After taking a respite from the band for most of 2007 – the members of Drive-by Truckers are back, re-energized, and hitting the road in support their new album: Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. Bassist Shonna Tucker checked in via telephone from a tour stop in Boise, Idaho.
LEO: Am I cutting in on anything important right now?
Shonna Tucker: No, not at all. Just drinking a cold beer and listenin’ to some music.
LEO: Anything good?
ST: Yeah, I’ve been record shopping like crazy. Right now I’m listenin’ to a Howlin’ Wolf box set.
LEO: Last year was pretty crazy for you all, so far how is 2008 looking?
ST: It’s going great so far. We’re pretty much just getting started here on the tour – I guess we’re just a little over a week into this tour so we’re still pretty fresh. So far, so good.
LEO: How is it getting play the new songs in the full-fledged rock show as opposed to “The Dirt Underneath” Tour?
ST: Not really surprising. But some of the songs we didn’t really know how it was going to turn out exactly live because it was a lot different than what we normally do. But so far things are going great. We’ve had Spooner Oldham out with us and that’s been super-fantastic. He’s got a great vibe up there and brings the magic every time; so that helps too.
LEO: How is the new material playing in concert?
ST: It’s going really great, it’s typical to see people out there already singing the lyrics and just rockin’ out. It’s pretty surreal.
LEO: How do folks on the west coast respond to your particular brand of southern oriented music?
ST: I don’t know, I think they like the music and they get it but maybe they’re just as fascinated by our redneck ways up there on stage … all of the debauchery and whatnot. It’s like going to the circus baby; you’ve just got to see it.
LEO: You all seem to play Louisville fairly often, do you all have a direct affinity for the town or is it just go-to stop where you know you can sell out a show?
ST: I would say both. It does take both of them really because we wouldn’t come (to a town) if we didn’t want to. And it’s a great crowd there as we get closer to the south and get closer to home.
LEO: The last two times you all played here you were at a theater, now you’ve gone back to playing Headliners. Honestly you all didn’t seem quite as enthusiastic in the theater as previously had been in playing the smaller venues and bars — so was it a conscious effort to return to a platform where you can connect with an audience more directly?
ST: Yeah, that’s definitely what we want to do especially with the new record out. We just want to get down there with everybody and get back to the rock show. We wanna pack the place out and get the energy going. Because The Dirt Underneath tour last year was super laid back, acoustic, broken down a little bit, that was great, but we’re all ready to stand up plug in, and turn it up again.
LEO: Did boredom or static emotion inspire you to write songs?
ST: Well, I’ve always written. This is just the first time approached the guys with the songs and felt like they were Drive-by Trucker material. I’ve always written, but for the last five years I’ve kind of been in the back, in the shadows, because I’ve been focusing on being the bass player. It seemed like time for me to come out and introduce myself as a writer.
LEO: I have to ask also, the first time most of us heard you sing was with your cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” Your rendition is so fantastic that I am still stunned at the fact that from what I can tell you all never played it live at all. What was up with that?
ST: People ask us all the time to play it and we just flat out don’t know the words. That song has something like six verses to it and none of us can remember the damn words.
LEO: What’s the difference between what John Neff brings to the band as opposed to what Jason brought to the band?
ST: I think Jason leans more toward the pop end of things. Johnny comes from country standpoint with pedal steel and his very unique guitar playin’. He’s got his own thing going, and he’s as cool as can be. It’s always different when you have leave or come in, but John was an original member of the band so he’s always been one of us. He just took a break for a little while.
LEO: How do you handle being stuck on a bus with four rowdy men for a majority of the year?
ST: It’s a little different. I told someone the other day I would much rather be out here with a bunch of guys than a bunch of girls. I don’t think I could do that. They respect me, they watch out for me, and I do the same for them. I clean up the nasty bus and it works out.
LEO: Does that make privacy and issue for you all?
ST: No, you look forward to crawling in that tiny little bunk and shutting that curtain. That curtain seems to shut out the rest of the world … at least for a little while.
LEO: You all have a widely male following — do the guys at the show ever get offensive or rowdy with you being one of the only women in the room?
ST: They’re pretty obnoxious and drunk, but they’re definitely respectful. It’s amazing really, to give any large group of people that much whiskey or whatever they’re doing out there; it’s pretty amazing to see how well behaved our audiences are. And if something ever does get out of hand, we’re usually the first ones to see it because we’re up and we can see everybody, so we’ll call them out and stop it before it gets bad.
LEO: “I’m Sorry Houston” is a beautiful song, as I said I know you’re a fan of guys like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, but that song feels like something out of Nashville from the late fifties or early sixties – is there a place in your brain where Jim Reeves and Sam Cooke meet?
ST: Yeah, all of those people you named are from the south. They’re southern people, country people like us. It wasn’t a conscious thing it just happened that way, I wasn’t trying to do anything or make it sound any way, it just came out soundin’ like it did. —Brent Owen