Chatting with Mike Cooley of Drive-By Truckers

Mike Cooley (second from right).
Photo: Danny Clinch

The band has never played Vegas before, right?

We never have. There was something sorta booked, kinda tentatively once or twice, but it never happened.

At this stage of Drive-By Truckers’ touring career, is it pretty unusual to hit a new town?

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Drive-By Truckers
March 3, 7 p.m., $25
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Yeah, it is. There aren’t many left. But it’s always nice.

You guys seem like the antithesis of glitz. What did you think when you saw Las Vegas on your tour schedule this time?

That it might be the most honest city in America, the quintessential American city. I hung out there for the first time last year—we had a couple days off between shows—and we just kinda wandered around and laughed. This time, I’m more interested in bumming around with the locals.

How do you pick setlists, given how large the DBT catalog has grown?

It’s challenging sometimes. You’ll realize you’ve done a bunch of shows, and there are a lot of good songs you haven’t played. But we don’t do setlists [in advance]. When you do it this way you have the benefit of thinking in the moment and doing what it seems like the crowd is gonna respond to next, instead of following a list you wrote down at 4 o’clock that afternoon at 11 o’clock at night.

Is pretty much anything DBT has recorded fair game at the shows?

Mostly, but we stay away from stuff we haven’t done in a while. Even if it’s one of my songs I might not remember the words. If something pops into mind, we’ll do it at soundcheck once or twice before we spring it on everybody during a show. But sometimes something will come out, that’s like, “Okay, can we do this … ?”

You guys recorded the songs for your two newest albums [The Big To-Do and Go-Go Boots] simultaneously. How did you split them up?

They kinda chose themselves, real early on. We didn’t record any of the stuff

in any particular order. We came away from the first sessions with probably 13 or 14 songs, and an equal amount of those went on each record. It was obvious then that we had two albums, that there were two different sounds happening. So from then on we just kept recording whatever we had, and the two albums just kinda identified themselves.

Was any consideration given to doing a sprawling double album instead?

We definitely didn't want that. We wanted our next release to be a pretty tight, concise rock ’n’ roll thing, which is what The Big To-Do became. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, the one before that, was 19 songs, kinda moody, a little darker. We didn’t wanna do that again.

In the website commentary for Southern Rock Opera, [co-founder] Patterson Hood says that “Zip City” is “at least 90 percent true,” and that further explanation should be left to you. So?

The feeling behind it’s true; some of the meaner things I said are not. I’ve always felt sorta bad about that (laughs). I wrote it a long time ago, and it never occurred to me that it would ever get back to the small community where I grew up.

And did you ever hear from that community about it?

Oh yeah (laughs). It was actually kinda cool—a little awkward, but I didn’t get any death threats.

Patterson never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd live with Ronnie fronting. Did you?

No. We opened for ’em about half a dozen times 10 years ago maybe, but I never saw them back in the day.

You guys opened some shows for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers last summer. As much as DBT has toured, were there still things to be learned watching those guys do their thing?

Oh sure, you can always learn. I used to complain that their records sounded a little slick, and then I saw ’em and realized, no they really are that good. There’s a lot of motivation in seeing people his age—and there’s a lot of them out there—that are not only doing it but still seem to genuinely like it. That’s a big deal, ’cause there’s another side of that coin, people their age that are doing it because they can’t quit and are obviously miserable. But watching him makes me feel like I can do it as long as I want to.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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