My year end and decade end lists are coming up very shortly. You should expect the Drive-By Truckers to feature on both (especially the decade end one). So imagine my delight at being able to interview Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers. Here is what he had to say about returning to Ireland, new albums The Big To-Do and Go Go Boots, his favourite lyrics, his early band Adam’s House Cat, working with Booker T, and even selected his favourite albums of the decade.
Firstly, thanks for taking the time out to do this. With three main songwriters in the band, how do you decide what gets on the albums and what gets cut?
Patterson Hood: There always seems to be a few dominant songs which kind of establishes a theme or running thread the it is a matter of what songs fit and what songs don’t.
Everybody is really tough of themselves so the songs are generally really strong before they come in to the band. It is almost always the dominant writer who pulls a song out of running.
We all really love each other’s songs so it is often me or Shonna arguing in defense of a song Cooley wrote and vice versa. There is no room for ego or hidden agendas in this band. We always say “song is king” and every decision is based upon that premise. I think that is a bog part of what makes our band as good as it is.
Mythology is featured in many of your songs, do you have a favourite story or folk tale?
PH: I do love myths and legends. Folklore, storytelling, etc. All of these things are a big part of what we do and things we apply to our music. It’s a grand old tradition that isn’t done as much nowadays as in days past. We are all very much into the idea of keeping that old tradition alive as best we can.
You released B-Sides album The Fine Print earlier this year, do you have any plans to ever release other outtakes and unreleased songs, such as Neil Young’s Archives?
PH: We don’t really have that many outtakes. We do edit ourselves very heavily, but usually before the recording process begins. Usually if we like a song enough to actually record it, it’s considered a keeper. If we don’t get a good enough take for it to make the album we can it and try again the next album. There is a good bit of live archives but we don’t have any plans for them at this time. We do have our first live album (Alabama Ass Whuppin’ from 2000) that has been out of print for several years. I’d like to reissue that one day as well as the old Adam’s House Cat album that Cooley and I recorded in 1990 but right now our main concern is with our new material going forward.
What is your favourite lyric you have written? And what is a lyric you wish you had written yourself?
PH: Right now probably a new song (from the next album) called “The Wig He Made Her Wear” about a murder a few miles from where I grew up. I’ve always been really proud of “Heathens” “The Living Bubba” and “World of Hurt”. I wish I had written “Zip City” which is my all time favorite DBT song, but of course no one on earth could have written that except for Mike Cooley. I’m just lucky I got to play on it.
A lot of your shows are available online for download for free (such as on archive.org ), do you feel this helps your fans to connect with the music better?
PH: It seems like a good thing. Our fans like it and I would think it has helped to grow our fan base. It kind of fills the void from all of the radio play that we don’t get.
And how do you stand on the whole issue of online music piracy?
PH: There are certainly abuses but I don’t think there’s any plausible way to fight it. I sure don’t believe in suing our fans. We try to go the extra mile with our packaging and artwork to entice people to actually BUY the album. I would hope that by making it an appealing thing to actually own it would help sales. I would hope that people realize that we’re very much a working class band. We make a lot of our music available for free but I would hope that people who enjoy those freebies would at least support the cause by actually buying that new album that comes out (even if they downloaded it earlier before it came out). As I said, even if it’s to have the packaging. Our albums are packaged very beautifully.
Who are your influences, other than the groups and artists usually connected with you?
PH: Far too many to name. Todd Rundgren was a huge influence on me. All of us really love old country and soul music as well as punk rock and 70′s arena rock.
You played a co-headline tour with the Hold Steady this year which was fantastic. Are there any other artists you’d love to share a stage with?
PH: Tons of great bands out there. Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, M Ward, Radiohead, Any Jack White project. If the Stones were to ask, I wouldn’t say no.
And any you’d rather never play alongside again?
PH: No one I can think of. We’ve generally gotten along well with everyone we’ve ever toured with.
Since you spend a lot of time touring and playing live, surely there must be some really memorable concerts or concert moments that stand out. What has been the best concert? And the weirdest thing to happen at a gig?
PH: I have no idea. We’ve played way over 1,000 shows and I’m usually happy with them unless I’m sick or there’s some bullshit technical thing that keeps us from doing what we want to do. Obviously the audience has a lot to do with it, but were very fortunate to usually have very kick ass audiences. I always long for that moment of transcendence where we all lose ourselves in the moment. It happens more nights than not. There have been nights where we played more or less perfectly, but that wasn’t there and so I didn’t like the night. Other nights that might have had plenty of technical fuckups but we all lost ourselves in the moment and were very happy at the end.
Are you still friends with Jason, and do you listen to his albums?
PH: Yes and Yes. We don’t see each other very often, but I keep up with what he’s doing. He’s an amazing talent and I think his best days are still ahead. I’ll probably see him over the holidays.
Southern Rock Opera is a concept album about Skynyrd, any intentions to do any more records like this in the future?
PH: For starters, It’s only loosely based on their mythology and how that interacts with people’s perceptions of the part of the country we come from. It’s more printing the legend as John Ford would have said than a literal history. It could be argued that all of our albums are somewhat concept albums, even though some of them were not planned that way at all. The lines become very blurry, which of course I think is a good thing. I’ve come to terms with the fact that all of our albums deal with concepts, even when they’re not concept albums. There is always a running theme (or joke, or both) that ties all of it together.
What can you tell us about the new album, The Big To Do? Will it be a change in direction, or what are your main influences for it?
PH: It’s very much a Rock album. Very melodic and more Rocking than anything since disc 2 of Southern Rock Opera. We’re very proud of it. We actually recorded two complete opposite albums this year. The second one will come out sometime later. It’s called Go-Go Boots and is what we affectionately refer to as our R&B Murder Ballad album.
How did the album with Booker T come about?
PH: Booker T signed with ANTI Records, which put out the Bettye LaVette album that we played on (and I co-produced). Andy Kaulkin from ANTI asked if we’d like to do another project and we all said yes. Booker had always wanted to make a guitar based album and Andy played him some of our material and he thought it might work. We got together last fall and made the album in four days. I really hope we can make another one with him. We toured together some this year and I feel that we could really delve much further than we’ve been able to if given a chance.
Did you learn anything from working with Booker and Bettye LaVette that you have brought to your own shows or songwriting?
PH: We learned a lot from both of them. I think our last album (Brighter Than Creation’s Dark) was heavily influenced by having made Bettye’s album earlier that year and likewise I think working with Booker really influenced The Big To-Do. Booker’s album being all instrumental taught us a lot of how to nuance things musically in ways that really paid off when we started writing our new one. it made us all better players also.
And should we expect any guests on your own upcoming album?
PH: No, not on this one. David Barbe plays on a few things (like he almost always does on our albums) but otherwise no guests. We would like to do a guest laden album at some point, but this wasn’t the time.
I’m asking everyone this at the moment, but if you had to choose, what is your favourite album of the 00s?
PH: The Glands – The Glands (2000 – Capricorn Records) and Gillian Welch – Time The Revelator. I’m pretty obsessed with both of those albums.
Also, one last one, any chance of an Irish date in the future? You haven’t been here in years, and there’s a lot of whiskey here waiting to be drank…
PH: I can’t wait to play Ireland again. Hopefully next spring after The Big To-Do comes out.