After garnering a year's worth of glowing reviews, the Drive-By Truckers will re-release their two-CD rock opera, the appropriately titled Southern Rock Opera, on Lost Highway on July 16th. The new release will grant the sleeper album an opportunity for coast-to-coast distribution.
Initially released last fall, Southern Rock Opera is something of a time machine, dragging listeners back to the Seventies through a pair of the decade's flagship institutions: Lynyrd Skynyrd and the rock opera. And despite the roar of the three-guitar attack, the song cycle, separated from the music, is a contemplative, thoroughly developed piece of modern southern fiction. The double disc touches on the Skynyrd mystique, the allure of arena rock (through a fictional Seventies teen and his band) and, as singer-guitarist Patterson Hood describes it, "the duality of the Southern Thing" -- the semi-nostalgic love/hate relationship between a man and a region.
"It's been overwhelming to me," Hood says of the attention the album has garnered. "The whole time we were working on it, which dates back six years, everybody told us we were crazy and it was a stupid idea. We were told a thousand reasons why it wouldn't work, everybody from some friends all the way to anybody even slightly connected to the music industry. But we've always gone against what people thought was the smart thing to do."
Despite accolades from the press, the self-financed recording wasn't finding its way into record stores. "It was really frustrating not being able to get past the distribution," Hood says. "Our publicist did such an exceptional job, getting us into Rolling Stone and all that, but no one could find the record. In order to distribute it, with us financing all the cost of manufacturing, we were gonna have to borrow, shit, another $100,000."
In addition to the new deal, the band has scored new management and a booking agent. "I booked just about every damn show on our fall tour by myself," Hood says. "And our bassist, Earl Hicks, found the investors and all that. So it's kinda nice turning this stuff over for a change. So we can concentrate on the rock." And during the six years the band invested in SRO, the Truckers have also nearly completed their next album, Decoration Day, a reference to the day when the fundamentalist church congregations gather to decorate the graves of the departed. "We vowed after making the rock opera, that no matter what, the next record was gonna be fun to make," Hood says. "The year that we actually made Rock Opera was pretty much the worst year of our lives. We recorded it three separate times and had two marriages and one long-term relationship break up during the actual two weeks we spent recording the actual version that came out. So we had all kinds of bad personal shit go down, and it got to the point where the band was fighting and it was a really miserable experience. The irony is it's been really fun since the record came out. Everybody's proud of surviving the miserable experience that making the record was."
But as much of the material was written during the miserable times surrounding Opera, Hood says the record won't likely reflect the glee with which it was made. "It isn't a lighter record by any means, because it was a record that was written during the lousy times. It's actually a significantly darker record than the rock opera, but with this record we said if at any point in time we weren't having fun, we were going to walk away from it until we were ready to come back with a better attitude. And it's been a blast."
The band plans to tour relentlessly through the rest of this year, before putting the finishing touches on Decoration Day, pegged for release in early 2003. "I don't wanna jinx it by being overly optimistic, but at the same time I've just been so happy with the way things have been going lately," Hood says. "And the fact that Lost Highway did the O Brother thing and have had success with it -- that's a project that I consider to have the utmost integrity. It's a good fit, and so many synchronicities occurred in how this came together that I've started thinking, well, maybe this is the way it's supposed to be."