Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, Part 2

You do that every year there.

“Yeah, that I have been trying to put the brakes on every year, those things. We did the Thanksgiving thing, that was every year, and I felt like fucking Tom Turkey! Everybody was like ‘Yeah, Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, that’s the Thanksgiving Atlanta band!’ I don’t wanna be that! Now I’m the Christmas guy! I don’t wanna be the Christmas guy either! For real? (laughs) So as these EPs come out, I’m gonna do more EP shows. Like, do the Star Bar and just do the EPs, and that’s it. And maybe ‘Scarred But Smarter’ or something. But I look at setlists from Whisper Tames the Lion shows, and we didn’t do ‘Scarred But Smarter,’ because I thought that was the sellout song. Everybody was screaming for it every night. ‘Scarred But Smarter!!!’ So I was like, ‘I’m not playin’ that, man… That’s why you paid to get in? Well, fuck you, man…’ Now I look back and I’m like, ‘Why didn’t I play ‘Scarred But Smarter’ in 1987?’ It depends on where you’re playing and how much you charge. You can’t charge somebody $20 and they come all the way from Lilburn and it’s a big deal and then you don’t play ‘Straight to Hell’ – who’s kidding who? I took their money.”

I think a lot of your fans nowadays, Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ fans, are not necessarily the sort of people that go to the EARL or 529 or the Star Bar.

“Right. In Georgia.”

They still talk about how awesome 96 Rock used to be. They’re classic rock fans. They probably don’t even know that you’re doing these EPs now. But they know that Fly Me Courageous rocked, man.

“So it’s up to me to kinda stop that for a little while, maybe try to reinvent what I’m doing. It’s up to me to not take the money. And see, it’s not even that much money anymore! But it’s kind of a prestige thing. People like it when I do the Tabernacle, ‘cause it validates them in some way. It’s like, ‘You’re still viable, man!’ (laughs) But really, you’re not. But you are, because I think we’re a good show, I think it’s a really great show. This, of all years, is gonna be great. Shovels and Rope and Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, and that’s it. Not an oldies act. And the Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ with Sadler, I have a new energy onstage, and my vocals are a lot better, and we’re doing a lot of songs from the EPs.”

You also said you have trouble saying no to things. And it seems like Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ has become a band that’ll play anything, at least around here. A lot of them are like neighborhood festivals, or state fair kind of things. 

“Yeah. It’s just a trade-off from like 1987. There’s only one well that I can draw from to finance these EPs and finance what I wanna do. So I kinda have to, or I did have to…you know, they’re getting fewer and farther between. Our old booking agent was pretty much satisfied with that. And William Morris is not. So it’s changing. You know, we were the band that, when everybody else cancelled, they called us. (laughs) The Chili Cook-Off, you know. And so, ‘You wanna do the Chili Cook-Off? Seven grand!’ I’m like, ‘…Alright.’ But once we get our touring connection back going, we can do more things, and try to lay off playing those kind of things here, and do what I wanna do. I would rather do a series of shows in smaller venues. I wish there was a Cotton Club venue here still. Smith’s Olde Bar, the upstairs load-in, it’s just hurtful. (laughs) I don’t look forward to loading in at Smith’s Olde Bar. And I hate to say that, but it really does wig out my head, like, ‘Fuck, I can’t do those stairs, man.’ If it rains, you’re just screwed, man, it’s fuckin’ dangerous. But I mean, that Cotton Club venue, something that size. The EARL, when I did my residency at the EARL, it was like me and Dave, Rick Richards, Tom Gray, and we did three Sundays in a row, we might’ve done four, but I mean, we couldn’t get nine people in there! That’s when I came up with the formula: if you’re playing at 10, and you pull up at 9:30 and get a space right by the club, it’s probably not gonna be a good night! (laughs) And we made some great music! I’m making Rick Richards play minor keys and stuff, playing with Tom Gray, it was a really great show, but we didn’t have more than eleven people there, ’cause the EARL, people aren’t gonna be like, ‘Drivin’ n’ Cryin’s playin’ the EARL!’ The EARL [crowd] doesn’t give a shit. I mean, I don’t think they do.”

The younger crowd.

“They don’t get it. In Atlanta, I would like [them] to, but I can do that in every other city in America, I can do the cool bar, and have fun at it. I can’t really do it in Atlanta. (laughs) I’m not welcome here!”

I think the hometown hipster crowds are always most likely to shun the old hometown bands, too. It’s like moving out of your parents’ house for the first time. You want nothing to do with them. You want to be on your own. 

“I mean, I wrestle with the fact that I see firsthand all the alternative world that was created on the Nirvana side of the world. Everybody got like a kick up, you know, that was on the right side of the fence. We were not on the right side of the fence when that happened! (laughs) We were in the…whatever side of the fence. We were on the Poison side of the fence (laughs). I didn’t realize that.”

That was just because of Tim’s hair.

“Well, Buren [Fowler, onetime DNC guitarist] and Tim, yeah. But you know, I always thought of Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ as a fun thing to do. ‘Cause I always had the folk thing I could do. I never felt like I was compromising myself too much, ‘cause if you really look at my career, if you look at the folk records, the solo records, to me, I’m in control of those. And the Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ thing, it’s a collaborative thing. You have to share. It’s like making a painting. Painters don’t spend all day doing that, and then I come in and go, ‘Um, I’m gonna put this rocket ship here, ‘cause I’m really into rocket ships.’ ‘Well, I don’t really want a rocket ship on my painting.’ No, but it’s a band. It has to be the perfect storm to make the perfect records – we all have to be on the same page.”

Don’t you guide Drivin’ n’ Cryin’? It’s your ship.

“Yeah.”

It’s not a democracy or a full collaboration.

“Not really, no. But I’m saying, in the Smoke era, I lost a lot of control. Whether I tried to give it away, or it got taken from me, whatever, but I lost a lot of control over it. And then I just kind of resigned, ‘cause I was tired. Just tired of it. Where was I going with all that? Oh, why we were on the other side of the fence. But here’s the irony of all that. You know, we definitely were not part of the LA cock-rock scene. We were more like Soul Asylum, I think, maybe. We were like the indie band that got a major label, and then were threatened with having it taken away – ‘If this next record doesn’t sell, you should do something.’ So then you try to up your game, and use producers, and write the hit or whatever. And then you have a family, so you’re trying, you’re wrestling with all these things. But I’ve done a lot of festivals where I see Poison pull in, with the Poison bus, and Motley Crue and all this shit. I’ve also seen Smashing Pumpkins, and it’s six trucks, three tour buses, and, I mean, really? It’s not as indie as it appears to be. And even Jack White, does he have a tour bus? I mean, he ain’t drivin’ the van like I am. I got a van full of six guys and a trailer that I’m loading and unloading and then playing.”

You pull a lot of R.E.M. song titles and bits of lyrics for the words of your song about them on the Laundromat EP, telling a little story…

“There’s a review of that song somewhere that alluded to it having random lyrics. But when I wrote it on my GarageBand in the morning, when they broke up, like a week later, I just wrote it for myself, just for fun, to play for my wife. And the opening musical part is a hybrid of all the songs Peter played with me on. It’s ‘MacDougal Blues,’ ‘With the People’ and ‘Indian Song.’ Those are the three songs Peter helped write. It’s an amalgamation of all those. And then every lyric is like, ‘There’s a reckoning in the morning, I’m on my way to work…’ That means when I first moved to Georgia, my girlfriend got a job at Record Bar, bought me Reckoning, and I listened to it at work – I was working at a sewage plant in Roswell – so every morning I was listening to this record. And then, ‘Feeling Gravity’s Pull’ is one of my favorite songs – it’s one of my favorite riffs ever. The first time I saw R.E.M., I think they opened with that. And in Milwaukee, I mean… my roots are more like garage rock and Joy Division, Bauhaus, all that stuff was my Milwaukee music. ‘Cause Milwaukee is like England. Cold and rainy and dark! So Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen, all that, that’s where I came from. So when I saw [R.E.M.], I was like, ‘Oh, man – that’s like Teardrop Explodes or something!’ I was so excited. So, ‘I felt the gravity pull me back to earth.’ I moved to the city, I don’t know why I moved to Atlanta, you know, I moved here to get a job. And that was like the first cool band where I was like, ‘I think this is gonna work.’ Because I had the same misconceptions about the South as everybody. Thought it was all country music and Molly Hatchet! And then I saw this cool [band]. So then the second verse [‘the clicking of projectors reminding me again’] is about the first time we toured with them. And standing at the light board when the lights go off, and you hear the projectors – click, click, click – for the stage [backdrop]. ‘Welcome. Peter says Hi,’ or something. It was the Green tour. So that’s what that memory was. And then the last verse is about people interviewing me over the years, and going, ‘Man, you must be into the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Black Crowes…’ And I’d be like, ‘The biggest Southern Rock band I know is R.E.M.’ Even in ’91, they were bigger than the Allman Brothers or Skynyrd. And the ‘kult kudzu’ circuit was amazing. That was Southern Rock, to me, when the 688 world came in. It was all these North Carolina and Athens things. And I loved early psychedelia, like Beau Brummels, so the jangle thing for me was like, this is heaven! I’ve never owned a Skynyrd record in my life. We opened for them on their reunion tour, when it was just about everybody still – Leon and Artimus and Ed King. The Drive-By Truckers made a rock opera from them, but it pretty much destroyed my credibility! (laughs) I had no idea! I just thought they were a band, I didn’t fuckin’ know they were an entity. But they were real, they played great music, they were nice people, they loved the Beatles…”

In the age of R.E.M., Lynyrd Skynyrd wasn’t so cool anymore. 

“Yeah, I never grew up like that, so I didn’t know.”

Then again, I always felt like “Honeysuckle Blue” was a total Skynyrd song.

“Yeah! But I don’t think I wrote it as a Skynyrd song. But, oh, absolutely. But my point is, it was 1992, it was after Fly Me Courageous, It was the Smoke era. Which, I love the Smoke record, because it’s absolutely just primal scream therapy. I was having a nervous breakdown. So I think it’s a great record. People hate it. Oh my God, did they hate it!”

I think Island Records hated it, too.

“Absolutely they hated it. (laughs) It was not a good year! But nobody would tour [with us]. We couldn’t open for anybody. Everybody turned us down. I mean, we were up for 30 different tours that summer. And Lynyrd Skynyrd were the only ones that kept calling us. And you know, they were really nice.”

You probably got some new fans out of it, though. I have a feeling you have some Skynyrd fans in your crowd.

“Yeah, probably. I guess so. I just thought they were like the Southern Aerosmith or something. Just a big rock band. ‘Gimme Back My Bullets,’ I mean, that’s some great shit. I’m way beyond caring about being approved.”

I remember DNC playing “Acceleration,” which is on Cars, Space and the Ramones, at your shows a long, long time ago.

“’Acceleration’ and ‘Moonshot’ are both Prosecutors songs. ‘Acceleration’ was the first song I ever wrote…that I let people hear, of course. ‘Greaser’ about a superhuman hoodlum still has not seen the light of day! We recorded ‘Acceleration’ for every Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ record, and it never made the cut. We have one from Smoke where Rick Richards plays the guitar solo, and it’s frickin’ badass. I have no idea why it didn’t make it. We played it a lot in the early days. My ex-wife is moving, so we cleaned up her attic, and she found all this Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ stuff. I have it all in one suitcase now. There’s a lot of early setlists, and I think ‘Acceleration’ is on most of ’em. ‘Acceleration’ was on the Frank French record [1987’s Everything Looks Better in the Dark, credited to Kevn Kinney and Frank French]. I think the rough idea of it is pretty much the same. The Prosecutors did some reunion shows here opening for Die Kreuzen, and Frank was our drummer [for those]. And we were making the Everything Looks Better in the Dark record at that time. We were best friends in Milwaukee, the Prosecutors, Die Kreuzen, the Tense Experts. We played every show together. So when I moved down here I was like their embassy. They’d stay at my place at North High Ridge [Apartments], and the entire living room would be a T-shirt factory. Screening shirts all day long. And then when Tim saw that, that’s when he said, ‘We should start a band.’ Seeing that Prosecutors show opening for Die Kreuzen. That was at the Metroplex, 1983, ’84. He told me I was gonna be in a band with him.”

Other than you, Tim’s been the one constant throughout the years for Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. You seem like such different people. What keeps you with him?

“There’s just that thing that every band has, of what makes the band Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ and what makes the band not Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. And the thing that makes it Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ is the fact that there are two totally different people that somehow come together. He pisses me off just enough to inspire me to want to do stuff. He encourages me. I mean… I’m just trying to think of bands that wouldn’t be the same. When Joe Perry wasn’t in Aerosmith, did you ever see that era? It was horrible. And it was the same songs. It was Steven Tyler, but it wasn’t Aerosmith. I was close friends with Johnny Ramone for most of my adult life. I knew Johnny Ramone through trading baseball cards with him. I didn’t even have a band when I met him, or maybe I had the Prosecutors, but we didn’t ever talk about it, though. He knew me as a construction worker/baseball card collector. But I knew him and Joey fuckin’ hated each other. But it worked, for some reason. And me and Tim don’t hate each other. But he definitely… you know Tim. He pushes your buttons, and sometimes it’s a good idea and sometimes it’s not a good idea. But he always looks great, he loves to play live, and he’s really into it. He’s really into the whole thing. He helps road manage, he really helps the whole machine run. But I dunno… he’s a pain in my ass sometimes. (laughs) And I know I’m a pain in his ass! I know he would so love for me to be a rock guy, fuckin’ sellin’ it, you know. I’m sure he looks at me sometimes and is like, ‘Really?’ Somehow it works. Without Tim, it’s not Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. We started it off together. We’re both Who nuts. Everybody in the band is a Who nut. Sadler, Dave, me and Tim are like Quadrophenia heads. That’s our thing. We’re constantly trying to be the Who, in some weird way. Dave is a little more Kinks, I’m a little more Who/Ramones, Tim is Who/Clash, but we’re all Who.

And then DNC opened for the Who on their Quadrophenia tour in 1997.

“We were very happy to get that tour. But we got it at the last minute because it didn’t dawn on the Who that this was a visual [show]. We kind of got it the old school way. We sent their manager our record, and the manager actually liked the record that Kosmo [Vinyl, onetime Clash manager] produced [1997’s drivin’ n’ cryin’]. Then when the opportunity came a month or two later, they needed a band to play until it got dark! ‘Cause it was a visual thing, and they went, ‘Oh, shit! We’re doing all amphitheaters!’ So our name came up. Pete Townshend had no idea who we were, at all. It was fun though, because we started in Montreal, in an arena, so that was the first place I got to see it, so that was awesome, ’cause it was indoors. And then as we traveled down closer to the south, and we get to Atlanta, Pete Townshend’s like, ‘Who are you guys?’ (laughs)”

Are you going to see them do it at Gwinnett Arena?

“I just found out I’ll be here. I’m definitely gonna go… I’m gonna try to bring my son. Have you ever seen his bands? He’s got three. He’s got the Husseins, Ralph and Manic. He’s the drummer in Husseins and Ralph, and the bass player in Manic. His name’s Tyler. He lives in a little punk rock apartment with his punk rock girlfriend.”

See, all those bands are hip with the EARL/Star Bar crowd.

“This is the first time I’m telling anybody that! I don’t wanna ruin it for him!”

Maybe it’ll help you seem cooler.

“I don’t think so – I think it’s gonna work in his disfavor! (laughs) He had me over for dinner the other night, and you know, we had some Publix chicken and some potatoes, sat on the porch and smoked and drank beer, and he goes, ‘Hey, dad, you wanna listen to a record?’ I was like, ‘I would love that. Let’s go sit on the couch and put something on.’ So I sit on the couch and he plays me Nick Lowe, Jesus of Cool. He’s like, ‘You ever heard of Nick Lowe? You know who else is good? You ever heard of Wreckless Eric?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah… I like Wreckless Eric too!’”

Photos by Scott Munn.

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