Q&A: Patterson Hood of The Drive-By Truckers 

Patterson Hood on The Truckers’ new record, solo projects, the music industry and the limitations of the term “Southern rock”

Patterson Hood on The Truckers’ new record, solo projects, the music industry and the limitations of the term “Southern rock.”
Lee Stabert: I’ll start by asking some questions about the new album—which isn’t so new anymore. How was the process with this record different? I read that you wrote most of it in the studio. Patterson Hood: Yeah, we definitely worked on it a little differently. We’ve always kind of stacked our projects—we spent so long working on Southern Rock Opera that we made three other albums while we were working on that one. Then a year after Southern Rock Opera came out it got re-released on Lost Highway, and by the time that happened we had already recorded the follow-up, Decoration Day. And by the time that came out we pretty much had The Dirty South done. So we just wanted to so something that was very new and right now—or right now a year ago. Nothing happens fast enough in the music business right now. We pretty much went in and I think everyone had some ideas in their heads, and maybe a few things written, but the majority of it we pretty much hashed out then and there. It was a lot of fun to do it that way. LS: Its only 11 songs—your shortest record to date. Did you want it to be lean? PH: Yeah, because our other records.... So much of this record was really a result of what had happened before it. Our last three records in a row all ran exceptionally long. I’m proud of them and there’s not anything I’d really want to edit off those records, even years later, but, because of that, we said, “Let’s make a record that’s short and lean and mean and quick, and, when its over you go, ‘wow, where did that go? Play it again’...hopefully. It was a conscious decision that we all kind of made to make a different kind of record. You really only grow if you push yourself a little bit and are willing to try new directions and new things, so it was a lot of fun. LS: Is there a clear divide in your mind when you write a song about whether it’s going to be a Truckers song or for a solo project? PH: It’s usually pretty obvious. There is a handful in each direction that can go either way for sure. A lot of Killers and Stars was written at the exact same time that I was writing what became Decoration Day. There were a few songs on each of those that probably could have fit on the other, but it made itself apparent pretty quick which ones had to be which way. I think “(Something’s Got To) Give Pretty Soon” probably would have fit on Killers and Stars and “Heathens” too, but its better doing those two with a full band. Likewise a full band version of a few Killers and Stars songs might have worked real well. But overall, I think it went the right way. And my new solo record is a full band kind of record, but it doesn’t sound like a Drive-By Truckers’ record. It sounds like me, but it doesn’t sound like the Truckers, because the Truckers have kind of developed a sound that’s not necessarily the same as any one of us. The way we sound when we’re together is kind of its own unique thing. LS: Jason [Isbell] has a solo record coming out too, right? PH: Its done, it’s completely done. I think it will be out before mine.... I’m gonna mix mine in November and my goal is to put it out by the end of summer 2007. I’m expecting he’ll have his record out in the spring. Its really good—since it’s not me, I can talk about it [laughs]. I’m real proud of him on it. I think it’s a fine record and it shows off some sides of what he does that he’s not able to fully explore in this band, in a band with two other writers and such a thing of its own going. I really think it’s been good for him to make a record that really fully examines what all he can do. He’s quite a talent. LS: With all the press leading up to the release of A Blessing And A Curse, I think that a lot of people thought that this was going to be the one to really blow up. I’ve been a fan for a long time and its funny how you guys haven’t taken giant leaps. It’s just been this continued progression—now you’re coming back to town playing an even bigger venue. PH: It’s a bit of a crazy time in the business, or that’s what everyone says. There are some things I would have liked to have seen this record do that it didn’t do but I’m really proud of the record. I don’t know what I would have done differently, certainly nothing to do with the record itself. I felt like it got a good push before it came out, but then I kind of felt like after it came out.... We toured, we pushed, and Traci [Thomas, head of publicity for New West Records] got us a lot of press. And people wrote nice things: the reviews were generally extremely positive and even the handful that weren’t were a very big minority. But, beyond that, it can be a little frustrating. LS: It’s a strange climate right now. It’s like you have to have a hook. A lot of bands like yours, that are playing great straight-up rock and roll, can’t seem to get the attention they deserve. PH: Well, the industry as a whole is going through such serious growing pains. Before, whenever a new format came out, it was the industry itself kind of leading the way. They came out with CDs and everybody made a lot of money. They came out with DVDs and everyone made a lot of money. But this whole computer thing kind of happened around them, and they spent the first several years trying to fight it instead of trying to find ways to make money off of it. Instead of embracing this new technology, they tried to stop a hurricane, and you can’t do that. Now they’re all trying to find ways to embrace the technology, but it’s been years and they lost a lot of ground. It serves a lot of 'em right. But it is a frustrating time to be in this business. We’re among the lucky ones. Our record sales aren’t huge or massive or anything like that but, as a live, touring band, we’ve grown every year at a pretty steady rate. The most important thing for me is that we can still make good music. We get together and can still come up with new songs that are worth recording. The artistic stuff is all a lot of fun and the show keeps growing. It’s just the areas where we’re at the mercy of the industry that things are a little bit strange. LS: I was in Murfreesboro last night seeing Glossary— PH: I love that band. They are like my favorite new band that no one has ever heard of. One of those guys is from my hometown, Todd Beane. LS: Yeah, he plays in my buddy’s band Ghostfinger. He remembered seeing you guys play in the ’Boro for about 15 people a couple years ago. PH: I remember that night. LS: Now you’re playing War Memorial, so the fan base has grown. Do you think it’s changed at all? PH: I’m sure. People come and go. The people who came to see us 10 years ago might have family or job commitments that make it harder for them to get out and see us. So we have to keep bringing in new fans to even keep it at the same level. People move on from a scene, or get to an age when they don’t have the time to spend following around their favorite band, so you have to keep reaching out, bringing in new folks. But, overall, its not like we’ve taken any huge, massive turns, tried to redefine ourselves as a techno band or anything. LS: I think that could work. It’s interesting that there is such an emphasis on you guys as a “Southern” band. Every single thing you read says “Southern rock, Southern rock...” I think that it gets a little overplayed. PH: I think it gets way overplayed. It’s a bummer. It’s pretty annoying. Yeah, you talk to me, my accent, it’s pretty obvious where we’re from and it manifests itself in our singing. But the term “Southern rock” just has so much baggage associated with it that to me, it’s almost like raising a red flag to a huge segment of people that might really like what we do, telling them to stay away at all costs. So many people, when they hear that term, picture rebel flags and right wing politics and we don’t carry around either. So, that’s kind of a bummer. Which, ironically, wasn’t the case with the bands in the beginning that the term first started getting applied to. They weren’t necessarily like that, but it’s just kind of how it’s become over the years. LS: Hearing Southern Rock Opera and being familiar with your earlier stuff, I think a lot of people didn’t get what that record was, that it was a concept record. Then when they heard Decoration Day, they were like, “Who’s this band?” And it’s the same band it’s always been. Its kind of interesting that at least in the public realm, you’ve sort of been swallowed by this mythology that you were trying to explore. PH: There’s a lot of truth to that. The way things go, everyone is looking for that easy tagline to apply to something, whether it’s politics or music, or movies. Southern rock is an easy tag just like alt-country might have been for some bands that might not have necessarily wanted to limit themselves to what that carries. We’ll see. Yet, at the same time, we’ll continue doing whatever it is we want to do and we’ll keep making records.  And if, at some point in time, some record we do catches on, then we’ll be lumped into another category. I think it’s just the nature of how things are, and probably best for us not to think about that end of it too much, or else it might drive us crazy. LS: The Dirty South is an interesting record because it’s group of specific little stories, while this new record is not that as much. I was also curious: you pulled two old songs, “Lookout Mountain” and “Tornadoes,” for The Dirty South, was that something you were always planning on doing or did that just sort of happen? PH: It was sort of the plan. It’s funny because I’ve always thought of The Dirty South as our follow up to Southern Rock Opera even though Decoration Day came out between the two. And, likewise, I kind Blessing And A Curse is really more a follow-up to Decoration Day than The Dirty South was. Both those records, Decoration Day and the new one kind of examine more personal-type stories, more matters of the heart and soul and things like that, whereas Rock Opera told this one big, massive, kind of unwieldy story. And The Dirty South is definitely a collection of short stories set to music—I appreciate your observation on that, because I definitely always thought of it that way. And those are kind of the two sides of what we, as a band, do and its kind of fun to veer back and forth. When we were planning The Dirty South a couple of those older songs did really fit well with what we were doing. “Lookout Mountain,” in particular, was a very last-minute decision. It actually replaced the song that was my favorite song I had written for the record, but we just didn’t have that magic take for it. When it came down to the final minutes of making that record, it was like, this song doesn’t need to be here, we need to save this for a later time and put “Lookout Mountain” on it. Because what this moment on the record needs is a really big, loud, full-on rock song, and “Lookout Mountain” fit like a glove right there. I’ve never regretted putting that song on there, I’ve never regretted leaving the other song off, even though the other song is truly one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. That gives me one ace card in my deck for the next record. The song we left off the The Dirty South wouldn’t have fit on Blessing And A Curse, so we never even considered it for that record. We wanted to do new songs, do what was brand new. So I can get back, when we do the next record, and take another stab—the song is called "Goode's Field Road"— and I think it’ll be fun. We’re probably more in a place—the right place—to record that song now, than we were two, or however many years ago when we made The Dirty South. LS: So what’s next? PH: We’ll be finishing this tour on Halloween and we’ll be doing some one-offs and some weekend stuff from time to time, but I’m not planning on the band touring, maybe even for all next year. Besides doing some one-offs to keep the lights on, I’d like to keep it off the road. We’re gonna make another record. I’m gonna put out my solo record, and Jason’s gonna put his record out and there is some outside production stuff I really want to find some time to do. And I want to spent some time with my family, spend some time enjoying life a little bit. It’s been a really hard year. We’ve been on the road since March almost non-stop, and I’ve got a very little daughter at home that I’m spending way too much time away from—and my wife—so I’m going to try and rectify that.

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