Adam's House Cat
Saturday, June 29th, 2019
Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pmBrooklyn Bowl
This event is 21 and over
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“I don’t want there to be any doubt as to which side of this discussion we fall on,” Hood says. “I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding of where we stand. If you don’t like it, you can leave. It’s okay. We’re not trying to be everybody’s favorite band, we’re going to be who we are and do what we do and anyone who’s with us, we’d love to have them join in.”
Mike Cooley is somewhat more direct. “I wanted this to be a no bones about it, in your face political album,” he says. “I wanted to piss off the assholes.”
AMERICAN BAND’s considerable force can in part be credited to the sheer musical strength of the current Drive-By Truckers line-up, with Hood and Cooley joined by bassist Matt Patton, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Jay Gonzalez, and drummer Brad Morgan – together, the longest-lasting iteration in the band’s two-decade history. AMERICAN BAND follows ENGLISH OCEANS and 2015’s IT’S GREAT TO BE ALIVE!, marking the first time DBT have made three consecutive LPs with the same hard-traveling crew.
“This is the longest period of stability in our band’s history,” says Hood. “I think we finally hit the magic formula. It’s made everything more fun than it’s ever been, making records and playing shows.”
Drive-By Truckers might have maintained constancy but Hood embraced change by moving his family to Portland, OR in July 2015, a physical shift which he says “opened the floodgates” to a batch of deeply felt, strikingly emotional new songs. Having recorded the bulk of their canon in Athens, GA, the band was also eager to reinvent their own surroundings. Memphis was considered but when DBT’s November 2015 tour wrapped in Nashville, the band decided to spend a few days at the legendary Sound Emporium getting a head start on the new record.
Never ones to screw around in the studio, DBT cranked out nine new songs in just three 14-hour shifts, as ever with producer/engineer David Barbe at the helm. Coming in directly from the road put a head of steam behind the band, allowing them to lay it all out live on the floor, tracking songs like “Once They Banned Imagine” in little more than a single take.
“We realized we had most of the record,” Hood says, “so we went back after the holidays for four more days, but ended up finishing it in three. We tend to usually take about two weeks to make a record so this was really quick.”
“That was a lot of fun,” the Alabama-based Cooley says, “and a shorter drive for me.”
Speed was of the essence, as DBT was determined to get their record out at the height of the 2016 election season. By their very nature, Drive-By Truckers has always been an inherently political act, “but this is the first time it’s been out there on the surface,” Cooley says, “No bones about it.”
“I’ve always considered our band to be political,” Hood says. “I’ve studied and followed politics since I was a small kid. I got in trouble in third grade for a paper I wrote about Watergate – the teacher sent a note home to my parents saying I was voicing opinions about our president that she didn’t appreciate. That’s the one time I got in trouble at school where my parents sided with me.”
“SOUTHERN ROCK OPERA was a pretty political record,” Cooley says. “But we hadn’t had our first black president yet. We hadn’t sat in the bleachers and watched the backlash, which, as acquainted as we are with racism, went beyond what anyone imagined it would be.”
Political matters reared their head on 2014’s ENGLISH OCEANS, most explicitly on Cooley’s “Made Up English Oceans,” detailing the life and crimes of late Republican black ops master Lee Atwater. Hood further sharpened his own skills by penning an op-ed for the New York Times condemning the Confederate Flag and its vile role in Southern culture.
“That was a major learning experience,” he says. “Working with an editor, how to streamline what I’m trying to say, how to find the most powerful part and get rid of some of the excess. It was really grueling but I was eager to take it on and learn as much as I could from it.”
Hood delivered a finished draft to the Old Gray Lady and within moments, wrote the ferocious “Darkened Flags On The Cusp Of Dawn” on a borrowed guitar – his own gear in a moving van on its way to his family’s new home in Portland. The song, like so much of the album, is a direct response to 2014’s police shootings of unarmed African-Americans, a moment both Hood and Cooley see as the catalyst for their blunt new approach. Long haunted by the police shooting of a mentally ill neighbor in his former hometown of Athens, GA, Hood wrote “What It Means” in the heat of Ferguson, Staten Island, and the subsequent emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It was all in my head and just kind of bubbling at the surface,” Hood says. “I think we knew early on that was the direction this record was going to go in.”
Hood’s friend and collaborator for more than half their lives, Cooley was a on similar trip, reading, writing, and pondering the very same issues that rend the country in two.
“We have conversations about all this stuff,” he says, “but not necessarily in terms of planning an album or anything. Then we go home, he writes a song, I write a song, and they’re both basically about the same thing.”
“We tend to come to the same conclusions separately but together,” Hood says. “We don’t really discuss it until we have a bunch of songs. We’ve always been astounded at how much common ground our songs have, record after record. SOUTHERN ROCK OPERA is the only time we discussed a game plan for what we were going to write, the only time. It’s kind of uncanny. Truly a beautiful thing.”
Further creative inspiration came from a pair of American milestone pieces of art, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ National Book Award-winning Between The World and Me and Kendrick Lamar’s TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY, “in my opinion, the greatest musical work of our current time,” says Hood.
“It’s an inspiring album and one that made me question myself,” he says. “I’m a white guy from the South, do I have the right to be singing about this stuff? What can I do? The only conclusion I could come up with was maybe white guys, with Southern accents, who look like rednecks, need to say Black Lives Matter too. It’s a start, a tiny start, but a step in the right direction is better than no step at all.”
“I couldn’t not do it,” says Cooley. “I’ve got to speak about this stuff, somehow or another. And I’m going to speak about it from a middle aged Southern white working class evangelical background male point of view.”
Much like Lamar’s GRAMMY® Award-winning song cycle, AMERICAN BAND serves as a stark, tightly focused snapshot of today’s America, an exemplary illustration of rock ‘n’ roll as a vehicle for social commentary and clear-eyed reportage. “Guns of Umpqua” captures Hood’s reaction to the 2015 shooting at Roseburg, OR’s Umpqua Community College while Cooley’s breakneck “Ramon Casiano” is a topical folk rocker telling the little known tale of former National Rife Association leader Harlon Carter and the murder of 15-year-old Ramon Casiano. Known as “Mr. NRA,” Carter transformed the organization from its original role as a sportsmen and conservationist group into what Cooley correctly declares “a right wing, white supremacist gun cult.” A Southern-rooted band opening their album with such a song makes for a singularly powerful statement, the NRA’s monolithic control of the debate demanding opposing artists to be as overt and vocal on the issue as possible.
“The NRA needs to be turned into a political turd in a swimming pool,” Cooley says, “so all these fuckers will start paddling away.
“What I’m trying to do is point straight to the white supremacist core of gun culture,” Cooley concludes. “That’s what it is and that’s where its roots are. When gun culture thinks about all the threats they need to be armed against, what color are they?”
Of course the personal can also be politic, represented here by Hood’s deeply felt “Baggage.” Penned the night of Robin Williams’ death, the song sees Hood examining his own demons and long bout with depression, “the worst I’ve had as an older adult,” he says. “I was kind of blindsided by it. There had always been a tangible thing that I could point to as to what was wrong, but this time I was grasping for something and not quite finding it.”
AMERICAN BAND is surprisingly optimistic thanks to Hood’s “absolutely” improved mental health as well as Drive-By Truckers’ passion for the issues behind the material. The band intend to hit the road harder than ever in support of AMERICAN BAND, bringing their songs to the people as they have always done, only this time with the country’s very future at stake. Fortunately for America, Drive-By Truckers are, as a Great Man once said, fired up, ready to go.
“I feel like Cooley and I both nailed what were going for on every song on this record,” Hood says. “I don’t think there’s a wasted line or word on this record. There’s nothing I would change, that’s for sure. I think we got this one right.”
“I’m sure there will be people saying ‘I wish they’d keep the politics out of it,’” Cooley says, “but one of the characteristics among the people and institutions we are taking to task in these songs is their self-appointed status as the exclusive authority on what American is. What is American enough and who the real Americans are. Putting AMERICAN BAND right out front is our way of reclaiming the right to define our American identity on our own terms, and show that it's out of love of country that we draw our inspiration.”
Adam’s House Cat proved rebellious from the jump, the only young band in the Muscle Shoals region playing hard rocking original music. Despite the area’s long musical tradition and legendary studio scene – including of course FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound, the latter co-founded by Hood’s dad, session bassist extraordinaire David Hood – times had changed in Muscle Shoals. No matter the cause, be it a downturned local economy or a record industry shift towards studios in Nashville and Los Angeles, the Muscle Shoals live scene in the mid-1980s was now limited to Top 40 cover bands and country and western, more likely a bit of both.
Undeterred, Hood and Cooley enlisted drummer Chuck Tremblay, more than a decade their senior but a gifted musician who after years toiling in motel lounge combos had his own personal commitment to only playing original music. A series of bass players did short time with the band before the arrival of John Cahoon, son of the mayor of Tuscumbia, AL and more importantly, a rebellious, rock-solid bassist.
Beginning in 1987, Adam’s House Cat spent three years grinding it out in bars and clubs around their home region, from Birmingham and Huntsville to Nashville, Memphis, and Oxford, MI. Wider attention came when the band’s infectious “Smiling At Girls” was named one of 10 First Place winners (out of over 1500 entries) in MUSICIAN Magazine’s Best Unsigned Band Contest, judged by an all-star panel that included Elvis Costello, T-Bone Burnett, Mitchell Froom, and Mark Knopfler. The track was featured on a nationally distributed compilation CD, garnering interest from an array of labels and managers across the South.
Despite hard touring around the Southeast, no deals came of Adam’s House Cat’s first success. The band took matters into their own hands, recording a collection of original train songs on four-track cassette dubbed TRAINS OF THOUGHT. Songs like “6 O’ Clock Train” and “Buttholeville” reflected the band’s frustration with their home region, a profound dissatisfaction that often enraged local audiences, occasionally to the point of incipient violence.
On November 25, 1990, Adam’s House Cat set up in the rooms upstairs from Muscle Shoals Sound Recording Studio and recorded basic tracks for fifteen songs with producer/engineer Steve Melton (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Traffic). Tracked live on 2’’ analog 24-track tape, the songs recorded that freezing cold day represent an historic document of Adam’s House Cat in all their electrifying, unwieldy glory. The cavernous studio’s plaster walls, hardwood floors, and 25-foot ceilings enabled the band them to create a massive sound without using the digital reverb common in that that era. As a result, the recordings – mostly first and second takes – capture Adam’s House Cat as they truly were, loud, passionate and bracingly determined.
1991 saw Adam’s House Cat struggling to both fund their album’s completion and simply stay together. Hood tracked his lead vocals in on the same January night in which George H.W. Bush began Operation Desert Storm. Backing vocals and minimal overdubs were added that winter and though Hood was not entirely thrilled with his vocal performances, by spring, Melton had begun mixing the raw recordings. Cahoon abruptly left the band mid-summer, replaced by Chris Quillen, who eventually contributed a memorable high harmony vocal to the album’s “Long Time Ago.”
Alas, Adam’s House Cat’s days were numbered. Hood and Cooley relocated to Memphis in early September and though their live shows that month proved among the band’s best ever, by month’s end, the band had played its last, quietly breaking up after an uneventful gig in Nashville. TOWN BURNED DOWN not only went unreleased, the original 24-track tapes were lost after Muscle Shoals Sound was sold and liquidated. As if that weren’t bad enough, Melton’s mixes were boxed up and sent to Jackson, MS’s Malaco Studio where they were later destroyed when a devastating tornado struck the historic building in 2011.
Hood and Cooley carried on, collaborating on a couple of ill-fated projects, but in 1993, the two had a falling out that lasted until Hood relocated to Athens, GA in April the following year. Their musical partnership resumed, with Hood making monthly visits to Cooley’s Birmingham apartment to record four-track demos together. With Cooley now also writing original songs, a new vision began to take shape. Hood and Cooley intended Chris Quillen to be a founding member but the bassist was tragically killed in a car accident that May, mere weeks before Drive-By Truckers officially came into being. John Cahoon passed away in 1999.
Fast-forward more than twenty years in which Drive-By Truckers grew to become what Stereogum hailed as “perhaps the greatest extant American rock and roll band,” equally acclaimed for their landmark 11 LP canon as well as their epic live performances. In YEAR TK, three boxes labeled “ADAM’S HOUSE CAT” mysteriously appeared in the tape vault of longtime friend and DBT producer David Barbe’s Athens, GA studio. Contained within were the unmixed 2’’ tape master tapes of TOWN BURNED DOWN, along with another reel containing an EP’s worth of songs recorded the previous year.
Partly inspired by Chuck Tremblay’s near fatal heart attack in the spring of 2017, Hood made a New Year’s resolution to finally complete TOWN BURNED DOWN and in February 2018, Barbe baked the fragile tapes and placed them on reels for the first time in more than a quarter century.
Though the music and material were as powerful as ever, perhaps even more so, Hood remained as unhappy with his vocal performance as he had been in the past. Wondering if his hard-earned abilities would allow him to finally sing his songs as originally intended, Hood decided to attempt new vocal tracks. Within two hours, vocals were recorded for the entire album, raw and cathartic takes that were at once true to Hood’s original intent but reflecting the lessons of the intervening years.
On April 16, 2016, Hood, Cooley, and Tremblay convened at Barbe’s Chase Park Transduction studio in Athens to complete mixing TOWN BURNED DOWN – the first reunion of the Adam’s House Cat founding members in more than 27 years. The final mixes were later mastered at Sterling Sound in Edgewater, NJ by longtime DBT collaborator Greg Calbi.
TOWN BURNED DOWN can at last be properly heard the way Adam’s House Cat always wanted it to be heard, its raw soul and boisterous enthusiasm already hinting at what was yet to come. Songs like “Runaway Train” and “Cemeteries” display dark edges that surely must’ve intimated audiences in their time but now sound startlingly heartfelt and full of fiery joy, energized by Cahoon and Tremblay’s versatile, dynamic backing and of course, the ever-present, undeniable chemistry between Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley.
Nearly three decades later, Muscle Shoals is once again an important American musical scene boasting countless new bands and young artists who proudly attest their deep roots in the community and its culture. Though few have actually heard their music, Adam’s House Cat has long loomed large as both groundbreaking innovators and the missing link between Muscle Shoals’ celebrated then and vibrant now.
“Finally releasing TOWN BURNED DOWN brings a sort of closure to one of the saddest and most important chapters of mine and Cooley’s lives,” writes Hood in the LP’s detailed liner notes. “The years we spent pounding out these songs made us the people and artists that we have later become but we carried with us a darkness from never having been able to get the album out. The sound of these songs blasting out of the control room after all of these years while Cooley, Chuck and I grinned from ear to ear has truly been one of the most joyous events of my entire life. Songs from literally half of my life ago that somehow still seem vital to me all of these years later.”
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