By JUSTIN JARRETT
After 15 years, nine studio albums, two live albums and a collection of rarities and B-sides, Drive-By Truckers hit a career milestone with the recent release of “Ugly Buildings, Whores, and Politicians,” a compilation of the band’s greatest hits.
It was a crowning moment for the Athens, Ga.-based band, reaching a point where its rabid fan base and extensive catalog demanded a greatest hits record.
“Actually, the contract demanded an album,” founding member Mike Cooley says with a raspy laugh.
“I’ve been taking it around to get experts to show me which ones were hits so I can find out who to bill. I missed those. That must’ve been during my drug days or something. We had hits?”
Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but the Truckers have earned a loyal following — particularly in the Southeast — with their tireless touring, raucous live shows and prolific output of the Southern-fried rock they’ll bring to Savannah’s Trustees Theater on Sept. 8.
Cooley admits he “kind of had a bad attitude” about the prospect of putting together a retrospective compilation, but he was pleased with the finished product, a 16-song collection of songs spanning more than a decade.
“It ended up being cool,” Cooley said. “We got the best review in the Rolling Stone we’ve ever gotten.”
That’s hard to believe, considering the Truckers have drawn critical acclaim throughout their 15-year run. Their two-disc set “Southern Rock Opera,” released in 2001, still resonates, blending Southern history and a modern perspective on the “duality of the Southern thing.” The band’s more recent work, including this year’s “Go-Go Boots,” is more layered and nuanced, but it hasn’t strayed far from the Truckers’ early formula of good, ol’ Southern storytelling set to rock’n’roll.
“A lot of what we’ve done, especially more recently, I can see little elements of what we were trying to do back then but didn’t really know where to go with it or how to pull it off,” Cooley said. “It really hasn’t changed a lot. I think we’ve just gotten better at it.”
Other musicians have come and gone, but founding members Cooley and Patterson Hood remain the nucleus. The two played together in various bands in the late-1980s and early-1990s but eventually went different directions. They reunited in Athens and formed Drive-By Truckers in 1996, and they’ve hardly stopped touring or recording since.
“It’s like an old married couple. You finally get so ugly nobody else wants you,” Cooley said.
Cooley said the band probably will lay low next year, playing a less strenuous schedule of shows and staying out of the studio. But he insists the down time will be temporary, because they’re “still too young to quit” and because there’s music to be made, regardless of who demands it.
“I’m down to proving it to me, and it always has been that way,” Cooley said. “I want to write the next song, and I want it to be a good one. I want it to be real, and I want to mean it, just like I always do.”