How's things going?
Ticket sales are up actually for us record sales are up so it's been a really good year for us.We re having a good time this year for sure. I've never been to Bend Oregon before. I'm not even quite sure where it is in Oregon.
How did you and (longtime collaborator) Mike Cooley meet?
We met as roommates I needed a place to live kind of in a hurry and move in with this guy I knew from college and cooley was his roommate the day i moved I noticed he had a guitar, I had a guitar. I'd been writing songs for years by that time but I hadn't played in a band the whole time I was in college. I made an honest attempt at goin' straight. And it didn't go too good (laughs) The next I know he and I are both flunking out of school and sitting around the apartment picking guitars all the time and drinking. Here we 23 years later sitting around picking guitars and drinking. Neither one of us ever did get that degree."
You live in Athens and Cooley still lives in Alabama.
I think we prefer living in different cities. We see enough of each other as he put it the other day, "If I move to Athens where the hell would I go? I wouldn't have anywhere to go to get out of the house and do something different." So I think he likes to keep in Athens just for the band. I think it's fun to him like 'Why ruin a perfectly good town by moving there?' (Laughs)
It works for me. I like living here; it's a good place to live.
There have been multiple contributors but it seems like you guys have anchored when you look at the ark of the band's career.
I like it better that way. I go out and do my solo thing from time to time when i feel the need to go do something without and anyone telling me what to do. And its fun for a while but I'm always ready to get back to doing this when it's over because he and I have a really good working relationship. Hell, were even friends. We even get along now, and for years didn't. But even then there was a joy and chemistry about it. I genuinely love his song writing and am just as content on the songs where he is singing and I'm getting to be a guitar player and maybe sing a back up vocal or two. Those are some of my favorites times of the night. I'm pretty much always looking forward to passing the mic off to him. And I think he's usually ready to pass it back after a song or two. I think he generally prefers his role when he's being the guitar player but he writes great songs. And he's not as prolific as I am so I'm not sure he'd want to be in the position of writing enough songs to do a band on his own all the time. I think he would get frustrated in that role. He gets to be the guy who comes in with you know a few songs per record, but they tend to be often the best songs on the record. That's always a good role to get to be in. So it's a good dynamic for sure, but it wouldn't work without mutual respect and admiration. If I didn't like his songs so much, I wouldn't. I'd be going 'Its' time to let that asshole sing,' (laughs) That would be bummer. And it wouldn't be fun for the audience because I think the audience would pick up on that if it was that way."
Given how well that's worked, can you talk about the challenge with having Jason leave?
The secret to getting past that is to remind ourselves what has always been the most important thing. We started this band with the motto that the song is king. And anything else optional. If the song is good, everything else should be in service of the song. And you know to some extent, the live show is a little different dynamic because, to some extent, the show is king. And it's in service to what makes the best show. But when you're making a record, it's all about the song. If the song isn't cutting it, it doesn't matter how fancy your guitar solo is. It's just a mediocre song with a fancy guitar solo. If the song is as good as it needs to be, it ought to be able to hold up. If you strip it down to nothing, it ought to still be able to hold up. The things you add, you need to make sure they're adding to the song.
That was our mindset when we did that tour last year, we stripped it down basically to the essentials and it was basically an acoustic tour and the whole purpose of that was to reconnect with the songs themselves and then rebuild them from scratch based on where we were and who were then as opposed to a year earlier. And it worked, it worked real for us and that led to the creation of this new record.
Did you work up that entire record on the road?
We worked up wither twelve or fourteen of the songs that appeared on this record - I can't remember - were worked up on this tour. Ya know and even on the very first night of the tour we had already worked up "A Ghost to Most" and we knew upfront that was a standout song and the fist time we played it live in front of an audience it got a reaction. Like it was song we had been playing...one of the hits, you know. And it seemed to be that way with everything we threw out there. People seemed to react to it as well as they react to one of the songs that they actually came to hear. It placed us in a really good place to be in as far as confidence in going in to make the record. We had already road tested them and all that. It was exciting to be playing a show with as many new songs as that. A lot of the nights we would be playing as many as eight new songs in a night that nobody had heard before."
It must be nice to have an audience that's willing to give you that leeway.
I definitely appreciated how they took it and how they were. We're very lucky the people who come see our shows. We have a really really good audience - very grateful for that."
You've got a couple of songs that take a critical look at the Iraq War. How has that gone over with your fans?
We haven't caught much flack about it. We have people in our fan base that have very different political views than me and the rest of the band but generally we don't get up on stage and spend a lot of time preaching about our political views, but at the same time, they certainly are there. They're present in the songs themselves often, sometimes more subtle and sometimes less subtle. Ya know generally we try to respect the audience and treat them as adults and not tell them what they need to think or believe and, occasionally, (they) might choose from something they heard to look at things a little different. And that's always good when that happens, but just as often it don't.
Those two songs the only people I was concerned about how they would take it was the people who actually inspired those two songs. And we were fortunate that they, in both cases, liked both of those songs. The family that inspired the homefront wrote us a letter not long after the record came out. And they seemed very happy with what we had written. And the one I was more worried was the guys who inspired "That Man I Shot" because they don't by any means share my political views. But I also made a point not to put words in their mouth that they wouldn't say. There was an evening I spend drinking a bottle of whiskey with those guys and they seemed to appreciated what we came away with about it.
Regardless of you're feeling about the war itself, there is no denying that it comes with a high cost - Monetarily, and physically and emotionally. And that song is more about the emotional cost of it. But whether you're in favor of it or against it, there is no denying the cost. So it's really a matter more of deciding whether it was worth the cost.
I didn't want to put any words in that characters mouth that word ring untrue to the person who inspired that character. I don't necessarily have agree with any character in a song. There's obviously something that makes me relate to the character enough to be able to write about them, but I don't have to agree with them - and often I don't in songs - but I will be respectful to the character and that point of view whether I agree with it or not. Because some of the people in some of my songs are kind of dumbasses. (Laughs) They do some stupid things and make mistakes and, you know, I don't want trivialize that, I'd rather find out why...Why did this person do this stupid thing and, when I say stupid thing, I'm not talking about those guys (From That Man I Shot") by any means, I'm talking about characters in general.
"You and you're crystal meth"
It's throwing your life away on a drug that's not even that much fun (laughs) It's a stupid thing to do.
That's also a pretty personal song
Where we grew up it hit hard it did for towns like the town we came from pretty parallel to what happened in the inner city ghettos during the crack epidemic ten years earlier. It destroyed neighborhoods, except it was rural farmland neighborhood as opposed to crowded inner city neighborhoods but the results were pretty much the same. And they're both on the bullshit end of the drug scale.(laughs)
You deal with a lot of personal themes, Can you talk about the process for a song like Sands of Iwo Jima?
It's very personal because it's a song about my great uncle. For years I wanted to write about him and I made several attempts about writing about him George A. In the end when I wrote that particular song it came out very fast and very easy. But it came easy after ten years of failed attempts and that's pretty typical. Almost any given song that I write comes after a long time of thinking about it, but I generally write them fast. There is that perfect moment of alchmey or whatever that produces the song but that comes after years and years of what I call percolating. And just kind of letting it sit there and simmer for a long time. There are certainly songs that I've got percolating and it could happen ten minutes from now or ten years from now, or it may never happen. There's this thing I've been trying to write for 20 years that I may never write.
How do you know when something like that is ready for the band?
When I can the next day play it in a sober frame of mind. And play it by myself to myself on acoustic guitar and it will hold up. And I say O.K. because if I take it to them they're going to tear it apart if there is a line that rings untrue or seems cliche, or unoriginal, I mean Cooley is a very difficult task maker. So I generally wait a long time. And, of course, he's tougher on himself than anybody. And so for everyone he plays for me there's probably ten I'll throw him. Because he's so tough on himself I never even get near the majority of what he writes.
But we have opposite methods. One part of us figuring out how to play together was coming to an appreciation for the other's method. I tried his approach and didn't write anything for three years.
He edits himself before he writes. He'll put it down on paper when it's pretty much a finished perfected song. And his whole attitude is 'If I can't remember it before that it's not worth writing anyway and I'm not going to waste my time writing it out.' It obviously works for him because he writes my favorite songs in the band. While I respect it, when I tried to do it, it was a disaster. I just couldn't write anything. I've got to not be concerned when I write if it's any good or not and then figure out on the back end if it's worth a shit.
The Truckers write a lot of songs about the mythology of the South and how the South labors under that mythology, now the band has started to accumulate it's own mythology. Can you talk about what it's like when fans expect you to live up to that mythology in your music?
It's weird; it's a sign that we've been lucky and accomplished a lot of what we set out to do is that we're in that position and so I can't complain about it. At the same time I can't really allow myself to give it much thought or much credence, because it will take away from what we could do, if you start second guessing yourself.. It goes back to what I was saying about the writing method. When I tried his method of writing I didn't write anything for three years. If I second guess too much. I certainly I don't to make a record and have it be 'gee, I sure miss the good old days back when they made records that didn't suck.' Who wants to be the post rehab Aerosmith records. That would would be my worst nightmare for some era in the past to be our glory days. But we were able to avoid it this time. We got particularly lucky with this record because we hit on a particularly inspreid record it has to grow on a few people here or there but it had whatever it needed to hold up and be its own thing.
Shonna contributed some songs to this album, will we see more of that in the future?
I'm looking forward to what she'd going to do next. Because we're all watching her grow and come into her own as a writer and a singer and that's new role for her. She's been writing for years and I've really liked her song writing. And I'm glad that 's comfortable enough to bring some for us to record. She's been writing all along. We had been trying to talk her into doing a song on Blessing and a Curse and she was going to until pretty much we were wrapping up the record and there still wasn't one, I guess it ain't to happen this year. But she's writing pretty prolifically right now and had a melody of songs already that's demoing on her own and thinking about for the next record. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does next. I'm looking forward to seeing what all of us do next. I love if we can make a record and have as much fun making it as we did the last one then I'm pretty confident it will end up OK regardless of what happens. Because we had a pretty magical time making this last record. And I very much want to see how we can continue that. Because we get to do this for a living and it's almost blasphemous not to have fun at it.
We're really pumped that you guys are stopping in Bend and can't wait for the show.
I'm loking forard to getting back onthe road we've managed to pace ourselves a little better this year than in year's past. Instead of us going out and hitting it for months on end and by the time we get to Bend oregon weve been on the road for three months straight and we're all hating it and miserbale and homesick. This year we've managed not to do that and do three work spurts and a few weeks at home for everybody to spend time with their families, we've all got kids now mostly. And that will be ..we do have a three week run and we ought to be shifting into overdrive. It ought to be a real good time.
One last question for a friend, when was the last time the band played "Three Alabama Icons"?
Probably 04 it's been a prety good while We really only played it a handful of times because when we did Southern Rock Opera the original plan we were going to go out and play the sro night after night I htink that lasted forabout less than a week. We said yeah, 'this ain't giong to work' It became more the Southern Rock Opera inspired show. And is just what we needed to do at the time and then we set it aside to concentrate on other things. We are going to do something in 2011 were going to do this 10th anniversary thing I've been referring to its as Southern Rock Opera on IceWe're going to go to Radio City Music Hall and do SRO on Ice. (Laughs) Just take it to the ridiculous next extreme that something that riduculous in the first place should be taken to. And that's the goal and it might be then before we play that song again. But we'll definitely dust it off again and play the shit out of it.