A brief conversation with Patterson Hood of the Drive-by Truckers
By Austin Powell,
12:58PM, Fri. Sep. 24, 2010
The pride of the South, Athens, Ga.'s Drive-by Truckers pull into Stubb's tonight. During a brief layover in Alabama, leader Patterson Hood sounded off on his new solo album, the Truckers' recent comeback collaborations with Betty LaVette and Booker T, and the forthcoming Go-Go Boots.
Off the Record: Your new solo album Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs) was a long time in the making. What's the story there?
Patterson Hood: I kind of stumbled on some songs in late ’04. I was starting to think about writing the next Drive-by Truckers record, which became A Blessing and A Curse, and I was going back and listening to some old tapes. I stumbled onto a tape of songs from when I had first moved to Athens in 1994. I really liked that group of songs and was really happy with how well they had held up. I decided to write a batch of songs to go with them from the current point of view that I had in late '04 and ’05. In the intervening time, my life had really radically changed. I had gotten this band together and hit the road and everything else. At the time when I made the record, Murdering Oscar, I had just had a baby, and I was a different person in a lot of ways. It was like the early songs I liked were from a different artist. I put the old and new songs pretty much side by side to reflect that. Then for reasons that I can only describe as record industry bullshit, the record sat for another for or five years before it finally came out last year. It was also the first time that I had worked my father, and that was pretty cool. It was a long process, just like me answering that question.
OTR: What took so long for you two to work together?
PH: We were both in music but on very different ends of it. He’s a session guy, and I always had bands. Punk rock had been our generational gap. That happened when I was in junior high school, and he was in the midst of playing with a lot of the performers that the punk rockers were sneering at. Up until that point we liked a lot of the same music. It’s ironic because a lot of those bands that he made fun of me for liking at the time are really respected parts of music history nowadays, and in a lot of cases, bands that he really likes, like the Clash or whoever. He can appreciate the musical things they did now, but in '77 or ’78 he wasn’t seeing it that way.
OTR: It was probably around that time or a little earlier that he was working with Bettye LaVette right?
PH: It was a little before that. He worked with Bettye in 1972. In the late 1970s, he would’ve been working with Rod Stewart and Bob Seger and a lot of those acts, as well as things like the Oak Ridge Boys on the less rockin’ side of the scale. It took a long time. I was forging my own trail too. It was great to actually work with him on the record. It was a blast, and in the last year, he’s sat in with our band too, and we’ve been having some fun with that.
OTR: Did he give you an idea of what to expect from Bettye LaVette?
PH: No, he didn’t warn me [laughs]. The record he made with her, she was a young artist with a huge buzz. It looked like she was going to be the next big thing. It was a pretty different dynamic for them. By the time we worked with her, she had been through 35 years of pretty much hell, and had come out of the other side due mostly to her insanely well-tuned survival skills and stubbornness. All of a sudden, she was in a studio down in Alabama [Muscle Shoals] where she had one of her more traumatic experiences take place – that was the record that got shelved for all of those years by Atlantic - and her future is seemingly in the hands of these crazy rednecks in a rock & roll band. It took a while for us to earn her respect. It was a little intense, but it all worked out and I think she ended up happy with the record that we made [Scene of the Crime].
OTR: And your dad was involved in those sessions, right?
PH: Dad plays on I think three songs, maybe four. I was the co-producer so in a way I essentially hired my dad.
OTR: I hope he got a pay raise.
PH: Shit. I don’t think anybody got paid much for that record. It wasn’t that kind of thing. It was a labor of love. I don’t think anybody got rich on it.
OTR: I read that Bettye shot down most of your song suggestions for the record.
PH: I sent her about 50 songs, something like that. She didn’t use a single one of them.
OTR: Do you think she listened to them?
PH: I have no idea. Like I said, it all worked out. There were a couple of songs that I’d still love to hear her tackle for sure. With her voice, can’t you just hear her doing a version of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”? I’m sorry, but would that not be stunning? I had an arrangement of PJ Harvey’s “Is This Desire?” that would’ve been a good rocker for the record. Maybe someday.
OTR: I love this whole trend of connecting legends with their not-so-apparent heirs, like Jeff Tweedy with Mavis Staples or Okkervil River with Roky Erickson.
PH: Man, that’s my favorite record [True Love Cast Out All Evil] of the year so far. I actually played it again last night. I’m going to write Will [Sheff] a fan letter because that’s really an amazing record. I’m a lover of liner notes, and his are fantastic on that.
OTR: The Truckers recently released a new album, The Big To-Do, but it sounds like that's only half of the picture. What can you tell me about Go-Go Boots?
PH: It’s kind of the polar opposite Drive-by Truckers record. We’re a bit of schizophrenic band. This is the other side. It’s darker and spookier and maybe a bit more mysterious. It delves deeper into the story-telling aspect of things. Musically, it’s our country-soul record in some ways. It’s definitely influenced by the music of Eddie Hinton and Bobby Wommack and where we came from originally, the Muscle Shoals sound. I’m really proud of it. There’s a certain way of playing where you learn to stay out of everybody’s way, but yet you’re still playing. That’s something that we’ve been working towards since the Bettye record, and we've finally gotten there.