The Drive-By Truckers Fine, New Go-Go Boots
BR: Well, it happens, man. I’ll be 53 here in a few weeks and I still compare everything I do to back when I was working on the water. My brain thinks I can still live like I did when I was 20 – go hard for days, no sleep, all the other stuff – and I get aggravated when I realize I can’t any more.
MC: Oh, yeah – ain’t that the truth. (laughs) In a way, I’m glad there wasn’t anything with me, except being too old to live this way. (laughter)
But you’re right – it pisses me off. I’m like, “Goddammit, I don’t want to hear that ‘too old’ stuff, either!” (laughter)
BR: Well, here’s something that might make you feel better: a week ago today, I did interviews with Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady from Hot Tuna, okay? And those guys have been playing music together for over 50 years now. You and Patterson are at least halfway there, aren’t you?
MC: Yeah, we hit 25 years that we’ve been playing together last year … (laughs)
BR: It’s cool to have the friendship that’s lasted that long, let alone the working relationship.
MC: It seems to be either one way or the other: people get a band together and it peters out real quick, or there’s at least one partnership at the core of things that stays together for long time.
BR: Knowing that’s the story with you and Patterson, I’m wondering if you think about what he’s going to contribute to a song when you’re writing it? Or the band as a whole?
MC: I try not to think about anything in particular, actually. I’ve done it before and I’m still guilty of it: I’ll get something in mind for a song and be shooting for that, you know? And that’s a pretty surefire way to make sure I’m not going to get anything at all. (laughter) Until I get that out of my head and reach the point where whatever comes out comes out – that’s when I get it. But no matter how many times you make that mistake, you’re going to keep making it – every time you shoot for it.
BR: What about “Little Pony And The Great Big Horse” on The Fine Print? There’s a song of yours that’s absolutely just sweet and lovely – a nice one for our little grandkids to listen to, actually – but the original story was a dirty joke, right?
MC: (laughs) Yeah, but I wasn’t thinking of that joke when I wrote it.
MC: Naw – if I had been thinking about the joke, I couldn’t have written the song. That’s exactly what I was explaining, you see? After the fact – and it’s the case with almost every one of my songs – it was, “Oh, shit …” (laughter)
“Little Pony” isn’t really about the joke, but it parallels it. If somebody had told me that joke, though, I wouldn’t have said, “I’m gonna write a song about that.” It would either never happen or I would and it would be awful. (laughs)
BR: Well, prior to listening to Go-Go Boots, “Little Pony” would’ve been one of my favorite acoustic songs you’ve written – that and “Space City” – but “Cartoon Gold” on the new album is all-time, man. It’s a beautiful tune.
MC: Thank you. That just popped into my head – the whole image was just there, you know? The song just had a good feel to begin with and the track the band ended up getting is one of my favorites that we’ve ever recorded. It flows just the way I wanted it to – sounds really smooth and effortless and feels good to listen to. That’s what I wanted.
BR: I’ve always felt that even your harder-rocking tunes could stand on their own just sitting on the couch with an acoustic guitar – that Keith Richards thing of, “There’s always an acoustic at the heart of a good rock and roll song.”
MC: That’s right.
BR: Do you write primarily on the acoustic?
MC: Yeah – almost everything.
BR: Speaking of guitars, that Baxendale acoustic I’ve seen you playing in some of the video clips is a lovely-looking guitar, man.
MC: It’s amazing, isn’t it? That’s Scott Baxendale … he’s got quite a story.
BR: Maybe that’s something I should look into doing – an interview with Scott.
MC: Oh, you really should. He’s got a fascinating story to tell – a great history and a really interesting guy; really engaging to talk to.
BR: And your main electric these days is a Tele-style Baxendale, right?
MC: Yeah, that’s pretty much the only one I use – I love that thing. Right after I got to know Scott several years ago, he built that guitar for me. It’s custom in every sense of the word and it’s just right for me – but if I’d told him what to build, I would’ve fucked it up. (laughter) He just built it and sent it to me; I could not have dreamed up anything more perfect.
BR: How did he know …?
MC: Well, he’s very good at it, of course. He listened to the records and became a fan of the band right away. He saw us live several times and watched, like, where I tend to hang out on the neck and the size of my hand and everything … and he incorporated every bit of that into the building of the guitar. It wasn’t an accident that it turned out the way it did. (laughs)
BR: I didn’t realize until recently that Patterson tunes down a full step. [Note: rather than standard tuning of EADGBE, low to high, Hood tunes down to DGCFAD.] Do you all?
MC: Yeah, that’s right – and that’s another thing that Scott incorporated into the building of the guitar.
BR: And heavy gauge strings because of the slacker tension from being tuned down?
MC: That’s right – .011 on the small end … whatever the heaviest ones are you can buy in a store. They’re not custom gauge or anything.
BR: I noticed you were credited with some banjo a couple of times on Go-Go Boots – are you going to start playing some banjo live?
MC: I don’t really play it much, but it’s fun, man. (laughs)
BR: Oh, you ought to – it sounds great on “Cartoon Gold” and “Assholes”. It’s a nice layer of sound underneath everything.
MC: Oh, I love the banjo. I’ve played it over the years on records we’ve done, but I’ve never really taken the time to learn how to play the damn thing. (laughter) I don’t even know if what I tune it to is a real “banjo tuning,” but I think it is. Every time I pick it up, I kind of have to relearn a few of the basic fingerings that match up with where the guitar chords are. Most of the time I just find the right note and get in position and let my right hand do the work. I don’t really play as much as I just use it, you know? That might be a better way of putting it.