How the Drive-By Truckers Met The Hold Steady

An interview with Patterson Hood of the DTB and Tad Kubler from the other guys.

A package tour with two bands as gleefully hedonistic and hard-rocking as Brooklyn's Hold Steady and Athens, Georgia's Drive-By Truckers sounds like the rock-'n'-roll-fueled, party-hearty road trip of the year, especially when the tour coincides with the eve and aftermath of one of this country's most historic presidential elections. While it's no surprise that bottle rockets and plenty of mischief-making have come into the mix, the meeting of DBT frontman Patterson Hood and Hold Steady guitarist Tad Kubler involves interests as brainy as they are bacchanalian. I caught up with both of them via phone just as their tour buses rolled into Ontario. SW: How did the idea for this tour evolve? Hood: It was me and Tad; we met in New York last year. We played Battery Park and he was at the show with his beautiful daughter and we hit it off. We became pen pals and just started writing, and a friendship grew from there. We were saying how our bands really, really needed to play together. It's rare to make this come together given the complications of management and booking concerns and other bullshit that goes along with this business. Luckily both sides could see the advantages of it, got behind it, it happened, and here we are! Kubler: Ever since The Hold Steady started, it's been hard for us to go out as a support act with anybody because there haven't been a ton of bands out there that we feel like we could share an audience with. It was nice because we were able to get our sea legs in terms of touring, and I think we built a really strong following that way. And we always said—especially during the first couple of records—that if we were ever gonna go out and open for somebody, it was gonna be the Truckers. We always felt like there was a lot of similarities between what we did. They really just like getting up there and playing rock music. In fact, [HS frontman] Craig [Finn] had someone come up to him during our second tour who said, "Man, that was one of the best rock shows I've seen all year," the other one being the Drive-By Truckers. And he also said that we were one of the only two bands he'd seen that year that actually smiled when they were onstage! That was an indication that we were a) doing something right, and b) that there was another band out there doing this just because they loved it so much. SW: Tell me what it was like on the road leading up to the election? After? Hood: Well, you know me, I've just been obsessed. We kicked this tour off right at the very, very last moment before the election. We were off the day of the election, and we just parked our buses in the parking lot at State College in Pennsylvania and set off bottle rockets every time we won another blue state. I think we had someone walking around in a gorilla suit...or maybe it was a real gorilla, I'm not sure... Kubler: Some of the events that day were a little hazy. SW: So you didn't play the night of the election, but you did play the night before, right? What was the energy like? Hood: I'd never gotten up on the stage and preached a lot of politics or made any big statements, but when were touring [after the election] in '04, our songs started making it pretty clear where we fall on the end of the political spectrum [editor's note: That would be distinctly to the left], and if it's something that relates to what we are doing, I'm certainly not shy about saying something. So in 2004, we got booed in probably all but 10 states that we played. There was always someone at each show saying "fuck you" or shooting us the bird. But man, I haven't seen any of that shit this year. Not even in Texas! Kubler: It's funny for us...Craig's a great lyricist and a great storyteller, and [his songs] are sometimes very personal. I don't think we've ever used the band to speak out politically. I think all of us have things we do individually and get involved. But one thing I noticed about this election cycle was how clued in everybody—not just our band—but everybody that we talked to was. When you're out on tour, you see how involved people are—it was definitely tangible on the road. We were also very aware that however the election went down would really set the tone for the tour. And now there's definitely an air of celebration. Hood: I feel actually patriotic now. And I'm a cynical bastard. Kubler: As a related side note, one of the things I noticed today was how much easier it was to cross the border into Canada. Hood: It was dramatic. Dramatic. Kubler: There's been an inherent distrust of America. Ever since our band formed five years ago, every time we've come to Canada, it's been a dreadful event. But today they were super-polite. I'd say they were downright neighborly. I couldn't ignore that it was no doubt due to the fact that Bush is [on his way] out of office. The amount of positive energy that came out of this election is going to be felt everywhere, not just the United States. SW: I tend to think of you both as intellectual hedonists. I've always seen as many books as Jack Daniels bottles lying around your tour buses. What are you guys turning each other on to? Kubler: Patterson actually just got me two books. He got me this Levon Helm book, This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band, and a book on the history of soul music, which I'm in the middle of right now. Hood: Have you gotten to the chapter on Solomon Burke yet? Kubler: No, not yet. Hood: That chapter should be a movie. Actually, I think someone did make a documentary about the life of Solomon Burke. Man, he's a character. SW: So you guys are getting up and playing with each other during encores, right? Kubler: One thing I've noticed about the first couple of weeks of touring with the Truckers...they come from a musical background where it's almost like some sort of genetic coding. Patterson ends up playing with us every night and I don't have to tell him anything. All of those guys are like that. It's definitely something [The Hold Steady] has always aspired to as well. Hood: I'm really in awe of the level of musicianship in The Hold Steady. I think that's not talked about as much as some of their other charms, because I think critics generally are lyric people. But The Hold Steady surround those great lyrics—and the great way of storytelling that Craig has that I love so much—with just great fucking chops, man. And y'all's rhythm section, which never gets talked about, is just amazing. Y'all's rhythm section is bad-ass. SW: So what about sharing your fan bases? Is there much overlap? Can you tell when people walk toward the merch table whose T-shirt they're gonna buy? Hood: I have a theory about that, and it varies from city to city. But I think it breaks down into almost even thirds. One third is there for us, one third for The Hold Steady, and one third for both. But once they get there, no matter what side they started on, I think a lot of people are walking away fans of both bands—which is of course what we wanted to happen. And this is really like our present to ourselves, we get to go out with a band that we really, really love. Kubler: Patterson, I don't know if you feel this way, but I almost feel slightly selfish about it. There are some nights that I don't give a shit what anybody thinks; we get to just hang out together. Hood: I agree. Kubler: I wouldn't care if there were 10 people out there, so it's a little self-serving to an extent, but I also think what makes it so much cooler is having 1,500 or 2,000 people get together in a room and have a blast.

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