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A Drive By Truckers Secret Weapon: The Jenn Bryant Interview

Posted: Mar 28, 2010

The Jenn Bryant Interview
by James Calemine

Behind every successful band or artist there are at least several individuals behind the scenes who prove instrumental in the artist’s accomplishments. In the case of The Drive By Truckers, Jenn Bryant (along with Traci Thomas) operates as one of those rare folks. Not only has she known Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley over 20 years, but, like them, she’s an Alabama native. She knows the lore of Muscle Shoals and served in the trenches with artists like Johnny Sandlin, John Bell and Bloodkin.

Jenn knows how the rock and roll game is played. She designed the Truckers’ website along with merchandise and other artwork over the years. She’s worked with the Truckers since their inception—long before the rest of the world caught on. I met her 15 years ago in Athens, Georgia, when she worked on Bloodkin’s first album. In this Swampland Interview Jenn Bryant describes her singular journey and how she became a key player in the success of one of the world’s best rock and roll bands.

JC: Where did you grow up? What were your early musical influences?

I was born in Opelika, Alabama, and lived in Auburn as a child. My folks both loved music and played it all the time, so I very luckily grew up with the Stones, Dylan, Little Feat, Joni Mitchell, Ry Cooder, etc... they had an extensive library. When we lived in Auburn, surrounded by hippy frat houses (hey, it was the 70's) my mother painted the Rolling Stones "Lips" logo on our living room wall about 10 feet high. Later my mom worked for a band sometimes, doing shirt and record designs. She'd take us out to see them and give us live tapes of them that we wore slap out. My brother and I discovered Mom's Beatles albums after seeing her cry - for the first time we could remember - when Lennon got shot. We immersed ourselves in it and probably did a lot of damage to her collection, come to think of it. When I was in 9th grade we moved to a little township called Frogpond in North Alabama. My whole family - both sides - are from there. It was about 30 miles from the Shoals area where Patterson and Cooley grew up.

JC:. Talk about your early days in the business. I know you interned with Johnny Sandlin, which is how I met you through Bloodkin all those years ago...

That's right! I was always interested in music and had tons of musician friends. I'd do whatever I could to help bands I liked, which back then was mostly just flyer and tshirt designs, though I dabbled in booking - which sucked. When the University of North Alabama offered a Commercial Music degree, I decided to go for it; that's how I got an internship with Johnny Sandlin in Decatur. He started up a record company with John Bell (Widespread Panic) and Bloodkin was their first band signed. When I graduated they hired me to do all kinds of things like promotions, album layout and design. I was pretty miserable in Decatur, though, and must have done a crap job, because they fired me a few months later! I came to visit Athens GA during that time, and Danny Hutchens took me around the the town and I fell in love. I left Alabama and moved here shortly after the death of my good friend Chris Quillen and my own bad car accident in 1996.

JC:. How did you first meet Patterson Hood?

Actually I met him and Cooley at the same time, when I still lived in the Shoals. They were in a band called Adam's House Cat that I'd seen before and didn't like at all! They played an Earth Day show in 1991 with another band I was working with, and I thought they were pretty good then. Patterson already had a big stage presence. I remember the first thing I ever heard Cooley say was, "We gonna pitch a bitch tonight." That was a line from a Richard Pryor album my Dad had that my brother and I used to sneak out and listen to, so I knew I liked him right off. We all ended up at the same party that night, got really fucked up, got to know each other, and that started it. Soon I got to go to Muscle Shoals Sound where they were recording "Town Burned Down" because Quillen was putting backing vocals on a song or two, and he needed a ride up there. They were recording at night and it was kinda secretive and very very cool. I remember I thought they were gonna get really drunk on the PGA used to clean tape heads. That was my first time in a studio.

JC: How long have you been working for The Drive By Truckers? What have been some of your duties over the years?

I moved to Athens in '96 and Patterson had been playing out with DBT for a little while. They were totally different back then, a whole different lineup, a lot more country, and Cooley hadn't started contributing songs yet. I did what I could to help, but the real work started when I made them a website back in '99. The internet was a very different place back then, but I reached out in every way I could to find folks who were using the net who loved music - and there weren't so many back then that's for sure. I'd hunt down people online in the cities they were playing in and just send them a song, and really tried to help promote the bands they played with too, which bought a lot of good will with those fans. Slowly we built this incredible internet following which was only possible because the band toured nonstop, and just about anyone anywhere in the US could catch a show. We'd post new tourdates and urge people to just go see them. I shamelessly used family and friends to talk the band up. I'd get my sister in Texas to rally the troops there, stuff like that. I knew once you saw them live you didn't stand a chance - they just slayed everyone. They'd out-drink and out-rock just about any other band who came near, and fans started responding in all the message boards and discussion groups I'd been promoting them in, and bringing their friends to shows, etc. There's nothing I loved more than hopping in the van and going out with them whenever I could, meeting all these people and watching the crowds grow.

JC: You've been very instrumental in the day-to-day rigors of the business. Talk about how you've contributed to the growing of this formidable band/organization...

That's funny, because I feel like I did help, but that doesn't hold a candle to how much work Patterson has put into this band. It's really amazing. He just never stops, and I know that especially now there's a massive amount of work getting done that I don't even know about - and he's still doing a lot of it. I mainly managed the online fan base, and just bugged the shit out of people to give DBT a chance. For years I'd answer every email personally, but the band and the internet both got big fast and we finally hired my friend Jason Wilson, who's also from the Shoals, to take over the social sites, thank god. Other than that I've done a little bit of everything, from backstage fan maneuvering to record layout (though Patterson's sister Lilla does that now) to bringing beer to the studio (though they have a crew to do that now). For The Big To-Do I've done a bunch of merch designing, laid out the backstage passes and the backdrops, plus redesigned the website, which was a massive job--but it got done thanks to help from some code inja friends of mine. I have Wes Freed's amazing art to work with, so while it's a lot of work it's just amazing to get to work with the most incredible artist I know. I do all kinds of stuff now. This past time in the studio I made them a catfish dinner!

JC:. What separates The Truckers from everyone else?

For one thing - Patterson Hood. Any band who had a nonstop machine like him behind them would fare well - I know it's the combination of several things throughout the years that got them exactly where they are, but there's no way this band would have succeeded like they have without his single-minded determination. Then there's Cooley and Brad, who'd drop everything to hit the road; that constant touring honed them into this amazing rock entity. The fact that they toured so heavily and consistently for so long - that's just outstanding for any band to do. It was not easy by ANY means, but for them above all there was really nothing else to do. I can't imagine any of them doing anything else. There's also always been an overriding sense of honesty and graciousness in general - it's gotten them taken advantage of before, because they're good trusting people who make fast friends, but overall I think it's been a giant help. They always spoke their mind and did it their way. There are so many astonishing things about them - they write incredible songs, they push themselves to do it better every time, and above all they fucking LOVE what they do. They're great people to have as friends, even if they couldn't play a note. There's nothing else like 'em in the world. 

JC: Talk about some of your personal highlights with the band.

I have had some of my very best moments on the road with that band. I love traveling anyway and being out there with your best friends is just awesome. You never stop laughing except when they're on stage. I discovered Slobberbone when Patterson played it loud as hell in The Freedom II (the band van) on a weekend tour to Florida. A few years ago I went on a two week bus tour to California and slept in the cabin. We came back through Arizona and they played at the Hotel Congress where Dillinger was captured, and I got a room all by myself there. The band was running around making a video all night, but I had to get some sleep. It was creepy as shit but I felt fantastically free. I got to go to the first Conan taping, that was cool; we went exploring in the studio and found the Wheel from the Price is Right. Lotta funny pictures from that. Then, a couple of years ago I got an email from a lady at Adult Swim who told me that my favorite AS show, Squidbillies, wanted the band to be guests on it. I don't think any of them watched that show or even knew what it was, but I told 'em they oughta do it and got the email into the right hands - and that episode will be coming out in July! That made me really happy, thinking I might have helped that happen. Hearing them on NPR's Weekend Edition back in 2002 was very cool - I've been listening to that program forever. Oh - and getting to meet Booker T and have him eat some of my banana pudding! That is one hell of a handsome man.

JC: 2010 proves to be a big year for The Truckers. Give an update--or encapsulate--the ongoing projects and significance of everything going on right now.

So much fantastic stuff is happening now. The record is great and they have another one every bit as good practically in the can already. They get to tour with Tom Petty and that's huge; I know it's been a dream for a long time. They finally have a record company who's really behind them and it's amazing how much good that does. I think they're gonna try to go to Japan sometime in the next couple of years; boy that's one tour I really wanna see! I'm serious, there's really so much happening that I can't even start, but you can be sure to keep up with it all on the website, wink wink...


Six Degrees of Swampland: The Drive By Truckers
(Our one page source for all DBT content on Swampland - interviews, reviews, news, etc)

The Wes Freed Interview

2010 Patterson Hood Interview

related tags

Mystery and Manners,
Muscle Shoals,

Wireless from AT&T


Bill Cochran says...


krantz99 says...

Man you are doing some top notch kick butt work! This is a very fun interview. I always wondered about this fine lady when I would get me emails with her sig and how fitting to find out she sounds like such a cool and fun person. A perfect personality to work with this great band!

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