Downtown Crowd

Drive-By Truckers talk Working on New Album, Life on the Road

Over the course of more than two decades, Drive By Truckers have steadily built an underground following around their modern take on Southern rock. The band was formed in 1996 by friends Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley and have since released 11 studio albums and toured the world several times over. The Truckers are now at work on their next album and scheduled to play the Vinyl Music Hall in downtown Pensacola on January 24. Ahead of the show, Patterson Hood agreed to an exclusive interview.

Thanks for agreeing to do this. You guys will be playing here on Jan. 24. I understand you’ve been here a number of times.

Yeah, and I was just there. I just played a solo show at (Pensacola State College) like two weeks ago.

Really? I had no idea.

Yeah, it was really fun. It really went well.

Well I know I’ve seen Drive By Truckers at Vinyl a number of times. Do y’all primarily tour through the South?

No, we tour all over. We tour all over America and Canada and Europe and even Australia.

So what keeps you coming to Pensacola then?

It’s been a little while since we’ve been there but it’s good to come back. (Playing at PSC) was actually the first time I’d ever played solo down there except for maybe long ago at Sluggo’s. In the early days of the band we used to all play Sluggo’s kind of regularly.

We’re actually kind of doing a Florida tour on this next leg. It’s been a little of two years since we’ve done that and I think we kind of missed out on Pensacola last time so it’ll be good to come back through there. I like Vinyl. I haven’t been since they added on to it but I hear it’s really good.

Yeah, it’s a good upgrade they did. Well, the first thing I wanted to start with was just a general question and that’s ­– you’ve been at this with Drive By Truckers for over 20 years – what keeps you going and how do you keep making new material and touring and doing all the stuff you guys do?

I’d say, honestly, it’s the new material that keeps us going. I never really want to be an oldies act and, honestly, not really ever having had a hit, it’s kind of kept us from having a song you have to churn out every night. We’re still ambitiously chasing making our best record and writing our best song. That might even sound like a cliché but it’s really the truth. We just made a record the other day and we’re super excited about how that turned out and moving forward, so that’s really what motivates us, it’s just the pursuit of something new and different we’re excited about.

That was one thing I was going to ask you. It’s been over two years since the last Drive By Truckers album and I was going to ask if you’re working on new material.

It’s been a blessing that he last record was received well enough that we’ve been able to tour behind it for so long. We honestly didn’t expect that to be the case. It was such a topical record of its moment when it came out that I didn’t really know that it would be something that would still have legs two years later, whereas actually I think it has become more (topical) in the years since it came out than when it came out, so that’s kind of one of those weird turns of fate that you don’t always expect.

And that was, like you eluded to, a pretty political album for you guys, and things have only gotten hairier in the political landscape and more divisive. So do you feel like people kind of latched don’t to that album for that reason?

I think so. You never know how things are going to be received when you make it. We were kind of prepared for it to be badly received. We really didn’t expect it to be as well received as it became. I’m glad it was, though I would trade a lot of that for the times being a little better. Its been a wild ride. We’ve essentially toured for 25 months straight behind that record and that’s the longest we’ve ever toured behind one record. 

What’s that like. Being on the road do you get to go home at all?

We try to keep it at three week intervals and go home between them. Sometimes for longer sometimes for shorter, it just depends what all is going on. You know, we’ve all got kids. Everybody in the band is pretty good about being a contentious and good parent. None of us want to miss our children’s childhood, so we try to strike a balance sometimes with better results than others, sometimes were good at it sometimes were not good at it but were always striving to get towards that because that is the most important thing.

Well we were talking about the last album and how you’ve not released anything new (by the Drive By Truckers) in a few years, but I read that you found some old recordings, I guess from you’re first band?

Yeah, Adam’s House Cat. We put the Adam’s House Cat record out in September. That’s an album that we made in 1990 and it never came out.

I was reading about how that came about and what I read was that the boxes of those recordings just showed up one day. How does that happen?

It’s a mystery. We really don’t know. I’ve got a theory about it, but I’ve never been able to confirm how it happened. That’s one of those strange stories. There’s a lot of strange stories associated with that record. The good news is that record, I think, is really good and it’s really held up. I think a lot of people when they finally heard it after all these years of it never coming out – when it came out it good really good reviews I think people were pleasantly surprised at how good it was and how well it held up. I thin people were expecting it to be some kind of half-assed version of what we became, but it’s really its own thing. We were a pretty fully-formed band back then. In some ways you can certainly see how it led to what we do now, but in some ways there were things we did then that we don’t really do now, so its kind of its own thing. It’s a little bit of a product of its time, you know, we were certainly influenced by bands of that time like REM and The Replacement and you can absolutely hear their influence, but there’s also things about it that’s like wow, you can hear how that become what the Truckers did, so that’s kind of interesting

How old were you when you made that album?

I was 26. I was 27 when the band broke up. The band broke up as we were trying to put the record out, and we weren’t able to. We couldn’t find anybody to help us release it and we were trying to raise the money ourselves and it just got to be too much. We were trying to relocate the band and in the process of moving and all that we ended up basically breaking the band up. Then the drummer moved away and he was kind of the heart and soul of that band and there was no band without him. But (Mike) Cooley and I continued playing together and we had two other bands and then we broke up for little period of time then we we got back together we started the Drive By Truckers in 1996 and had a kind of amazing run.

But we reconnected with that drummer ­– who’s older than us – and he’s living in Cleveland, Ohio and just as we reconnected with him he had a massive heart attack and fortunately lived through it and is OK. We had relocated the tapes by that time and after he had his heart attack I made it may New Year’s resolution that we would out that record out so that Chuck was alive and well to see it happen, so we did and its been amazing having it out.

Wow, that’s really cool. Going back to your work with the Truckers, you’ve got 11 albums, which is crazy. I wonder if you have any that stick out as your own favorites?

 I will always have an extra fondness for Decoration Day. I knew when we were writing that record that that one was special it was a leap form anything we had done. It was our follow up to Southern Rock Opera which was the record that kind of put us on the map as far as other people knowing about us. You know a lot of people romanticize that record and I’m happy that people like it and I like it too, but to me Decoration Day was a far greater record. We were really hitting on all cylinders right at that moment of time when we made it.

You know, I really like American Band. I’m really proud of what we’re doing right now as far as the next one, but if I had to pull out an older one to pinpoint, I definitely feel like we got (Decoration Day) right. If I hear it playing, there’s nothing that makes me cringe or think I wish I could do that over again.

Speaking of American Band we kind of talked already about how that was a record of the times. And I read your New York Times op-ed (about the Confederate Flag) and I wonder if some of your fans in the South have kind of given you some backlash over some of the positions you’ve taken?

We certainly got some backlash we the record came out and I’m under the assumption that it ran some fans off and some people left, but you know it also brought some new people in too. When I’m writing a record I’m not thinking about any of that. I’m thinking of writing the song I hear in my head and being true to what I hear in my head. Once I’ve written it, I’m thinking of turning those songs into the best record we can make and being true to the songs and being to the band and to ourselves and making the best record we can make. That’s been our way of operating since day one and will be as long as there’s a band. When we were making Southern Rock Opera I cant count the number of people – because the band was just getting a little bit of traction and people were thinking of us as like this Americana or alt-Country thing and they would hear what we were doing with Southern Rock Opera and they would be like, ‘You’re going to run off your fans. You’ve finally got some fans and you’re going to run them off.’ But we stuck with it and made the record we wanted to make it and put it out, and it ended up being a really successful record for us. So that’s kind of always been the way we’ve done things. So I trust my art instinct and try to be true to that and I figure everything else will work it self out the way its got to.

Well again Patterson, thanks for doing this. I’ve just got one more question. We talked about your touring and how you just did tow years on the road. I wonder do you have a favorite place or maybe a state to play in?

Oh man, I’m all over. I love playing the big cities and I love going in to the town that don’t get all the big acts. I always loved playing New York but at the same time I’m conscious of the fact that everybody plays New York. So it’s also kind of cool to go to Tulsa or Pensacola.