Drive-By Truckers

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Drive-By Truckers switch over to ATO for newest album, The Big To Do

:: Drive-By Truckers ::
:: Boulder Theater :: May 13 ::
::  Aggie Theatre :: May 14 ::

By Brian F. Johnson

Sometimes growing up means shedding the bullshit from your life. That’s certainly the case for Drive-By Truckers.

It was just about 10 years ago when the Athens, Ga. band — who had already been together for a few years and a handful of albums — released their fiery, critically acclaimed and stupendously penned double album Southern Rock Opera.

Since then, the band has added members, dismissed a few others, toured the world, and released five proper albums, including their newest, The Big To Do, which debuted at #22 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart and #1 on Billboard’s Indie Chart — the highest debut in history for a Drive-By Truckers release.

The Truckers have done all of this with the swagger of a pack of guys (and a girl) who’ll kick your ass for looking at them wrong, but later buy you a beer to hold on your swollen, blackened eye. It’s that tough edge that made Southern Rock Opera ring so true, as they sang about being proud of their roots, but ashamed of some of the South’s history. It was that swagger, too, that made follow-up albums, like 2003’s masterful Decoration Day, sound so damn poignant.

But now, seven years and four studio releases later, the Truckers don’t seem like the gang that’s out to kick your ass anymore. They’d just assume skip the ass wuppin,’ and get right to the beer drinking.

“There comes a point where you say, ‘Well, I don’t have time for this bullshit anymore. I’m not going to put up with it and I don’t care who it is,’” said The Stroker Ace, a.k.a. Mike Cooley, in a recent interview with The Marquee during a rare moment of down time between the hectic schedule of an album release and the launch of a tour.

Cooley said that a big part of that is simply growing up, but the father of two — whose partner in crime for the last two decades, Patterson Hood, is now a father of three — said that they’ve both learned a lot by being daddies. “I apply what I’ve learned out here to how I manage myself and things at home and vice versa,” Cooley said.

These days, the Trucker’s schedule is designed to keep them a bit closer to home, or at least give them more time there, but the band is downright shitty at kicking up its heels. In 2009, for example, the band was supposed to have a down year — take some time to bond with the new babies and get reacquainted with their home, but instead they played about 90 dates and released an album with Booker T., Potato Hole, which won Best Pop Instrumental Album at the 52nd Grammy Awards, in January. The band also dropped a collection of rare songs from their days on New West Records called The Fine Print, and Hood released his solo album Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs).

In typical stride, Cooley acknowledged the honor of the Grammy on the Booker T. album, but also said that it wasn’t any kind of defining moment for him or his band. “It’s kind of like winning a blue ribbon at summer camp. ‘Look mommy.’ You know, it’s a lot cooler for your family, but now that I’m a grown man, I just kind of want to get paid,” he laughed.

The Big To Do is the band’s first album with ATO Records, leaving behind NewWest, which held the Truckers through the better part of the last decade. Cooley easily dismissed the breakup with NewWest by saying that ATO “pretty much agreed with us. We had a few things that absolutely had to be this way and they agreed with all of it.”

The new album is also the first to feature the newest Trucker, Jay Gonzales, on keyboards. On their Brighter Than Creation’s Dark Tour of 2008, the band had been joined by legendary keys player Spooner Oldham. After Oldham went back to his own career, the band was looking for someone to fill the void. “We really liked having Spooner. It was great having that sound, but he doesn’t have the time to be with us full-time. Jay has been around Athens for a long time and he was just perfect for it. He had the right kind of taste and personality for the part,” Cooley said.

Throughout their career, DBT has been called storytellers almost more than they have been called songwriters, and people have likened Hood to a director of low budget films. Finally, someone has turned the actual video lens toward them, and in June there will be Denver showings of filmmaker Barr Weismann’s documentary The Secret to A Happy Ending — a film  about the redemptive power of rock and roll, filmed on tour with the Truckers in 2005. The showings will be part of the DocuWest Fest, hosted by Foothills Art Center, in Golden, and the Denver Art Museum.

:: Drive-By Truckers ::

:: Boulder Theater :: May 13 ::

:: Aggie Theatre :: May 14 ::

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