"We did all get tired of the whole Southern rock thing," says Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, the Alabama fivepiece coming to town this week. "It's like none of us really view ourselves the way that we were being viewed."
The misconception stems from the Truckers' 2001 double album Southern Rock Opera, a sonic landmark that single-handedly resurrected a musical genre that had been left for dead. The record garnered beaucoup attention from both music critics and academics who wallow in the region's seemingly conflicting mysteries and landed the Truckers on a career path as certain as a cross-country train track. The question was, "When, and how, to get off the ride?"
Cue A Blessing and a Curse, the Truckers' seventh and newest album a conscious attempt at redefinition. "We kind of went into it with kind of an agenda of what we didn't want to be," Hood says. "We set out to make a record that kind of went against a lot of the things that we were most known for. We decided early on that we wanted to do a record that didn't really tell a story. We didn't want it to be geographically specific."
Still, a Southernectomy is some highly serious surgery for this band. Though fellow Trucker Mike Cooley's "Space City" (a nod to Huntsville, Alabama) is the lone violator of A Blessing's no-specific-setting rule, the album's title track is yet another in a long line of Bible Belt-indicative signifiers. And then there's the sound. Third guitarist Jason Isbell puts down that third six-string in favor of a more delicate keyboard on occasion, but the Truckers still shred. Lyrics about champagne hand jobs, crystal meth in the bathtub, and sucking on the end of a shotgun remain too damned gritty for any potential backslide over to the country market.
Perhaps the band suffered a collective nightmare of the future as typecast castaways?
"Exactly," Hood says. "None of us really wanted to quite be Gilligan, you know. But it's like an actor. If he does a really good job, if he's really good at his role, he has to overcome. That guy that plays Tony Soprano is going to have a hard time ever not being Tony Soprano in people's eyes because he's played the fuck out of Tony Soprano. And so we wanted to make a record that showcased some of the other things that we know how to do, and it meant kind of taking away some of the things that have become our calling cards." Rob Trucks
The Drive-By Truckers perform with the Black Crowes and Robert Randolph & the Family Band on Saturday, July 8, at Sound Advice Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25 to $49.50. Call 561-795-8883, or visit www.livenation.com.
Turning Up Sunday
Taking Back Sunday helped to turn melodic, hard-driven rock into a marketable commodity. But along the way, the band has had to contend with lineup changes and the erratic, often self-destructive behavior of frontman Adam Lazarra (booze, drugs, dramatic mood swings, falling onstage, and so on). While bassist Matt Rubano has never been eager to directly discuss the subject, he proved quite talkative during a recent chat with Outtakes about the band's new album, Louder Now.
Outtakes: Lazarra has said that Louder Now is "the record we always wanted to make." Do you agree with that?
Rubano: One hundred percent. We had a lot of time and all the means we could want to make this record. At this point for us, we knew what we wanted to sound like. We knew that we wanted to make a record that listened through as a great story and was really something special. Musically, I feel like this is the best thing I've ever been a part of.
Louder Now is the closest you guys have come to capturing your live show in the studio. Was that a specific goal, to amp up what you were turning out?
I think it's about capturing intensity. Sometimes, when you go to record something, you're so caught up in your headphones, the sound of your instrument, and where you're sitting and staying quiet, you lose a lot of ferocity and frenetic behavior you have while on stage. I think this record really captured a lot of that for us.
You spent some five months working on this album. What motivated the protracted studio time, and how do you think this helped or hurt the album?
It definitely helped. It's not really good to have a deadline on stuff like this, the same way it's not good to have a record take a year. For us, we had the time blocked out, the people we wanted to work with, and nothing else on our mind except making this album. You don't rush something to make it better. We wouldn't put time above good music, ever.
Lazarra has described himself as a "total mess." How do you think his at-times tumultuous behavior affects the dynamics of the band and, consequently, the music you produce?
Well, first, I'm not sure what exact tumultuous behavior you're talking about, but, assuming you're just talking about whatever...
Well, as a friend, you surely want Lazarra to stay on the straight and narrow for his own sake. But do you think his past instability has served, in a way, as a muse to the band? Maybe feeding the music it produces?
I wouldn't place value on things detrimental to your health, [things] that are bad for your mind or body. But whatever we go through, we got through it, and we survive it, and if it happens to play a part in how we write our music together, then so be it. But I don't believe in dudes needing to be tortured to be good. That's bullshit. That's rock 'n' roll cliché 101. Cole Haddon
Taking Back Sunday performs with Angels and Airways, Head Automatica, and the Subways on Wednesday, July 12, at Pompano Beach Amphitheatre, 1806 NE Sixth St., Pompano Beach. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $27. Call 954-523-3309, or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
No Hilton, No Cry
Justice is as capricious as a rebellious teen, defying expectations because it can. Several weeks ago, largely unheralded Jamaican music pioneer Desmond Dekker died of a heart attack. That grim bit of news was accompanied by something almost as depressing the announcement that Paris Hilton had recorded a reggae single.
The irony of this rich, talentless, raccoon-eyed tramp singing a style of music defined by oppression and the hope of redemption defies expression. Dekker certainly never benefited from a silver spoon. Orphaned as a teenager, he worked as a welder alongside future contemporary Bob Marley.
After a string of regional ska hits in the early '60s, Dekker adopted the then-new "rock steady" sound, giving voice to the rude boys and the growing social unrest in Kingston's slums. In sound and content, it presaged reggae, while his 1969 international hit, "Israelites," opened the airwaves for artists such as Marley, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff. Still a popular live act, Dekker was due for a critical reevaluation but died on the eve of a big summer tour at the age of 64.
Meanwhile, the Hilton heiress, who's never worked a day in her life (a premise prepping for a fourth season of The Simple Life, though the rubbernecking joy ran out long ago), readies the release of her first single, a reggae tune titled "Stars Are Blind." Hilton says of the forthcoming album which will also include hip-hop, pop, and rock "I want to have something for everyone." No, she wasn't talking about an STD.
Thing is, Hilton's about as multicultural as a Fendi purse and Nicole Ritchie is undoubtedly making an album of dancehall toasting as we speak. Chris Parker