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Published: 2012/12/13
by Brian Robbins

"Ditchin’ the Pick": Drive-By Trucker Mike Cooley on Playing Solo and Acoustic

As far as your own songs go, the album does a nice job of offering a spread of tunes from over the years.

Yeah – it really was a matter of what came out the best over those three nights.

Comparing some of the older songs to your newer ones – has your approach to writing changed?

The approach hasn’t, but what comes out has, for sure – and that’s just from living life.

I know you’ve been told this plenty over the years but you have a great knack for coming up with those one-liners – whether it’s in your own voice or a character’s – for doling out those one-liners that are perfect for tattoos and bumper stickers.

Thanks. We’re all in the bumper sticker business. (laughs)

Where did the new song that’s on the album, “Drinking Coke And Eating Ice”, come from?

That’s kind of a hodge-podge of stuff I was thinking about over the last couple of years. I ended up just kind of sewing some of those lines together – they were all jotted down on different pieces of paper. I’ve written a couple of other things that kind of drew from that same line of thinking.

I recorded a demo and said, “You know, that’ll probably never be a Truckers song, but it’d be great if I could do it on the album and have an original song that nobody’s heard.” I thought I’d let it have a life there.

And it does – it works on a couple of different levels: it can be a woman’s personal story or it can be a metaphor for what’s going on all around us right now.

Oh, yeah – it was. Some of those lines and entire verses were words that came out when I was thinking about something else … I had a different image in my head.

You always downplay your banjo abilities when we’ve talked before but … you’re pretty good.

Thanks. It’s just the same as I play the guitar – it’s just five strings and a different tuning, you know?

When did you first try “Cottonseed” on the banjo?

It was for those shows – I was thinking that it might be cool to play one or two songs on banjo … whatever worked, you know? And when I got to “Cottonseed”, I was thinking “Do I really want to do this one for these shows?”

And then I said, “Banjo!” And there it was.

There’s something about the banjo that takes the tension that’s already in “Cottonseed” and cranks it up a notch or two.

Yeah, it really does.

Were there any songs that you had your heart set on being on the album – ones that you were really hoping would make it?

Actually, there were two songs – “Birthday Boy” and “72” – that I recorded solo in the studio … I’m going to release them at some point. It was a shame, because I had a really good version of “Birthday Boy” and we just didn’t get it. David said I played it really well one night in Atlanta, but the computer went down.

So I said, “Screw it.” We went in the studio, set up one mic and I did both of those songs. We might release them online … really different, really cool versions. “Zip City” is another one that didn’t make it on there – I didn’t have a version of it at the time, but I have one now that I’m happy with.

It’s got to be hard to pick and choose – and somebody’s favorite is always going to be left off.

And the other thing was – and I didn’t do it on purpose – once we had it pretty much done, I asked Jim what the total running time was. He told me 40-whatever minutes – and Barbe immediately goes, “That’ll fit on one LP.”

I hadn’t planned it that way; luckily, I didn’t have another song to put on there. (laughs)

Me, I was hoping Space City would be on there. The fact that it isn’t saves me from sitting by the woodstove bawling my eyes out one more time.

Sorry. (laughs)

Looking ahead – some more solo Cooley?

Yeah, I’ve got a couple this coming weekend in Austin. I’m going to do some more of these shows next year, too – we don’t really have anything nailed down yet.

And it looks like there are some Truckers shows showing up on the calendar – including a 3-night New Year’s run.

Yeah – at the 9:30 Club in DC. I know we’re all looking forward to being back with the band again. It’s been a long time, man.

And Matt Patton will be on bass?

Yeah, Matt fits in well – both his playing and his personality.

That’s part of the deal isn’t it? It’s a family.

You got it.

Well, cool. Mike, congratulations again on this new album … maybe the next one will be that album of Johnny Cash covers we talked about a while back.

The market’s pretty saturated right now – we may have to wait on that one.

Fair enough. I’ll let you go; thanks for taking the time to talk – and keep doing what you’re doing ‘cause you’re doing it awfully good.

All right, man – thank you.


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