If there’s a musician that knows the road, it’s Jason Isbell.
Isbell, a native of the Muscle Shoals, Ala., area, spent much of his 20s writing, touring and performing as a member of the alt-country band the Drive-By Truckers. After splitting from the Truckers in ‘07, he released his first solo CD, “Sirens of the Ditch,” which he’d spent the past several years piecing together.
Isbell called on lifelong pals Derry deBorja, Jimbo Hart and Browan Lollar to form a new band, the 400 Unit, and the band released its self-titled album in February.
Isbell knew the road well as a member of the Truckers, and he’s kept up that steady touring pace since.
In fact, he and the 400 Unit just wrapped up a spring tour with Justin Townes Earle.
“Last night was the last night of that, which I hate, because we were having a really, really good time,” Isbell said in an interview with the Daily Journal from – where else? – the road. “But yeah, so far, overall, the tour’s been really, really good.”
A new leg of the tour kicks off Thursday in Knoxville, and the band will make its way to Oxford for the Double Decker Festival this weekend.
Isbell said playing festivals is a little different than playing a gig in a regular venue.
“First of all, you’re all apart from each other on stage,” he said. “And there are a lot more people in the audience.”
That doesn’t shake Isbell or his band, though. Since the guys have been friends for so long, that makes the music that much better, he said.
“I’ve known these guys since I was a teenager. All but one are from Muscle Shoals, which is where I grew up,” he said. “We understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
That relationship carries over from
the studio to the stage.
“I think (our live shows) are normally louder than our records. I think it’s more of a rock ‘n’ roll show. It’s a lot of fun. We always have good crowds. The crowds are very appreciative, very friendly and usually very drunk,” he said with a laugh. “I think the thing that’s most noticeable is how many good players there are up there in the band.”
Isbell invites Double Decker goers to check out what he and the 400 Unit have to offer.
“We always have a really good time on stage, and normally if the band’s having a good time, it’s pretty easy for the people in the audience to have a good time,” Isbell said. “Most of the people who like us are people who like songs. We focus on that more than anything else … We try to write songs and play ‘em as well as we can.”
Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal