Ever since the Drive-by Truckers' breakthrough double album, "Southern Rock Opera," was released in 2001, the Georgia/Alabama-based sextuplet has been on a roll with one great album after another, including "The Dirty South" and "A Blessing and a Curse."
So, it would seem on the surface that the group's latest release, "Brighter Than Creation's Dark," which has received rave reviews from critics across the board, was just another effortless symposium on masterful songwriting.
But DBT co-founder and frontman Patterson Hood said that's only true to a point. Once the writing for the new CD started to flow, the floodgates opened. The hard part was getting to that launch point.
"It came on the tail end of long writer's block (co-founder/guitarist/vocalist Mike) Cooley and I went through," Hood said. He said he's had periods when he writes tons of songs, but some aren't very good. " ... but that's part of my process. It was kind of unnerving (to go through that type of writer's block)."
Cooley went two years without writing anything, Hood said. But, for whatever reason, both of the Trucker's front men found their writing prowess simultaneously. The result was 17 songs in 10 days, a break for a short tour, and then back into the studio to finish the new album's 19 tracks.
"You always like your new record. This one is extra special to us all. I can't even totally explain why or how. It kind of affected all of us from the beginning of making it all the way to finishing," Hood told the News on the phone from Athens. "We all felt strongly it was the best thing we've ever done. It's dark. It kind of has a mood about it. It's not as upbeat as things we've done ... It's a grower. It's a record you need to spend a little time with. It's not one that jumps out of the box and hits you over the head. I'm happy to see overall people are getting it and liking it and not complaining about what it isn't."
Writer's block wasn't the only thing going on with Hood and the DBT's prior to the writing sessions for "Brighter Than Creation's Darkness." Internally, the band was in a period of transition, highlighted by the amicable and mutual departure of guitarist Jason Isbell in spring 2007. A big part of getting past that point, and helping Hood return to his songwriting ways, came in the form of 2007's semi-acoustic "The Dirt Underneath" tour.
"The Dirt Underneath tour was a real important thing for the future of our band and the direction of our record," he said. "Jason was a huge part of our band. There's no denying or underestimating what a huge part of the band he was for the five years he was in it. It wasn't just a matter of putting another guitar player on the stand where he used to play. That would have been kind of a worst nightmare ... a guitar player's worst nightmare, too.
"The plan was to strip it down to the barest essential of the song and work up and built the show that way," he said. "It gave us the chance to finetooth the way our sound was going to be. We let the band find its new thing and run with it from there. That was a big part of making this record was the tour. Now we plug it in and turn it up and go from there. We're not doing any sitting down this year."
Hood describes his band's rise in popularity over the past several years with their southern rock, alt-country sound, as a slow build.
"That's the best way. We're not the flavor of the month. You can't have a career that way," he said. "Before 'Southern Rock Opera' we weren't even a blip on the radar, but we were still playing 200 shows a year."
Many of those shows were in Salt Lake City and Park City. When asked about touring memories of Utah, one of Hood's fondest is sure to strike a chord with many longtime residents. Like a good number of locals, Patterson said he misses the days of playing at the old Zephyr in downtown Salt Lake City.
"Nothing took its place," he said. "It's fun to play in Salt Lake."
If you go ...
What: Drive-by Truckers
Where: The Paladium, 415 W. 600 North
When: Wednesday, 9 p.m.
How much: $22
Phone: 467-8499, 800-888-8499
E-mail: [email protected]