Drive-By investors get their payback

Southern Rock Opera, the Drive-By Truckers' new two-CD concept album, has generated loads of well-deserved accolades. But no one could've been surprised that labels weren't knocking down doors for the chance to put the record out.

"I think the whole two-record set, Southern rock opera aspect scared enough people off that offers weren't forthcoming," says Truckers frontman Patterson Hood. "There was a whole lot of, 'We really like what you guys are doing,' but offers we got were ... borderline exploitative."

Determined to get the record made, the band concocted a plan more typical of a start-up tech firm than a rock band. Through word of mouth and their fans' Internet newsgroup, the band solicited investors to pay for the manufacturing and distribution of the release. After researching how to write a prospectus, bassist Earl Hicks drew up detailed plans for how the money would be spent and when it would be paid back — with 15 percent interest. "I would think it's been done, but I couldn't tell you an example," Hood says of the business model.

In increments from $500 to $2,000, the band raised about $15,000 by the time Southern Rock Opera came out last month, enough to make 5,000 copies of the elaborate double-CD package and pay for a used van as well. Hardly venture capitalism, the investments are informal, forgoing elaborate contracts. "I'm wanting to do it about as far opposite from how the music industry is run as possible," Hood says. "I didn't want there to be any fine-print crap."

Payback to investors begins 60 days after the album's release (in the next few weeks) and gets paid off entirely by January 2003. While Hood says the Truckers have already sold about 3,000 copies, putting them well on their way to meeting payback goals, the $4,000 they've paid in van repairs since hitting the road eight weeks ago hasn't helped finances. But these days, the transmission woes of a ramshackle roadster are hardly as risky as riding the stock market. And the return is even better.

The Drive-By Truckers play Sat., Nov. 24, at The Earl.??