Not many bands have gathered a following as dedicated, devoted, and as down-right hardcore as the Drive-By Truckers. The two best friends, and past roommates, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, don’t make the kind of music heard everyday. Collectively, they share one desire: to find their own special blend, their own unique sound and to unleash their music across the country.
After trial and error leading other bands helmed by the two musicians in the past, Hood and Cooley uncovered their twanging, electric, Southern-rock ensemble, Drive-By Truckers. The 18-year-old band will return to Wilmington with a performance on September 6th at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater.
Their story brings to mind the classic saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” After the rise and fall of their first band, Adam’s House Cat the two formed a duo under the name of Virgil Kane. Later they started Horsepussy,”which ended when Cooley and Hood had a falling out after the band didn’t take off.
“It was weird,” Hood laments. “We really didn’t see each other for a couple of years, and then I moved to Athens, Georgia. I really didn’t want to give up [on music] yet, so I called Mike [Cooley] and talked him into coming. Drive-By Truckers was kind of our final attempt together. I guess somehow we managed to get it right the fourth time.”
Today, they base their success on a series of so-called “lucky-ass guesses.” The Drive-by Truckers managed to really take off in the late ‘90s, after the success of their first two back-to-back, energy-filled albums, “Gangstabilly” and “Pizza Deliverance,” fueled their growing fan base. The band began to acquire more and more dates for their tour, and reached over 150 gigs within six months of the albums’ releases.
The flavor of the Drive-By Trucker’s music cruises down the line of country and Southern rock in a hard-to-define blur, but the band has a medley of other musical vibes. Their sound isn’t close enough to be classified as modern country (thank goodness), but it is impossible to deny a beautiful twang in their numerous ballads, such as “The Living Bubba” (“Gangstabilly”) or “Bulldozers and Dirt” (“Pizza Deliverance”).
The Drive-By Truckers carry more of a rough, rowdy and occasionally skimpy, redneck rock ‘n’ roll. It tightly holds together a combination of excitement and emotion. The only way a sound this idiosyncratic could be put together is by a giant melting pot of all their musical influences.
“I think a huge influence on our unique sound is because Cooley and I grew up in the ‘70s, and it was a really different cultural and musical landscape back then,” Hood says. “It was like on one end the hey day of Elton John’s big hits and then on the other there was Led Zeppelin, and also The Stones were out on their drugged-out glory days. Cooley grew up a really big fan of the ‘50s rockabilly stuff, and we were both huge punk-rock fans back in the day. The fact this large variety of music has factored in is exactly what has driven our eclecticism.”
In 2001 they released their third record, “Southern Rock Opera,” which received rave reviews from Rolling Stone. It helped the band’s fan base grow even larger. The record was intricate and covered everything from politics to music. It revealed it all by channelling the mindset of Southern rock ‘n’ roll legend Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Drive-By Truckers jumped off the platform forged by their third studio album and continued soaring upward; however, they still had to continue fighting to maintain relevance.
“For a band that is as old as our band is now, it is amazing that we still are having such an amazing year [in 2014],” Hood states. “It [wasn’t] always pretty. There have been hard personnel changes and drama we had to deal with. Unfortunately, when you are on the road as long as we have been, you even have to live with death [Craig Lieske, longtime “merch man” for the DBTs passed away in January of 2013], and that is really hard to live with. It is hard for anyone to live with. There is a lot of dwelling on the life of a band, too. But you just got to hang in there the best you can.”
After rotating countless members in and out over the years, the Drive-by Truckers currently consists of Hood and Cooley. Both are in charge of lead vocals and guitar. They also stand as the only two remaining original members. Brad Morgan on drums has been a steady member since ‘99. Matt Patton on the bass, and their newest member, Jay Gonzales, on keys fill out the players.
While the band has not held on to one specific approach to their music throughout the years, their relentless work and touring has allowed them to grow and expand. “We are playing better then we have ever played,” Hood says. “We are just really on fire right now, and everybody is happy with the new record and we have gotten a really good response. We hit the road at the end of January and started our shows for this record [‘English Oceans’].” The band was booked with six gigs a week by March. They hit the press hard, too, accepting radio interviews and record-store shows. “Then we would have a few days off to see our families for just a minute, [before taking] off again,” Hood continues. “By the end of June or July we all were pretty worn down, because it was getting pretty brutal, but now we are up and ready to rock again.”
While some bands bank on studio time to make everything work, The Drive-by Truckers mentality is all about a life of rock ‘n’ roll on the road. Their newest record, “English Oceans,” showcases this drive.
“We have always been a band that has kind of leaned toward the do it quick and keep it raw aspect, but on this record we kind of took that to a whole new level,” Hood tells. “This was the fastest we have made a record and turned around in 18 years. It took almost six months before we turned around and released an album we were all very happy with.”
The album took a new path and had a nearly even split in the songwriting duties between Hood and Cooley. Normally, Hood pens the majority of the songs; however, Cooley’s creative juices were flowing full force for “English Oceans.” Cooley wrote heartbreaking ballads and songs filled with stories such as “Made Up English Oceans,” or “Natural Light,” which ends with the lyrics: “When the countdown is up,/you will wake up my love/and shine with your own lift again/From the neck up and down/it’s the down that I’m out to light up/In you once again.”
“More than anything, I love the collaboration and interactions between my songs and his songs,” Hood informs. “It is awesome because if you really listen to this album all the way through, it almost comes off as a strange conversation back and forth between my songs and Mike’s.”
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Dr.
Saturday, September 6th, 7 p.m.