Uncle Kracker kicks off his brand new country album, Midnight Special, with the up-tempo “You Got That Thang.” The same could be said for the easygoing entertainer who’s left his mark in pop, rock, rap and country.
“I’ve never really been pigeonholed,” he revealed during an interview with CMT.com.
Raised in Mount Clemens, Mich., Uncle Kracker — also known as Matt Shafer — first gained recognition as a vocalist and DJ in Kid Rock ‘s Twisted Brown Trucker Band. In 2001, he released his solo debut album, Double Wide, which reached double-platinum status. And a hit single, “Follow Me,” quickly landed at No. 1 on Billboard‘s adult Top 40 chart.
Other chart-topping releases from the star include his remake of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” in 2003, his collaboration with Kenny Chesney on “When the Sun Goes Down” in 2004 and the multi-genre hit “Smile” in 2010. Along the way, there have been various co-writing credits alongside Kid Rock, including “All Summer Long” and “Only God Knows Why.”
Though his career didn’t begin in country, the artist describes his journey to the genre as a “natural progression.”
While working on Double Wide, he says his label was sometimes confused by his song submissions for the rock rap album.
“On my first record, we used a lot of pedal steel and slide guitars — stuff that people would, instrumentation-wise, classify that into country,” he said. “I remember writing ‘Follow Me’ and turning it in, and they thought it was a country song. They couldn’t do anything with it.
“And the same thing, I remember, when me and Kid Rock wrote ‘Only God Knows Why,’ we turned it in to the record label, and they’re like, ‘What are we going to do with this country song?’
“Yeah, they ended up being our two biggest, probably. But it never dawned on me that I would end up there.”
His first true solo venture into country music occurred in 2010 when he released an EP, Happy Hour: The South River Road Sessions. The project included country versions of tracks from his previously-released Happy Hour album. In 2012, he signed with Sugar Hill Records for the release of Midnight Special.
Uncle Kracker describes working with acclaimed producer Keith Stegall as “the best decision I think I’ve ever made just because the experience of being in the studio with Stegall was more than I expected.”
“I was very comfortable with Keith, and it was cool to hand the reins over to somebody that just knows,” he said. “He’s very quiet, which is awesome, so you don’t always think he’s got all the answers, but Stegall had all the answers all the time. And that’s what made everything perfect.”
Co-writing all 11 tracks of the album was a task the singer took seriously.
“I just feel like when you deliver a record it’s got to be from you,” he said. “It’s gotta be a lot of you anyway.”
He further explained, “A long time ago, I covered ‘Drift Away.’ We got really really lucky with that song, but … there’s always something in the back of your head like, ‘This ain’t even mine.’ You know what I mean? And that’s what sticks with you. I always feel like when you deliver a record, it should be a lot of you.”
The first single from the album, “Nobody’s Sad on a Saturday Night,” finds Uncle Kracker looking on the bright side no matter what life throws his way. One impromptu moment made its way into the music video, which was filmed at the Texas State Fair.
“The coolest part was while we were filming there were these two couples that came up,” he recalled. “They were all dressed in cowboy hats and starched Wranglers — creased — and they just came up and started dancing out of the blue. It was awesome.”
Other notable tracks on Midnight Special include “When I Close My Eyes” as he sings of unsuccessful attempts to forget a lost love, and “Who We Are,” which focuses on iconic songs that connect music lovers the world over. The closing track, “It Is What It Is,” pairs him with Sonia Leigh and serves as an unrestrained reminder that everyone has their own story in life.
“I love her music,” he said. “I love her voice. And I wanted nothing more than to have her on the record. We’d been on tour for a few months together, and we just became good pals, and I was like, ‘Hey, you should be on this record,’ and we decided that was the song she was going to do.”
Although Uncle Kracker has been in the spotlight for a number of years, he seems as laid-back in real life as his well-known songs.
“I just never feel any different than anybody else,” he said, referring to the connection with his audience.
He says his concerts emphasize audience participation and lots of harmonies.
“I don’t let off any fireworks or anything like that,” he joked. “We focus more on the song and the audience, and that’s basically what my show is. It’s fun.”