When you're in a band with two of your favorite songwriters, the idea of presenting them with some of your own work can be a daunting task. For Shonna Tucker of the Drive-By Truckers, her decision to take that leap has given the band and her career new life.
Though she's always been a songwriter, Tucker's first five years in the Athens, Ga., band were spent focusing on playing bass. "I've written the whole time, but it's never been my priority," Tucker says by phone from her Alabama home. "I've been cultivating myself as a bass player in the Drive-By Truckers. I was feeling comfortable in that way, and I had a lot to say, so I guess it was good timing."
The result is three songs on the band's latest CD, Brighter Than Creation's Dark, that fit right in with the other 16 tracks, written by singer Patterson Hood and guitarist Mike Cooley, whom Tucker says are two of her favorite songwriters.
"I'm Sorry Huston" was written in 20 minutes after an odd experience at her house one day. "I live out in the country in Alabama and the people that do know me know that I'm on the road most of the time," she says. "So, I don't get people just stopping by, especially at seven o'clock in the morning. There was a knock at the door and there was this little man and he was so intense and so wanting me to help him with the neighbor's horses so bad. I couldn't help him at all. I was in my pajamas and he wanted me to walk across the street with him over there and make sure he could read the address on the mailbox right."
"Home Field Advantage" was also written during a short creative outburst in the studio. While the rest of the band went to dinner, Tucker wrote the song and had it ready when they returned. "I feel like that's the kind of writer I am," she says. "It's hard for me to sit down and say, 'OK, I'm gonna write a song now.' I'd never get anything done that way."
Tucker joined the band five years ago, though she's known them for eight. Her ex-husband, Jason Isbell, was in the band from 2001 to 2007. She says the toughest experience for her over the last five years was the divorce. "It was very, very hard and every day I didn't know if I was gonna be able to make it and hang in there or not," she says. "So, it was a very trying time, but I made it. We all made it through that. That was definitely the low time. It's harder to say the high point -- there are a lot of them."
The band has gone through numerous lineup changes, but Tucker feels the band is at a high point right now with the additions of Spooner Oldham and John Neff. "Everybody's healthy and happy and feeling real good about everything," Tucker says. "John is just a pleasure to be around and be on stage with. We have Spooner playing with us a lot and he's an amazing person and he brings magic that can't be described in any other way except, 'It's Spooner.' I like to think that the longer we do it, or anybody does anything, that you get better. So, I like to think we're better now than ever."
Along with the ease of performing, the band can also take advantage of having three songwriters. Creation's Dark has 19 songs on it and Tucker points out that Hood has written at least 30 or 35 this year, so far. "He's had songs for years," she says of Hood. "He's got a gift for knowing when to bring something out if it fits a certain mood and time in the band."
As for Tucker's entrance into the songwriting part of the band -- it took a deep breath and some whiskey. "I had several songs, but these were the songs I thought could actually be Truckers songs," she says. "I took a deep breath and I played them for them when we got into the studio. To my surprise and relief, they all looked at each other and started laughing, 'Hell yeah! Let's do these songs.' It was a relief and it helped me have confidence towards writing."
As far as her singing, Tucker is slowly adjusting to her new stage life when the time comes. The band has a simple policy -- "If you write it, you sing it ... and better be able to." She says when it came time to record in the studio, producer David Barbe and a half of a fifth of Jack Daniels gave her the confidence to do it. "The more we tour and the more I do it, the more I'm feeling comfortable and it's a little bit easier," she says. "I want to keep getting better, but I've got a ways to go."
She says the thought of a solo album has crossed her mind, but there are no plans at this point in time. No doubt, she'll have plenty of fans. Often times at concerts, fans are seen handing flowers to the blonde bassist, and there's even a MySpace page for the Shonna Tucker Appreciation Society. "I have nothing to do with that," she says of the page. "It's very humbling. It's amazing that people go through all that effort." As for the flowers -- "I'm just glad they show up, but then they take time to stop and get some flowers. That's crazy! It's a lot of effort."
Drive-By Truckers will perform at Amos' Southend on Sept. 18. Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 on the day of the show.