Interview By Lance Sanders
Photos by: Missy Curtis. At the 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia
For the last 24 years Drive-By Truckers have been making great music performing all over the world. Their style is unapologetic and has never been comprised by big label idealism. They have a southern style of Rock n Roll thats been a pathway to so many hearts and souls over the years. En La Calle had a chance to talk to frontman Patterson Hood recently and was delighted to hear that the band is nowhere near done. Their new album, “The Unraveling,” has had incredible success and is the bands 14th LP. Catch them live at The Granada on April 2nd.
ELC: So the band has been around for 24 years, is that correct?
Patterson Hood: Damn, that’s a really long time. We have indeed, Cooley and I played in 3 bands before DBT so we’re hitting 35 years of playing together this August. Which is mind boggling. Same time, I’m really proud of how productive we’re being and really happy that we seem to be making some of our best records and playing such stellar shows at this point in our history.
ELC: A couple years ago you moved to Oregon. What inspired you to do so?
PH: I’ve spent the last 24 years on the road and fell in love with the Northwest. Our family was wanting a change and having lived for five decades in Alabama and Georgia, wanted to experience life somewhere very different. Oregon is very beautiful and I honestly wanted a break from the Southern summers and red state politics. Ironically, Portland reminds me a lot of Athens, Georgia which I consider a very good thing. It’s a much bigger city than Athens and that was a big part of our decision too, but both places are very artsy and weird and progressive. Both have great music scenes. Portland also has a great film scene and that was important as my wife and I are ridiculous movie nuts and my son wants to grow up to be a director.
ELC: You guys have an amazing catalog of albums. Which one would you say was the most fun and fulfilling?
PH: They all have their own thing. we’ve tried to stretch out and push forward artistically. Some times it works better than others, but I’m proud of our catalog. Even the times that didn’t quite turn out as planned, we’ve never phoned it in or taken a half assed approach to any of them. “Decoration Day” was one that I felt particularly worked out. It was an amazing moment in time for the band and a really stellar bunch of songs. “English Oceans” was sort of an artistic rebirth for the band and Cooley in particularly took on a dominant role in the creation of that album. I’m very proud of “American Band” and the chances we took and how well it all worked out. I’m extra proud of the new album. We worked really hard on the writing of this album and I think the playing takes us to some really interesting new places.
ELC: The band comes to Texas almost yearly. Do you like the crowds and how do you feel about the state itself considering all the political turmoil we’ve had at the border?PH: I love Texas. always have. I love the crowds and the venues. The Granada is a fantastic old theatre and we always have an amazing time playing there. Like where I come from, Texas is considered a red state, but there are still millions of people who feel differently than the way things are going and I think what we are doing speaks to a lot of people there.
ELC: The last two albums, “American Band” and “The Unraveling” have gotten a lot of longtime fans upset due to the political nature of the songs. Does that affect you guys in any way?
PH: If you read the internet, it looks like we essentially ran off half of our fan base and shot ourselves in the foot. Same time, “American Band” has been our most successful album. It went Top 10 on the Billboard Album chart and we toured behind it for well over three years, all over the world. Our fan base has skewed a little younger and at least slightly more diverse in its wake. In the end, even if that hadn’t been the case, we follow our own artistic instincts and always make the records we want to make. We went into making “American Band” knowing that we were risking a lot of what we’ve worked so hard to build and still made it the way we did. I didn’t get into this shit to second-guess myself from saying what I feel and being who I am. People are free to love it or hate it, but in the end we have to answer to ourselves and be the band we want to be. So far, that has worked out pretty good most of the time and even when it doesn’t I don’t tend to have regrets.
ELC: So how did Dave Schools of Wide Spread Panic help you guys out in the early days of the band?
PH: In 1999, we were recording “Pizza Deliverance” (our 2nd album) without any kind of label help. We recorded the album in my living room of the old haunted house I was living in at the time. We completely ran out of money while tracking the album and Dave heard about it from a mutual friend. He invited Cooley and I out to lunch and basically gave us the money to finish the recordings, mix and master it and hire a publicist to work it. He also gave us some great advice on how to proceed forward in building the thing we were trying to build. He’s been a great friend. I almost never get to see him these days, but it’s always fantastic whenever we can cross paths. We paid him back many years later, and he then donated that money to our favorite charity. What a dear friend and fantastic man.
ELC: DBT shows are legendary for their superior performances and sets lasting 2 1/2 hours and having set lists that average more than 25 songs. Is that something you take pride in and why?
PH: I love a great Rock and Roll show, whether its 25 minutes or a Springsteenian 3 hour marathon. We have multiple frontmen and so many songs that our audience seems to really want a longer form show. We never use a set list so you never know where the show will go or what will be played. We have nearly 200 songs in our catalog now so its a deep well to draw from. Same time, Its very important for us to keep the energy level at a certain place throughout. Our shows are known to be really high energy and cathartic. That moment of catharsis is more important than which songs get played or how long the show is. We’re able to hit that point and maintain it on most nights.
ELC: Who do you consider some of your biggest musical influences?
PH: Our influence list is very long and very diverse. Each one of us has a long and eclectic list and the combined list is almost a trip though 20th (and 19th and 21st) century music. I’m 55 and still buy hundreds of new albums every year so it’s ever expanding. My favorite band of this century is from Denton Texas BTW. Centro-matic has made more albums that I love than nearly anyone ever. They were easily one of the best live bands I ever saw and I still mourn their retirement.
ELC: The bands been through a lot of adversity over the years and you’ve always found a way to rise above it and keep the wheels turning. What has been the driving force to keep on going?
PH: It’s what we do. If I had quit, I’d probably not be still living. It’s why I’ll hopefully never retire. What the fuck would I do then?
ELC: I’ve always loved the Southern Rock music the band has created. Is that something you set out to do or did it just kinda happen?
PH: We’ve never considered ourselves a ’Southern Rock’ band. Other than a handful of records from long ago, it’s not even a genre that means very much to us. I love Southern music of all kinds. Texas music, southern soul, R.E.M., tons of bands from the Athens, Georgia music scene, Southern Culture on the Skids, old timeey country. A long list that goes on and on. Rock and Roll was invented in the South, especially around Memphis and I will always consider us first and foremost a Rock and Roll Band. We made an album once (nearly 20 years ago) which told a story about a southern band and dealt with the George Wallace era politics that Cooley and I grew up rebelling against. That album was of course “Southern Rock Opera” and I’m thankful that the music of that album was considered legit and authentic enough for people to believe in what we were saying, but beyond that, it’s never how we have defined ourselves and I hate when it is used as a prejudice to limit how we’re received or who were perceived to be.
ELC: Last question. The band has always been super fan friendly. Can you tell me how much your fans mean to you?
PH: Obviously we’re deeply moved by the fact that so many people love our band and continue to follow us through this journey. I feel like we owe them the best show we can play night after night and the best album we can make year after year. We never pander to people’s perception of who we are or what we say, but we always give it our all and that’s the debt we owe our wonderful fans.