Photo by Jason Thrasher
'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.
Sounds Better In The Song
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.
"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 & Tucker by Ryan Dombal|
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.
"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."
| Drive-By Truckers by Jason Thrasher|
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."
JamBase | Down In It
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