by Jeremy Morrison
Patterson Hood normally performs with his critically acclaimed band the Drive-By Truckers. Locally, folks will get a chance to hear them when the band plays Vinyl Music Hall in January. But first, Hood pays a visit to Pensacola for a Friday, Nov. 30, solo engagement at Pensacola State College’s Ashmore Auditorium.
Whereas the Truckers are “big and loud and kind of raucous,” Hood’s solo show tends to be a more intimate, “more cerebral” affair.
“Literally, it’s, like, me with an acoustic guitar, a chair and a microphone,” Hood told Inweekly recently.
The Drive-By Truckers are known for addressing the South’s conflicted landscapes, with perhaps the band’s most exemplary work being 2001’s double album “Southern Rock Opera.” The group’s latest album, 2016’s “American Band,” notably plows the country’s political and cultural divides.
Hood—whose father played bass in the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section—has been referred to as “the rock poet laureate of the South.” Like his musical partner of the past few decades, Mike Cooley, Hood’s work often explores the darker strains of a region where both grew up.
Looking ahead to his end-of-the-month performance in Pensacola, Hood took some time recently to speak with Inweekly about what folks can expect to hear at the upcoming show. The musician also shared his thoughts on a range of other topics, ranging from the parallels between Donald Trump and George Wallace to the recent release of an album recorded 28 years ago by his and Cooley’s first band, Adam’s House Cat.
Here is the interview in its entirety:
INWEEKLY: You’re on Truckers’ tour right now, right?
PATTERSON HOOD: Yeah, on Truckers’ tour. We actually have a couple of days off in Memphis. And we play Little Rock tomorrow, so it’s kind of cool having a couple of days off here. We just recently were here for a week making our next record, but basically we were at the studio the whole time. So it’s cool being here for a couple of days just chillin’.
INWEEKLY: What are you gonna do during your free time?
HOOD: Well, actually, I’m doing press all day today. I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping. We did five nights straight and I was a little under the weather this past weekend, and so I basically spent all day yesterday in bed and just trying to recover and get feeling better in time for the rest of the tour. And then today I’ve got about two hours of press, and then we’re going to go out and have a nice dinner tonight.
INWEEKLY: So with people who are familiar with the Drive-By Truckers but haven’t really gotten into your solo stuff, what can they expect on your upcoming solo tour?
HOOD: Yeah it’s, uh—where are you?
INWEEKLY: We’re in Pensacola. You’re hitting us on the 30th.
HOOD: Oh, Pensacola, cool. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever played solo in Pensacola. And I think, maybe once a long time ago, I did. Possibly, at, uh, oh my God, what’s it called?
HOOD: Sluggo’s! Maybe at Sluggo’s once upon a time.
INWEEKLY: Sluggo’s [Pensacola] is no more.
HOOD: Man, well, that’s a shame. It lasted a long time. We had kind of a legendary Sluggo’s show once upon a time in the original building it was in. But, yeah, it’s its own thing. Obviously, I play Truckers’ songs. I play songs off my solo records. I play brand new songs. I play really old songs. I play songs that often get kind of overlooked in the Truckers catalog because they’re just, for one reason or another, some quirk about ’em. They just don’t get played very often. So it’s kind of a wide variety of stuff. And, you know, of course, since the Truckers being big and loud and kind of raucous, the solo show’s kind of the opposite. It’s more of an emphasis on the storytelling. And it’s kind of quieter and more intimate and kind of its own thing.
INWEEKLY: It’s acoustic, right?
HOOD: Yeah. I’m playing acoustic. Literally, it’s, like, me with an acoustic guitar, a chair and a microphone. And I don’t really use a setlist. Like the Truckers doesn’t ever really use a set list, so I don’t really ever use a setlist. I kind of have like a master list of, like, 50 songs to pull out of. But it’s still kind of loose and can veer widely.
INWEEKLY: You enjoy switching it up, jumping from the loudness of the Truckers to a more stripped-down solo scene?
HOOD: Yeah, I do. I really do. I would hate to have to either do one or the other forever. It’s really nice after a long Truckers tour to then, the next time I go out, do something that’s kind of quiet and intimate. If nothing else, it rests my ears, you know? Because the Truckers show, I love doing it more than anything, but it does take a physical toll as we all get older because it’s a very physical show. You know, the Truckers play, we play over two hours almost every night and it is loud and it’s just a physical thing, which I love, I love that, but it’s nice to then go out and do the little more cerebral end of it sometimes.
INWEEKLY: Do you find that some of the songs that begin germinating in your solo work work their way up in the Trucker repertoire?
HOOD: For sure, for sure. I’ll be definitely playing some songs that will be on the next Truckers record and maybe a couple of new songs that won’t be because I am gonna do another solo record one of these days, not really anytime real soon, but I am working on writing towards another solo record that will probably, I’ll probably do it after the next Truckers record. And so there’s at least one song off of that that I’ve been out playing. So, yeah, it’s fun.
INWEEKLY: What is that song?
HOOD: It’s actually a song I wrote about my mom. I started doing it last year on my solo tour, and it fits real nicely in that show. It’s a sweet song; it’s kind of funny. It’s kind of funny. It’s kind of sad. It just kind of fits right in there with what those shows are. So I’ve been tending to play it a lot when I’ve been doing these.
INWEEKLY: Y’all’s last—the Truckers last album, “American Band”—was written before the 2016 election, but it kind of spoke to this divide within the nation.
HOOD: It’s unfortunately been timely as hell. When we made it, we thought it was gonna be like really timely for a few months. Which is kind of, I guess, sweetly naive in retrospect. And then it turned out that it got more timely after the election and, unfortunately, even more now, even than then, I think. I think it just kind of keeps becoming more and more, and that’s a bummer, you know? It’s, I guess, good career-wise, but it’s kind of a bummer. I really just assume that it not be. Song wise, it’s a fun record to play live because it’s got a lot of energy to it, it kind of rocks and there’s a lot of momentum to it. It definitely makes for a really good rock show. So I’ve enjoyed—the artistic end of it I’ve been really happy about, but I hate seeing—I hate our country going through this because it sucks. We’re not being the country that I think we should be.
INWEEKLY: Do you see a light at the end of that tunnel?
HOOD: Ehhhh, I don’t know. You know, maybe, a little one. A little one. You know, the thing is, you gotta give it to them, they played the long game. I mean, a lot of what’s happening with the Republican Party and the powers that be, it’s something that started in the era of Nixon, with the Southern Strategy. You know, there was a time when a huge portion of the Democratic Party was referred to as the Dixiecrats and they all defected, kind of en masse, and became, you know, kind of the heart and soul of this movement that is, you know, kind of running the country now. It’s like the old cliche, ‘The South’s gonna rise again,’ you know, it kind of did. That’s kind of what’s happened, as far as the worst aspects of the old South, Jim Crow South, has sort of taken control. I mean, the parallels between Trump and Wallace are pretty scary. Except Wallace was a lot smarter and that’s sad, that’s sad to say. And that’s coming from someone who has a lifelong issue with all things Wallace—you know, I’ve spent a pretty sizable part of my career writing about that and singing about that. You know, Southern Rock Opera was, so much about Southern Rock Opera was about growing up in the Wallace era in the Wallace South. So to see—I saw firsthand the damage that did to my home state and my home region. Not just to the people who were being oppressed by Jim Crow and all of that, but to the oppressors too, it really hurt our region in ways that we still haven’t totally recovered from or bounced back from—so to see our whole country, or not our whole country, but such a huge part of our country going down that road, blindly, full speed ahead is terrifying to me. Because I know where it leads and it’s not pretty. And I think, God, have we not evolved, have we not risen from that? And it’s not just Red State, Blue State, because—I mean, I live in Portland, Oregon, which is one of the most liberal cities in America, in the world, and five miles outside of the city limits you might as well be in Alabama. It’s very—rural Oregon and rural Alabama are politically—if anything, the Oregon version of it might be angrier because they’re in the minority there and because they’re outvoted by the city. So it’s sort of a militant Trump area. So it’s just disheartening to see it. And so many—you know, when you see former coal miners on TV, talking how Trump’s gonna bring it back, no, he’s not. He doesn’t give a fuck about those people. He doesn’t give a fuck about them. It’s like, dude, you’re being used, you really are. And if you wanna get to the heart and soul of where your problems are coming from, they’re not coming from south of the border. And they’re not gonna be fixed—honestly, it ain’t coming back. You need to find a leader that can help parlay your life into something else, you know, so that there is some future for you, because coal’s not coming back.
INWEEKLY: So I was thinking earlier, in preparing for this interview, y’all talk a lot about the “Duality of the Southern Thing.” Do you feel like that, you know, the kind of conflicted psyche or soul the Southerner can be extrapolated out and that thesis can pretty much—you know, you can pretty much say the “duality of the American thing” at this point?
HOOD: Yeah, I do, I do. I mean, I’ve really only just kind of begun to kind of see it that way. But, yeah, absolutely.
INWEEKLY: I read in an interview, you were talking about fear of the other.
INWEEKLY: Why do you think people are scared of each other? Why do you think people tend to fear things and other people that are different than themselves, and how does that situation improve?
HOOD: I mean, I think it takes being around the other. I think it takes—you know, if you spend time around a lot of different types of people. You see more of what we have in common than how we’re different. You know, it’s not this boogeyman that’s out to get you. I mean, yeah, horrific things happen, there are, you know, there is evil in the world and there are scary people all over from all walks of life. That’s gonna happen, but, you know, statistically, big picture, the majority of people you meet in your life are trying to do the best they can. They may have different needs than you sometimes about specific things or whatever, but most people are trying to do—they’re trying to get on with their life. They’re trying to raise their kids as well as they know how to. And it’s like that all over the world. And you meet people from all walks of life and you realize the things they got in common. It’s really shortsighted, and I guess it’s easy for—I think the reason the cities tend to be more liberal than the rural areas is because when you live in a city, you’re exposed to all that every day. You’re around people; you have to co-exist with so many people in your day-to-day life who are different, who do have differences from you, who are of a different race or ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation or whatever, and you just kind of—you learn to co-exist. And it’s not a boogeyman, you know? But if you’ve spent your whole life a small town, you know, rooting for the same football team and doing the same things for every weekend of your life with the same people, then there’s the, you know, “Well, them people out in California, they’re trying to impose their will on my”—you know, it’s like it’s out to get us, and it’s not out to get you. So I think that’s a lot of it. You know, the divide is—it’s so rural-urban now, and I don’t know the solution for it because, you know, the gun thing means something so different from a small, rural country town than it does in the city. But at the same time, the mass shooting thing is something that’s happening everywhere. You know, it’s happening at small Texas towns in a church as well as in a nightclub in a super-safe, liberal town outside of Malibu. You know, a church in Charleston and a school in Florida and a school in Colorado. You know, over and over. A college in Oregon.
INWEEKLY: It’s tough.
HOOD: It’s tough. And there is no easy answer and there is no absolute solution, but I can’t imagine not trying. Because there is ways you can curtail something and help it. You know, you can’t stop it, but you can help it. And to not try to help it seems insane to me and I can’t get that. And the whole disconnect with just the propaganda from the NRA, which basically has just become this racist fucking organization anyways. Of course, we address that and Cooley addresses that so well in a couple of his songs on this last record, but it’s just—I don’t know, it’s just frightening to me and it’s sad.
INWEEKLY: A while back in Athens, you had a neighbor shot by the police…
INWEEKLY: And you wrote a song about that, “What It Means.” How did that experience impact you, both personally and as a songwriter?
HOOD: I mean, it took me 19 years to write that song. I thought about it and I thought about it, and it was something that lingered in my head for so long. And I wrote that song all those years later in the wake of the protest in Ferguson and the Trayvon Martin murder and all of that and so, you know, it’s like again what we were talking about earlier, with the whole Wallace thing, it’s like have we not evolved? Have we not learned anything? Does it still have to be this way? I mean, you know, that was such a heartbreaking story, you know, when it happened to my neighbor, and it’s still happening to people’s neighbors. And, I don’t know, it’s sad to me.
INWEEKLY: So why did you decide to move out West, and how are you liking Portland?
HOOD: Oh, I love it. It’s a beautiful, beautiful city. It’s a long story, but I was—I had recently turned 50 around that time and I thought, you know, I’ve lived my entire life in basically, essentially two towns and two neighboring states. I’d lived in Alabama for 30 years; I lived in Georgia for 21 years. And it had never really occurred to me that I would never live anywhere else. You know, I’d always figured I would go experience living in a different part of the world, a different region.
HOOD: Maybe even a different country at some point. And, you know, with a family and kids and all that, I had to be less ambitious about thinking what I would do if there was gonna be some new chapter. But I was ready for a new chapter, just to experience it. I thought it’d be good for me as a writer and an artist. And I thought it’d be good for my family. And my wife was having the same—she was in a very similar place, and having the same feelings. And they basically developed us out of our house in Athens. We were in a part of town—we were literally the last holdouts in a neighborhood that was being leveled and developed into luxury college student apartments. And we’d already fought off a Walmart that they tried to build next door to our house. And we actually won that one. But a year later, a different developer came through and bought everything around us and basically forced us out of our house.
INWEEKLY: That’s too bad.
HOOD: All of that kind of necessitated that we were going to have to move anyway, and we were like, ‘Well, shit, are we gonna go experience something different or are we just gonna go get another house in another neighborhood?’ You know, it’s hard moving your family across country, and, you know, if I had it to do over, knowing everything I know now—if I’d known everything I know now before I did it, I’m not sure we would’ve done it because it was brutal in ways that we probably were naive and didn’t foresee. But part of me is glad I didn’t know better because I’m glad we’re there. I’m glad we did it. And now that we’ve kind of come out the other side and survived it somehow, I’m pretty happy to be there. I love it. It’s a beautiful city, and it’s definitely been wonderful for me as an artist. I think the last two Trucker albums—that’s including the one we just recorded that’s not out yet—have really greatly benefited from what it did for me as a writer and as an artist. So it’s been a good experience, you know? It’s good to shake things up if you can survive it.
INWEEKLY: With your body of work being so deeply rooted in the South, how has living in a different part of the country impacted you? Has it changed your perspective? Do you view things—you know, the lens through which you view things, is it different at all?
HOOD: Not really. For starters, I lived in Athens for 21 years. And the differences between Athens, Ga., and Portland, Ore., are far less than the things they have in common. I mean, they may be on opposite ends of the country—and Portland’s a much bigger city, Athens is a small town—but demographically, there’s a lot of similarities. They’re both almost identical political demographics. They both went for the Democrats at around a 70 percent margin in the most recent elections. They’re both very artistic, artsy towns with nice music scenes. The way bigger difference was when I moved from my hometown in Alabama to Athens, was actually the big difference. So that part hasn’t been that different. And I’ve been on the road for 22 years, you know. I’ve spent half of every year for the last 22 years all over the country, all over Europe, Australia, you know. We tour all the time, so it’s not like all of the sudden I saw things through a different lens. You know, I’d spent a lot of time in Portland before I moved there.
INWEEKLY: About a year ago, you released “A Perilous Night” as a single, and I read in an interview after that that you were hoping that you could then take a break from writing stuff that was dealing with politics or issues of the day. Have you been able to take a break? Do you feel like you’ve been able to step away from that subject matter?
HOOD: It’s complex. It’s funny because on some levels, the next record is as political as the last one, but it’s lots different. It’s way more personal. I would tell people when we were doing press for the last record, it’s not necessarily political; it’s also personal. But this time, it’s more personal. This is almost more like living with the damage done kind of and where it’s put us, having gone through what we’ve gone through for the last few years is, you know—I don’t think there’s anything on the record as—I mean, “Perilous Night” does kind of come off as like the missing last piece of “American Band,” and this record is definitely its own thing, kind of differently. It doesn’t approach it from the same slant as “Perilous Night.” And so I stayed true to what I said as far as that goes, but, you know, at the same time, there’s no really turning it off right now because it’s not over. We’re still in the middle of this shit. It took me a real long time to figure out what my voice was for this next record, and I wrote and discarded songs for about a year and a half before I kind of found what I was looking for and started writing the songs that are going to be on this record. So it was a really long process, but I feel really good about what we’ve done.
INWEEKLY: Do you see this next album at all like a companion piece to “American Band,” you know, like a before and after?
HOOD: I kind of see it as its own thing. I mean, like I said, there’s definitely some common ground, but it doesn’t come off—it comes off as its own thing. In some ways, it reminds me more of “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark” than any record we’ve made because it’s kind of—it’s a little bit of a sprawling record, and it’s kind of musically all over the map. Almost every song is musically different from the song before it and the song after it. It’s just real. It’s probably the most musically diverse thing we’ve ever done. And yet I think it’s strangely very cohesive and I’m pretty proud of all of that about it. I’m excited about it. We’re already out playing a few songs from it. We’re previewing a few things, and there’s a bunch of stuff that we’re kind of intentionally not playing yet because we’re wanting to, you know—with everybody putting songs up on the internet, I don’t want the whole record to be, like, a year old before it comes out. But there’s some stuff that’s just so of this moment we all feel compelled to be playing ’em. And I’m sure I’ll do at least two or three of those songs when I come to Pensacola.
INWEEKLY: What’s the reaction been? What’s the feedback on that been?
HOOD: Really positive. The feedback’s been really positive. Everyone who’s heard the new record has been beyond excited about it. And likewise, the reaction to the new songs when we play them live, it tends to be—you know, kind of consider it a high point of the show. So we’re all very encouraged and excited about that.
INWEEKLY: I read a while back something from Neil Young where he was saying he was having to keep writing protest songs because there wasn’t enough current musicians doing that. How do you see today’s musical generation addressing what’s going on in the country and the world, and do you think it’s a musician’s or an artist’s responsibility to make comment on that?
HOOD: I’m hesitant about speaking for other artists as far as what their responsibilities are. I mean, I felt like it was my responsibility because I felt so strongly about it. You know, Cooley and myself and all the guys in my band, we’re all pretty informed. I mean, we stay really up on stuff. So much happens within any given 24-hour news cycle now that it’s probably impossible and probably bad for your mental health to stay 100 percent up on everything right now, but we’re really pretty goddamn up on it. And I have been most of my life. I was that kid that came home from school and watched the Watergate hearings when I was 8 years old, so I’ve always kinda been that way, and it’s always been kinda part of what I do writing-wise. So, yeah, it felt very much like the cliché of you-write-what-you-feel. Well, I feel real strongly about it, so I write what I feel, you know, and that’s why when people basically say, “Shut up and sing,” I say, “Go fuck yourself,” cause, you know, this is what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. I’ve never been the kind of writer that wrote the type of pop songs that don’t really have some kind of social content to ’em. I’m not gonna put down those because I love it. I mean, I love an AC/DC record as much as anything in the world, but I’m not capable of writing that song. That’s not the way I write. Or a—you know, I love AM, Top 40, you know, ‘70s AM gold as much as anybody. I love those one-hit wonder AM radio songs of my youth. I love that kind of thing. I love “Chevy Van,” but that’s not what I write, and that’s never been what I write. To not address—and it would be wrong for Neil Young to not address it. I mean, he wrote fucking “Ohio” for Christ’s sake, you know, which he wrote within what, two or three days of Kent State he wrote that song. I mean, they had that song—in those days, you’d write a song, go and record it and put it out immediately. That song was on the radio within less than a month, I think less than three weeks after Kent State, “Ohio” was on the radio. You can kind of do that again now with the internet the way it is. You know, “Perilous Night” was written in the wake of the Charlottesville bullshit and in the wake of the president saying that both sides were to blame—which is just—it’s like, “What the fuck? Are you kidding me? Would you be in Nazi Germany saying both sides are to blame? Probably. Asshole, you know, fuck you.” And we had that song out. We had it up on the internet six weeks later I think and had the 45 out a month after that. And I love being able to do stuff quick like that. It’s weird for me, having a newly finished record that we’re not putting out immediately, but that’s another story.
INWEEKLY: When does your record come out?
HOOD: It’s going to be probably—it’s probably going to be the beginning of next fall or end of summer.
INWEEKLY: Oh, wow.
HOOD: Mainly because we’re booked; we’re busy. We’re busy right now. And, you know, the realities of the music business now is that there’s a certain amount that has to be done to launch a new record. And we wanted to take some time off this summer. We kind of, for one time in our life ever, are trying to do the right thing for ourselves on a personal level. And it’s like, before we start this process—I mean, we’ve been touring for, you know, two years and three months already on “American Band.” Before we start that process again, we all need a little bit of time off with our families. We toured all last summer, and I wanna take some time off this coming summer, you know, to be with my family before we start all this again. We kinda made a conscious effort to slow down the process a little bit.
INWEEKLY: Have y’all learned how to do that pretty well at this point, now that you’re getting older?
HOOD: No, it’s still a work in progress at best. It was a conscious decision when we decided to take the time off next summer. We were like, “Wow, wait a minute. We can do that. Shit, what a concept. We can do that.” And I think it’s going to serve us all better in the long run, us doing that, doing it that way. But, no, we hardly ever have done that. We try to strike a balance between work and home because we do all have kids. And our kids now are getting older, and, you know, we’re really starting to face the ticking clock of how long we’re going to actually have any say-so whatsoever in their lives. And I think all of us are good parents. We’ve all really worked hard at doing the right thing for our families and our kids and everything through most of this. But that time is ticking. I mean, Cooley’s son will get his driver’s license next summer. And he’s like, “You know, I’d really like to be there when he’s learning how to drive and doing that.” And it’s like, fuck yeah, you should be there.
INWEEKLY: It’s a milestone.
HOOD. Yeah. So, yeah, we’re trying.
INWEEKLY: Let’s wrap this up by going back to the beginning with y’all. Tell me a little bit about Adam’s House Cat and this album y’all just put out.
HOOD: Yeah, we, Cooley and I, formed Adam’s House Cat in 1985, and from ‘85 to ’91, that was what we did. We put everything we had into that band, and at the time, it was kind of a dismal failure as far as, like, we never really built a following. We never really were able to launch it beyond a three-state area, you know, for playing live and touring. Hey, we never made it as far as Pensacola. Literally, we didn’t. Sluggo’s was already around in that era. It would have been—that would have been a great place for us to play, but we never really made it down there. So we made this record—what we basically did was we practiced all the time. For six years, we practiced and we wrote songs and we worked up songs and then we wrote new songs and we worked ’em up. I mean, we had albums and albums worth of material. And, I mean, we didn’t have a record deal. In those days, it was harder to do it yourselves, and we didn’t really know how to do it ourselves. We were in a town where there wasn’t a scene, so we didn’t have other bands to learn from. There were mistakes we were making that if we had been around two other bands we would have seen firsthand, “Oh, wait. You don’t do that shit. That’s stupid.” We didn’t have that. So we were kind of uneducated in a pretty brutal way about what we were doing. But we were a good band. We became a really good band. We had a great fucking drummer. And I was already writing pretty decent songs, and Cooley was a pretty great guitar player, and it was—you know, we had this cool thing going. And we made this album in November of ’90. We finished it over the spring and tried to find somebody willing to help us put it out. And we were gonna relocate the band to Memphis, and in the process of doing that, we basically broke up the band. The record never came out. And, you know, that was something that kind of ate at us for a long time because we had this thing we were proud of that never saw the light of day. And, fortunately, Cooley and I went on and kept playing together in other bands, and then we started the Truckers, and we’ve had an amazing career and all that. But we located the missing tapes of the record in the last few years, so my New Year’s resolution this year was that we were gonna get that record out and we were gonna remix it because the old mixes were lost forever. So we were gonna remix it and put it out. And, you know, I have a photo for the cover that I’ve had, literally, for 26 years. It’s been the album cover for that that’s been hanging on my wall, “Oh, yeah, that’s the Adam’s House Cat album cover. Someday when that record comes out …” So it was great to finally get to do it and have closure for that. And people have really liked it. I mean, it’s a good record. It’s gotten great reviews and our fanbase has been pretty ecstatic about it. You know, it kinda shows where we came from and how we became what we became with this band. So it’s kind of cool. And it holds up. I think it holds up alongside a lot of even the better Trucker records, so that’s cool.
INWEEKLY: That is cool. So, you got anything else you wanna throw in here?
HOOD: Man, I think we covered it.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30
WHERE: Pensacola State College, Ashmore Auditorium, 1000 College Blvd.