Had been so busy last year that I did not get a chance to ever publish this interview I conducted with MIKE COOLEY of the DRIVE BY TRUCKERS. Mike has been in tons of bands and I was fortunate enough to play in a band with Mike as the band’s drummer – many moons ago (lol). Here is the interview from NAPA, CA – 2015:
Interview and Feature by Luca Montana. All Rights Reserved.
Nearly 30 years ago within the city lines of Muscle Shoals, two close friends from the great state of Alabama, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley formed a band called “Adam’s House Cat”.
Ambitious yet very young their tenor with Adam’s House Cat was short lived and Hood and Cooley went their separate ways only to revisit with each other 10 years later to form a new band – “The Drive By Truckers”.
With age came wisdom and the birth of the Drive By Truckers yielded an emergence of a great southern rock n roll band for the ages. Nearly two decades have past since the band formed, and within that time The Drive By Truckers have released a dozen studio albums, remained dedicated to constant touring and will be celebrating their 20th Anniversary in 2016.
Currently the Truckers are on their “Dirt Underneath Tour” with a theme to present their songs with acoustic instruments. Every day the Truckers are moving from one city to the next and recently one of the founding fathers of the DBT takes time out for an interview with an old acquaintance from Alabama, Luca Montana, who digs to get the dirt…underneath…Mike Cooley.
Luca Montana: Hi Mike – it’s great to see you after so many years.
Mike Cooley: Yea. Great to reconnect!
Luca: Mike since 1996 you have recorded nearly 40 songs with the Drive By Truckers that you wrote and with the most amount of songs being released through your 7th album “BRIGHTER THAN CREATIONS DARK”. However, in 2006 you released 2 songs on the record before the “BRIGHTER” album – can you give us a little background in how an album is structured with the D-B-T? Did you and Patterson agree to bring in songs to the table at an agreed time or was there a quota system that you both would try to reach with respect to writing and recording songs for each upcoming album?
Mike Cooley: No, we usually at some point will both have several songs written. We send them back and forth to each other and then when we decide its right we book studio time. I mean it’s really very informal…very simple…there is no deadlines for making records or anything like that.
Luca Montana: The Drive By Truckers have been consistently consistent in releasing new material, on average every 2 years or so. Is this consistency done independently as a band or is there a little push and nudge by your record label?
Mike Cooley: In the past, your contracts would require an album in so many years or whatever but we don’t have that anymore that’s not really the case. Right now we are going longer than 2 years in between records we are not really in any hurry to churn another one out just yet.
Luca Montana: Is there more pressure with being with the powerhouse label ATO to output more DBT magic in producing songs with adding more layers? For example: your song about billiards “SHIT SHOT COUNTS” has a brass section and the sound and tone of the song has captured a sense of being timeless. Was this song – for example – more weighted with direction coming from ATO or the labels producer?
Mike Cooley: No not at all. The songs are our things…completely us.
Luca Montana: Mike, back when we first met in 1994, you and I were playing music and you actually taught me the importance of always recording a jam and even practice sessions because you said “It’s always important to record because there’s always a few seconds somewhere in the tape that has gold and those few seconds can help to better develop and create songs.” Do you still do these raw recordings when sitting down with your guitar to hash out new songs?
Mike Cooley: I use iphones now or ipad. I use simple stuff like that. Yea, I do. If something is sounding good to me I make a little quick tape of it and I go back through and archive that stuff. Write down a line when it pops into my head. So there is a running inventory of little stuff…bits and pieces that may or may not make it into a song. Most wont (laughing).
Luca Montana: Since you have your 20th Anniversary coming up with the band and next year will be the 2 year marker after the release of ENGLISH OCEANS – can you share any news with fans on if there is talk of a boxed set being released or a new album in the works?
Mike Cooley: We are going to release a live record later this year. Probably early fall, something like that. We recorded three nights at the Fillmore at the end of last year and its got live versions of a few songs from every album. It’s a good history of the band. It’s like a lotta the live favorites; things that have taken on new lives of their own over the years as we have played them live. Things that are a lot better now than when we recorded them. So yea that’s gonna be about a 5 record set, maybe 3 CD’s. It’s pretty big – we have a lotta material in there.
Luca Montana: This tour you are on “The Dirt Underneath” – it’s theme is more stripped down, grass roots playing Drive By Trucker songs that would be considered in the old days “B Sides” or songs that have NOT really been played too often – pulling The Stones into the mix; for example; they did not play “Dear Doctor” too much but for die-hard fans it’s a rare song that is really appreciated when it’s played. Can you list the top 5 songs that’s been “The Dirt Underneath” the Drive By Truckers?
Mike Cooley: A lot of these songs don’t always work in the electric show, that’s really the thing some are a little quieter. Some of the more folk sounding stuff, some of the stuff that’s more acoustic base to begin with for instance with my stuff would be the songs: “Pulaski”, “Check Out Time in Vegas” and “Loaded Gun In the Closet” and then some of Patterson’s would be maybe songs like “Little Bonnie” and things like that you don’t really hear and that I’d have to go back with and relearn….It’s great to go Google your own lyrics…(laughs out loud)…I do it a lot.
Luca Montana: I’m going to throw you a curve ball now and ask you if you and Patterson follow the business side to The Drive By Truckers in terms of knowing which states and markets have been the most supportive to the Drive By Truckers? I asked this question to a member of the Allman Brothers Band years ago and he said that BOSTON was their largest market. So I’m just curious.
Mike Cooley: That wouldn’t be ours (laughs). We would play Boston. Actually, we have always done better in the cities. New York, Chicago, Minneapolis and out here on the West Coast, the northwest is a little better than Southern California. We do really well in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. But yea; both coasts it’s the bigger cities, the bigger markets.
Luca Montana: You have an interesting piece of Mike Cooley merchandise that I’d seen with the Dali Lama – Can you tell me the story about that?
Mike Cooley: (Laughs) – You know how many stories that start out with ‘…I was drink’n and came up with this idea…’? (laughs). We were on the road and the Dali Lama came to Birmingham and this theatre company my son is in, they were supposed to sing there and I couldn’t go. I wanted to be there and I started just joking around about doing the fan boy – ‘Let me take a picture with you man’ thing with the Dali Lama, you know. And it grew into ‘Hey let’s make it!’ (laughs). My wife found a picture of the Dali Lama and I just did a pose in a hotel room you know like fan boys would do with me or Rick Flair or whoever they are meeting for the first time and we just photo-shopped it. Great shirt (laughs)!
Luca Montana: Do you follow SEC (college) Football?
Mike Cooley: Not so much…not so much anymore.
Luca Montana: Okay but if you could name your 2nd favorite SEC team who would it be?
Mike Cooley: It kind of bugged me that Missouri was in the SEC because I’ve seen a map. When I first heard the headline: ‘First openly gay…college football player’ and I’m going ‘Please let it be Alabama. Please! Please let it be Alabama’. I don’t care. I just wanted to listen to Sports Talk Radio every day for a week if it were Alabama or Auburn. Either one would be great but it was Missouri so now that the first openly gay football player was actually from the SEC I don’t have a problem with Missouri being in the SEC.
Luca Montana: Let’s talk trucks here…are you a Ford or Chevy kind of guy?
Mike Cooley: I drive imports man…I piss everybody off (laughs)
Luca Montana: What’s your favorite place to hang out in Birmingham?
Mike Cooley: Birmingham is getting really cool like the Avondale area is really popping up. There is a new place opening up called “Saturn”. Patterson’s got a solo show coming up there pretty soon. That will be the first time I’ll check this place out. There’s a lot of good stuff happening there.
Luca Montana: I don’t know if you know but when we were at Auburn (Alabama) we had a place called “The War Eagle Super Club” which is now closing down at the end of this year.
Mike Cooley: Really? Wow?
Luca Montana: I was curious if you are going to play a show there before it closes?
Mike Cooley: Probably not. Patterson and I did a show there. It was supposed to be out in Waverly (AL) at Standard Deluxe but it was a couple of summers ago and it rained every day for the entire summer and it got moved to The Super Club so I did play there fairly recently.
Luca Montana: What’s your #1 Axe (guitar) you use when you are recording?
Mike Cooley: The ones I use mostly are made by Scott Baxendale and he’s based in Athens (Georgia) and I got to know him when he was in Denver. My main electric is one that he built that is a takeoff of a telecaster body.
Luca Montana: I read about him. I didn’t know you use all guitars that are made by him.
Mike Cooley: Pretty much. I have a couple I have for fun but on this tour I have 2 acoustics that were built by him.
Luca Montana: Before you got into the custom guitars between Taylor and Martin – just for fans out there – which guitar would you be more leaning towards if you were to use one – a Taylor or a Martin?
Mike Cooley: Probably a Martin.
Luca Montana: That’s all the time I have Mike – great to see you after so many moons and thanks for your time!
Mike Cooley: You too. No problem.
The Drive By Truckers keep packing and growing their audience and fan base with a unique style of switch hitting singers between Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood. Their songs are southern rock based however, very unique in terms of how elaborate some stories are behind some of their songs. The Drive By Truckers will be on tour for the remainder of 2015 showcasing acoustic sets with their “Dirt Underneath Tour”.