Drive By Truckers Interview

The Drive-By Truckers: Real Rock and Roll.

The Drive-By Truckers released my favorite album of 2008, the great story songs of Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. Songwriter/guitarist, Patterson Hood recently wrote in to discuss the band’s writing process, how creating Southern Rock Opera helped him overcome a fear of dying on the road, and playing New Orleans right before the Katrina evacuation.

Do you remember the first song you wrote? 
I was 8 so it wasn’t very good. “Living in a World of my Own” which I pretty much did at that time.
My third one was kinda cool, called “Down in the Jungle” and was about an elephant and an ant. I’ve played it for my daughter and if I ever make a children’s record… I wrote hundreds of songs before jr. high school. Wrote my first thousand songs before I graduated from High School. I wish I had time to be that prolific now. I wrote during class instead of listening to my teachers, which is why I can’t do anything else now.

What was the first concert you went to? 
Probably that band Chicago. Nobody ever came to my hometown, but they did and I saw them when I was about 9. My first great Rockshow was AC/DC and UFO when I was in 8th grade. Bon Scott was still alive, it was AC/DC’s first American tour and it blew my fucking mind. Haven’t been right since. Springsteen in 1981 is still my all time favorite show. Saw REM in 84 and The Replacements in 87.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? 
Pasta Works in Athens GA. That’s a tough call because I worked some really shitty places, but they get the prize. Those people SUCKED.

Who are some of your favorite artists in the Athens music scene?
Crag Lieske (Garbage Island, Diet Rock Star, etc.), Bloodkin, Don Chambers, Madeline, Vic Chesnutt, Ham One, David Barbe and the Quick Hooks, Liz Durrett, Bo Bedingfield. There’s SO many great artists in Athens.

What is the biggest misconception about the sound of the Drive-By Truckers?
That we give a shit about southern rock. I care deeply about Rock and Roll, wherever it might come from. Love sweet soul music and hard core country. Love punk rock. I love a great song, no matter what kind it is. We’re all much more about songs than guitars, we just happen to have a bunch of guitar players among us. We also have the most underrated rhythm section on earth. It all follows the songs. We added a third guitar player because the new songs at that time (Southern Rock Opera) demanded it. It’s fun to have the onslaught in our arsenal, but it doesn’t control us. Only the songs control what we do. Everything else is at their service.

Does each member of the band follow a different creative process when songwriting?
Sure. Everyone writes in private then brings the song to the band and throws it to their mercy. You have to be able to then let go and let it become what it becomes. It takes a lot of trust but it’s easy in this band because everyone is there to serve the song. No ego allowed. If it doesn’t serve the song, it goes away. That’s one of the only rules (The other rule is “Don’t piss off EZB”). That’s really all the rules we need to operate and continue to thrive.

How do the songwriting styles of everyone in the band differ?
Cooley has to be locked in a steam room and have them drawn out with sweat. Shonna prefers dry heat. I fly kites on stormy nights.

Do you write any songs while on the road?
It’s hard. I can write stories and screenplay stuff, articles, etc on road. Seldom can write songs, as there’s always too much music being played and no privacy. I can write fragments to finish when I get home.

You all seem like you party a lot on tour. What’s been your craziest night out?
Our party is on stage. Offstage, we’re pretty fucking boring. I read a lot. We listen to a lot of soul music. Shonna drinks a lot of wine. Cooley smokes a lot of cigarettes, I drink beer. Brad bought Michael Jackson’s old tank and locks himself in it for days at a time floating in a state of animated bliss until showtime. It required a lot of bleach as you an imagine.

What was the first song written for Brighter Than Creation’s Dark?
I wrote Goode’s Field Road back in 2000 when I was still writing Southern Rock Opera. It was earmarked for The Dirty South and we recorded several versions for that album, but never were happy with the takes until the one that is on this album. Most of it was written about 6 months before we made it.

How is your new solo album going to differ from a DBT release?
It sounds a lot like what DBT is doing right now. Much more than where DBT was in 05 when I recorded it. I’m extremely proud of it on every level.

What’s a typical day at home like for the members of DBT?
I play with my daughter as much as possible. I do a lot of press. I drink a lot of coffee.

Do you ever find lyrical inspiration from your home life?
Sure. Not in a literal sense, but having my daughter has deeply affected and added to my writing. She’s a real inspiration and has made me a much better person. I want to make her and her Mama proud of me.

What are some of the stories you’ve heard from fans about how your music affects them?
I hear things.

How did the Muscle Shoals sound influence you while growing up?
Input is very important to output. Good things in/Good things out. You are what you eat, you know. I grew up eating really great music. No growth hormones allowed in my house.

Do you have a favorite memory from growing up around great musicians?
I got to meet Dylan when I was a kid. Kristofferson, Donnie Fritts, Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers, Bob Seger who was nice as shit. Linda Ronstadt and Duane Allman. John Martyn and The Roches. The Roches were actually a huge influence on me when I was about 11 or 12, believe it or not. Not so much musically as lyrically and personally.

How did DBT become involved with Booker T and the MGs?
Andy Kaulkin is Pres. of ANTI Records. He put the Bettye LaVette album together that we did and called us about Booker when he signed him. 2 weeks later, we had already finished the album. It happened very very fast. Booker is a genius.

This year is your first time playing Jazz Fest. What are you most looking forward to?
Playing Jazz Fest and being in New Orleans for a few days.

Do you have a favorite story from playing in New Orleans?
We played Tips the night before the Katrina evacuation. Don’t know if I can call that a favorite, but it had a profound affect on all of us. I have a very deep affection for New Orleans.

In creating Southern Rock Opera, what did you find to be the most fascinating aspect of the Lynyrd Skynyrd story?
Their story. I was a fan of their story before the music. Discovered and fell in love with their music while researching the story. I wanted to interconnect their story with the post-civil rights growing pains of our region. It almost wrote itself. We were all quite obsessed with the whole duality thing, as that was our upbringing and our way of coming to terms with all of that shit.
Also, when I started this band I had a phobia about dying on the road and writing that album was part of my way of coping with and overcoming that. We had a near head-on collision on I-10 during that time where we passed a car hauling ass the wrong way. After that I never had fear of dying on the road again and finishing the album was set in stone.

DTB has been releasing albums for over ten years now. What do you want people to remember the most about the legacy of the Drive-By Truckers? 
We wrote great songs. Played the hell out of them and were a LOT of fun to go see live. Hopefully our albums will hold up over time. They were never timely so they seem to be aging very well. So far I’m aging fairly well too.

For more info on the Drive-By Truckers, check out

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