Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood on writing, recording and resting

Keep on Truckin': Brad Morgan (from left), Patterson Hood, John Neff, Jay Gonzalez and Mike Cooley are Drive-By Truckers.
Andy Tennille

The Drive-By Truckers recorded their last two releases — The Big To-Do and Go-Go Boots — during the same sessions in 2009, yet the albums sound quite different. The former is raucous, raw and rocks something fierce, while the latter, for the most part, is a more toned-down affair, a record that frontman Patterson Hood says in many ways is the polar opposite side of what the Truckers do as a band. Hood has said that if The Big To-Do was an action-adventure summertime flick (albeit one with some brainy and dark undercurrents), Go-Go Boots is a noir film in the vein of Night of the Hunter.

Written after their collaborations with Bettye LaVette and Booker T. Jones a few years ago, Go-Go Boots offers up country soul in the Muscle Shoals vein. Both the album's title track and "The Fireplace Poker" were inspired by a murder in Tuscumbia, Alabama, about three miles from Muscle Shoals. A preacher had hired some brutes to kill his wife; they botched the job and ended up finishing her off with a fireplace poker. The event even pushed Hood to work on a screenplay about the murder and write an earlier version of "The Fireplace Poker" in the midst of working on it.

"I never could really get it to a point to where I wanted to pursue it to the next level," says Hood of the screenplay. "I worked on a couple of screenplays, and one of them I've actually written.... I guess if I was to work on it now, I'd be working on my third draft of it. That particular one, I never really finished the first draft. I had the story, but there were just some things about it that I couldn't quite figure out how to tell. In the meantime, I wrote the 'Go-Go Boots' song, which is based on the same murder. A few of the facts are different on that one; it's a little less factual. It still was inspired by the same story."

Hood says that late in the making of Go-Go Boots, he had a wild hair to include "The Fireplace Poker" on the record. He figured that he'd probably never finish the screenplay, but he had the song and liked it.

"If it's ever going to go on a record, this would be the one to put it on, since it has the other song on there," Hood points out. "So that was kind of it. It was like, 'Well, are we going to put it on the record or just let it be a bonus track?' We ended up putting it on there. I'm still not sure that was the right decision. I guess if you like it, it is; if you don't, you can always push that button to go to the next song."

As a whole, Hood finds it ironic that Go-Go Boots, which was released in February 2011, has been the better-received of the two records, and not just by critics and fans; it's also been the better-selling one, with some help from the cover of Eddie Hinton's "Everybody Needs Love," which Hood says is the closest they've ever to come to having a radio song.

"It's actually been our strongest-selling record we've ever put out, at least its first year of sales," Hood notes. "Decoration Day or Dirty South have sold more copies, but they're ten years old — or nearly ten years old. They've continued selling to the point of probably selling more copies, but we've never had a record sell as much in the first year as Go-Go Boots has. It's been our most successful touring, too. We had a really good year of touring last year during a time when the touring business was taking a pretty bad hit. I don't have an answer for any of that. I'm real glad. If anything, it shows that, really, we don't know shit.

"I was hoping that Big To-Do would do well enough to where Go-Go Boots could then kind of ride in its wake and be respectable and not lose money," he goes on. "Then, when it turned out that everybody kind of gravitated toward the second one, it was, 'Well, all right.' I'm proud of them both, so it all kind of worked out for me okay, I guess."

As far as the followup to Go-Go Boots goes, Hood says the band isn't really thinking about it yet, which is something new. He says it's the first time they've had a record that's already a year old without starting work on the next one. After touring throughout March and April, he says, the band will take the rest of the year off, save for a few one-off dates and maybe a week or two in July. This break will probably mark the most time the Truckers have had off since 2007, when they made the nineteen-track Brighter Than Creation's Dark and worked with Bettye LaVette on her Scene of the Crime album. That year, they played 58 shows as opposed to the usual 150-200.

Hood might use some of the time off to tour with his new solo album, which is due out later this year. He says he won't tour the way the Truckers do, since he can't afford a bus. He'll probably end up picking a spot to hit, then either fly out or rent a van and drive out and do a week. "I'm not going to just go out and play all over," he explains. "I just can't right now, not with the family and stuff like that. I may even take them with me for some things on this one, whereas I couldn't really do that with the Truckers tour."

When the Truckers hit the road this month, they'll have Dexateens bassist Matt Patton on the road in place of Shonna Tucker, who, after having been in the band since 2003 and logged over 1,000 shows, left late last year. Hood says Tucker just played her first solo show in Athens. "I'm sure she'll be great," he offers. "She's got great songs. I look forward to seeing what she puts out and what she does. She's an old friend and a great artist."

While the band hasn't named a permanent bassist yet, Hood says that Patton brings a little punk-rock element to the proceedings in the meantime. "I like having that energy in that position," Hood says. "It kind of propels things along a little bit. So it's going to be a lot of fun. We're not in any hurry to name a permanent replacement now.

"We haven't even started writing the next record," he reiterates. "We're going to wait and see what happens and what plays out. Matt's got a wife and a real job, and he was able to take the time off to come do this, but no more touring this year. He would be crazy to quit his day job right now and be unemployed for the next four months waiting for us to play a show. We're going to play it by ear."

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