When discussing the Drive-By Truckers' 12th album English Oceans (due March 4th), Mike Cooley, the band's co-lead singer and guitarist, is quick to draw a connection to Alabama Ass Whuppin', a raucous live record the group re-released this fall. "I had forgotten what a punk-rock outfit that shit was," Cooley tells Rolling Stone, discussing the rowdy four-piece band circa 1999. "The new record has kind of gone back to that simple sound. It sounds like a smaller band again."
English Oceans was recorded in August at Chase Park Studios in Athens, Georgia, with longtime producer David Barbe. It marked the first time in four years that the Truckers had been in a studio and the group showed up to the sessions with plenty of material. "We might have done this one quicker than any other," says Cooley. "We had plenty of songs, so it was like, 'Let's go in for two weeks and just bust it out.'"
The songs cover familiar ground for the veteran band. There are scathing take-downs of right-wing demagogues ("Made Up English Oceans," "The Part of Him"), tender tales of mental breakdown ("When Walter Went Crazy") and bittersweet celebrations of lost friends and life on the road ("Grand Canyon"). Patterson Hood wrote "Grand Canyon" in honor of Craig Lieske, a longtime crew member of the band who passed away in January. It's also easy to hear the group embracing middle-age with stories that deal with parenthood and mortality on Cooley-penned tracks like "Primer Coat" and "First Air of Autumn."
Cooley, who serves as the band's secondary songwriter alongside the Hood, often contributes just a few songs to each album, but English Oceans is the first Truckers record that splits the songwriting duties evenly between the two singers. "I didn't really have a lot of songs for the last couple of records and I was a little freaked out," he says. "You start to think 'okay, I guess I might be done. Sometimes you just have to go back in and relearn how to do it.'"
The Drive By Truckers debuted several songs from English Oceans while on tour this fall, and the group will spend a good portion of 2014 supporting their new album. Cooley is excited about playing the new material live, where the band thrives. "We're streamlined, we're lean" he says, "and we're enjoying the hell out of it."
Here is the tracklist for English Oceans:
1. Shit Shots Count
2. When He's Gone
3. Primer Coat
4. Pauline Hawkins
5. Made Up English Oceans
6. The Part of Him
7. Hearing Jimmy Loud
8. Til He's Dead or Rising
9. Hanging On
10. Natural Light
11. When Walter Went Crazy
12. First Air of Autumn
13. Grand Canyon
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