When Drive-By Truckers roared into Lexington for the 2016 Moontower Music Festival, a sense of transition was in the air. Its performance came a month before the release of its topically themedalbum “American Band” and barely more than two months before a presidential election that many people thought would have been decided differently than it was.
Now the new-generation Georgia-bred band is back for a headlining show of its own at Manchester Music Hall, with the country even more battered than the one depicted on “American Band.” But co-guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Patterson Hood is up for a few more rounds.
“I don’t really like the idea of disposable music, although I think there is a certain beauty in that art form,” Hood said. “It’s not anything we had ever done. We’ve always tried to think in terms of writing stuff that will sound good even if the events inspiring the music change. We kind of looked at ‘American Band’ as the exception to that only to have it become more timely now, unfortunately, than it was when we made it. So that’s all weird.
“I mean, we thought of this record as something that was going to be a hot topic last fall when it came out. We were trying to stack as many of the dates on the tour before the election as we could because we figured this year life was going to be moving in a different direction. We were preparing to pivot artistically based on that, only to have that not be the case at all.”
All year long, we’ve been calling ourselves the ‘Dance Band for the Resistance,’ so people have latched onto that.
Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers
“American Band” was rife with songs of race, immigration, police brutality and isolationism. It was the most politically charged record to date from a band that was never shy sharing its politics — especially when it came to running against prevailing views in its Southern homeland. But given that its songs were written and recorded two years ago, there was one topic the record couldn’t address, or for that matter, predict: the climate circling around President Donald Trump.
“I had a little more optimism about things when we made ‘American Band’ as far as our political future for the country,” Hood said. “When we made that record, Trump hadn’t won a single primary, so there was no foreseeing the depth to which we wound sink as a culture at that point.”
So much was happening so fast that I needed time to process everything enough to write about it.
Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers
What the Truckers have come up with as a sort of addendum to “American Band” is a new Hood-penned single called “The Perilous Night.” The band recorded it in a session two weeks ago and hopes to have it released within the month. For Hood, the song wasn’t simply cathartic. It was a call to action after an unexpected layoff from writing.
“The last song I wrote for ‘American Band’ was ‘Ever South,’” Hood said. “I didn’t finish another one for a year and a half. That’s the longest I’ve gone without writing a song since 1973, when I was 8 years old. Since then, I doubt I’ve ever gone six months without writing something.
“I was busy, but, hell, I’ve been busy for 25 years. I think a lot of it was current events. So much was happening so fast that I needed time to process everything enough to write about it. It got to be if I wrote about something today, then tomorrow there would be something so much crazier and more screwed up that it would make what I wrote today seem kind of silly.”
Hood said he began writing “The Perilous Night” on the December night that the Electoral College voted to confirm Trump’s victory in the presidential election held the preceding month. Dissatisfied with initial results, he shelved the tune until, after several more false starts, the riots and subsequent deaths at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville this summer prompted him to complete it.
What sits at the heart of the song? In Hood’s words, “Blind, frothing-at-the-mouth rage.” What coats all this angst? What else?: a dance beat.
“It’s a dance song. All year long, we’ve been calling ourselves the ‘Dance Band for the Resistance,’ so people have latched onto that. Even though it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, it’s a funky dance song. It’s like a ‘Rock the Casbah’ dance song. So we’re pretty excited to get it out there. I think we’re going to start working it up at sound check so we can start playing it live on this tour.
“You know, ‘Used to Be a Cop’ (a Hood song from the Truckers’ 2011 album “Go-Go Boots”) was a dance song when you think about it. The beat of ‘Used to Be a Cop’ was actually just a disco beat. It’s easy to overlook that because of the subject matter. That will probably be the case with this one, too.”