Drive-By Truckers: Hard At Work And Loving Hall & Oates

UPDATE: 6 p.m.: The contest is over. Thanks for playing!

Danny Clinch
Grand Funk Railroad may have got there first, but Drive-By Truckers are an American band. If not for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, for whom the Truckers opened the Midwestern leg of their summer tour, the Georgia six-piece might be the American band.

The Truckers rock hard - rattle them bones hard - but they're not rock stars. The songs on the band's eight studio albums through this year's The Big To-Do (ATO) examine life on the economic margins of society and the yawning gap between mythology and reality in the contemporary South with a literary eye for detail, hard-bitten humor and erudite Dixie charm.

Blue-collar as they come, the band is constantly touring and has already finished its next album, wrapping the mastering the day after Labor Day. "I sometimes question if we'd be better off if we could slow things down, but we just haven't quite been able to make that happen," says front man Patterson Hood, who started the Truckers in 1996 with co-captain Mike Cooley.

"It seems like whenever we try to take time off, we end up with twice as much to do."

Note: Be sure to read all the way to the end, because Rocks Off has a nice little surprise for all you Trucker fans out there.

Rocks Off: I hear you guys all the time on satellite radio. How much do you think that has helped to grow your audience?

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Patterson Hood: I think it's gotta be helping. It just about has to be, because they have been very supportive. And we sure appreciate it, because we haven't gotten a whole lot in the way of regular radio up to this point, but satellite radio it seems like we fit like a glove with what they do. It's gotta be a help. Something's helping something. It's hard to tell if that's helping the touring or the touring's helping that or what. I'm sure it all kind of helps each other.

RO: How was opening your leg of the Tom Petty tour this summer?

PH: Oh, it was fantastic. It was really great. They treated us great, and it was really cool getting to work with them. They're such an amazing band, and it was a great show. I think their audience seemed to take to what we're doing pretty well. I felt like our response was pretty good pretty much every night.

We made friends with some of the band, and their crew and our crew got along famously, so it was a great experience.

RO: How did you feel when they asked the Truckers to open some of the tour?

PH: We were thrilled. We've all been lifelong huge fans, so I can't think of another band we'd be more unanimously thrilled across the whole band than that. And he seemed a particularly good fit for this particular album of ours, too. I think the timing on that end was good.

RO: How do you mean?

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PH: I just think The Big To-Do would be the record of ours that would work the best opening for that show. It's a little bit more of a poppier record of ours, I think, in some of the same ways that Petty's songs are.

RO: When you write, how much comes from personal experience, how much from things you hear from friends or family or the news, and how much do you make up?

PH: It's kind of a little of all of the above. It all goes in the blender, and whatever makes for the best song and the best story is probably where it's gonna go. Whether it ends up being more on the true-story end of things or more the movie version, I'm usually not necessarily like the person whose story I'm telling, even if it's done in first person, but there's gotta be something about that I can relate to enough to where I feel comfortable crawling inside that skin for however long it takes to tell that story. There's gotta be something that makes a personal connection to me.

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RO: How much different are the ways that you and Mike write songs?

PH: I don't know his process enough to be comfortable talking about it. I love his songs. To me it seems like we come at it from pretty opposite directions sometimes, which I think is part of why it works so well in the band. I think a lot of times we might write about a similar thing [but] our approaches are so different it gives it a different expression.

Like I wrote "This Fucking Job," he wrote "Get Downtown" [on The Big To-Do] - both of those songs are basically about the current economic malaise we're in; we just approached them differently. I'm a lot more prolific. I'll write a lot of songs and toss 'em after the fact. He tends to edit before he writes down. He might write one or two a year, but they're generally pretty fully formed, whereas I might write 30 songs and decide I like 10 of 'em or whatever.

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