When Drive-By Truckers (DBT) hit the studio in late July 2021, they were in the process of releasing an unintended trilogy of albums brimming with socially conscious messages: 2016’s American Band and 2020’s twins The Unraveling and The New Alright. “
All three albums were brimming with astute musical observations on gun violence, Trump’s policy on separating immigrant families, and Black Lives Matter. Suffice it to say that founding members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley were ready to get more personal with their songwriting.
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The duo’s pre-DBT days in Adam’s House Cat proved a source of inspiration for the nine songs that make up Welcome 2 Club XIII, which was released last month.
“We were a band from 1985 to 1991 and just before we broke up we made a record that was never released at the time,” Hood recalls.
They found misplaced tapes, released in 2018 as “Town Burned Down.”
“Working on that was kind of the impetus for some of what was written on this current album,” added Hood.
A three day Exploratory recording sessions produced the Athens, GA, quintet’s fourteenth album. They leveraged inspirational memories, such as the venue mentioned in the title track, where the band actually cut their teeth as they burst through the Muscle Shoals area music scene.
“It was about the only place you could play, and it would have outlived me if I didn’t get out of there,” Hood said.
And there’s the title persona – a nicknamed friend – who is referenced in “Billy Ringo In the Dark,” “directly inspired by someone who was in this band who’s long gone.”
The distinctive nature of it all eventually provided a source of creativity and proved a way to break away from the existential themes that had dominated so much DBT material for the past six years.
The stories on the album, which are character-driven, Hood said represent the band members or family members and close friends.
“Part of it is a reflection on our younger days, but not in a ‘Glory Days’ sentimental way – more of a stocktaking of that time,” he added. “You know, when you’re young and having a good time, that’s great. I’m all about young and fun and hopefully I’ll get out the other end and find a way to make it work in your later life. There will come a point when there will be accounting.”
Some of the highlights include the crazy-horse speeder “Maria’s Awful Disclosures,” the fuzz-guitar-soaked title track, and the horn-kissed “Every Single Storied Flameout,” a Hood favorite.
“This might be my all-time favorite Drive-By Truckers song,” he said. “I’m really particularly proud of it. I think Cooley’s songwriting on it is so outstanding and phenomenal – the words and the whole thing playing out – and the horns. I fucking love the horns on it.”
Also adding to the fun are contributions from country music talent Margo Price and husband Jeremy Ivey on harmonica. The musicians met at the Newport Folk Festival.
“We talked, one thing led to another, and we asked her if she wanted to sing on something and she said she’d like to,” Hood said.
Longtime friend Mike Mills from REM also checks in to provide backing vocals. Hood has been a fan since the late 80’s and drives around in his truck just to listen to “Fables of the Reconstruction”. and sing along to Mills’ contributions.
“He’s one of my favorite harmony singers in the world,” Hood said. “It’s an honor to have his voice on our record because I love him, because he’s just so amazing.”
While the recording process proved pretty foolproof (“I don’t think we’ve ever had an easier time making a record”), getting to the other side of the pandemic was more of a challenge. They were out when the world shut down, and Hood admitted he was among the many who thought it would be short-lived.
“We might lose a month’s work at most,” he said.
As the long haul registered, he said the brutality — both financial, mental and personal — was suffocating.
“I kind of switched off,” he said. “I wasn’t really able to write or do anywhere near all the creative things I wanted to do. When I’ve had dark times in my life, writing has generally been my type of self-therapy that I’ve used to get through on the other side. It kind of blew me away.”
Hood said this bout of writer’s block was like nothing he’d experienced. “Everything I wrote made me feel worse,” he said. It wasn’t until December 2020, after the election – “or when it was supposed to be over” – and the rollout of the vaccine that he returned to work.
“We survived and didn’t lose our home, which was a big deal,” he said. “Then the floodgates opened.”
DBT has spent much of the last year on the road to set up new dates for 2020 and early 2021. The current dates allow them to visit markets that the band didn’t visit on those early stages of the tour.
Hood said that while it might have been a wiser business decision to sit on the new record for a year before releasing it, gut instinct drove the band to get it to fans, even at a financial cost.
“We loved this record,” he said. “Now we’re kind of dealing with the other end of it. They let us do what we wanted to do. If they had told us no we probably would have been upset, but they may have been right. We have some cool stuff planned for fall, but not much. I suspect we’re going to hit it really hard early next year, maybe in March.”
The Drive-By Truckers will perform at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Sunday, July 31st. Tickets cost $30.
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