Fans may know David Lowery as a solo artist, Cracker frontman or anchor of his self-proclaimed “unwieldy, chaotic, barely stable collective” Camper Van Beethoven, which has a new album, “La Costa Perdida,” and celebrates its 30th anniversary next year.
But to his students at the University of Georgia, he is a math genius who helps demystify the increasingly complicated modern music industry.
“I get people to understand how the money works, because it’s a business built on failure,” he says. “Almost everything that record labels, publishers and songwriters put out are failures, and just every once in a while, one song is kind of a hit.”
Depressing? You have no idea, says Lowery, 52, who brings CVB and Cracker to San Francisco this week.
Young artists shouldn’t waste time thinking they’re skilled, he argues, because talent means nothing in this equation, and luck is everything.
“Most people who tell you they have a formula for success have deluded themselves. They’ve just created a narrative fallacy about why something is successful,” says the singer, who — with his spectacles and bushy beard — looks rather professorial.
“It’s a very strange class that I teach — we talk about risk and reward and the way markets work. It’s a really philosophical thing.”
What does he think accounts for Simon Cowell, and carefully conceived hitmakers like One Direction?
Cowell has more ability than the next producer, the singer admits.
“But we’re just talking about someone like him failing one out of eight times, instead of one out of 10,” says Lowery, who actually worked as a risk-assessing quantitative analyst for an online stockbroker.
“They still fail most of the time, but just a little less than everybody else. That’s the main thing that I teach the kids — that it’s really unpredictable.”
Lowery has his own parable about the randomness of show biz, regarding a little track on Cracker’s fourth album called “The World is Mine.”
The band enjoyed playing it live, he says, and that was about it. But recently an advertising executive stumbled across the cut, and decided to feature it in a new Gillette commercial: “Suddenly that song is making more money for us than 90 percent of our catalog,” he says.
The Richmond, Va.-based Lowery wrote and recorded “La Costa Perdida,” the whimsical new California-themed comeback (with songs such as “Too High for the Love-In”) in his old Bay Area stomping grounds for a real West Coast feel.
Even though his outlook regarding success is bleak, the musician continues to make albums, he says, “because you have to — you have to keep playing the lottery. Then the higher the chances are that somehow, some song gets picked up in some weird way, and you make some money.”