Talking to Patterson Hood, it’s easy to notice that the guitar-playing, rabble-rousing and whiskey-swilling frontman of the Drive-By Truckers isn’t quite the same person at home. Is that the sound of his daughter playing in the background?
The band’s most recent album, 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark isn’t just a stylistic change—it’s a reflection of the state of the Truckers—family by day, rock n’ roll by night. And a reflection on this region’s love for the album? It was voted No. 4 on WNCW’s roster of Top 100 listener favorites of last year.
“Most of us have kids, so when you come home from the road it’s hard to sequester yourself in your office to write an album,” confesses Hood.
Almost a decade ago, Hood’s songs were full of frank and often absurd characters descriptions: “When I was a young boy I sniffed a lot of glue, mom sent me to rehab, told me what to do” began a verse to “Dead, Drunk and Naked” from the band’s 2001 album Southern Rock Opera. Hood may still be writing character sketches, but in the ten years since the band’s breakthrough, the stories and songs have settled down a bit. Now Hood sings about having “two daughters and a beautiful wife” and “tow headed kids.”
“There are still pizza cooks that sniff glue out there. I love a good story, but the last few years my writing has taken a turn to a little less narrative and a little bit more implying a story,” says Hood.
The Truckers in 2009 is a band that has firmly reestablished itself with a songwriting reputation to match its rock powerhouse notoriety. After the departure of guitarist (and then-husband of Truckers bassist Shonna Tucker) Jason Isbell, the band hit a creative brick wall. The subsequent tour, dubbed “The Dirt Underneath” featured the band attacking its back catalogue and new material in a quieter, more laid-back setting. The tour and the songs that came from it on Brighter Than Creation’s Dark served as a template for the new Drive-By Truckers: fitter, happier and ready to rock.
“It’s been a long last couple of years with the divorce going on in the band, all this drama shit was going on that took a lot away from what we actually do. But when ‘The Dirt Underneath’ thing happened, it was kind of a rebirth for the band,” says Hood.
Out of the darkness came the Truckers’ latest album and a newfound commitment to songcraft and unity. It may sound a bit like a “Behind the Music” cliché, but Hood says every bit is true.
“This last year was pretty much the best time in the band’s history. It’s been the best year of shows we’ve had, and the best album sales of our history this year,” he says.
Now Hood waits for the Truckers’ spring tour to begin (complete with a two night stand at the Orange Peel), his second solo album to be released, recording to begin on the newest Truckers’ album (due out next year) and taking time to be a father. It’s a busy schedule, but one that affords the band the luxury of recording with Stax Records legend Booker T. Jones, which Hood says was “a dream come true on every imaginable level.”
New challenges are ahead, and Hood is ready.
“We’ve proved we can survive—- now what? That’s pretty exciting, because I want to see what we can follow this up with. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is my favorite record that we’ve done, so the idea of following it up is a little daunting, in a good way.”
[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer.]
who: The Drive-By Truckers with Bloodkin
what: Hard-charging, ‘70s-influenced rock n’ roll
where: The Orange Peel
when: Friday, Jan. 30 and Saturday, Jan. 31 (9 p.m. $25 advance, $30 door. www.theorangepeel.net)