Loaded with tunes, ready to roar

Reality rocks for Truckers

Staff writerFebruary 12, 2010 

  • Who: Drive-By Truckers

    When: 9 tonight, 9 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus St., Raleigh

    Cost: $22 advance; $25 day of show; $40 for two-night pass

    Details: www.lincolntheatre.com or 821-4111

You'd never call Drive-By Truckers main man Patterson Hood a slacker, especially when it comes to writing. His band's 11th album will be out next month, on top of the solo album he released last year, and there's yet another Truckers album in the can and ready for release as early as this fall.

So what does Hood choose as a New Year's resolution? To write something all 365 days of 2010. He even plans to give prose a try and write a novel, and he has actually thought out the logistics of this.

"I've got two kids at home, and there are 11 of us on the bus," he says by phone from his home in Athens, Ga. "So it's extremely hard to get alone time to write. But I think I might have a better shot at doing other kinds of writing. There's always noise and music on the bus, which keeps me from writing new music. But nonmusic writing, I can sit in the back, get in the zone and do that."

This productivity ethos applied to the imminent new Truckers album, "The Big To-Do," due out March 16 on ATO Records. The band wrote and recorded more than 30 songs, 13 of which made the cut (plus a bonus 14th song for the vinyl version). A big chunk of the rest will be on the follow-up.

"My dream has always been to work like Neil Young as far as starting to record with no regard for a specific project and amassing a stockpile of recordings to draw from," Hood says. "Like [Young's] 'Rust Never Sleeps,' half of that dated back to five or six years earlier. Then all of a sudden, he had the album those songs fit on, and it's one of his best records.

"Working that way would be better for us than writing a record, making a record, releasing a record, touring for two years and then doing it again. That kind of routine is not always best, artistically or personally."

By Truckers standards, "The Big To-Do" is unusually short - a half-dozen fewer tracks than its 2009 predecessor, "Brighter Than Creation's Dark." It's also pretty rocked-up, starting with the stomp-along kickoff track "Daddy Learned to Fly," featuring the expected cast of blue-collar ne'er-do-wells struggling with everything from drinking binges to existential angst.

Before their time

Past Truckers albums have sometimes felt like thematic period pieces, but "The Big To-Do" perfectly reflects the grim desperation afoot in these unemployed, under-insured times. Then again, the Truckers have always been all about harsh realities. So maybe it's more that the times finally caught up to them.

"I've always looked at our records like little movies, only without the movie part," Hood says. "There was an actual moment where I thought I'd try to set the songs more present-day to see what happened - as much control as I have, which isn't much. Songs happen the way they happen.

"But there's no need to do a song set in the Depression era because we're going through that now, whatever people want to call it. 'This [Expletive] Job' doesn't need to be set any other time than right now.

"It's very scary," he continues. "Anybody who spends much time on the road isn't surprised at what's happened. Wall Street and Washington have their heads up their [expletive] because all they see is Wall Street and Washington.

"But we go to Detroit every year, you know? And we're from Northern Alabama, which never had a boom time. Even the Clinton era sucked in my hometown. They're still not recovered from the Ford plant that closed there in 1982."

Hood has a very personal interest in the state of the nation, especially regarding health care and health insurance. Christmas Day saw the death of his friend Vic Chesnutt, an Athens singer/songwriter who committed suicide - in part because of ongoing problems with his health and crippling bills.

Hood is playing at a series of benefit shows in Athens to help Chesnutt's widow retire some debts (and keep their house). But he still becomes just short of livid when talking about the subject. Though his own family has insurance, Hood says they're on the verge of losing it because his wife has a pre-existing condition.

"The situation we're in is as bad as can be and still be considered insured," Hood says. "We can't upgrade to better insurance because of her pre-existing condition - and so much of what she requires is already not covered, but we don't dare drop it because we've got two small kids.

"So we're fighting not to lose what we've got, and I'm afraid help is not on the way. The cavalry's turning around."

On a rampage

Then Hood launches into a few choice expletives at both parties. "I'm about on a rampage," he concludes with a weary sigh. "Just angry as hell."

Fortunately, the business of Hood's band is a lot less complicated than fixing the American health care industry. The Truckers will be in Raleigh this weekend to play a two-night stand at the Lincoln Theatre.

And even though "The Big To-Do" won't be out for more than a month, it will be the focus of the shows. Consider it a live preview.

"This one will work better live than the last couple albums have," Hood says. "As something to be played live in front of people, these songs kind of scream for that.

"I couldn't be prouder of 'Brighter Than Creation's Dark,'" he says. "But it was very inward, us in a circle playing to each other. That made it hard to turn into a show, which is very outward and extroverted. But this album is extroverted, just roars out of the speakers."

david.menconi@newsobserver.com or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat or 919-829-4759

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