A conversation with Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood [Music]

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Alt country-rock band Drive-By Truckers will be performing Friday night October 8th at 8:00 P.M. at the Brown Theatre. For over a decade-and-a-half and ten studio albums, the band with roots in Alabama and Georgia fronted by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, have been making a cerebral ruckus with songs that intertwine intelligent lyrics and memorable characters with big guitar hooks and a soulful romp.

They were in town for the Forecastle Festival in July but are returning to continue their tour in support of their latest release The Big To-Do. Recently, Hood was nice enough to take some time while on a tour stop in Akron to discuss the band's evolution, their stage show, and their forthcoming album that takes the band's sound in a new direction.

Louisville.com: You guys were just here just a few months ago (July at Forecastle), and before that show you mentioned that with The Big To-Do, you wanted to have something that captures the fun and excitement of the live shows. Since you started performing those songs live, how has that evolved over the summer and into the fall?

Patterson: It's been a good tour. It's been a real good tour; the shows have been high energy and I think a lot of fun. It evolves every night as far as that goes because we don't do a set list or anything like that. So every night is different, so you don't really know which songs will get pulled out. You know I don't know what Cooley's going to play next when I point to him, and vice versa. So, there's always that element to it, which I think keeps it fresh and keeps it changing a lot each day. There's sometimes when we can veer off on a tangent, and that can be a real good thing or probably could be a train wreck sometimes. That keeps it more fun.

Louisville.com: Have you or Mike ever started playing a song that the rest of the band hasn't played in a long time, and maybe didn't know their way around?

Patterson: Oh, that can happen from time to time. I mean, we've played a lot of shows this year, so everybody's pretty sharp on about everything right now. There ‘s a handful of songs that just don't get played for one reason or the other either it doesn't fit with the newer stuff we're doing, or it's something we've grown old on, or a song from a former member. But I'd say we probably at any given time have 125, 140 songs to choose from, to pull out at any moment. So, anything can go.

Louisville.com: That's a great thing as far as keeping the crowd happy and not knowing what to expect. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the show in Louisville at Forecastle, but I did hear some of it on the radio. Perhaps it was just the radio mix, but the keyboards sounded more prominent than ever. Is that the mix or is the more emphasized piano related to the sound of the latest record and the next one?

Patterson: I have no idea what the radio mix is like as far as that goes. That's one of those variables that's out of our hands. We have our live sound guy who mixes the show, but usually things like radio broadcasts - it all feeds to another board somewhere at the radio station, so it can be remixed. You know, I've certainly heard radio mixes later that someone sent me a disc of and I'm kind of horrified. I've seen them where they've left an entire guitar player off, and it's like "they've got enough guitar players." (Laughs) "They don't need another one."

Sometimes crazy things can happen, but (keyboardist) Jay's (Gonzalez) become a very important prominent part of the band. He's certainly not buried in the mix up there. What he plays is so tasteful that even turned up, it's going to be controlled and correct - whatever he's playing. It's been great having that other voice in the band as far as the sound as well as his vocals and his melodic contributions. He's a huge part of the band and has really brought some cool new life into some old songs, too. There's songs that maybe I had never taken to before from older records that all of a sudden have become some of our favorites to play live now because of his contributions.

Louisville.com: I guess I was reading into the radio mix a bit because I knew you were working on the follow-up record Go-Go Boots (due in February) and you had said it would have some RnB ballads. And on The Big To-Do, there are some soulful songs like You Got Another and It's Going to Be (I Told You So). So, is the forthcoming record something that goes back to some of your influences as far as Rnb and Soul and Muscle Shoals?

Patterson: It's by far our most Muscle Shoals sounding record. By far. I'm not sure I was completely even aware to what extent until we were finishing it up and I was listening to it. And it was like, "Wow, this sounds more like the records that were made where we come from than anything we've ever done. And I guess that's just a natural extension. It's been in us all this time, but we probably hopefully have gotten better as players and the more you learn how to play, sometimes the less you play...We just put the emphasis on a different place. It's a process that we've been working toward for a number of years starting with doing the Bettye LaVette record (Scene of the Crime) which we were intentionally exploring that aspect of what we were hoping we might could do, and then doing Booker's record (Booker T. Jones' Potato Hole), so Go-Go Boots is definitely a natural extension of having done those records.

Louisville.com: It seems like all good artists who have a long career - from Neil Young to Elvis Costello - they evolve.

Patterson: And our band has definitely been a very evolving band, and it's been due to a combination of unnatural inclinations to start with or to be that kind of band anyway. Cooley and I - if I was solo - I think my music would have evolved a lot over those fifteen years, as would Cooley's. And plus we've had a number of personnel changes, so this band - you can kind of look back and see one, two, three, four very distinctive eras of this band so bar that our ten albums have come out of these four different distinctive eras and sounds of the band. And I'm proud of all of them. I'm proud of all four of them.

Louisville.com: One of the constants, though, has been your songwriting. The characters in your songs make me wonder if you have ever considered writing a novel or screenplay or some form of storytelling outside of songwriting because some of your songs lend themselves to that format.

Patterson: Well, thanks. I have. I've got a couple of different projects like that I'm working on but not with any kind of specific plan of completion. I've got a book I work on, but I'm nowhere close to finishing it or having it in a form, or I may at some point abandon it and write a completely different one that I actually write and finish. But it's just something that I dabble in almost like a hobby -that kind of writing and short stories. I can probably put together a pretty decent book of short stories and possibly publish it at some point, and I've got a couple of screenplays that I've been working on for years and years that may or may not ever get finished much less filmed. Who knows? Well, they might. A lot of it has to do with just how busy I am with the band. I've always kind of said that if the band ever takes a hiatus like a year or so hiatus. I very well make a movie during it. We'll have to see.

Louisville.com: Speaking of movies, the documentary on you guys The Secret To A Happy Ending was screened at a film festival. Is that going to be released or on DVD soon?

Patterson: They're working on it. It's just been a long, massive legal obstacle, but it definitely will come out and probably sooner as opposed to later. I don't want to jinx it, but I'm hoping sometime early next year. I know that Barr (Weissman) who directed it would like to see it come out so that he might someday recoup a little bit of the money he spent on it because he financed it out of his pocket, and his wife's pocket , and his family's pocket so I know he'd love to see it come out. And he did such a great job with it.

I'd like it more if I wasn't in it. (Laughs) It's kind of a painful story to watch play out on the screen, but as a movie lover and a film buff, I think it's a really well made, good film, and I'm proud that our name is associated with a good film. Nothing would be more lame that if it were a lousy movie and have our name all over it. So, I'm proud of it from that standpoint, but it does take place during one of the more painful, difficult times in our history, and we've on since then, but it's kind of like you see it and going back in time to a lesser good part of your life, and watching it on the big screen. So, it's kind of strange from that standpoint.

Louisville.com: Most of us don't get a chance to do that.

Patterson: It's probably not a natural thing to do. A big percentage of all marriages end in divorce, but usually you don't have to watch a movie about it on TV. (Laughs)

Louisville.com: So no Drive-By Truckers sort of KISS Meets The Phantom of The Park type of movie in the works where you guys are acting.

Patterson: I don't know. That would be fun. We've barely dipped our toes in the waters of making videos, but at some point in time, something like that could possibly happen where we did something very short form.

Louisville.com: Your lyrics are very cinematic, so I could see that.

Patterson: The biggest concern with that sort of thing is that the lyrics paint such vivid kind of cinematic pictures that I don't then want to match it imagery that's either literal to the image that's already there in words and lyrics and in the song, nor do I want to do something that detracts from it, so it's kind of a difficult balance, and that's a big reason why our band hasn't - to be such a band of film nuts - why we haven't dabbled further into that kind of medium. The little bit that has happened, I've been happy with like they did a video for This F------ Job this year; I guess they use the title for the radio version Working This Job, but I think the video for that - and our friend Scott Teems directed it and our friend Ray McKinnon was in it - and it takes the storyline of the song and the film itself shows what happens after the song. So, it's almost like the film is set to the song, but it actually showing what happens after the song. So, that was kind of cool. It was related imagery without being literal.

I really liked that - the way they pulled that off, and likewise Jason Thrasher did a little film to Ghost To Most a couple years ago with these children - like a black and white little film and these children playing overly realistic looking war games, and it's really cool looking, a really cool video, and I loved the way the imagery worked with the song without mirroring the song's imagery, and Cooley liked it. Cooley signed off on it, and he's generally not fond of that kind of thing at all. And it was done on like no budget at all, and honestly if we had just a couple of thousand dollars we could have thrown towards it, we could have probably taken that one to another level. At some point we might get a little further into that. We'll see.

Louisville.com: I'm guessing it would be tougher for a band like yourself that have good storytellers and like film to turn it over to a director and let them run with it. Is that harder for you to do?

Paterson: That would be hard for us, yeah. We are kind of control freaks, and it's so weird because it's such a huge part of what we do is out of control. That's kind of part of the whole thing. It's almost like we're control freaks up to this point, and then there's a point when the thing we're doing is absolutely out of control. That's the balance we really strive to maintain. It's like I want to P.A. to sound perfect ...but there's no control with what we do with it. Hence the no set list or the fact that songs sometimes get rearranged radically on the fly on stage without any notice. Like "Oh we're going to do this one as a samba now. OK , I see how we're rolling." (Laughs) Who knows?

Louisville.com: With having that control in mind, did you all ever retrieve the band sign from that San Diego show?

Patterson: No we didn't; we didn't. Actually, the venue bought us another one. We replaced it, and they were nice enough to pay for it, which I didn't actually ask them to, but they offered that up and we accepted it. But yeah, I had mixed feelings about posting that thing about it because on one hand it's like I'm whining something like that, and that wasn't the point at all. Nor was it a hard luck story. It was just "Can you believe someone would act like that? What a dick." And I was just kind of hoping that perhaps it would shame the guy into just giving it back just on principle because I felt offended that someone we had attempted to be kind of nice to and then tried to f--- us like that. I mean our fan base is really, really kick ass, and great. And so, there's going to be a bad apple every now and again. It's such a rare thing. Generally the people who come see our band are a pretty kick ass, excellent bunch of people.

Louisville.com: Well if we find the sign on ebay, we'll know how to trace the person down.

Patterson: Yeah, we'll know where it came from. And the guy was in the military, too. I know a number of people who are in the military, who would be very, very upset about somebody who wears the uniform acting like that. Everybody can go out and act the fool on a Saturday night, but there's certain things you don't do.

Louisville.com: You guys are headed back to the UK in November. I've seen some of your performance on Later with Jools Holland. We hear it in the opposite way - that bands like The Clash and The Jam were too British for American audiences, references don't translate to American audiences. Have you ever experienced the reverse with some of the subject matter or locales you reference, are they pretty well understood when you go to Europe?

Patterson: It's been a mixed bag. We're in a really interesting place over there right now, and I'm very eager to go and see how this plays out and what happens over the next year. When we first started this band, an original strategy, like the first day of the band, was like man, we're going to take this to Europe. It's going to be so cool. We're going to take this band to Europe, and that day in the studio on the our very first day as the Drive-By Truckers, that was kind of like my vow that this band was going to go to Europe. And it was six years later before we actually made it over there.

Our first tour we went over there and we had just finished Southern Rock Opera ourself, but it was before we got signed with Lost Highway, and we went over there as a completely indie band, completely on like a hair string budget, and we had this massively great first tour, and it's like holy s--- this is going to be even better than I thought. We're going to actually be big in Europe, and then hopefully maybe that will spread to the US. And then it kind of went south, and we've toured Europe ten or eleven times now , and for a number of years, it was just kind of depressing. Our record deal just wasn't very good over there, and just one thing after another. And I don't think the booking agent we had quite got us, quite understood what to do with us or where to put us. So, there's been all of these kind of like , almost like a better part of a decade of hard luck stories about trying to tour Europe to the point to where we really didn't even go very often in the past four years.

But it's all really kind of been turning around kind of rapidly and the new record, we're on a new deal over there, and The Big To-Do has sold more copies than any of our other records. We haven't even been there to tour behind it. Other than doing Jools Holland, and we did a TV show in Paris and a TV thing in Spain, and we still outsold all of the other records over there, and there's a lot of excitement from our label over there about the next record, about Go-Go Boots. They feel like us doing kind of - country soul is kind of a genre unto itself over there, and us doing a country-soul, Muscle Shoals kind of record is something they're really excited about. So, they're already planning singles over there for us. So, I'm kind of curious what's going to happen. We broke the top twenty in Spain with The Big To-Do. All of our UK dates are selling out. The whole UK part of the UK tour will be sold out by the time we get there, as will I'm pretty sure Spain and Norway and Sweden and probably Amsterdam. So, it's going to be a good little tour for us.

Louisville.com: That's great. It makes you glad you were persistent and kept going back to the UK. Speaking of tours, in 2007 or so, you all did the acoustic The Dirt Underneath tour . That was interesting to bring the louder, ruckus songs down to the acoustic level. Do you do any parts of the show with an acoustic set or do you ever plan on revisiting that sort of tour?

Patterson: I don't know if it will ever happen or not. I mean I certainly would never say never. That was a great tour. I was really excited to do it. We really got a lot out of it. It was a period of rebirth for the band. Like I was talking about - the fur different eras of this band, that was pretty much the beginning of the fourth era. We intentionally stripped it down like that so that we could rebuild it from scratch without just being out touring after a huge personnel change going out playing the same songs with a new guitar player or something.

We intentionally kind of stripped it down so that it would it would build back from a new foundation, so that was a great tour. But it's just more fun for us to be out and be loud, you know. (Laughs) I can go out by myself with an acoustic guitar anytime I want to, and do a show or two or do a tour if I ever decide to, but there's certainly quieter moments within the show where we might break down for a song or two, but then it's always good to then be able to follow it up with something that's just louder than s---.

Louisville.com: Speaking of loud bands, a few years ago you had a band called The Drams opening for you and maybe Slobberbone. I know some huge fans of both you guys and Slobberbone, and they wondered if there's a chance - since Slobberbone has reunited - is there a chance they'd ever be on a bill as openers for you guys again?

Patterson: I'd love to do something with them. When they put out there next record, if they'd like to go out and play some shows with us, I would be all about it; I know we all would. They're such a great band, and we have a lot of history together. Some of my fondest memories involve touring with Slobberbone. I'd love to see that happen. We're still good friends. They all came to our Dallas show - all four of them were there and it was great, and we would have gotten them on stage with us for the finale, but they had a gig that night; they were playing a private party, so they were there for like our first five songs, and they had to leave. But we still got to hang out with them, so that was cool.

Louisville.com: You do come to Louisville a lot and get a lot of airplay. When you can to Forecastle this summer obviously you were focusing on The Big To-Do and you had the limitation of a time of the set. How might this show differ? Will you get into any of the new material from Go Go Boots? Or will just stick with The Big To-Do. I know you mix everything up, but -

Patterson: Yeah, anything goes. But Forecastle was fun, but we were working with a 45-minute set, maybe an hour set. That's a very different experience from seeing us in a club or a theater. The Brown Theater is beautiful and it sounds great, and it's a really great room for us, and I'd like to think it will be packed, and it will be a full big rock show. So it ‘ought to be real good. And we'll definitely preview a couple of songs off Go-Go Boots, We've been previewing a couple songs every night off of it, and we've been getting a really good response. It's going to be a fun thing to go out and do once it comes out.

Louisville.com: As we mentioned, you do come to Louisville a lot. Any Louisville memories that stand out - not to put you on the spot.

Paterson. Yeah, I really, really love Louisville. Of course we have some friends there - the Jacket folk (My Morning Jacket), and it's always great to see them. When I came through there and did my solo thing last year and played at Headliners with Screwtopians, Jim (James) was in town, and we all went out with him afterwards. And it was a lot of fun. Patrick (Hallahan) almost always comes out if they're in town. I don't know, they tour all the time, too. So it's always good from that standpoint. And we spent a few days staying at the Brown Hotel on a tour a few years ago, and it just worked out that we had a couple days off there. So it was a good town to have a couple days off in. Ear-X-tacy ... How are they doing? Did they work out their problems with their lease? Is it all OK?

Louisville.com: They actually moved down the street oh maybe a mile or two. It's a smaller space, but they have a stage built in. Maybe a little less inventory, but it's still a great store with great selection and stuff you can't find anywhere else.

Patterson: Yeah, I'm going to try and get a ride over to that part of town. I love ear-X-tacy; it's one of my favorites, I was hoping I'd get to play an in store there, but we're already doing this radio thing in town , so maybe next time.

Louisville.com: Well, we always look forward to a next time with you guys since you stop by so often. Well, Patterson thanks very much for taking the time to talk with us. And thanks for always supporting Louisville as well.

Patterson: Alright. Thank you very much.

The show starts at 8:00 P.M. when opening act Hill Country Revue takes the stage. Tickets are $25, and you can get them at The Kentucky Center for the Arts' website.

To get you in the mood for the show, check out this clip of them performing at ear-X-tacy.

About Kevin Sedelmeier
I am polite, and I'm rarely late. I like to eat ice cream, and really enjoy a nice pair of slacks.
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