9:11 PM: The Retard interviews Mike Cooley of the Drive-by Truckers

So, the Drive-by Truckers are coming to Auburn this Wednesday, to the War Eagle Supper Club. Unfortunately, the Supper Club is a 21+ venue. The DBTs are one of my favorite bands, so I had to find some way to weasel my way into the show. After clicking around on the band's official site, I had a stroke of genius: I'm going to talk their publicist into granting me an interview with the band for the Plainsman, and get a press pass from the Supper Club for the show. Crazy right? Wrong. Very easily done, as it turns out. After several e-mail exchanges with one of their record company's publicity people, I was granted a phone interview with guitarist Mike Cooley of the Truckers last Friday. I was halfway there, and was going to get to interview a member of one of my favorite bands!

Thursday night, things got even better, when I talked to my dad about getting into the Supper Club. He knows the owner somehow (which kind of struck me as odd, but everyone knows everyone in this town), and, one phone conversation later, I was on the band's guest list. Now, I've got an awesome interview to post here and submit to the Plainsman, and I'm going to see the Truckers for free.

A little ambition never hurt anyone.

Here's the interview, complete with an introduction for the Plainsman. Enjoy:

*Mike Cooley is the one in the middle*

After seven long years, the Drive-by Truckers have finally returned to Auburn. The Truckers played the War Eagle Supper Club Wednesday night*, kicking off the second leg of their tour supporting 2004's The Dirty South, their latest release.
The Alabama natives have been putting out raw, literate Southern Rock for nearly two decades, and have recently gained acclaim outside of the south as one of the best live acts on the rock circuit.
Before the show, guitarist Mike Cooley sat down with me to talk about the band’s recent ascent from complete unknowns to underground stars, Bonnaroo, Jack Daniels, Conan O'Brien’s toupee, and the Truckers plans for the upcoming year.

The Plainsman: So Mike, how did you get your nickname, Stroker Ace?

Mike Cooley: (laughs) Well, you’d be surprised what kind of things you end up talking about when you’re cooped up in a van as much as we are. We were giving each other nicknames from old Burt Reynolds movies, and mine was the only one that stuck. It’s funny, because that’s one of his worst movies.

TP: What kind of experience did you have playing the Bonnaroo Music Festival in 2003, and what are you expecting this year, when you’re playing it again?

MC: Well, we didn’t hang around Bonnaroo too long. We basically just flew in, played, and left. It was definitely a cool atmosphere, though...it reminds me a lot of the big festivals in Europe. They really do things right - generally, they don’t have the same artists play every year, which is refreshing, and they treated us a lot better than some of the other, smaller festivals we’ve played at.

TP: You guys seem to be getting bigger with every album now, especially last year, with The Dirty South. Does it feel weird playing venues like the Metro in Chicago, Bowery Ballroom in New York, and Late Night with Conan O’ Brien, or is it just the same feeling, in a different place?

MC: It’s great, of course, but personally, I don’t feel a lot different playing the bigger venues than I do anywhere else. I mean, it’s great to know that people like us. I guess we’ll know it’s time to quit when our audience starts shrinking, instead of the other way around. Playing Conan was a lot of fun, though.

TP: So, is that a toupee he’s sporting, or is it just me?

MC: (laughs) I’m not touching that one.

TP: Fair enough. So, what’s the deal with the Flying V guitar you always play? Is there a story behind it, or do you just really like the way it sounds?

MC: Well, it was my go-to guitar for a while, but I just got a new one pretty recently, actually. A guy in Denver - Dan Electro built it for me. I met him through a mutual friend, and he had become a fan of the band, and built me a new guitar from the ground up. It’s modeled after the ‘72 Tele. It’s definitely a better fit for me. I didn’t even know what I was missing.

TP: The band is notorious for it's on stage drinking. Has having one too many swigs of Jack Daniels ever severely effected your performance?

MC: Oh, Lord yes. Usually, we know when to stop, but one night in Cleveland things really went sour in a hurry for us. It can really turn on you in a hurry...it’s kind of like having a really mean dog.

TP: With a name like the Drive-by Truckers, have you ever worried that potential fans would dismiss you guys as a novelty act before they even heard your music?

MC: That happened to us a lot early in our career. When we were going around touring in support of our first record, a lot of people wouldn’t know who the hell we were going in, and were expecting a typical bar band. We’d have to win them over, so they would buy our record and tell their friends about us. We still have to do that, actually.

TP: How has Jason Isbell progressed as a songwriter since joining the band, and how has he changed the signature Truckers sound?

MC: Oh, he’s definitely changed us for the better. Without a doubt. He really gets what Patterson (Hood) and me are doing, and of course the songs he’s been writing are great. After all of these years, we really just needed someone to come in with a fresh perspective, and he’s definitely done that.

TP: You, Jason, and Patterson have recently started playing some solo shows again. Do they help relieve any tension or competition in the band for you guys? It has to be hard to keep everyone happy when you have three excellent songwriters in one band.

MC: Well, more than anything it helps me help the band. The exposure’s nice, but we mainly do it to stay sharp. When you’re playing a solo show, you have to play and sing all of the songs yourself - there’s noone to pick up your slack for you if you’re having an off night. So, when we get back to playing together, it seems a lot easier for all of us, and we appreciate each other more.

TP: Looking ahead, when are you guys going to start working on the next album?

MC: Well, we’ve already started actually. With this next album, we’re going to try to write more songs together, as a group. Kind of get back to the old school approach a bit. In the past, one person usually writes a song, and we work out the kinks together. This album will have a much more unified sound, if everything works out as planned.

TP: The Dirty South is a lot more accessible than any of your other albums. Was there a conscious effort to do that, or was it just something that happened?

MC: I thought Decoration Day was more accessible, actually. There were a lot more sing-along type songs on it. We’re really proud of that album...I’m not sure if we’ll ever top it. The Dirty South ended up being pretty dark. It’s a great album, though. It shows a whole new side of us, I think.

TP: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. We’re really looking forward to the show Wednesday.

MC: Absolutely. We’ll see you there.

*In past tense because the paper comes out the day after the show.