Still Making Good Records: A Conversation with Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers

By Carey Hereford

  Photo Credit: Danny Clinch

Muscle Shoals native Patterson Hood formed Drive-By Truckers in 1996 with his longtime friend and former roommate Mike Cooley. Since then, the band has released 11 studio albums and four live albums. The quintet – known for its blend of alternative and Southern rock – has an upcoming three-night run at Saturn on November 6-8. Recently, we spoke with Hood by phone about the recent album release by Adam’s House Cat (his former band with Cooley), his relocation to Portland, OR and the Truckers’ upcoming shows this fall.

Birmingham Stages: Patterson, thank you for you time. Recently you released the Adam’s House Cat album that was recorded in early ’90s. What are some details about this band and why did you choose now to release this album?

Patterson Hood: Adam’s House Cat was together in 1985 through 1991 and we were based out of Muscle Shoals area. We usually played Monday at the Nick in downtown Birmingham, and if it rained just about no one would show up. During that time, we regularly played the Nick and other places that are long gone like the the Tip Top in Huntsville. But by like the fifth or the sixth year we had become a pretty big band, yet we never had a big following. We had just finished the album right around the time that the band had broken up, and we decided not to release. This record we put everything – our heart and soul into it –  and ended up not releasing it. That was something that was always eating at Cooley and I. So, of course me and Cooley went on to form The Truckers; We put out several albums and played well over 2,000 shows. This year I made it my New Year’s resolution to release that album. All of the tapes of the original mixes were lost, so we needed to remix it. A few weeks ago we released the album, and did a few reunion shows which was great because that was the first time we had played together in about 27 years.

Birmingham Stages: How do you decide if the songs you write are meant for Drive-By Truckers or for your solo records?

Hood: I mean a lot of it has to to do with timing and a lot of has to do with the direction of the song and the direction that the band is in at the time. Recently, I have written a group of songs that will someday be a solo record. I was in the process of writing what will be the next Drive-by-Truckers record, and the first bunch of songs that I wrote for it just did not hit me as songs that would fit the band. Yet they were songs that I really liked so at some point when I have time I do want to get around to making that record. It turns out I continued writing and ended up writing what I needed for the next Truckers record and got those songs recorded, and I hope we can get that new album released by next fall.

Birmingham Stages: How has it been living in Portland, Oregon? Why did you choose to live there as opposed to living somewhere closer to the South?

Hood: It has been great. Unfortunately, I have not spent much time there in past few months because I have spent more time in Athens, Georgia than there place where I live with my family. I am 54 now and spent 53 years of my life living in two small towns in two states, Florence, Alabama and Athens, Georgia. It never dawned on me when I was young that I would live somewhere outside the South. We were in a situation where developers ran us out of the neighborhood that we were living in near Athens. I thought maybe this is telling I need to experience something else. It has been really hard moving my whole family across the whole country, yet it has been rewarding in some places, too.

Birmingham Stages: Are there any songs that you wrote for either the Drive-by-Truckers or yourself that seem unfinished or could be improved in anyway?

Hood: I am always pretty self critical when it comes to writing music. I feel like I am certainly a better writer than I have been at any other point. It is always pretty easy to go back and see things that I could have done differently. But overall, I am in peace with most of my writing. I probably have a harder time listening to my vocals of older songs than the writing itself. I have worked really hard over the past 20 years to become a better singer and I think I have made a good bit of progress in the last seven or eight years. But when I hear my vocals from some of the earlier songs they can make me cringe pretty bad.

Birmingham Stages: How do you make the band’s older songs stay fresh in comparison to the new ones?

Hood: I definitely do not feel any need to do everything the same way it was done on the record. If there is a line in a song that I feel like makes it a better song now, I will certainly do it live. If there is a way of singing it or playing it differently the band can do it. The Truckers over 20 years have had many personnel changes and they all seemed to end about seven years ago. We landed on this lineup and have stayed extremely stable since then. Prior to that it was a kind of revolving door of third guitar players and bass players. It is never expected for a new guitar player to play a song the same way a former guitar player would play it. Whoever is in the band I want them to make the catalog their own. We did a live album a few years back in San Francisco at the Fillmore and it contains many reinterpretations of songs on it. That is a record I am really proud of – I really like how the band plays all those songs. But I am not in anyway disparaging any of the former live albums – I am really proud of all of the versions of this band.

Birmingham Stages: What is the process of making your setlist each time you play?

Hood: We do not – we never do a setlist. We basically decide the first song shortly before we start playing. Everything that happens after that is decided on the spot, we have a clock on stage so we know where we are on time so they do not have to end up pulling the power. We generally know where we are going to end. But we cue each other with hand signals like baseball players use for which song we are going to play next. The goal is to make it feel like to the audience that there is a setlist. This process keep us on our toes and makes the show more fun for all of us because we do not really know what is going to happen next. This also makes us not play the same show twice and keeps all of our songs fresh.

Birmingham Stages: In your opinion, do think rock-and-roll is dead or gone?

Hood: I definitely do not think it’s dead – it’s not the cultural defining thing at this point in time. Hip-hop is certainly the big news of the past two or three decades. There are still great still great rock bands and great rock music. Being in the business of live music and touring around rock-and-roll is still the greatest ticket seller of live shows. Fortunately, we are at a point where we can support our families doing what we love. Also, we are still making good records. Our most recent record, in my opinion, was one of the best records we have ever made – even the most successful record we have ever made. For a 22-year-old band, that is something really to be proud of.

Drive-By Truckers will perform at Saturn on November 6, 7 & 8. Showtime each night is 8 p.m. Advance tickets to the 18+ shows are $27 and can be purchased at