Writing independently, Drive-By Truckers’ Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood penned songs that dovetailed brilliantly with each other on English Oceans, the Athens, Georgia-based band’s 12th release and highest Billboard debut to date at #16.
Hood says, “Every song on this record connects with another song. I noticed Cooley’s got a line in ‘Primer Coat’ about ‘apron strings,’ and I have the exact same image in one of my songs, ‘Hanging On.’ It goes on and on and on like that on this record, and that’s a pretty good sign for things, particularly given how different our temperaments are and our styles of writing are.”
DBT’s ever-keen political edge can also be seen on the release. Cooley’s “Made Up English Oceans” derives from his interest in the career of Lee Atwater, the Republican operative who was active in the Reagan and Bush campaigns of the ‘80s. “He was the guy that Karl Rove and all of the modern dirty tricksters looked to – he was one of the granddaddies of it all. That song is from his point of view, fictionally of course. It’s him making his pitch, telling what he understands about young, Southern men.” Courtesy of GQ, watch HERE as a good girl goes bad with the Bible by her side in the song’s new video, directed by Joshua Black Wilson (The Black Keys, My Morning Jacket, Willie Nelson).
Cooley and Hood’s brace of character-based songs depict a neatly interlocking gallery of relationships, often in dissolution and discord. Reflecting on the renewed high level of collaboration between the band’s two principals, English Oceans marks an unprecedented event: the recording of a Hood song, “Til He’s Dead or Rises,” with Cooley assuming the lead vocal.
Cooley says, “I remember Patterson was getting frustrated trying to sing it. He was doing fine, but it seemed like there was something he wanted to do that wasn’t coming. I was in the control room thinking, ‘I could probably sing this’ — though it wasn’t like I was saying, ‘Oh, I can sing this a lot better than that.’ I was thinking, ‘This sounds like something I could sing.’ Right after that, he walks into the control room and says, ‘You want to trying singing this? It sounds more like you than me.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I was just thinking that.’”
Looking at the accomplishments of English Oceans from the perspective of DBT’s nearly three-decade history, both Cooley and Hood decline to hedge their bets on the quality of their latest work.
“You’re always hesitant to say, ‘Oh, this is the best record we’ve ever made,’” Cooley says, “because you always want to. And sometimes you say it, and sometimes you’re right, and sometimes you think, ‘Well, maybe I jumped the gun on that a little bit, I got excited.’ But I think this just might be the best record we’ve ever made.”
Hood concurs enthusiastically: “It’s my favorite thing that we’ve ever done. I’m proud of our catalog – we always try to make as good a record as we can make. Sometimes things just work. This time, we made kind of a magical record. I’ve always felt that Decoration Day was our best record, and this is the first one that I think is a better record than that was. Every piece of the puzzle fit.”
To personally give witness to Drive-By Truckers best album yet, head below to check out their upcoming May tour dates with a retooled lineup which boasts a leaner and even more powerful live show. In addition to Cooley and Hood, Brad Morgan is on drums, Jay Gonzalez is on keys and guitars and Matt Patton from The Dexateens rounds out the current line-up on the bass.
5/1 – Austin, TX – Stubbs*
5/2 – New Orleans, LA – Civic Theatre^
5/3 – New Orleans, LA – Civic Theatre^
6/1 – Houston, TX – Free Press Festival
6/3 – Tampa, FL – Tampa Theater#
6/4 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Culture Room#
6/6 – Ponte Vedra, FL – Pontre Vedra Music Hall#
6/7 – Myrtle Beach, SC – House of Blues#
6/10 – Norfolk, VA – The Norva#
6/11 – Lancaster, PA – Chameleon Club#
6/12 – State College, PA – Levels#
6/13 – Lexington, KY – Busters#
6/14 – Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo
6/20 – Winston-Salem, NC – Ziggys
6/21 – Charleston, WV – FestivALL
6/26 – Baltimore, MD – Rams Head Live
6/27 – Asbury Park, NJ – Stone Pony Summerstage (w/ The Hold Steady)
6/28 – Huntington, NY – The Paramount (w/ The Hold Steady)
6/29 – Hampton Beach, NH – Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom (w/ Deer Tick)
7/1 – Portland, ME – Port City Music Hall
7/2 – Burlington, VT – Higher Ground
7/4 – Waterloo, Canada – Starlight Club
7/5 – Toronto, Canada – Turf Fest
7/6 – Ottawa, Canada – Ottawa Bluesfest
7/18 – Maryville, TN – The Shed
7/19 – Cincinnati, OH – Buckle Up Music Festival
% = Shovels & Rope
* = JD McPherson
^ = Benjamin Booker
# = Water Liars