Last April encore spoke with Drive-By Truckers’ Mike Cooley before their return to Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. They had recently released “American Band” (October 2016), which was written and recorded well before the 2016 primaries, yet proved itself incredibly prophetic of the political climate to come. Take the tune “Kinky Hypocrite,” for instance. Cooley had several folks in mind when he wrote the Southern-rock boot-scoot about CEOs and politicians “who party harder than they’d like to admit.” However, he focused mainly on former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
RETURN TO GLA: Patterson Hood (left) returns to Greenfield Lake with Mikel Cooley (right) and Drive-By Truckers this weekend. Photo by Tom Dorgan
“[Moore’s] never been in a sex scandal himself,” Cooley said last year, before November 2017. The Republican soon ran for US Senate and nine women came forward throughout his campaign to accuse him of sexual misconduct, assault and inappropriate romantic advances when he was in his 30s. These women were anywhere from ages 14 to 22 at the time. DBT co-founder and prolific songwriter Patterson Hood agrees “American Band” continues to become more timely now than they ever imagined when they finished recording it two years ago.
“It’s kind of weird and sad,” he muses. “It makes for a good rock show, but [the themes these songs represent] aren’t very good for our country and people. . . . As time progresses, I think a lot of people have realized this really does kind of suck.”
Like his DBT cofounder, Hood comes from a pretty open family and is passionate about his beliefs. He also notes it would be nice if we as country could talk more about things we don’t agree on and try to find common ground. He refers to the interview of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on CBS’s “60 Minutes” the night before. DeVos (painfully) struggled to answer questions about education policies, even those she’s pushed in her own home state of Michigan. She’s been a major influence for years, to shift funds from public schools to “choice” and charter schools. When asked if public schools in Michigan had gotten better—a claim DeVos made about her policies—she responded, “I don’t know. Overall, I … I can’t say overall they have all gotten better.”
“She seems very pleasant but she doesn’t know shit about what she is talking about,” Hood states, matter-of-factly. “She’s got a job that directly affects millions and millions of people, and it’s horrific.”
Hood is pretty transparent about his politics, and what he considers “right” and “wrong” policies. Still, he doesn’t think what’s happening now is really a “liberal or conservative thing.” “It’s something totally removed from any parameters we’ve historically put on liberal or conservative beliefs,” he says. “If you look at the history of conservatism, this is not a conservative administration, by any means whatsoever. It’s borderlining fascism and some of it is idiotic.”
Cooley and Hood have married their talents for more than three decades now. They use creative platforms and Southern-rock stylings to unapologetically critique the people and stories behind ongoing social-justice issues. From pre-civil rights to today’s Black Lives Matter, sadly—depressingly—relevance continues in “American Band.” While the track “What It Means” explores the shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, its origins began back in 1995, after Hood’s unarmed neighbor in Athens, GA, was shot and killed by police. DBT recorded a live version of “What It Means” at the Newport Folk Festival last year to include on a 7-inch vinyl with their latest cut, “The Perilous Night” (December 2017), wherein people “need warming from the cold hard facts.”
Like many “American Band” tracks, both songs are quite literal. And Hood doesn’t mince words in his latest single about (among other observations) white nationalists marching on Charlottesville in August 2017, which resulted in the murder of a counter protester. “Dumb, white and angry with their cup half-filled,” he sings, “running over people down in Charlottesville.”
A portion of the two-sided record’s sales go to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Hood actually wrote the first draft of what would eventually become “The Perilous Night” back in December 2016—the day the Electoral College officially elected Donald Trump as president. However, he decided to scrap the song and try to move on from its dark defeatist tone … until Charlottesville.
“I pulled it back out and rewrote it,” Hood divulges. “I probably kept about half of the original song . . . but it felt different after Charlottesville. Before it was a gloom and doom story or hypothetical about how fucked up I thought things were becoming. After Charlottesville it was worse. It’s really fucked up and as much as we always been political, I never really intended it to be as pessimistic as it is.
“Even our darkest stuff has kind of a ray of light about it,” he continues. “Maybe people don’t always pick up on that, but to me, when I sing, I always feel like there’s a sense of hope. . . . After Charlottesville, I thought sometimes you just have to be unrepentantly pissed and this called for it.”
Hood’s 2018 resolution was to be more positive. He lives a happy existence with his family and two kids who enjoy talking politics. “I’m just really unhappy about what’s going on in the country,” he says, “and how that can personally affect the people I love.”
Hood’s been writing feverishly as of late,. He’s preparing to meet with his bandmates to toss some songs around in the studio before their return to GLA this Saturday, March 24. Hood doesn’t expect the next DBT project to come together so easily or as quickly as “American Band.” They don’t have preconceived notions about their work.
“What I’m writing is all over the map,” he tells. “There’s stuff that could have fit on the last album and stuff that doesn’t sound like anything the Truckers have ever done. So I’m curious to see what takes shape.”