If ever there was a musical prism through which the divisive social and political events of the past half dozen years could be viewed from a progressive perspective, the soundtrack would undoubtedly be provided by Drive-By Truckers (DBTs).
While the Athens outfit has long been political with their releases dating back to 2000’s sprawling double-album concept album “Southern Rock Opera,” the DBTs has kicked into overdrive, beginning with 2016’s politically charged “American Band.” The unexpected response to that album, founding member Patterson Hood said, generated a tour that was expected to last months expand to years.
Fast forward to 2022 and singer/guitarist Hood and the rest of the DBTs – Mike Cooley (guitar/vocals), Jay Gonzalez (keyboards/guitar), Mike Patton (bass) and Brad Morgan (drums) -- are on the road again, after spending a year and a half sidelined from their usual breakneck touring schedule by the pandemic. And while the band spent that downtime playing virtual shows, getting some Payment Protection Program money and relying on the kindness of hardcore fans buying their music from the online site Bandcamp on a monthly basis, the DBTs also released a pair of albums in 2020 that formed an organic trilogy with “American Band.”
The first, “The Unraveling,” was released in January and dealt with issues ranging from gun violence (the rollicking “Thoughts and Prayers”) to the Trump administration family separation policy (the dark and dirgy “Babies in Cages”). The December follow-up, “The New OK,” was inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests the Portland-based Hood was experiencing on a first-hand basis. Hood’s response came as a result of noticing hip-hop and pop artists were the only ones addressing these issues with their art versus “...so-called rock and roll [artists] kind of pretending none of these things were happening.”
“I think we ended up with an unintended trilogy of records, not to put a pretentious slant on it,” Hood explained. “It’s not like we sat down and said we were going to write a trilogy of records bitching about the current situation in our country. But that’s kind of what ended up happening. When we made “American Band,” we looked at it as its own freestanding thing we were going to do and then we were probably going to move on and do something else.”
The last two-thirds of this album trilogy emerged from a 2018 seven-day recording session in Memphis as the DBTs were coming off from opening for the Tedeschi Trucks Band during the latter’s summer package tour. The opening slot provided an opportunity that spilled into this marathon bout of record making.
“Opening for the Tedeschi Trucks Band was a wonderful experience,” Hood said. “Every day we had an hour-long soundcheck. Our crew is fast and we’re a pretty tight organization. We basically had the work part of that done in the first five or 10 minutes, so we would spend that hour kind of woodshedding these songs.”
The son of storied Muscle Shoals bassist David Hood, Patterson Hood was bit by the music bug early with memories of his father bringing home the Beatles’ album “Magical Mystery Tour” when the younger Hood was only three and listening to “Strawberry Fields Forever” while leafing through the album’s booklet. Having started writing his own songs when he was only eight, at age 16 Hood ran away from home to catch Bruce Springsteen on “The River” tour, where that marathon show transformed the aspiring musician.
“That showed me what a concert can be as far as catharsis and taking an audience to another place and then taking them to another place and then another place,” Hood explained. “Just building on where you were before that. Those four hours were definitely an education in the possibilities of rock and roll as an art form.”
Fast forward to the present, Hood is quick to dispel any assumption that concertgoers will be served up only the latest material.
“I’m not really looking at those records to be the focus necessarily of what we’re out to do,” he said. “They’re out there and we’ll certainly play some songs off of them. I’m proud of the songs, but we also have a pretty deep catalog that we’ve been off of for a pretty long time. The shows we’ve been playing have been kind of pulling from all over the place. We’re just having fun reconnecting ourselves, each other and our fans. And we actually recorded what’s going to be our next record. We’ll probably start working some of those songs up live and try a song or two to see how they’re going, too. I’m kind of looking at what we’re going to do is Drive-By Truckers going and playing rock and roll. As usual, we won’t be using a set list, so anything goes.”
Catch DBT on Tues., April 5 at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts.