Unusually for a band in their twentieth year, Drive-By Truckers have remained remarkably consistent throughout their career, and what’s more, right now they are perhaps more relevant than ever. Their outstanding new album, ‘American Band’, is an adrenaline pumped, intelligent savaging of the present political climate made by five angry, not-so-young-anymore men. One of those men is Mike Cooley, joint commander-in-chief with the equally brilliant “other” frontman, Patterson Hood. Mike talked to God is In The Tv about politics, commercial success and, possibly, pakoras…
So that’s a whole twenty years now then, unbelievably, and yet another great record…
Mike Cooley: Yeah, I feel lucky y’know. Lucky that I got to be in such a cool band. Most bands don’t make it this far, and even the ones who do, how many of them can really say that they still sound fresh and relevant? I don’t think too many bands can say that. I turn fifty right before this record is released and whatever happens, I know I can look back on this body of work and feel proud.
And it seems that old songwriting rivalry between you and Patterson Hood is as strong as ever. Just for the record, I think you’re marginally ahead on points on the new one…
Mike: (chuckles) It has, but it’s not even really a rivalry. It never has been. We encourage each other more than push each other, and we always manage to cross over too. Between us we always manage to come up with different angles on the same theme, and that stops things from getting stale.
You’ve always been a politically minded band, but this is your most politically minded album for a long time. Are you scared of what the future holds?
Mike: Not really scared as such, but I’m not as confident as I was that Trump isn’t going to win. If I was, I would be enjoying it, laughing about it. We WERE laughing about it when it seemed a ridiculous notion, but you know, he’s had a whole bunch of unnecessary attention focused on him by the media when really they should have just ignored him.
Especially when he seems to be advocating the assassination of fellow presidential candidates…
You know what, I don’t think that’s what he was actually trying to imply at all. I think he was just pandering to the gun nuts, and saying what they wanted to hear, which is not smart. It’s dangerous and really not what is required. But people and politicians are so Pavlovian at this point and that’s the scariest thing of all.
Despite the political rage, American Band, for the most part, or at least in the first half of the album, comes across as relatively positive – a rallying call for the greater good. Would that be an accurate description?
Mike: Yeah, I think so. Again, a lot of things have changed since we started writing, but I do have a lot of optimism and I guess a lot of that comes through on the record along with all the fear and resentment. What DOES bother me though is that you can see this new generation coming through who are not going to be immune to the kind of politics that Trump advocates – a nasty, racist, homophobic generation with a whole lot of darkness in their psyche. It’s more noticeable now than it ever was, and that IS a worry.
I feel like we share that in common because from what I saw, there was a lot of ugly prejudice from many (though admittedly not all) of the people who voted for the UK to leave the EU.
Mike: I’ve gotta be honest with you, before all that stuff broke, I didn’t even KNOW that Britain was in the EU. I like to think I’m pretty clued up on politics in my own country though. But I know what you mean, people are too quick to blame any particular ethnic group for things that they have no control other.
Exactly. Still, looking on the positive side, Drive-By Truckers are arguably at their commercial peak right now. How are you adapting to your ever increasing, belated “stardom”?
Mike: (laughs) You know, I’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time. We’re having hit records now and a lot more radio airplay. Some people might expect a backlash from that commercial success but that’s not what I call it – I call it a swimming pool!
And of course, your former bandmate, Jason Isbell, has gone stratospheric in terms of success, it seems. Has that been weird to watch?
Mike: Aww, no, it’s just been great, man. We always knew he had that kind of potential so it hasn’t come as that much of a surprise to us. And you know, when people discover Jason’s music and become fans, sooner or later it leads them to us as well. It doesn’t hurt us at all!
There’s an amazing song on American Band called ‘Once They Banned Imagine’. That actually happened, right?
Mike: I don’t think there was ever an outright ban. It was just some corporation that held a majority share of the networks who, in the wake of 9/11, sent a memo to all these radio stations saying what they could and couldn’t play for fear of being deemed “offensive”, so you had things like Massive Attack or Eve Of Destruction not being allowed, and one of those songs was ‘Imagine‘. A few years ago, I turned on the radio and ‘Imagine‘ came on, and when you think about it, that song goes right back through our history – it was relevant then and it’s relevant now. It was such an odd choice to take off the playlist.
And once they’d kind of “banned” it, your song is basically saying that the decision achieved…absolutely nothing…
Mike: Uh huh.
Will you be touring the UK again soon? Because if you ever play Leamington again, they have one of the greatest Indian restaurants in the UK immediately opposite. I can heartily recommend that (hint hint).
Mike: Yeah, we tried to get in there after the show but it had already shut. But the guys who worked there kept bringing us these little snacks out every now and again, and yeah, if it’s the one I’m thinking of, it was great food! At that point we were that tired and hungry though, we’d have taken anything we could, gratefully!
Drive-By Truckers’ superb album ‘American Band’ is released on September 30th through ATO Records.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.