Lead guitarist for the Drive-By Truckers, Cooley has more in common with The Rolling Stones legend than just both being six-string aces. Cooley is the co-founder of the Truckers, a snarling rock-n-roll quintet that has slowly and steadily overtaken the American music scene with its own brand of Southern hospitality. It is a tone that includes grab-you-by-the-throat guitar riffs, hard-as-nails lyrical subjects and a stage presence that feels like you’re in the middle of a thunderstorm in the Southern Appalachian backcountry.
And with that full throttle urgency of the Truckers comes their latest release, “English Oceans.” The first single off the album, “Pauline Hawkins,” carries the torch nicely from their previous recordings. Named after a fictional female character in Willy Vlautin’s novel “The Free,” the melody is a stripped down, seductive piano, drums and guitar number — perfectly capturing the hardships and day-to-day life of a woman that won’t be defeated.
Cooley recently spoke with The Smoky Mountain News about “English Oceans,” being a band in a modern music industry, and why 18 years together is only the beginning for the Truckers.
Smoky Mountain News: “English Oceans” took two weeks to record. What about that “pound it out” recording style lends itself to the creative process?
Mike Cooley: I think two weeks is actually plenty of time if the songs are already pretty well developed. However, it depends on the type of project and what your goals are. I just think there’s a point with anything where you’re dragging it out too long and beating it to death. It yields a more polished album, but removes all the life and inspiration: Exhibit A — The Eagles.
SMN: I look at the Truckers as much as storytellers as musicians. Where do you find that line where the words and tone balance out?
MC: The balance between the story and the song is more about knowing where to quit. What you want to say can’t become more important than the result, which is still sounding like a song. If it’s in fact going to be a song, then it still has to fit into a musical framework. I focus more on what the story looks like than the narrative and start by describing what I see.
SMN: A lot of Truckers songs spin tales about those either at a crossroads in their sometimes-messed up lives or simply forgotten by society. What is the importancc of using your music to tell these tales, rather than about the usual industry topics like sex, drugs and rock-n-roll?
MC: There is actually a lot of sex, drugs and rock and roll in our material. We just put them in the context of lives that I think are more interesting than ours.
SMN: What does it means to be a rock-n-roll band in the modern music industry?
MC: I think the music industry has changed for the better. Not as many people are getting rich but more people are making a living. Now, if playing honest rock and roll is what you are all about, all the middle men that created a rich or nothing environment are out of the way and your “artistic thing” can actually be your day job. If only more industries could collapse with those kinds of results.
SMN: The Truckers are celebrating 18 years together in 2014. What does that number mean to you?
MC: It doesn’t seem like 18 years, but longevity was one of our goals from the beginning, so I guess in rock-n-roll years, it’s a goal accomplished. But I hope to keep celebrating for a lot longer.
Editor’s Note: Drive-By Truckers will be performing at The Orange Peel in Asheville on Jan. 31 with T. Hardy Morris and Feb. 1 with Promise Land Sound. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door for each show. www.drivebytruckers.com.