While they haven’t been pegged as a “political band,” the Drive-By Truckers have certainly had a decent amount of songs that cover political and social topics – albeit usually told through the experiences of characters in story songs.
That edge got sharper with their last record, as 2016’s American Band found singers/guitarists/co-founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley’s subject matters include border immigrants, grappling with unsavory parts of Southern history, public vs. private “family values,” censorship, patriotism, and even the shooting of unarmed blacks by police officers.
Needless to say, the band – Hood, Cooley, Brad Morgan (drums), Jay Gonzalez (keyboards), and Matt Patton (bass) – have had no shortage of real-life material to inspire that side of their material over the past three years.
The Drive-By Truckers have already recorded nearly two albums worth of new songs, and fans can expect a record in early 2020, with another to possibly follow. A short, four-date Texas/Oklahoma tour kicks off the Heights Theater on November 14, and the Houston audience will get to hear some of that new material before the rest of the world.
“We’re all happy with it, and the feedback had been really good. It’s kind of dark. But then again, I guess all of our records are kind of dark! But our show is a joyous thing and a lot of fun, and that’s one of the dualities of our band,” Hood says.
“The songs reflect this period of time we’re living in and the shit we’re going through. It’s a shit show! It’s hard to write about these things in songs that you actually would want to listen to, and that was the big challenge. The songs will be about our times, but they’ve got more of a personal slant to it.”
Hood is amazed that just when he thinks things can’t get more bizarre in today’s news, “something new fucking crazy happens every week,” and wonders what modern life and times are doing to our souls as U.S. citizens. And he never mentions the name of a certain world leader known to favor red ties.
“There are [many people] who don’t approve of putting children in cages and the daily horror we’re seeing perpetrated in the name of this bullshit. I mean, what do you tell your children that you’re raising when the President is saying things and acting in a way you would not allow your seven or eight year old to act?,” Hood says, his voice rising.
“This is the person who is supposed to stand for all of us. I can’t fathom that disconnect even for those on the other side of the political spectrum. I’ve got friends who are lifelong Republicans who are horrified by this shit and think it fucking sucks!”
And the Democrats don’t get off any easier in Hood’s mind.
“What a bunch of pussies! That’s what the Democrats act like. I mean, stand up and be counted! They power down and let the other side take control the narrative. And that’s part of why we lose so many elections, because people do respond to someone taking a stand. Even if it’s an idiotic stand,” he says. “I never thought the day would come when I would look at Mitt Romney as a beacon of logic and sanity!”
Since their founding in 1996 and over the course of 11 studio albums, the Drive-By Truckers – with Hood and Cooley at the helm – have put out music that will alternately make listeners (and the characters they sing about) want to think, drink, dance, kill yourself, kill somebody else, and weep in both pain and joy.
This is the band that – while based in Southern Rock (their 2001 breakthrough record Southern Rock Opera was a double disc telling the tragic story of Lynyrd Skynyrd intertwined with fictional characters) - has a far wider scope of sounds.
When Hood is on the phone, it is only hours after the nominees for the 2020 class of the Rock and Roll Hall Fame are announced. He has some thoughts.
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“I will say until I can’t talk that Big Star and the Replacements should be in there,” he says. “But for those [on the ballot], Todd Rundgren is up for a second time, and he undeniably should be in there. I like seeing Thin Lizzy on the list. And the MC5, one of the foundations of punk rock. And I’ve got no problem with Rufus and Chaka Khan and the Notorious B.I.G.!”
Finally, Hood – an avid reader – says he’s about 3/4th though il’s much-celebrated novel The Underground Railroad, which he wants to finish before tackling the author’s new book, The Nickel Boys. But he still wants time to squeeze in Hard to Handle, the just-released memoir by former Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman.
“I’m dying to read his book! It’s getting crazy good reviews and word of mouth. I’m sure it’s a helluva story, and he’s a great guy,” Hood offers. “We toured with him and Crowes the whole summer of 2006. Let’s just say that it was a really turbulent time in both of our bands.”
The Drive-By Truckers play 8 p.m. on November 14 at the Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. For information, call 214-272-8346 or visit TheHeightsTheater.com. $35.