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The Catalyst interview: Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood

Bill DeYoung



Patterson Hood co-founded Drive-By Truckers (with Mike Cooley) in Athens, Georgia in 1996. Publicity photo.

Sonically, Drive-By Truckers are like Neil Young’s Crazy Horse, Exile-era Stones, the Replacements and Whiskeytown loaded into a blender set on Puree; they’re a crunchy-guitar band with country chord changes and lyrical songs that rise like molasses through the murk.

Patterson Hood has been one of the band’s two singing, songwriting frontmen since the earliest days; he and fellow guitarist Mike Cooley played together while students at the University of Alabama. Their band (Adam’s House Cat) broke up, and the two like-minded amigos met again in Athens – Georgia’s hotbed of hipster musicality – and created Drive-By Truckers in 1996.

After 14 albums, tour dates in the thousands and the loss of countless temporary personnel (including alt-country stalwarts Jason Isbell and John Neff), Drive-By Truckers are still very much in the game, still writing and recording relevant music, and still fronted by Hood and Cooley.

In 2023, the band will take to the road once again, in support of the new (ish) Welcome 2 Club XII album, which finds the two main songwriters looking back at their misspent youth as Alabama layabouts (Adam’s House Cat performed at the titular club, outside of Muscle Shoals).

It’s not exactly lighthearted – Hood and Cooley are Southern Gothic poets, which means there’s darkness and reflection even in the face of the bittersweet nostalgia.

Yet the record represents a big pivot from the bleakness that imbued The Unraveling and The New OK, both released in 2020, during the days of Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, the 45th president and more reasons to bemoan the country’s fall from some sort of grace.

Hood is on a brief solo acoustic tour, and he’ll visit the Attic at Rock Brothers Brewing (in Tampa) Saturday and Sunday (that’s two separate shows).

Tickets for the Attic shows are here.


St. Pete Catalyst: I understand Welcome 2 Club XIII had an unusual genesis?

Patterson Hood: In some ways, this was the record I wanted to make after American Band (2016), and then the world went crazy, and kept gettin’ crazier. Then The Unraveling happened. Then the unraveling REALLY happened, and we made The New OK. Which wasn’t OK at all.

I wrote the rest of the songs in 2020, after things started easing up from the pandemic stuff, and it started looking like there might someday actually be shows again. The vaccine came around, and Trump lost.

We recorded it super-fast in the summer of ’21. We hadn’t seen each other in a year and a half, ‘cause of the pandemic, and we had dates. So we thought ‘Before we get onstage, we should probably make sure we remember how to play with each other. I don’t see us needing to rehearse songs that we’ve played a thousand times, so why don’t we just go into the studio, and everybody just demo the new songs we’ve written since we’ve seen each other, and see how it goes?’

So we booked three days of studio time, and at the end of it, it was like ‘Shit! I think we just made an album.’ We were all lookin’ at each other and sayin’ ‘I want to mix that and put it out, and call it done.’

There was a spirit to it – I guess from us being so glad to see each other. To me, the joy of the recording of it was a nice counter-balance to the basic darkness of so much of the songs. That really made me happy.


Tell me if I’m off-base here, but it almost feels to me like going back in time, to an earlier point in your lives, was like the ‘waiting to exhale’ moment after all the unrest and social reflection of The Unraveling and The New OK. That it was good to just have fun again.

For sure. I think that was important to us. And likewise when we really started going out and playin,’ I mean we had two essentially brand-new records we’d never toured behind. But that wasn’t really where our head was at when we started going out and playing again. We played a few songs off of those records. And I’m really proud of those records; I’m particularly proud of The Unraveling. I feel like we did good work on that record.

But having lived through 2020, I didn’t feel like being in that headspace for a rock show. I felt like turning it into something a little more celebratory. And honestly I didn’t feel like looking back. I felt like looking forward.


Some artists talk about constantly renewing themselves, like ‘I’m not doing that again – I’m going here now.’ Is that important to you?

Absolutely; I think that’s key to why we’re still a band. We’ve been a band for so long, and it’s gotten to the point now where it’s like we’re better friends with each other than we’ve ever been. We’re closer than we’ve ever been. I think we’re honestly tighter and better than we’ve ever been. And we have a lot of fun, so that’s why we keep doing it. Y’know, the economics of touring right now are kind of f—ked up; I think in some ways we could probably make more money doing something a little different, maybe, at this moment in time. But we really don’t want to, ‘cause we like our band, you know?


Well, that’s also known as integrity.

Yeah. How many bands honestly, truly like each other this far into it?


Drive-By Truckers, 2022. Big Hassle Media.

You and Cooley are pushing 40 years playing together?

Exactly, it’ll be 38 this summer. That’s f—ked up, man, that’s crazy, that’s a long goddam time.


You said you just started writing these songs about the early days, about Club XIII and Adam’s House Cat. How did you and Mike get on the exact same wavelength for what you were writing about?

It just happened. We didn’t talk about it. When we send each other our songs, it’s uncanny the degree to which that just keeps happening. And it’s been that way for a long time, from Pizza Deliverance (1999) and even from Gangstabilly (1998) onwards, it’s been that way.

When we played together in the old, old days, in pre-Drive-By Trucker bands, he didn’t even write songs. I wrote all the songs in Adam’s House Cat. And I always told him he oughta write – ‘man, you should be a f—kin’ songwriter, the way you think you should write this shit down.’ Back then, he was just an a—hole all the time! He didn’t want to hear that.

But it was true, and once he started writing, his first f—king songs were great. I had to write a thousand shitty songs before I figured out how to write a good one. But he actually came out of the bag writin’ pretty goddam good songs.


The band is all about energy – I would think a solo acoustic show is more about focusing on the words and their delivery. As a method of communication, what’s the difference for you?

The band is the band. That’s a really fun, amazing thing I get to do. I get to stand up there in the middle of all that shit. It’s like being in the middle of a three-ring circus, ‘cause I have all that stuff goin’ on around me, that I get to just kinda bounce off of, while I also have fun with the audience.

Y’know, the solo thing’s it’s own thing. I’ve really grown to love it. And I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at it. And it’s gotten to be its own thing, but it’s very different – even though I might play a lot of the same songs, it’s very intimate, there’s a lot more storytelling. It’s almost at times like a Spalding Grey kind of thing. My solo thing has kinda morphed a little bit in that direction. It’s kind of freeform, and on a good night there’s a lot of f—ked up banter!


Do you actually go the extra mile and talk about your lyrics – ‘If you listen, this is what I’m talking about’?

It’s never always the same. It depends and morphs and changes. There are certain marks that I can hit for sure, but at the same time how I hit ‘em, and what else I do in addition to that, can vary widely from night to night. ‘Cause it’s not like it’s all memorized or anything. The things that are just kinda get incorporated into the big soup – or the gumbo, or whatever.


You’re doing two nights here. Will it be the same setlist each time?

It’s usually pretty different, especially when I do multiple nights I try to change it up. There’ll be a few songs that I’ll probably want to do both nights, but there’ll be a good bit of it that’ll be different. I make a master list of songs for a tour, and the list this year is probably bigger than usual. It’s a pretty big list. And then I gotta figure out at least a basic idea of what off of there I hit on a given night.

Even then, once I’m up there, it can still change.


Requests, right?

It can happen. As long as it’s something I know!

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