send an e:mail to me at with the subject title 'Kracker' and the answer to this question in the text to:
Which city in Michigan is Uncle Kracker from ?
Check out www.unclekracker.com for the answer !
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