When Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood wrote the songs on the Drive-By Truckers’ new album, “American Band,” they didn’t foresee how the election would turn out.
“We believed people would put their big boy pants on and this Trump thing would disappear,” Cooley said, a week before the election and a week and a half before the five-man Alabama/Athens, Ga. band’s Charlotte show. It plays the Fillmore on Saturday night.
Drive-By Truckers hurried the album’s release due to the hot-button issues it was covering. On it, Cooley and Hood write about guns, racism, police shootings, and living in the post-Civil Rights South. It begins with Cooley’s true account of “Ramon Casiano,” a 15-year-old Mexican boy who was shot and killed in 1931 by Harlan Carter, the man who became the head of the National Rifle Association.
“I’ve had an interest since the ’80s about guns as a hot-button political issue. When I was growing up, it wasn’t one, and then all of the sudden there it was,” said Cooley, who stumbled on the story. “I was learning about the transformation of the NRA, how it was taken over by the hardliners and put into play to become the hyper-political thing. The song wrote itself.”
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That’s just one track that might rustle fans of DBT’s working-class Southern country-rock.
“We’ve had some people walk out, but not en masse,” he said. “I know there’s been a little nastiness on social media, but I never delve into that world. I know we have a lot of conservative fans that aren’t crazy and that share our views on some of these things, especially social issues.”
“I do accept that it’s a political record, but why is it?” he continued. “Why should these be divisive political issues? They shouldn’t be. What’s motivated me to speak about these is the radicalization of this idea that (people) can’t trust anything they don’t want to hear.”
“Some of these things shouldn’t be political issues, but they’ve gotten turned into divisive issues because it motivates certain people. It’s about profit and power and appealing to the worst instincts in human kind,” he added.
Cooley isn’t shocked by the current turn of events, though.
“On some levels, I’m not the least bit surprised, because I can look back 50 years and see the groundwork that was laid. But then again, I can’t believe it – even though it’s an inevitable destination for everything that’s been done.
“It’s always bubbling under the surface, and we like to think we’re past all that and we’ve seen proof it can rear its ugly head. I never thought racism was over just because we elected a black guy, but as realistic as I am, it went beyond what I expected,” he added.
Cooley addressed his doubt and frustration and need to understand through song.
“Sometimes, you write about things to try to gain a better understanding of it yourself. I felt like I had to comment on this and get it out in front of me,” he said. “A year from now, I don’t expect things to be better. They may be worse. I see kids my kids’ ages and they’re turned off by a lot of this. When they inherit the world, they’ll at least be a majority that will regain basic common sense.”