Drive-By Truckers: Light It Up

'Oh, they're alt-country.' I'm not 'alt' anything! What the fuck is alt? It's not even a whole word. If they say you're country rock, well what happens if I wake up wanting to be punk rock? And maybe tomorrow I might want to be R&B influenced rock and the day after that I might want to be primal stomp Stooges-inspired rock. And next week I might want to do something that's arena rock. When done right rock should be open to all those different things.

Patterson Hood

Photo by Jason Thrasher

Sounds Better In The Song

Drive-By Truckers by Jason Thrasher
One spin of Creation's Dark is enough to dispel the endless Southern Rock tag that's followed them around since their rock opera hit. The Truckers are a slippery bunch that follows their various muses into whatever corridors beckon.

"Listening to this [new] record, my dad told me, 'You'd make a pretty good country band.' I told him, 'We are a country band!' We're all such big music dorks that love ALL kinds of music," enthuses Tucker. "On the last tour Brad brought out a little record player and that was too cool. Everyday we'd split off and come back to share records we'd found. You can't just listen to one kind of music. On the bus we have everything from Hall & Oates to Willie Dixon."

As someone weaned on Black Flag and The Clash, I frequently pick up on a certain big city feeling behind many Truckers' tunes. Athens, GA's answer to The Ramones' New York City in the '70s or the '80s Minneapolis of Paul Westerberg. Despite an endless stream of Hee-Haw-esque descriptions of the band, there's a dark punk element to what they do.

"Fuck yeah there is! The Southern Rock thing stuck early but then again it was kind of late. Cooley and I already had 15 years in when we did Southern Rock Opera. That was just the first thing that stuck on a national level. Before that we were so underground no one outside of a little, diehard cult following even knew we existed," explains Hood. "Our culture being so driven by soundbites, is how we end up with idiots in the White House. That's what happens when it's all about some surface appeal as opposed to something with depth. I hope to be obstinate enough to always push against that trend. I think it's a bad problem and the root of a lot of problems we're having as a nation and a people right now.

This leads to a discussion of overlooked bands in our surface driven culture including a shared personal favorite, Centro-matic.

Hood & Tucker by Ryan Dombal
"They should be one of the biggest bands on Earth. There's not an ounce of flab on that entire organization. The four of those guys play so incredibly well together. Each one brings so much to it, and then together they're so beyond the sum of their parts," says Hood. "Goddamn, they write great songs, play the living shit out of them and no one knows who they are. They've got a really hardcore following of people like me who worship the ground they walk on but when you have to describe them in one sentence what the fuck do you say?"

Hood is critical of the recording industry, an oxymoron if ever there was one. The notion of industrializing something as mercurial as music is both ludicrous and patently wrongheaded.

"When that Nirvana record [Nevermind] broke in '91 for a brief moment I was convinced that The Replacements were going to be on the radio. I was that idealist and naïve that for a moment in time I believed that we'd won. Then I realized it was just going to be a bunch of lesser bands trying to sound like Nirvana," laments Hood. "Radio in the '90s was, if possible, worse than radio in the '80s. How did that happen? I thought we'd won but we lost. That's why I have so much negative shit to say about the industry. Of all the wasted opportunities! They've built an industry out of selling the greatest thing on Earth, and they've done their best to ruin it. They haven't succeeded though [laughs]. They just ruin people's perception of it."

"Fortunately, the music does keep on happening. You just have to look a lot harder for it now, and we're a lazy society that doesn't like to look hard for things," Hood continues. "At least the kids are out there with their computers looking up bands with crazy names that I've never heard of. So, there's always hope. I'm still an optimist in my own grumpy way. People ask, 'Why is your music so dark?' Because things piss me off! If you want me to write happy songs make me fucking happy."

Just don't ask them what the songs are about. They don't cotton to the cultural voyeurism that wants every tune explained in gory detail.

"The truth is I don't know. If it sounds like I'm avoiding the issue when I say I don't know what a line means, well, I really don't know. It popped out and it sounded good," remarks Cooley. "With a lot of songs, I get a few years down the road and what it actually meant becomes clearer to me. I enjoy hearing what other people think it means because they're usually right. You want to include them. I think it's a conversation with the listener rather than just me talking. I don't want you to feel like I feel. That's my space."

Rock and Roll Means Well

Another character in the Truckers' menagerie is producer David Barbe, who mixed 1999's Alabama Ass Whuppin' and has helmed each studio release after that, working closely with the band to sculpt records that sound like classics right out of the gate.

Drive-By Truckers by Jason Thrasher
"He's an incredible producer and a great coach, too. Both baseball – which I don't play but he's somewhat of a great baseball coach – and production technique," says Hood. "He doesn't have a patented drum sound he applies to every record or some hip sound that's his trademark. His trademark is over the course of a record he makes you a better band and documents that on tape. I've seen it happen over and over even before we were in a position to hire him! I'd work sound in clubs and see bands that had a couple things going good for them, and they'd go into the studio for a month with him and come back and play phenomenally better. The strong things had been pushed to the front and the weak things had been eliminated, improved or moved to where it wasn't distracting from the strong things. Lord knows he's done that with us each time."

Brighter Than Creation's Dark has the feel of a wonderful '70s double vinyl manifesto. Everything about it, from the overall heft to the brilliant song order, screams with bellbottom glory yet does so without being some dumb, ironic retro exercise.

"Mr. Hood has a gift for sequencing. He's such a fan of vinyl records and he wants people to have that same experience of having to flip a record over, to bring up the way it feels when that first song on Side B comes on," says Tucker. On the CD edition of the new album the tracks are broken up into Side 1, 2, 3 and 4, creating their second double album studio set. When I point out that this beats Led Zeppelin in that regard, Tucker grins, "That's not a bad deal."

"I grew up shopping for records, and the biggest thrill was getting home to cut the shrink wrap off and discover that it folded open. Even if it wasn't a double album there was a gatefold and there'd be something extra, like Kiss had a 'love gun.' Records are making a comeback. The only reason I bought a CD player was my turntable broke and I had a Sears credit card and no money," says Freed. "There's something about putting on a record. Maybe it's just nostalgia but I think it's more. Every time you put on a record you have to decide if you're in a Side One mood or a Side Two mood. There's a lot of records I've worn Side One down to Side Two or vice-versa."

"I'm a lifelong disciple of rock 'n' roll music in all its various incarnations. Which is why I've run like hell from any other label being put on my band. Any of the other labels limit you," Hood says. "There's this soundbite mentality that wants to label everything. 'Oh, they're alt-country.' I'm not 'alt' anything! What the fuck is alt? It's not even a whole word," bristles Hood. "If they say you're country rock, well what happens if I wake up wanting to be punk rock? And maybe tomorrow I might want to be R&B influenced rock and the day after that I might want to be primal stomp Stooges-inspired rock. And next week I might want to do something that's arena rock. When done right rock should be open to all those different things."

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[Published on: 1/31/08]

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mhc10 Thu 1/31/2008 07:14PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Brighter Than Creation's Dark is a smash album. I thought they would stuggle a little since losing Jason Isbell, but they have put out a great, great album. Can't wait for the Rock Show in Newport in March!!!!


HoodooVoodoo starstarstarstarstar Thu 1/31/2008 07:54PM
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Are these guys any good? I've never given them a listen.

Vandal13 starstarstarstarstar Thu 1/31/2008 09:34PM
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"During this [current] hiatus I'm not going to write any songs and go get a vasectomy."

...If that ain't rock n' roll, I don't know what is. I spilled my beer when I read that. Brilliant. Been a Trucker fan for a long time now, this is my favorite album.

Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Thu 1/31/2008 10:50PM
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Nice read. This album is fantastic! Long Live The Truckers!

Can't wait for the Denver show!

pureprince starstarstarstar Fri 2/1/2008 03:53AM
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Appreciate the great article - DBT def can rock and roll with the best of em, the 21st centuries answer to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Albums killer too, get on the righteous path!!

RothburyWithCheese starstarstarstarstar Fri 2/1/2008 05:20AM
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What an amazing album. My favorite tracks are Bob, Self Destructive Zones, and Sorry Huston. question: why has it taken it so long for Shonna tucker to be featured on a track. I think she's fabulous. Great voice and an overall sexy woman.

KCReb starstarstarstar Fri 2/1/2008 08:39AM
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I've honestly never given the Truckers a chance either. Just one of those bands I've always meant to check out, but never got around to it. I think I might have to after reading this.

I like how Centro-matic was tossed in there. They are an amazing band out of Denton, TX and evryone should check them out!

johnnyroad Fri 2/1/2008 09:47AM
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couldn't have been a better article to sum up how bad ass these guy's are. for those of you who haven't seen dbt yourself a a favor and go!! you'll walk out of there and never be the same again. they ARE the best rock-n-roll show on the road right question

SCIcane starstarstarstarstar Fri 2/1/2008 09:53AM
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Great article! Got a late start with them this past summer and have not been able to get 'em out of my head since. Haven't seen them live yet, why are they not hitting up DC with this tour? Might have to make a bit of a trek to catch them this spring

shonuff Fri 2/1/2008 10:12AM
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I first heard about Drive By Truckers in an article of Rolling Stone back in 2004. The article was "5 Bands You Have To Know About." Along with the Thorns and Kings of Leon, The Drive By Truckers were mentioned in the article. I feel that this is one of the only bands that I listen to that has taken some of the biggest chances. This album is fantanstic. If you ever get the chance to listen to Bulldozers & Dirt you should. It is one of the greatest songs I have ever listened to.

FreeHawk starstarstarstarstar Fri 2/1/2008 01:15PM
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Great read from one of my all time fav bands. Loved how you got Wes Freed in on the action.Brighter then Creation's Dark is a true masterpiece.NOt a bad track on it.Long Live the mighty DBT! Centro-matic is the real deal also. I hope Kayceman doesn't mind Im using his pic of Patterson from Roo a few years ago for a painting....I don’t mean no harm, I just like to flirt but most of all I like bulldozers and dirt

mgizmo starstarstarstarstar Fri 2/1/2008 05:39PM
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I'm going to see them in Seattle in a couple weeks and I am really looking forward to it. Seen them open for the Black Crowes and I decided during the Crowes second set that the Truckers should have headlined.

One thing I think is puzzling is how Jambase, which I assumed catered to mostly jam band fans is writing articles about these guys. Do not go to there shows expecting long extended soloing or space or drums because you won't get that. I suppose Jambase is evolving and thats totally okay with me.

widespreadfred starstarstarstarstar Sat 2/2/2008 11:51AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Dennis, you've done it again, my friend.

Great read.

Ath1 starstarstarstarstar Sat 2/2/2008 05:13PM
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Great article and a classic album. I find it amazing how they can weather so many line up changes and still continue to produce outstanding albums. "Brighter Than Creations Dark" is the best effort they've ever released and considering how many great records they've produced and how powerful their live shows are I am convinced they are one of the greatest bands in rock and roll.

joxley1 starstarstarstarstar Sat 2/2/2008 05:41PM
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I have to add my praise for this album. Killer. Shonna's voice adds heaps to an already kickass sound.

n-1 starstarstarstarstar Sat 2/2/2008 06:53PM
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intense review! i enjoyed it, my friend from mobile took me to see them at langerado two years ago, i was really impressed. i remember they were at the second langerado two, and i had never heard of them, that was when they were just starting out i think.

n-1 Sat 2/2/2008 06:54PM
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this is what all reviews aspire to be

Ladoo starstarstarstarstar Sun 2/3/2008 11:04AM
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I can't quit listening to this album. Every year there are several new albums that come out that I thuroughly enjoy. However, there are always 2 or 3 that stand above the rest. This album is one of those albums for me, what a classic.

cloudhidden starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/4/2008 10:54AM
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Mike Cooley is one of the most underrated men in RocknRoll. His voice is the perfect southern snarl, his playing is awe inspiring and his songs are masterworks of truth and poetry.

I wish he would do more solo acoustic shows!!!

Long Live DBT!!!

Chaloupka Wed 2/6/2008 01:53PM
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^^^I completely agree with cloudhidden!

Ash starstarstarstar Wed 2/13/2008 09:28AM
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THREE DIMES DOWN and CARL PERKIN'S CADILLAC are 2 of the greatest songs ever written, period.

stop talking about hip hop and listen to the best songwriters out there that can JAM!

stellarrstarr starstarstarstarstar Thu 2/14/2008 02:24PM
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This album still blows me away. For those who've mentioned you haven't taken the time to listen or check them out live, well - do yourself a favor and catch them during this tour! The storytelling they encompass in through their songs will make you a fan forever.

Can't wait for their return to Boulder's Fox Theatre next week!!!

Benjamin Human starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/19/2008 07:12AM
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drdeon starstarstarstarstar Thu 2/21/2008 05:51PM
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from a HUGE DBT fan, not as stoked about the album as the rest here, but a phenomenal article nonetheless. these guys are so authentic it's silly. keep rockin!

IndiOcean Sat 3/8/2008 11:08AM
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Hoodoo Voodoo----- YESSSSS!!!! the DBT REally KICK ASS!!!. THey are strong like BULL!! the music is dynamic and very VERY powerful. go see them at all costs--try to make a weekend show if u can.