Drive-By Truckers: Light It Up

By: Dennis Cook

Drive-By Truckers by Jason Thrasher
The Drive-By Truckers are an American treasure. You could chisel their likenesses into rock's Mount Rushmore, somewhere next to Bruce Springsteen and The Black Crowes, and never flinch while working that hammer. Where the marrow and muscle have been drained from so much that calls itself rock, DBT stands dirty and defiant, solid as a brick shithouse and fragrant as your first backseat grope. They're as human as they come, stumbling towards redemption with one foot planted in joy and the other in fear. Their music will make you lose your freakin' mind and inspire fat, healing tears if you let it inside.

Their new album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark (released January 22 by New West Records) has the same vibe as Neil Young's Harvest, The Black Crowes' The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion or The Band's self-titled second record: statements of intent steeped in musical principles offered without fanfare or unnecessary trappings.

"The song is king. The song comes first and dictates where the band goes and we follow that. Live it's gonna be a little different 'cause we're a live band and we're drinkin' and raisin' hell. It's a middle ground of following the songs and following where the crowd leads us, with varying results [laughs]. Some days we're just not in a mood to follow," observes singer-guitarist-songwriter Patterson Hood. "I think that's part of how we've survived. I don't think you can make it without an obstinate streak. Plus, it makes things more interesting when the artist has that streak. All my favorite bands or artists are obstinate as hell. Goddamn, look at Neil Young [laughs]. Sometimes to a fault they're obstinate, and that's part of the beauty. Whether he's good or bad in any given year, he's always interesting."

That warts-and-all embrace sits at the very heart of what the Drive-By Truckers do. If they get ugly or sullen, well life ain't always pretty or happy. There's a depth of feeling to their entire catalog but it's especially acute on Creation's Dark.

Here I am again perfect timing
The strings ringing and the words are rhyming
I used to hate the fool in me, but only in the morning
Now I tolerate him all day long

"You're supposed to say it's your best record ever when you do a new one but in this case I can honestly say I feel that way. I think it's obvious it is, so it's not just a matter of opinion. I typically like shorter records but this time we just kept recording. One day I think we tracked seven songs. By the time we hit 17 we said, 'I don't know what to cut. There's not one of these I want to drop. I don't see 'em going on anything else and I want them to come out.' So, we made a double record," says guitarist-singer-songwriter Mike Cooley. "One of the things we're known for is writing songs people can relate to. When you're on the road all the time, well the average person only relates to some of that. You start writing songs and it all comes out as things only we experience. So I tear up the piece of paper up and throw 'em away. You get home and start doing normal things, seeing more of the lifestyle that most people live, then you can get into a headspace others can relate to. That's all over this one."

It's All About Where You Put The Horizon

Drive-By Truckers by Ankur Malhotra
You're never quite sure where this band is heading, which is a bit exhilarating, a touch dangerous but also daring. If you don't know what's around the bend then you might fall on your face, or maybe pick up some much needed speed.

"We kind of drive on that [idea]. We don't have any setlists. We just see what happens with every little aspect. It can make you laugh. I think that's why Patterson and Cooley have stayed together for 22 years. It's rare and I think it's because they didn't make too many plans," says bassist and recent addition to the Trucker's singer-songwriter pool Shonna Tucker. "We've all had other jobs, physical type jobs, and we don't want to do that again. It makes you appreciate the people who do that work, and it's important to us that our songs speak to hard working people. We all come from middle class families from Alabama pretty much, and Brad's family is just the same. Still, to this day, my dad works everyday at the paper mill. That's where we come from. That's who we are. I hope that's who I always am."

Tucker often doesn't get the credit she deserves for being such a dynamite bass player. She and drummer Brad Morgan are one of the most indestructible rhythm sections out there.

"That's always good to hear because that's my goal. I figure if my part goes unnoticed it must be right. There's plenty guitar and whatever going on, the least I can do is just play the song," says Tucker. "I've known I wanted to play bass since I was eight-years-old. I was lucky that my dad noticed I was playing basslines on guitar and figured it out. He bought me a bass guitar for my tenth birthday and that was that. I played electric bass for a few years as a kid and then I learned upright bass and fell in love with it. I learned to play barefoot so I felt the notes through the floor. There are way better technical players out there than me. Most every player is [laughs]. But I've got soul, and that's how I judge my favorite music to listen to. I want to feel it, good or bad."

About Morgan she comments, "He's the real deal. I have a hard time playing with anybody else now. We've got a thing going. We have the same kind of timing. I depend on him and I think he depends on me, when we're onstage especially. There's all kinds of chaos going on. Cooley, good grief! Johnny [Neff, guitar, pedal steel] and Spooner [Oldham, piano, keys] can make me drift off listening. So, I just go to Brad, wait for that snare and just hang onto the kick. Every hit he means it with all his heart, and that's hard to do, especially for three hours straight."

Continue reading for more on the Drive-By Truckers...

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