You can credit C.W. McCall's deathless anthem "Convoy" or a host of other songs, but the marriage of truck-driving tracks and country music is a natural fit. Something about the image of an endless highway and the promise of reprieve at the journey's end amplifies the genre's overtones.
It's a lesson that Zach Anderson knows by heart at this point. When he's not transporting hazardous and explosive materials in his truck's payload, Anderson sings and plays guitar in the long-running Americana band Old Capital Square Dance Club. Reached by phone recently, he was on his way back from a stretch that took him from St. Louis to Iowa and back again. Wherever the road takes him, he makes sure music rides shotgun.
"I always carry around a Telecaster and a little amp in my cab if I get some down time," Anderson says. One of those songs from the road, "Thing for You," comes on the second half of his band's latest album, Old Capital.
"I was doing some really long runs, and at the time I had a girlfriend living with me," Anderson says of the song's inspiration. "It's hard to have relationships when you're a truck driver because you're never home. I had to do something nice to let her know I wasn't out having fun; I was trying to make some money."
That tension between love and duty helps explain the almost seven-year gap between albums for the band. A series of lineup changes routinely interrupted the recording process, and a series of stops and starts killed whatever momentum had built up.
"The record just kind of fell to the side," Anderson says. "We had to take a little time off from being an active band. People had kids and all that."
Anderson took it upon himself to hunker down with Jason McEntire, who had recorded the sessions at his Sawhorse Studio, and comb through the material. From there the shape of the fourteen-track album began to emerge.
"Jason and I got together and him and I went through it and mixed it," Anderson says. "I would bring the mix to the rest of the guys, and Jason took care of the rest."
The resulting album is largely a product of the band's current lineup, but the band itself is primarily the product of one distinct partnership. Anderson and Jesse McClary split guitar and lead vocal duties and the album is fairly split between their voices and words.
"Jesse and I have been friends since first grade and have been playing together since we were nine years old," Anderson says. "It's almost a light competition that helps us go back and forth."
The band isn't shy in deploying a handful of alt-country moves on the album, and its subject matter veers from the vagaries of love to the economic despair that looms over small-town America.
But in creating the band's rootsy twang, the band never set out to create itself in the image of a certain famous Metro East band.
"One thing we never really planned on doing, but we never really looked at it as Americana. We had never heard of Uncle Tupelo or Wilco before," he says. "It just kind of came out that way! We didn't have a clue who they were. We just wanted to be Rolling Stones or Tom Petty."
Anderson says he loves playing McClary's songs, that they make him play better and write smarter. He points to closing track "Rivertown," a harsh look at their hometown of Vandalia, Illinois.
"There's not a lot of hope around here," Anderson, who lives in nearby Ramsey, Illinois, says. "If you don't come from money, there's not a lot. There's a lot of drug addiction — it's a nothing place. The song has a real depressing overtone, but that's just reality."
Opening track "American Dream," another one penned by McClary, takes a similar approach to the topic. It's a slow burn of a song, hemmed by twangy Telecaster and whirring Hammond organ, a seductive tone to a track about being hoodwinked by age-old promises of home, hard work and prosperity.
"The thing with 'American Dream' is that things have changed drastically in the last few decades; it's kind of his take on how things have gotten fucked up over the years," Anderson says of McClary's lyrics.
With the long-delayed record finally released and a solid lineup back in step, the band hopes to keep plugging down the highway without too many detours.
"We actually have an EP that's almost finished; we may just turn that into a full-length," Anderson says. "We just got a lot of the old members back; I think there's eight of us now in the band. We have a ton of songs, and we're gonna start recording them and putting them in groups.
"No more five, six years in between records," Anderson says. "Hopefully we'll have something out by the end of the year."