Inside the controversial “American Group” of Drive-By Truckers


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Patterson Hood’s first words, after exchanging pleasantries, say all there is to know about American group, the politically charged new album from the Drive-By Truckers.

“It’s a shitty time we’re living in,” says the Truckers singer, songwriter and guitarist, who, along with his songwriter and foil partner on stage, singer-guitarist Mike Cooley, wrote an album Hymns by the Trump era which had already started to generate controversy months before its release.

“Neither Cooley nor I really decided to write this kind of album, but there are so many crazy things that happened that piss me off, the album just wrote itself”, says Hood. He sums up the sense of seething frustration and anger he felt at the direction in which he sees the country heading by citing one of the most renowned protest songs of his generation: “The Message,” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

“Don’t push me because I’m on the brink,” he said. “It was like that.”

The resulting album from Hood, Cooley and the rest of the Drive-By Truckers – bassist Matt Patton, drummer Brad Morgan and multi-instrumentalist Jay Gonzalez – is an aggressive, punk-fueled protest record that covers topics ranging from NRA and race – motivated police shootings against immigration and the horrific legacy of civil war. Almost half of the album’s 11 songs deal with gun violence.

“A lot of our records are set in another period,” Hood explains, “when this record is really about the ‘now’. “

All these heavy subjects come together in the first rocker “Ramon Casiano”. Sung by Cooley, it is a retelling of the little-known story of the murder of a Hispanic teenager by a future NRA cadre on the Texas / Mexico border in the 1930s.

American group marks a huge shift in perspective for a band that often relied on gun imagery – in songs like “Nine Bullets” in 1999, “When the Pin Hits the Shell” in 2003 and “Ray’s Automatic Weapon” “in 2011 – to paint disturbing, sometimes violent images. . In a sense, American group comes from the very distinct perspective of a group that remains weighed down by, and relies on, its own bloody Southern history. Drive-By Truckers have roots in both Alabama and Georgia.

But gun violence is just one of the many things Hood feels strongly these days. Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood’s 52-year-old son speaks passionately about the partisan media burst, the virtues of being a white ally of the Black Lives Matter movement, the continued legacy of the Confederate Flag ( “Get over the damn flag. Fuck that flag,” he says), and the continued disappointment he feels at the segregation he still sees at rock concerts – namely his own band’s shows.

To day Rolling Stones Country spoke with Hood, he had just completed a drive from Alabama to Athens, Georgia, a trip that Drive-By Truckers, the majority of whom are from Alabama, have probably taken hundreds of times since. that the band released their first album, Gangstabilly, in 1998.

Three years later, the group released their revolutionary album, Southern rock opera, an incredibly ambitious concept album that espoused Lynyrd Skynyrd’s doomed history with post-Civil Rights Alabama and set in motion many themes that truckers have so far updated on American group.

For Hood, the 2016 election cycle was a nasty reminder of the dark legacy of his home state of Alabama, which has spent the past half a century recovering from fierce resistance to integration in the 1960s. “The things Donald Trump says are much worse than a lot of what [Alabama governor] said George Wallace. It’s like, “God, haven’t we learned anything? To have someone who wants to take the whole country down the path Birmingham took in the Sixties is pretty shameful. This fear of the other – fear of the Blacks or Mexicans or Muslims – it’s a dead end.

“With the cops you are considered to be on the wrong side of things by your appearance”

On “Surrender Under Protest”, one of the many distinctively sharp songs Cooley wrote for the new album, the band tackles that same fear. “Does color really matter,” Cooley sings, “if the victims and the abusers / stay on top of each other. “

The hard hymn is just one of the songs on American group which displays the new sense of purpose of truckers. Hood is quick to point out how much he has been inspired in recent years by socially conscious art, be it that of Kendrick Lamar. To pimp a butterfly, that of Beyoncé Lemonade or the award-winning memoirs of Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the world and me.

“One thing I could really get out of the book is that [Coates] keeps saying that it is not necessary for black people to say that black lives matter. Maybe we should hear a guy who looks like me say it too. It may be a step in the right direction. I don’t have answers for shit, but I know the first step in finding answers is to start asking questions, and this record just asks a few questions and starts some dialogue. I want to learn as much as anyone, ”says Hood.

“Historically,” he continues, “whites are reluctant to talk about slavery and racial issues because we’re the bad guys, so people either pretend it doesn’t happen or ignore it unless something happens to you. puts it directly in front of it. I felt like if I could strike up a dialogue, even though the dialogue is a bit passionate and a bit uncomfortable, it’s better than nothing.

One song that has already started heated discussions among fans is “What It Means”. The track addresses the recent high-profile shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, but its genesis dates back decades, when Edward Wright, Hood’s neighbor in Athens in 1995, was shot dead by police while disarmed and naked. . When Hood first posted unfinished lyrics for the song on his Facebook page, he received thousands of comments – some angry, others favorable – within 24 hours. “It was like I screwed up or I was on to something,” he said.

More than anything else on American group, “What It Means” illustrates Hood’s recent political awakening. The Drive-By Truckers, now celebrating their 20th anniversary as a band, have imbued their music with progressive politics for years: Reaganomics ‘stormy 2004 review of “Puttin’ People on the Moon”; the teary-eyed portrayal of the Iraq war and Bush’s foreign policy throughout their 2008 masterpiece Brighter than the darkness of creation; their brutal elimination of the right-wing alarmists on “The Part of Him”, except 2014 English oceans.

But after spending two decades doing the unglamorous job of singing relentlessly about class consciousness, Hood and Cooley, who first met in college in 1985, are looking elsewhere on American group. Hood says they have come a long way since the righteous indignation of Southern rock opera, with his third-person character sketches on poor white populism that featured phrases like “Ain’t about no race / the crying shame / to the fucking rich man / all poor people look the same.” “

“I certainly thought a lot about where I was writing when we were writing Southern rock opera. I was much younger and more naive, ”says Hood. “We have all kinds of class issues in this country, and when I was younger I probably equated it all to the same thing. Being poor sucks, and being poor and white sucks, but being poor and black can be a little worse when you think about it.

“With the cops, you are seen to be on the wrong side of things by your looks and the way your car looks,” he continues, “so a dingy car is going to be pulled over a lot more often than a Cadillac. also black men who were arrested in their Cadillacs.

Hood isn’t the least bit concerned about any backlash he and the truckers might receive for the overt political nature of American group. “Anyone who wants to get upset about that sort of thing, that’s their prerogative. I’m not going to lose sleep over it, ”he said.

On the contrary, he is happy to challenge some deeply held opinions or, at the very least, to annoy some people. “I didn’t get this job for someone to tell me what I can and can’t write and say,” he says. “If anyone wants to try to control what we say or do, fuck them. Me and Cooley pissed off people for 31 years.

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