The Drive-By Truckers’ Family Part I – Wes Freed
BR: I hear you. So, I’m guessing their exposure to your art was when they stayed with you folks.
WF: Yeah – I think it made an impression. The whole house kinda did. (laughs) I just saw one of the Go-Go Boots video episodes that Jason Thrasher did for the first time the other day. It’s the one where the band talks about when they came to the house for the first time. I got a kick out of that.
But yeah, looking back on it, the house … oh, Lord – I’m surprised it wasn’t condemned. We’ve done a lot of work to it over the years, but back then, we were on the road so much that it was just a place to keep the dogs and for us to flop when we came home. Most of the art I was doing back then was stuff for Dirtball. Occasionally, though – between my day job and playing with the band – I’d have time enough to do some paintings and stuff. And all of it was around the house.
BR: It must have been impressive.
WF: Yeah … we scared a plumber away once.
BR: What? A plumber?
WF: Yeah, we’d always had an electric stove and had just bought a new gas one, so we needed someone to come run a line for it. This plumber comes in and he seems like a normal enough guy …
BR: Nothing weird about him.
WF: Naw. He goes down in the basement, drills a hole in the floor, and then goes back out to his truck. And drives off.
About 45 minutes later, he calls up Jyl and says he’s not coming back. I guess he was freaked out by all the weird signs and the skulls and artwork and stuff down in the basement. I mean, plumbers usually have to deal with rats and possums and stuff when they’re trying to work in a crawlspace, but our cellar was full of my artwork and I guess it freaked him out.
Jyl was kind of laughing, and asked him, “Really, though – you’re coming back, aren’t you?”
And he said, “No.” (laughter)
And she said, “Well, we really need to get this stove hooked up … can you at least recommend somebody?”
And he said, “No.” (laughter)
We ended up getting a friend of ours that does gas work to do it – which we should’ve done in the first place, but he’s just afraid of doing gas work for friends in case their house blows up. He doesn’t want to be responsible for something like that.
BR: Yeah – you can really screw up a friendship by blowing up someone’s house.
WF: It’s the little things. (laughter)
BR: But getting back to the Truckers – you obviously didn’t scare them off.
WF: No, they liked what they saw. At the time, Patterson was writing the songs for Southern Rock Opera and he told me, “When we finally get this together, we want you to do a cover for it.”
It sounded kind of ambitious at the time, but they managed to do it. Once they were able to go in and record, they didn’t waste a lot of time; they’ve always been really quick once they get in the studio. They got enough money together to put it out on their own label in 2001 with an unfortunate release date of September 11 …
BR: Oh, man.
WF: Yeah. But then Lost Highway picked it up the following year and it caught on.
BR: And Southern Rock Opera was the first project you did for the Truckers.
WF: That’s right.
BR: So how do you approach doing the art for an album – the cover, the booklet, the posters when they tour behind it? How does that process work for you – and has it changed over the years?
WF: Well, I always listen to it before I start working on it. In the beginning, they’d drop off tapes – sometimes just rough mixes – when they were in town. Over the years, that evolved into sending downloads on the computer. I mean, when we first started doing all this shit, we’d just gotten a computer and barely knew how to use it – and the Truckers didn’t have one. Now everybody’s got all this great stuff to work with.
But yeah, I’ll listen to what they have going on. I’ll sit down, listen to it, and take notes – different things that pop into my head that seem like they’d make good illustrations, even though sometimes it might not really have anything to do with the song. It’s just something that looks good with the music … at least in my head.
Sometimes, like with the Big To-Do, they already had the circus theme, so that gave me something to work with.
BR: Do you have the lyrics in front of you, too, or do you kind of ignore them so to keep your mind more open?
WF: Sometimes I’ll have lyrics; sometimes not. Usually they come along with the downloads.
Actually, I like to have the lyrics, although I can usually hear what they’re saying, anyway. Sometimes I’ll get it wrong though. Like, it took me forever to get a couple lines right on the song “Outfit”. The name of the neighborhood where the Old Man didn’t want to see his boy with a bucket of wealthy man’s paint? I was like, “Kindale? Kingdale? What …?” It didn’t really have anything to do with the image, but I’d actually written the line on the illustration.
Sometimes they’ll have an idea for an illustration, too. Like, it was Patterson’s idea for “A World of Hurt” to have the Cooley birds flying off into the sunset like an air force “missing man” formation: “It’s great to be alive …”
BR: Ha! Perfect! How about tour posters – how do you approach those?
WF: Of course, when they’re touring, it’s in support of a record – they always have a new record and they always have a tour going on – so there’ll be a theme there. Right now it’s Go-Go Boots, so all the tour posters have something or somebody wearing go-go boots. One time it was Patterson as a Sasquatch wearing go-go boots – just different things like that.
And then I’ll try to do a tie-in with the city or the date or the time of year. The poster I did for Canada this year had the girl that was on the cover of the Sometimes Late At Night live EP – she’s like a devil girl with the tail and the cloven-hoof go-go boots and the horns and everything. She was wearing a Canadian Mountie hat and playing a guitar shaped like a maple leaf – the neck looked like a hockey stick. You hope that the people from the place the band’s playing will like it.