I am delighted to present an interview with Drive By Truckers front man Patterson Hood. The questions were formulated by my attorney (a devoted DBT fan) and myself. The Drive By Truckers will be playing the 9:30 Club May 9 and 10th. I highly recommend you get tickets before they sell out. In case you are not familiar with the Drive By Truckers, they are the greatest band on the face of the earth.
Prince of Petworth: Any idea why you have such a fanatical following in our nation’s capital? Your shows always seem to sell out and are among the most lively I have ever attended? What do you think makes residents of DC such big fans of your music.
Patterson Hood: Politicians and lobbyists make for about as debaucherous a crowd as any you would find. We play LA and DC and middle America would never believe how much harder the DC crowd parties. I think Hunter S. Thompson wrote about that once upon a time. We were doing well in DC as far back as 99 or so and it was one of the first towns that SRO took off when we released it in 01. The DC crowds seem to pick up on and embrace our political undercurrents and of course that tends to be accepted there (even by folks on the other side of the aisle) My favorite review of SRO came from a guy at National Review and he and I probably wouldn’t agree on much else.
PoP: I think every review I’ve read about you guys or your albums has tried to tag some bullshit label on the music and the band, lazily trying to package it all up in some pre-conceived definition. So to hell with that: if we were all sitting around and well into a stretch of whiskey-fied philosophizing how would you all describe your music — particularly to someone like me who has no musical abilities or aptitude whatsoever, but who is a proud music addict?
Patterson Hood: I always prefer Rock and Roll. It’s so all-encompassing (which is why no one ever wants to use it anyway). In it’s historical context (and Lord knows history is a big part of what we do) Rock and Roll includes elements of country (old style), the blues, rebelliousness, etc. All the old original rockers would have been considered punk a couple of decades later and punk is big (often overlooked) part of what we do too. Lyrically there is always some sort of storytelling aspect in what we do. The industry wants everything easy to label in 2-3 word sound bites, which is the last thing on earth any of us would want. That is a big reason why the labels have never quite known what to do with us or how to market what we do. [Interview continues after the jump.]
PoP: The first thing that struck me when I started listening to you guys was the raw, punch-in-the-gut, visceral lyrics in your songs. I don’t know exactly how to ask the question, so I’ll just start by asking where do those lyrics and the unique descriptions in them come from or how do they come about in your head when writing them? Your lyrics are generally so unique that it is nearly impossible to trace them to any specific influences. Do you all see an ancestral line to your lyrics?
PH: I tend to write really fast. Usually a song is written in about the time it takes to play it twice. I might go back and do some editing and fixing later (or not) but the better ones happen like someone playing the song on some radio station that only I can pick up. Unfortunately, that’s where most of our airplay occurs. My Dad’s side of the family tended to be musical and of course my Dad does it for a living. There are a lot of writers and historians on Mom’s side of the family (none professional, more of a family journal kind of thing). My Grandmother actually had 3 pieces published in national magazines back in the 50’s when she was raising her children, but she never pursued it further.
PoP: With Jason Isbell having left, Shonna stepping up with some songs and John Neff taking over some guitar playing, how do you all feel the band and its music has changed or how has it grown into these personnel changes and how do you foresee it evolving with this lineup? How has it changed the on-stage dynamics?
PH: I’m proud of all our various incarnations as they’ve all been important pieces of the puzzle. This one is my favorite. There’s such a great chemistry and personal dynamic. More space between the notes and such a emphasis on the songs themselves which is always preferable to me. We all get along really welll now, which is about more important than anything considering how much time we all spend crammed into that bus together.
PoP: Are your revisiting some of the older tunes off of “Gangstabilly” and “Pizza Deliverance” now with this line-up? Do these songs have a new feel or otherwise resonate with everyone more (or differently) now?
PH: Those were some special songs. I’m much better able to deliver on them now than I was at my level of ability ten years ago. Neff’s always been good, but he keeps getting better and better. We’ve all kind of come into our own and taken it to a new level. “The Living Bubba” is still my favorite song I’ve ever written.
PoP: As you guys expand your fan base and play more and more in different regions of the country, what is your take on the general acceptance of the band and its music with folks in different states or regions of the country? Do you think anything gets lost in translation or are you finding a kind of common thread running through people drawn to your shows throughout the country?
PH: The more I travel the more I realize the people are people and the differences are mostly on the surface. Folks everywhere tend to have the same problems and concerns. If I was writing Southern Rock Opera today I would emphasize that aspect more than I knew to at the time. When we do the tenth anniversary show we might do some updating on some of those issues, as I would want it to be a living breathing thing and not some oldies show.
PoP: You will be playing two shows (May 9-10) in Washington DC’s 9:30 Club. In past years you have only played one evening but it was usually explosive. Any particular reason why you have scheduled two shows for DC?
PH: Because we sell out one night way in advance. We tend to try to provide what the market calls for. 9:30 is one of our favorite venues in the USA.
PoP: You’ve been coming to DC for a number of years now, have you gotten to explore any of the neighborhoods? Do you have any favorite places to visit when you come here?
PH: I’ve been to DC on a vacation before and would love to do that again soon. When we come to play I always have my hands full doing what has to be done to play the show so there is very little time for exploration. I usually walk somewhere close to eat.