DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
The Drive-By Truckers are a Southern rock band, but they're just as much poets as partiers.
(Soundbite of song, Gravity's Gone)
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) Little demons ain't the reasons for the bruises on your soul you've been neglecting. You'll never lose your mind as long as your heart always reminds you where you left it. And don't ever let them make you feel like saying what you want is unbecoming. If you were supposed to watch your mouth all the time, I doubt your eyes would be above it...
ELLIOTT: Their latest album, their seventh, is called A Blessing and a Curse. The songs are full of love and loss and firmly anchored to the stuff of Southern legend.
Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood, Jason Isbell, Brad Morgan, John Neff, and Shonna Tucker are the Drive-By Truckers. They're here from Athens, Georgia, to play for us in NPR's Studio 4A. Thanks for coming in.
Mr. JASON ISBELL (Drive-By Truckers): Hey, thank you, thanks for having us.
ELLIOTT: You all really got the attention of critics a few years back when you came out with Southern Rock Opera, which was almost an epic tale of growing up in the '70s, and it was almost an homage to the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Don't worry. I'm not going to ask you to play Free Bird.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ISBELL: Thank you.
ELLIOTT: And ever since then, a lot of what I read about you all, you're sort of labeled as somehow the heirs to this great Southern rock band. They're a lot of parallels. You've got three guitars, like Lynyrd Skynyrd did.
Mr. ISBELL: That's what they call a blessing and a curse.
Mr. MIKE COOLEY (Drive-By Truckers): Exactly.
Mr. ISBELL: We're definitely a band from the south. And there's a lot of that in what we do. But the term Southern rock, it can kind of be a little bit limiting, because people have so many prejudices and perceptions of what that means. And I've never been really comfortable with that because I consider us a rock and roll band, which if you want to get technical, rock and roll was invented in the south. But I like that term better because it's kind of open-ended, and also, you know, Southern rock as a movement kind of ended in '77 when Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane crashed. And some of the bands that were kind of carrying on the tradition of so-called southern rock or whatever, a lot of them tend to take this - this turn towards kind of right wing politics. And we're not that. Not really even comfortable with the association of that and I think that's part of the prejudice, people assume we're, you know, waving Rebel flags.
ELLIOTT: That said, you do have a lot of southern themes and Southern characters in a lot of your music. Some of the songs that come to my mind - there's a song about that the - the third generation farmer who buries the banker in the sinkhole.
Mr. ISBELL: Right.
ELLIOTT: There's Carl Perkins and his Cadillac. And then there's momma who ran off with the trucker.
Mr. ISBELL: Yeah. And that - that was - that would be my momma, because she did run off with a trucker, but it's been - they've been married over ten years, so it's a good thing.
ELLIOTT: Mike Cooley, you also have some characters in some of the songs that you've written. Are most of these true stories? Or are they just true in the bigger sense of the word?
Mr. COOLEY: They're rooted in truth. I mean, you know, you've got to do what you've got to do to turn it into a song. It's got to have a chorus and...
Mr. ISBELL: Most people's lives don't have a chorus.
Mr. COOLEY: ...you have to make that up.
ELLIOTT: What was that, Jason?
Mr. ISBELL: I said most people's lives don't have a chorus. It's just a series of bridges.
ELLIOTT: I'd like for you guys to play one of your older songs for us now, called Outfit.
Mr. PATTERSON HOOD: (Singing): You want to grow up to paint houses like me, a trailer in my yard till you're 23. You want to feel old after 42 years, keep dropping the hammer and grinding the gears. Well I used to go out in a Mustang, a 302 Mach One in green till me and your mama made you in the back and I sold it to buy her a ring. And I learned not to say much of nothing. So I figure you already know. But in case you don't or maybe you forgot, I'll lay it out real nice and slow.
Don't call what you're wearing an outfit. Don't every say your car is broke. And don't worry about losing your accent, 'cause a Southern man tells better jokes. Have fun and stay clear of the needle. Call home on your sister's birthday. And don't tell them you're bigger than Jesus, don't give it away. Don't give it away. Five years in a St. Florian foundry, they call Industrial Park. And I did hospital maintenance, took classes at Tech School and then memorized Frigidaire Parts.
But I got to missing your mama and I got to missing you too. So I went back to painting for my old man and I guess that's what I'll always do. So don't let them tell change who you are boy, and don't try to be who you ain't. And don't me catch you in Kendale with a bucket of wealthy man's paint. And don't call what you're wearing an outfit. Don't ever say your car is broke. And don't sing with fake British accent. And don't act like your family's a joke. Have fun and stay clear of the needle. Call home on your sister's birthday. And don't tell them you're bigger than Jesus. Don't give it away.
ELLIOTT: The Drive-By Truckers playing Outfit in NPR Studio 4A. Have you all always embraced your Southern roots? You know, a lot of young people who grow up in small southern towns are just itching to get away and put some distance behind them.
Mr. HOOD: I was definitely one of those young people. And I grew up just marking time until I could get as far away as I could get. And yet somehow ended up staying in my hometown until I was 27 years old. So kind of like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, I just kind of - one thing after another I kept being there and getting more bitter and kind of trapped feeling about it. And then once I got away and kind of saw the world, you know, it's - it's not like I had to run back home or anything like that, but...
Mr. ISBELL: I did.
Mr. HOOD: ...you kind of put it all in perspective.
ELLIOTT: Patterson, you grew up in Muscle Shoals which is in north Alabama, where - I don't know if our listeners know but that was a real hotbed for music during the '60s and '70s and your father David Hood is a member of the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
Mr. HOOD: Yes.
ELLIOTT: And played on all kinds of hit records. You know, if somebody had a hit record in the '60s and '70s they probably cut it in Muscle Shoals. Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, even the Rolling Stones.
Mr. HOOD: Right.
ELLIOTT: Were you listening to this? Were you in on it all of it?
Mr. HOOD: Oh of course. I mean I wasn't in on it but I was a kid and growing up thinking, oh, some day this is going to be what I do. And by the time I really came of age, that was kind of ending. And that was part of - I think part of why so many of the songs I wrote as a younger guy were so kind of bitter about home. You know, it's because I felt like the door had been slammed shut and it wasn't - it wasn't there for me anymore and I was - you know, I had a real, a real hang up about that at the time. You know, I don't now, because now I'm so proud to have that be part of my, you know, family's legacy.
ELLIOTT: You know, a lot of your music has this really dark undertone, self destruction, drinking, drugs, suicide, loss.
Mr. HOOD: I wish it didn't sometimes. And even though I'm the most guilty party of all about that, and with this record it seems to have really come to the surface to some extent too. And I've got kind of mixed feelings, you know, because if you come see us in concert it's not a dark, mopey, droopey time. I mean we have a really good time. It's almost like a celebration of the darkness, you know. There's these - these dark things that we write about, but live it all gets kind of carried through because everybody's, you know, fists are in the air and they're drinking beer and raising cane and having a great time and it's loud and it's very boisterous.
And which I guess is kind of a tradition from the old blues guys. They would write about whatever was troubling them but they'd go out on Friday night to the juke joint and they'd play these songs and everybody would party and have a good time. And it made them feel better. And it kind of exorcized the demons. I think we've all worked through our share of troubled times and depression and I know I have. And that's kind of, you know, at least for me the new quest, is to try to figure out how to write about that in a way that's not dreary.
ELLIOTT: I think A World of Hurt from your new album sort of illustrates what you're talking about. Will you take us out on A World of Hurt?
Mr. HOOD: I would love to.
ELLIOTT: Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Jason Isbell, Brad Morgan, John Neff, and Shonna Tucker are the Drive-By Truckers. To hear more from the Truckers, including a three-hour live concert, go to our website npr.org. That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News, I'm Debbie Elliott.
(Soundbite of song A World of Hurt)
Mr. HOOD (Singing): Once upon a time my advice to you would have been to go out and find yourself a whore. But I guess I've grown up or something because I don't give that kind of advice anymore. It's gonna be a world of hurt. It's gonna be a world of hurt. It's gonna be a world of hurt. And I was 27-years-old when I figured out that blowing my brains out wasn't the answer. So I set out to find a way to make this world work out for me. And my good friend Paul was 83-years-old when he told me to love is to feel pain. And I thought about that a lot back then and I think about that again and again. It's gonna be a world of hurt. It's gonna be a world of hurt. It's gonna be a world of hurt.
To know love is to feel pain, there ain't no way around it. The very nature of love is to grieve when it's over. The secret to a happy ending is knowing when to roll the credits. You better roll them now before something else goes wrong. No it's a wonderful life if you can put aside the sadness and hang on to every ounce of beauty upon you. Because one thing's for sure. If you feel anything at all it's gonna be a world of hurt. It's gonna be a world of hurt. It's gonna be a world of hurt.
So if what's you got is working for you, or you think it might stand a reasonable change, if what's broken can be fixed, I mean nothing lasts forever. If you still look at each other and you smile before you remember how screwed up it's gotten or maybe you still dream of a time less rotten. Remember it ain't too late to take a deep breath and throw yourself into life with everything you got.
It's really great to be alive. It's really great to be alive. It's really great to be alive. It's really great to be alive. It's gonna be a world of hurt. It's gonna be a world of hurt. It's gonna be a world of hurt. It's gonna be a world of hurt. It's gonna be a world of hurt.