As he geared up for another run of Drive By Truckers shows,including Tuesday, April 10 at Vinyl Music Hall, Patterson Hood spent a few minutes with the IN speaking about his band, the “duality of the Southern Thing” and how Newt Gingrich won Georgia in the primaries …
IN: Y’all have just wrapped up the first leg of your tour out West, right?
Hood: Yeah, yeah, it went really good. It went really great. Probably my favorite tour in a while. It was a really, really good one.
IN: Why is that? Why do you call it your favorite?
Hood: You know … some tours just go good. Everybody was healthy. Everybody was feeling good, everybody was having fun and we were kind of rested up because we haven’t been on the road as much lately. You know, we’ve been off a good bit this year, so far, and so everybody was kind of excited about going out and playing a few shows and we played a bunch of my favorite towns, kind of in a row, which is always fun, and it was just a really good, really good tour.
IN: And you’re starting off in Birmingham this next leg?
Hood: Yeah, yeah, yeah. With the Centro-matics, which is gonna be really fun. They’re, like, pretty much our best friend band, so that’s gonna be great.
IN: Are they doing the whole second leg with you?
Hood: They’re doing about half of it. A little over half of it.
IN: Do you guys find that you get a different reception down here in the South than you do elsewhere in the country? Or no, it’s about the same everywhere?
Hood: Ehhh, it can be a little different. It just varies, you know. It depends from town to town, but you know, I’ve always really liked Pensacola a lot. We used to play Pensacola all the time in the earlier days, we used to play at Sluggos, and there was a period, you know, where Sluggos was kind of in flux, and the band kind of started playing some bigger rooms and there wasn’t really, for a while there wasn’t really the right room for us; but I guess we’re playing, I can’t remember the name of the room, but I guess it’s where we played last time.
IN: Yeah, Vinyl.
Hood. Yeah, I liked that. I guess it’s pretty new still, isn’t it?
IN: Yeah, it’s been around a couple of years now.
Hood: Yeah, it was pretty new when we were there last time and that was a lot of fun. It’s a cool room, everybody was really nice and, you know, Pensacola’s a cool town. It’s kind of always been a pretty good—it’s always been kind of like a punk-rock town. I used to really, I always loved that band This Bike is a Pipe Bomb. I was a big fan of their’s and I actually cooked dinner for them one time. They were playing in Athens, a long time ago. I used to work, do sound at a club, in Athens where they used to play and I had them over for dinner. I fixed vegetarian spaghetti for them. So, you know, it was probably one of our earlier favorite towns.
IN: Yeah, it’s a nice place, and it’s kind of in your neck of the woods, close to the Alabama line.
IN: So, you grew up in northern Alabama? Muscle Shoals area?
IN: And your dad was in the Swampers, is that right?
Hood: That’s right
IN: Tell me a little bit about that. How did that effect your music?
Hood: I’m sure it has. You know, he … the most obvious way it effected it was just the record collection, because, you know, dad being a musician, he had tons of records and so as a little kid I spent a disproportionately huge amount of time in his den rummaging through his record collection and, you know, that was kind of my music education, really, was kind of breaking into dad’s record collection without him, without him knowing it necessarily.
And if the record had a cool album cover I would put it on … which is a lot of why I’m so picky about our album covers, because I always felt like that the cover reflects the music and that helps. And so, yeah, it was … I got turned on to some really good stuff that way.
Of course, you know, the music he played on would certainly be an influence too, although probably more so in my adult years than as a kid, just because a lot it, a lot of what he’s most famous for playing on tends to be more soul and R&B, and, you know, when I was growing up I probably gravitated more towards the more punk rock end of things, but, you know, I loved it all. Those old soul records are some of my favorite things ever made, and so I got to hear a lot of it because of dad.
IN: The Drive By Truckers kind of got tagged with the ‘southern rock’ label but you have kind of more of a punk rock vibe a lot of the time. What kind of music do you think you play?
Hood: I always like to just say ‘Rock ’n’ roll’ because that kind of incorporates, that includes all of it. To me all these different kind of sub-genres, it kind of gets to be a trap because then you get tagged as one type of thing of another … whereas, if you say ‘Rock ’n’ Roll,’ that can kind of incorporate all of it, because, from song to song, our band’s actually pretty eclectic if you go through the records.
I mean, a lot of the “Go-Go Boots” record, which is our most recent studio record, a lot of the “Go-Go Boots” was very R&B and soul influenced. And the record before that had a lot of songs that were pretty influenced by power pop and arena rock, and our earlier records had kind of a pretty heavy country influence.
And the punk rock influence has always been there, sometimes a little more obvious, or a little more on the front side than others. I guess our most obvious punk record would be the live album “Alabama Ass Whuppin,” but to me that influence has always been there and probably more than it gets noted a lot of the time.
Ironically, I kind of consider the Southern rock thing kind of among the least of what we do and, you know, we did a record that had that in the title that told a—it told a specific story and it was set in that era, you know, in the 70s, kind of southern rock heyday.
We used that to illustrate the story we were telling, you know, about growing up in the post-Civil Rights South, which was that same era. I guess the rise of what became known as Southern rock—and Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd—kind of correlated time-wise with the years shortly after the King assassination. Those were also the years that I was growing up and first discovering Rock ’n’ roll and music and going to the newly integrated schools of north Alabama.
And … because of that we kind of got stuck with that label, but we’ve never really been very comfortable with it and I didn’t ever really think—I didn’t think it described us very well other than, you know, maybe just the guitars themselves, but certainly not the songwriting.
I’d say, you know, on the Ronnie and Neil equation, I’d say we were probably more influenced by Neil than Ronnie, but you know. I don’t mean that as a slur toward the Ronnie side of the equation, because I do like, I do really like those old Lynyrd Skynyrd records or whatever, but that wasn’t really what I thought we were all about so it was just kind of funny that that became how we were known.
IN: You talk about the “duality of the Southern Thing.” What does that mean?
Hood: You know, it’s a, it’s a … you know, Southerns … it’s a strange region, it is strange down here, you know. There’s more churches per capita than bars and yet I know more hardcore alcoholics down here than I know in a lot of northern towns …
There’s , you know, for all the for all of our bad history with race issues, back in the, particularly back in the 60s and 70s, you know, there’s in some ways much more incorporation of black culture in our day to day lives down here than in a lot of other regions of the country, you know, all those things are sort of dualities to me, you know there’s the … We’re known for our manners and our Southern hospitality, but Southerners can be pretty brutal and gnarly too, you know, we can be a difficult bunch of people if pissed off.
We tend to vote for the very worst of the worst politicians. I mean, I think the southern politicians seem to be the worst of the worst and yet the people I know who don’t subscribe to the point of view of those politicians are some of the most fiercely progressively minded people you will ever meet. I guess you have to be fierce about your progressive ideas in order to have them survive in a region where they are seemingly under attack all the time.
Does that make sense?
IN: Yeah, I think that makes sense.
Hood: You know, there’s probably no more loyal or angry Democrat than a southern Democrat. Because there’s less of us down here. Of course, in the old days they were all Democrats. Everybody was Democrat down here in the old days. They just had that southern wing of the Democratic Party that was somewhere to the right of the Republicans, but, you know, somewhere around the 80s they all switched parties and that was setting the foundation for where things sit now.
That’s sort of a rambling answer, but it …
IN: No, no, you answered it. Speaking of southern politics and southern voters prone to electing mean, mean guys … you made a comment recently kind of towards the southern block of states going towards Santorum and Gingrich in the primaries. Why do you think southerners consistently vote for people that come out with, you know, with a mean-spirited message?
Hood: They’re assholes
IN: They’re assholes?
Hood: Why do we vote for assholes? I don’t really know. I don’t know why we vote for assholes? But we sure do, you know, I mean good God.
IN: It’s a mystery.
Hood: Gingrich took Georgia. That guy should have been gone … I thought he was gone years ago when they kicked him out, you know, when his own party removed him as Speaker of the House a decade and a half ago you would have thought that would have been the end, but he’s back and he wins Georgia.
IN: It’s amazing.
Hood: Don’t get me started, man, don’t get me started … I don’t know what the basis of that is. You go through my hometown you see— [phone disconnects]
[Hood calls back. Conversation continues.]
Hood: … they say ‘aww, the federal government is on our back and all that, and, you know, our area would not exist if it were not for what Roosevelt did. And I’m like, ‘I hear ya,’ … but the Muscle Shoals area of Alabama is pretty much on the map because of PBA [Public Buildings Administration], which was a Roosevelt program.
They still might not have power down there if it wasn’t for PBA and what Roosevelt did because the power companies didn’t want to run power lines down to that region because they said, ‘aww, those people are too poor to pay their power bill, so we’re not gonna, we’re not gonna do that.’
And Roosevelt mandated it and forced them to do it and then the utility companies that were forced to do it made more money than ever from it. I mean, it was like a huge success. And it put my hometown on the map.
That’s a very generalized—that’s a very generalized, microcosm version of a story, but it is, it’s like, man, your great granddad is probably rolling in his grave over what you’re saying because you just don’t know you’re own fucking history. You know? It’s the truth.
Of course, my band is, for better or worse, kind of obsessed with our own history. By our own history I mean the history of our region. American history, southern American history, you know, and especially 20th century history is a huge, huge part of our band. What we’ve done is largely inspired by that.
So it’s sometimes frustrating when I hear people say or do stupid things that don’t really have any kind of basis in fact.
IN: Do you see that as part of your band’s mission, to educate people about this kind of stuff?
Hood: I’m not really sure a rock back can really educate anybody much. The most we can do is show people a good time for a few hours and let them forget their troubles. And if more than a 100 actually thinks over something that was said and decides to look it up and learn something then that’s a huge victory.
It’s not really my job to try to change people’s minds. All I can really do is tell stories the best I can based on what I know and what I’ve researched and tried to learn and, you know, that’s a work in progress too. I’m an avid reader of all kinds of stuff and especially things that deal with history.
There’s only so much you can put into a five-minute rock song.
IN: Insofar as the band’s future, I know Shauna [Tucker] just left, do you have future plans for a bassist?
Hood: We’re touring with Matt Patton from the Dexateens on this tour. I don’t know if you ever saw them or not, but they were one of my very favorite bands. Fantastic band, great, great bass player. Yeah, that tour we just got home from, he was our bass player on that and he did an incredible job. He really brings a nice—he really brings a great energy to it all.
Yeah, so that’ s fun and that’s exciting, you know, and we’ll see what happens next, I don’t really know. We’re gonna take some time off and hopefully in the midst of all the things we have going on write a bunch of, hopefully a bunch of really kick-ass songs and make another record and do it all again.
IN: That’s your job, right?
Hood: The band’s definitely not done, but we are taking a much deeper hiatus than we’ve ever done, by far. And, you know, I’d planned on already kind of being off by now, but there were just some places that we really hadn’t gotten to on this last album’s worth of touring that I didn’t want to close up shop without getting to again and that includes coming back down around your way again
So, I’m kind of excited about going out and really playing the shit out of these 10 or 12 or ever how many shows it is that we’ve got coming up in April so that if we don’t make it back through for a while people will remember us fondly and wanna come see us when we do.
DRIVE BY TRUCKERS w/ CENTRO-MATIC
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 10
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox