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Tuesday, 25 October 2011 08:00

'Always in pursuit of that elusive great song' An interview with Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers

'Always in pursuit of that elusive great song' An interview with Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers
Written by Scott Allen
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For the past 15 years Drive-By Truckers have stayed extremely busy. The Athens, Ga. based group has released nearly an album a year, toured to support their output and served as the backing band for other luminary musicians like Booker T. Jones and Bettye LaVette. All the while Patterson Hood, guitarist and main songwriter, has been at the center of it all.

Recently, I got the chance to ask Hood some questions via e-mail, in advance of the Drive-By Truckers appearance at the Pageant on October 28. Hood and I discussed his recent hand injury, the plusses and minuses of live shows and getting a chance to slow down a bit over the next year. Here's what the prolific writer had to say.

Scott Allen: First, an update on your breaking news in late August: You wrote on the Truckers' website that you had fallen at your daughter's school with a glass water bottle in your hand. The bottle shattered upon impact, shards of glass embedded into your left hand, which is a guitarist's bread and butter. How is your hand healing?

Patterson Hood: Thanks for asking. It's healing up, slowly but surely. I'm going to physical therapy twice a week when I'm home and working on it on the road. They actually said all the guitar playing helps. I didn't cut any of the tendons but got really lucky as I cut all around them and had some deep muscle and nerve damage. Then I got some kind of staph infection which really sucked ass, but I'm on the backside of that now. The September tour was miserable but it doesn't really hurt to play anymore, and my playing is getting back to normal slowly but surely. My goal is to play better than before when it's over.

The band has been on the road a lot this year and just started a fall tour on October 20 in Cincinnati. While the road can be rewarding it must be a grueling life at times. Do you find it hard to leave your family?

Being a way from my family is by far the hardest thing about my job (except for playing when sick or injured, which sucks, but thankfully doesn't happen too often). I miss my family, but I try my best to make it up when I'm home by being really active in their lives. I'm a pretty sweet Daddy.

Where's the worst food? Are there venues that you play where you say to yourself "Oh no, not this place again?"

We try to eat pretty well on the road, but sometimes you hit those towns where there just isn't anywhere that doesn't suck. We usually eat pretty well in STL. Likewise, we don't play many bad venues anymore. Lord knows we have in the past, but if it sucks we usually don't go back. We always enjoy playing the Pageant.

Perusing the set lists from the late summer tour, can fans in St. Louis expect a show heavy on the latest album "Go-Go Boots" and "Greatest Hits" or will the set be more random selections and possibly new songs?

We never make a setlist so anything goes. I always enjoy playing the newer ones so a lot of them get played, but we mix it up pretty well. It's good having so many albums worth of songs to pick from so that show can be different everynight. That keeps it fresh for us and therefore for the folks in the audience.

Which aspect of being a musician do you like better, writing and recording songs or playing live shows?

I generally love all three of those things. The hard parts are being gone from family, doing press stuff, photo shoots kinda suck, the business end stuff or as we call it, "Jumping through hoops." I still write a lot and am always in pursuit of that elusive great song that I know is out there somewhere. Making albums is probably the single most fun thing of all, but I love playing The Rock Show, especially when its a really "on" night in a great venue with a big enthusiastic audience. We're really lucky because our fans are usually really cool to play for, and as I said we mostly play great venues now. We've been touring long enough that we have friends all over the country.

This past summer, the band celebrated its 15th anniversary. At this point your history and output allow you to play with other artists on special projects. Tell me about your feelings about playing with some musical heroes like Booker T. Jones and Spooner Oldham?

I totally love that. We have learned so much from those projects. Working with Spooner was life changing and so wonderful. Making that Bettye LaVette album taught us so much, plus I'm eternally proud of that album. Working with Booker was a dream come true and I learned so much about writing melody and arranging which greatly benefitted the making of "The Big To-Do" and "Go-Go Boots." I also got to work with Jim Dickinson and his incredible sons a while back, which was also awesome. I really hope to get to do another one of those types of projects next year.

Drive-By Truckers released a new studio album,"Go-Go Boots," on ATO Records in February and a compilation "Ugly Buildings, Whores, and Politicians: Greatest Hits 1998-2009" in August on your former label New West Records. How much input did you and Mike Cooley and the rest of the band have over what tracks would be included on the Greatest Hits?

Honestly, the last thing on earth that we wanted to see happen was a new release of old songs hot on the heels of our "new" album, but once we saw that we couldn't prevent it from coming out, I made a couple of tweaks on the list of songs to make sure that it was at least something we could be proud of when we saw it in a record store. It is a good collection of songs for the uninitiated to learn about our band and getting 4 1/2 stars from Rolling Stone was of course nice. I promise if it sells eleven million units to still tell everyone that it was the label's idea and give them full credit.

The band is ending this year with a three-night stand in Washington, D.C. around New Year's Eve. What is ahead for 2012? Is there another album in the can waiting to be released or will the band head to the studio after this fall tour?

The band will be taking it a little easier than usual most of next year. There will be shows, but no heavy touring or new album (for once). I am putting out a new solo album in the spring that I am very excited about. I cut my hand a few days into recording it so that has been part of my therapy and recovery. It's a very intimate and personal record that I wrote in a very short span of time this spring.

Finally, what artists have been floating through your headphones lately? Can you make any recommendations of new music or great Muscle Shoals lost gems for our readers to check out?

This has been a great year for records. I've been loving the Low Anthem's "Smart Flesh" and Kurt Vile's "Smoke Rings For My Halo." The new Centro-matic is fantastic as is the new Gillian Welch. There's this new band from Athens, Alabama called Alabama Shakes that has an EP out. They have played some shows with us and are one of the most incredible live bands I've ever seen. Unbelievable. The singer, Brittany Howard sings like a cross between Aretha and Janis Joplin (if Janis Joplin could sing on pitch) and plays a [Gibson] SG. The band sounds like The MG's or something. Badass!!! Athens, Ala. is about 25 miles from where I grew up.

KDHX welcomes Drive-By Truckers to the Pageant on October 28.

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