Rock and roll stalwarts the Drive-By Truckers are taking aim at the assholes with their latest long player American Band. The third release from this grandiose lineup featuring Jay Gonzalez as his own mini-orchestra of sorts, the steady time-keeping of the interminable Brad Morgan on the drum kit, and Matt Patton’s heavy yet bouncy bass lines tying it all together like a politically poignant Looney Toons gift set to blow upon opening.
Eleven carefully crafted ditties by the Dimmer Twins, aka the great Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood, inciting thought and argument from the likes of hapless, gun crazed so-called blue blood Americans, the Black Lives Matter contingent, and any other walking, breathing, cognizant human being that stops to smell the proverbial shit flower our great country is turning into. The purpose was to incite, and instead of trying to please anyone and everyone Hood and Cooley stayed true to self. The songs on American Band hit points that matter to them and the American landscape they’ve been traversing for two decades. Two Southern bred middle-aged poets with pencil and guitar, a dead-on social conscience, and a soap box within which to deliver, Amen.
Maturation can always be disconcerting especially in a rock and roll band. Is it still a young man’s game, was it ever? As for the Drive-By Truckers, this process has steadied the ship. Gone are the mayhem days, with the gallon of Jack Daniels on stage and god knows what flowing through the veins. In jest, American Band is the finest offering from the band, ever. There will be plenty of fans in their Trump shirts, angry that their heroes have moved away from songs about panties in purses and hooking up with a sibling’s girlfriend. And who cares, really. If you can’t stomach a song with a message near and dear to either Cooley or Patterson, take a hike. That’s the attitude and kudos to them for it.
“I wanted this to be a no bones about it, in your face political album, I wanted to piss off the assholes”, chimes Cooley.
Having hit a stride both musically and personnel wise, the propensity to please fans is a past in the ether. This is not a commercial machine, ladies and gentlemen. This is rock and roll, invented to piss people off. Either hop on or fall off, the Drive-By Truckers as a conglomerate won’t give it a second thought. Perhaps it’s you that has the problem if a grown man’s political views upset your apple cart. Maybe you’re exactly who they’re writing to, just because you’ve been a fan for twenty years and saw a show with a piss drunk Jason Isbell doesn’t give you a reprieve. Is the bullseye on your ass?
Usurping societal calamities not only here but abroad, the Drive-By Truckers, centrally Cooley and Hood, came locked and loaded for American Band. There simply aren’t many rock and roll songs better than “Ramon Casciano”, “Surrender Under Protest”, “Kinky Hypocrite”, and “Ever South”. Stirring up the ghosts of a murdered 15 year old boy by NRA hollow point Harlon Carter, taking a stand as a nation and one human race to fall an unsavory flag from the South Carolina capitol, guffawed talking head politicians that party harder than you and I combined, and a Southern man’s plight being traced back to his drawl no matter what continent those feet are planted, respectively. That’s some ethereal ground to cover traversing a few chordal bars and basslines, effacing nobility or preachiness. Yankee or devout rebel, there’s a nerve to be struck and the Truckers haven’t one problem with being the striker. Furthermore, you won’t find a skippable song on this offering.
American Band ought to be the record to catapult the band into a new stratosphere. Cutting the cord of savage alt-country buffoons and moving into a realm of artistic opulence. This is a band I see touring well into Rolling Stones years, hopefully for us another few decades and then some. Tackling white cops shooting black kids, assholes shooting up schools, poor and rich divides, senseless wars and foolhardy politicians, and as long as imagination is never banned there will always be a guiding light for us like-minded souls to bare to. The torch is just a little brighter and a little more red, white, and blue. In no uncertain terms, if these songs piss you off, you are indeed an asshole. Ignorance is impeccable bliss.
That said, I recently got a chance to catch up with one of the finest songwriters of our generation: Mike Cooley. His answers typically chock full of Cooley-isms and his custom one-liners. We rapped on the 20 year ride of the band thus far, the insanity of the socialwebs, and if we’ll ever get our official Cooley solo record. American Band is slated for a September 30th release on ATO, get yours or shut up.
How amazing has this whole ride been? From Adam’s Housecat to this not to mention sitting on, no question, the best DBT record to date.
Yeah really, I didn’t know what was at the other end of it. Obviously I’m not there yet, thank God. I never really had any clear cut goals, just the idea of being able to make a living doing something other than working a JOB was really all that was there. I always liked the idea of getting on the road with a band and having that experience, but to be twenty years into doing that and still feeling motivated to make new albums and go further, and to be where we are now is just great. A lot of bands and people my age don’t get that, to still be motivated and have that passion and to be able to say honestly the band is better than it’s ever been, and we’re having more fun than we’ve ever had. This is our best record ever…I don’t know what to say about that really, it’s great and I just feel fortunate and thankful for that every day.
Politically loaded song material always incites the loonies on the interwebs and otherwise. Each single released thus far has ample ammunition for the internet all-stars of the message boards and socialwebs. Is that the point? Do you grab the popcorn and watch it unfold? Does it hold any weight to you either way?
Well not really. I don’t even want to pay attention to any of that. Now we have the social media thing and I don’t really participate in it anyway, it just doesn’t appeal to me. I call it a support group for assholes, it’s basically what it is. I just want to take this and throw it out there and say look, I’m not trying to change anybody’s mind but I’m calling bullshit what it is. Feel however you want but this is bullshit and that’s not a matter of opinion…bitch away.
The thing with the socialwebs (Facebook, Twitter, etc..) is it makes people stars in their own narcissistic little world and most of those folks have no business being a flicker much less a star.
It does, it really does. And you never know who you’re dealing with, a lot of those people who are posting those comments are true believers, they really mean it, but then again there’s just as many that are there to get responses to build their Twitter followers, looking for a way to rile somebody up. We were talking about this the other night, sometimes you can get a false idea when all these people are talking about this because you look and this post has however many hundred or thousand comments, but then when you look closer, it’s mostly two to four people talking to each other in a week long conversation. I’ll be quite honest, I don’t trust myself to not get angry and be a little drunk and have something push my button and be able to resist the urge to not counteract. I don’t trust myself. You can totally make a jackass of yourself that way. It’s bad enough when you say something stupid on stage and it’s all over the internet, but I’ve got to go out there.
Where were you mentally, even spiritually for the writing of these songs? What was the headspace?
It was really one at a time, but I’ve lost track of the timeline really as to when I started writing a lot of this stuff and what was actually going on except for “Surrender Under Protest”. That’s pretty specific but some of this goes back a couple of years, some of the ideas go back even longer than that, several years even. So it was really one thing at a time. I kind of stumbled onto Ramon Casiano’s story and I was wanting to kind of write a song about that whole NRA world, and then I came across that story and I was like, well fuck, that’s the song right there, all I’ve got to do is make it rhyme! So I came across that and had that idea waiting for a long time but once I came across it I was able to outline it and turn it into a tune pretty quick. “Once They Banned Imagine” goes back a few years, for that idea actually several. I’ve been wanting to write that song for a long time I just didn’t know what it was going to look like.
Is this your favorite lineup?
It’s the best it’s ever been. We’re more consistent, we have better and more energy, we’re more dynamic. We can do the slow, quieter pretty things to a rock-n-roll crowd and bring it down and bring it back up better than we ever could. We’re having so much fun, there aren’t bad nights, there just aren’t any bad nights anymore.
What’s the future for the Drive by-Truckers?
We don’t have any idea. We’re really pretty busy with this release and getting our heads together for getting out behind it. Eventually things will slow down a little bit and I’ll be going through the lines I write down over the next year or so. Seeing what’s there and piecing it together.
Are you talking about a solo record or writing more DBT songs?
I’d like to. In fact I’d love to. I try to think about that in terms of what kind of songs and I have some ideas if I can ever just get it out in front of me. I’d love to put out a solo record or at least a solo album of original stuff.
The Drive-By Truckers release American Band on September 30th via ATO Records. For more music and tour dates visit drivebytruckers.com.
Originally published at Glide Magazine 9/22/16