While stuck off the road like the rest of us, Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers talked with QRO. In the conversation, Hood discussed the band’s two 2020 records, The Unraveling (QRO review) and The New OK (QRO review), putting out two albums in this year like no other, life in Portland, his “new job” of solo livestreams, hoping not to be relevant, Jim Dickinson, Peter Buck, Mick Jagger, Led Zeppelin, Muscle Shoals, and much, much more…
QRO: Are you doing OK, during all of this?
Patterson Hood: Yeah, okay. Hanging in there. We’re surviving; we’re all well.
Our city is locked down as shit. We never really got unlocked. We kinda, a little bit opened up, but not like a lot of places. I guess, cause of that, our numbers are better than a lot of places, but they did take a big leap in the last couple weeks, and so they locked it all back down.
It is what it is. I’m so ready for it to be over. I’m over it.
QRO: Were there also a lot of fires there during the summer?
PH: Terrible. It was hellish. It made your lungs hurt. It was awful, terrible – and really scary.
The fires got too close to comfort for Portland itself. So much of our state burned. There are small towns that were just leveled by, and the air quality was just horrific.
It’s been a fucked-up year around here. With all the protests, and how bad that got. And then the federal occupation. And then the fires.
And, of course, the feds were all eager to ‘save Portland’ when Black Lives Matter were marching, but when we were on fire, they didn’t do shit. It’s been a fucked-up year.
The feds were all eager to ‘save Portland’ when Black Lives Matter were marching, but when we were on fire, they didn’t do shit.
QRO: And how are your bandmates doing?
PH: We’re all hanging in there. Everybody’s okay.
We miss each other. We’re all spread out, because they’re all in the South still. We have one in Mississippi, one in Alabama, and two in Georgia. And then I’m out here.
I moved out here a little over five years ago, and, you know, the commute hadn’t been a big deal. The way the band works, you know, we get together, we tour, we make a record, whatever, and then we go our separate ways, go home, and then get back together.
But this year’s been weird because we don’t get back together. And then we ended up making a record, and we were having to improvise ways to do all that, by sending each other tracks & shit, back across country & stuff. Which actually worked out fine, but I miss the old way, when we would just all get in a room.
I miss ‘em! They’re my buds! We’re all close. We have a lot of fun when we get together. And so, I’m looking forward to, when this is over, we can kind of pick up our lives again, hopefully.
QRO: How was making The New OK?
PH: It was a whirlwind. It was super-fast.
For starters, we had a bunch of songs recorded, still from Memphis. We went to Memphis in the fall of 2018 for a week, and we recorded eighteen songs. The majority of The Unraveling came out of those sessions.
So, we had a bunch of stuff that we were sitting on for a future project – a pretty different future project than what this ended up being. We actually still have a few of those songs we’re still sitting on for that future project, that I kind of didn’t want to touch.
I wrote “The New OK” and “Watching the Orange Clouds” this summer, and we were wanting to get those out this fall, before the election. To me, those songs were like snapshots of this moment in time, and I thought they should come out while we’re still living through it. I guess that’s being optimistic…
And so, we started going through, seeing what we had, what kind of fit together, what worked. We kind of came up with a plan, and we did it super-fast. This is like the last week in July when I wrote “The New OK”, and a couple days after that is when we first started talking about doing a record.
Kevin [Morris] and Christine [Stauder], who manage us, basically called back and were like, ‘It’s really tight, but if you can have everything turned in by September (I think) 12th, we can get it out digitally before the election, and have vinyl before Christmas.’ And, I thought, ‘That’s a tight go-for. Let’s see if we can do it…’
Everyone agreed to it, and so for six weeks, we were just like all-in, trying to figure it out. Sending each other tracks, and kind of building those tracks of the new songs.
We had it mixed, mastered, artwork done, liner notes done, everything done by the 12th. And so, we’re on schedule to have our records, actual vinyl and stuff, the second or so week in December.
QRO: Why did you decide to release another record so soon after The Unraveling?
PH: We’re nuts. Because we’re fucking crazy… [laughs]
Literally, my first reaction to the idea was like, ‘Oh, great! Now we can have two brand-new albums that we can’t tour behind!’ [laughs]
For about twenty-four hours, that we my attitude. Actually, my wife, Rebecca, was like, ‘You should really get those new songs out. Whether you put ‘em out as a single, or whatever you do, you should get ‘em out.’
By that point, I was kind of looking through what we had, going through the recordings from Memphis, what we had, and it kind of started dawning on me, ‘You know, we got an album. If we’re going to go to the trouble of recording those new songs, why don’t we just go ahead and just do it? And then, when this is over, when we’re touring, we’ll tour behind both albums. Why not?’ And maybe make another one – why not?…
It seemed better than doing nothing. Because there’s not a lot that we actually can do right now. We can’t tour, we can’t see each other, but we can do this. It gave us something to do. It made me feel like I had a purpose on this planet for a couple of weeks. [laughs]
To me, [“The New OK” and “Watching the Orange Clouds”] were like snapshots of this moment in time, and I thought they should come out while we’re still living through it.
QRO: And how was making The Unraveling, back in the before-time?
PH: I mean, it’s funny, because it’s such a brutally, relentlessly dark record, but it was really kind of fun to make?…
I think that’s kind of like our shows. A lot of songs are dark, but are shows are fun. We’re a fun band, we’re a fun live band. Sometimes, that doesn’t come across as much on the records as I’d like it to.
That’s probably why I might have an extra fondness for The New OK, is cause, to me, it is kind of a fun record. There is kind of that aspect to it, that might capture what we do live a little more, even though it’s not as live a record as normal, because of how we had to cut it.
We were in Memphis for a week, we cut eighteen songs, and that was one of my favorite weeks of my life. We had an amazing time cutting all that stuff.
We worked our asses off. We were in the studio, I think, eighty-five hours that week, but it was being productive, and shit was happening. We all get along great now.
This line-up of the band, which is, god, I think in its eighth year or something now, has been so just kinda joyous. We’re really close; we have a lot of fun. There’s not any of the drama & fighting that has happened in certain parts of our history…
And Mick Jagger came over! Holy shit! [laughs] It was a crazy week!
[Mike] Cooley’s [guitars/vocals] birthday was that week. The day before his birthday was the day Mick Jagger came over. How often are you making a record and Mick Jagger walks in? You know, what the fuck!?!
QRO: Why was the song “The Unraveling”, not on the album The Unraveling, but was on The New OK? Or why did you name The Unraveling after a song that wasn’t on it?
PH: Because we wanted to be like Led Zeppelin! [laughs] Houses of the Holy, some Physical Graffiti – that’s the good answer…
The real thing, when we were putting together the sequence for The Unraveling record, we wanted it to fit on one album, on one piece of vinyl, which is basically 22 minutes 30 seconds per side, if you wanna really master it with the deep grooves, and have it sound great.
Because of that, it was like putting it together a puzzle, getting everything we wanted. We kind of made a decision, pretty early on in that process, ‘Why don’t we sit on that song, save it for the next thing? It’ll be like Physical Graffiti…’ [laughs]
I’m kind of happy with how it turned out. I think it fits better on this record, and yet it ties the records together.
We didn’t set out to do it, but, honestly, I think we’ve kind of made a trilogy, starting with American Band, which was all done before Trump got elected, but it kind of predicted a lot of what happened. And then having Unraveling kind of be a document of some of the horrors of these last four years.
And then it kind of all culminates with The New OK, which hopefully is moving us out of this, into maybe, I would hope, a better day.
I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m happy that Biden won, but I’m also aware of the fact that McConnell is still actually running the country. If we can just slow down the bleeding at this point…
It’s such a brutally, relentlessly dark record, but it was really kind of fun to make?…
QRO: Do you worry – or hope – that some of this year’s songs are too timely, like “Babies in Cages”? When Biden’s president, god willing there won’t be babies in cages anymore…
PH: God willing, no, I hope not.
I don’t know. We’ve got plenty of songs, so, I don’t know. We’ve got so many records. [laughs]
I kind of think of these three records, I’d like to think that when this is all over – and hopefully, this will all be over – I think people are gonna look back and study this period of time for a long time. Because, I think from an historical perspective, it is an interesting, nightmarish chapter of our history.
And I hope like hell not a precursor of even worse days at some point ahead. Cause I don’t know. It’s not like it’s all going away. The forces that caused this all to happen are still there. We might have won this election, but they’re still there, and now they’re really pissed off.
I do think, regardless, people are going to look back on this period of time, and I think we’ve made three albums that kind of document, from the ground up, living through it. That might not be what anybody wants to sit around a listen to, I don’t know, but it’s there. I’d like to think that it holds up, as three pieces of work.
It’s not what I want to do for the rest of my life, as far as, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life writing those type of songs, but I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I think, the records, I’d like to think they hold up.
QRO: And why did you include on The New OK a cover of The Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away”? Which is unfortunately relevant again…
PH: Unfortunately, it is…
That’s the cherry on top, man…
It’s a funny story. We were, again, in Memphis. It was the very last night of that week of recording, and we had just recorded the song “The Unraveling”, so we had a microphone set up in front of Matt [Patton], our bass player, since he sang “The Unraveling”. So, there was already a stage mic right in front of him.
I think we cut one more song after we did “The Unraveling”. We were literally done. We were about to start breaking everything down, packing up, cause we were leaving the next day to go back on tour.
And David Barbe, our producer, came out on the floor. He was like, ‘Everybody, before you pack up, I want you to do something for me. I want you to just, right now, do one take of “KKK Took My Baby Away”.’
We’d been playing it live ever since American Band came out. It had really kind of become a really good live song for us. We do a pretty good cover of that.
And everybody’s like, ‘Why?’ He’s like, ‘No, trust me, record it. You’ll be glad you did. One take!’
So, it’s literally one take, with a live lead vocal. The only overdub, after we did that take, we all stood around one microphone and did the shout-out vocals. That’s it. It was like less than ten minutes.
And then, I’d kind of forgotten that we had it. When we started talking about doing The New OK album, and I was looking through what we had, and when I realized we had that, it was like, ‘David Barbe! You were right!’
It was like, ‘Oh man, this is an album. That’s how it should end. It should end with that.’ That ends the trilogy on such a ‘fuck you’ rocking note.
QRO: Are you bummed that you can’t immediately do a big tour behind this new record?
PH: Yeah, super bummed. I’m bummed we didn’t get to tour behind Unraveling.
We played New York, we played D.C. – we did that one leg back in February, what was supposed to be the first of five legs of tour this year. I think we had 125 shows booked or something this year.
We did that one little run, and then we were about to start the next run. We were actually soundchecking for the first show of the second leg when it all got cancelled. We did two songs in soundcheck, and then we loaded the trailer. I hitched a ride back to Georgia, and found a flight home, and I’ve been in this room ever since.
QRO: Is this the longest you’ve not been on tour in a long time?
PH: In a really long time. Since ’96.
My kids have never – I think they’re ready for me to go to work… [laughs] I think they’re over my schtick…
QRO: You have been doing some livestreams. How have those been?
PH: Yeah. I do every other Wednesday.
I’ve gotten the hang of it. Started back in May, every other week, except I took July off. Cause we went on a little trip to the wilderness of Montana. What better place to be isolated? The driveway of the house we were staying in was three-and-a-half miles long. Just the driveway; it was so in the middle of nowhere. Beautiful. We could see grizzlies out the window, just across the stream from where we were.
But other than that, I’ve been doing these livestreams. I’ve had fun with them. I always like to say, ‘I like my old job better than my new job.’ But as far as a job goes, it’s enabled us to hang in there and keep our house.
Which is huge, because when this all started, we weren’t sure if we would be able to.
People are going to look back on this period of time, and I think we’ve made three albums that kind of document, from the ground up, living through it.
QRO: I know a lot of musicians who’ve been doing [livestreams]. It’s not something they normally do.
They’ve got their home studios, but how to get the sound right…
PH: It’s not like you’re playing for a bunch of people who are sitting around drinking in a bar, having this other fun activity. They’re actually watching it on a computer screen, or on their TV screen, so it not only does it have to sound right, it has to sound right through a little itty-bitty speaker.
And you don’t have that back-and-forth, which is such a big part of what we do. Because we are such an interactive band with our audience, and my solo shows are too. There’s a lot of interactivity between what I’m doing and the audience. So, doing this up here, it’s weird.
I kind of approached it like, ‘I’m gonna have a theme for every show.’ I’ve had fun with that. I had one, I called it, ‘The Family Mythology.’ I went through my notebooks – I have a lot of songs – I picked out the songs that were inspired by members of my family, or stories from my family.
That was the third one I did. I might actually repeat that one, because I’ve gotten better at this since then, and so I might take another stab at that one, now that I’ve got my shit together.
Doing things like that, that made it more fun, and kind of made up for the fact that it’s different.
QRO: Is it hard to keep those things fresh after the first few? And usually, a lot of the people are probably the same audience…
PH: They are.
It’s a challenge. We’ve made that just part of the challenge. Just try to think of things to do every week, to make this one a little bit special, and a little bit different.
I do think that, when I go back to work, when I get my old job back, I think I’m going to be better at it than I’ve ever been, because of having done this. I think there’s gonna be some of that for all of us.
I’ve watched my partners shows when they do theirs, cause, hell, it’s the only way I get to visit with them, watching their livestreams! I’ve seen Cooley’s show just get dramatically better lately. They’ve just really gotten so good.
I’m just watching, thinking, ‘When we get together and play, he’s gonna be on fire!’ [laughs]
Our keyboard player, Jay [Gonzalez], his shows are really fun. He’s obsessed with AM pop, seventies AM Gold. He has this encyclopedic knowledge of that music. One-hit wonders, that song “Shannon” from 1976 about the dog – he knows all that stuff.
And his shows are a blast! Cause he takes you through, and he mixes in his songs, which are wonderful too. And his songs sound like vintage AM Gold anyway, he’s got such a pop sensibility about him. I love his shows.
It’s gonna be fun when we can all actually go out and turn it up & raise hell again.
It’s gonna be fun when we can all actually go out and turn it up & raise hell again.
QRO: Have you thought about doing any drive-in shows?
PH: I’ll do one. I’ll do anything we can do that enables us to play, that’s safe.
The financial part of those are pretty iffy, particularly with me out here, the band out there. So, there’s so much cost of just getting us together.
Which had never been a factor. Since I’ve moved out here, the commute has not ever been a problem, until this year.
But this year, it’s sucked. Us trying to make the record, with me out here. And it’s not like I can just get on a plane and go, without a lot of serious issues with that. It’s been hard.
I’m really holding out hope that by summer, there will be at least some things we can do that will be safe & okay. And by fall, maybe things will start being able to open back up. I don’t know – I mean, god, that seems so long away.
It’s not like we’re all young, either… [laughs] I don’t know how many more good years we’ve got…
I’m good friends with Peter Buck. He’s my neighbor, actually. We had a cookout this summer, out in the backyard, socially distanced. He came over with one of his daughters.
He’s like a road warrior. I know R.E.M. quit being an active band in 2011, but he was still touring 100 days a year, with The Minus 5, with Scott McCaughey, Filthy Friends with Corin Tucker (QRO photos) – he had all these really cool projects. He was constantly on the road.
Since the shutdown, he’s like, ‘You know, I might be done. I might not tour anymore…’
Hearing him say that was kind of like, ‘Oh shit!’
He’s still healthy – he can whip my ass!
So, who knows, once it starts back up, he’ll probably be out there…
Drive-By Truckers’ video for “The New OK”:
QRO: How was making the video for “The New OK” (QRO review)?
PH: It was intense.
Our friend who put that all together was out there on the street, literally every day, filming all that stuff. He has hundreds of hours of footage of the protests and stuff.
When he agreed to do our video for that song, that was kind of the whole thing. We approached him about the song, and he liked it. He’s like, ‘Yeah, I’d like to work on this.’ He came up with the idea to film me up on the roof of that theater, overlooking a really quiet street.
Because that was the thing about the thing here in Portland. All of that stuff that happened that was in the national news of riots & all that shit they talked about – that was like a two- or three-square block area.
I’d be walking my dog, and I live in this really kind of beautiful, idyllic little neighborhood. But you could also, in the distance, hear the sirens, and the tear gas popping. Sometimes, you could even smell it in the air, the tear gas stuff. I’m like a mile from downtown.
So, I really like the juxtaposition of the empty street below me with literally nothing happening. I’m up there on that roof with that neon light and stuff. Mixed in with the footage of literally a tiny little part of our town – to hear the news coverage, you would think that our whole city is on fire or something. It was nothing like that.
It didn’t even need to be so violent, until the police overreacted, and then they sent the feds in. Hell, our mayor got tear-gassed…
QRO: Was the rest of the band bummed that the couldn’t be in the video shoot, or was it a relief to them?
PH: Oh, they were probably relieved.
I was the one bummed not to have ‘em, cause I was really self-conscious about it. ‘I don’t want just a bunch of footage of me – I want the band!’
I’d be walking my dog, and I live in this really kind of beautiful, idyllic little neighborhood. But you could also, in the distance, hear the sirens, and the tear gas popping.
QRO: Have you been working on any new music since The New OK?
PH: Yeah, I’m writing. I don’t know what the time frame will be, but I’m definitely writing towards another record.
I got a solo record I want to make at some point, too. And I got an unreleased record – we’re finished tracking; we just got to mix it, and master it, and figure out how to put it out at some point, that I made with Luther & Cody Dickinson, from the North Mississippi Allstars, and their dad.
Their dad was Jim Dickinson, the legendary producer, piano player, who produced The Replacements. He produced Big Star’s Third, he played piano on Wild Horses by The Stones, Dylan’s Time Out of Mind album, played with Elvis Costello – he’s played with all these people…
My dad’s a session player, a bass player, David Hood from the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The five of us made a record years ago, when Jim was still alive. We started this project, called “Dickinsons & Hoods.” We recorded like seven songs, and then we were gonna get together, like, ‘Oh, we’ll get together in a few months, and finish it.’
And then Jim got sick and died, and so we never finished it. A year ago, we finished recording it. Of course, Jim was no longer with us, but Jim, on his deathbed, had written instructions on how he wanted to see the record completed.
Always the producer – he literally, on a notecard, wrote out instructions to Luther & Cody for how he wanted to see the record get finished. Which included having Spooner Oldham come play any future keyboard parts we wanted. So, we got together with my dad & Spooner and the old Muscle Shoals Sound Studio a year ago, and we finished tracking it.
And then the plan was like, ‘Oh, next year, when the bands are on a break, we’ll get together and we’ll mix it & finish it.’ And, of course, you know, this all happened…
So, at some point I want to see that record come out. Because it’s cool, it’s weird – it’s beautifully weird.
And we’ll put it out as a tribute to Jim. One of my heroes, one of my idols. Getting to work with him while he was still around was just a dream come true. And Luther & Cody are really dear, close friends of mine.
And it’s a chance to work with my dad, which is something I haven’t gotten to do very much.
So, there’s a bunch of stuff in the pipeline for whenever we can do it.
Jim [Dickinson], on his deathbed, had written instructions on how he wanted to see the record completed.
QRO: I was wondering, being from Muscle Shoals, is it kind of expected that you’ll become a musician?
PH: [laughs] No – It’s the opposite of that…
Now, it’s this kind of cool, hip mecca, which I never thought I would live to see happen.
When I was growing up there, I grew up in a really dark time for it. Because I came of age just as the beautiful thing that happened was ending. I was a teenager when the studios all started closing, business started fleeing town.
And of course, it was a super-conservative, Bible Belt, very conservative, dry county when I was growing up. It was a weird time.
I had a band there for years. Cooley & I, our first hand was based there, Adam’s House Cat. This was eighties, and we had this vision, ‘Oh, we’ll turn Muscle Shoals into the next Athens, Georgia!’ And… nope! [laughs]
I spent six years trying to do that, and then I gave up, and I moved to the real Athens, Georgia, and things got better.
But now you go there, and it’s like this hip town. It’s still conservative and all of that, but there’s this cool thing happening alongside that. You can actually find good coffee there… [laughs]
It’s very different.
QRO: During this time, have you picked up and/or accelerated any bad habits? Like I only recently got my first pandemic haircut…
PH: [laughs] My hair’s awful.
Actually, my wife’s been cutting my hair. She does a pretty good job, I think. It’s what it is. There’s only so much you can do with this hair…
I made a conscious decision early on, that I wasn’t going to drink myself to death. Because that would have been the easiest thing to do, is just basically crawl into a bottle and not get out until life came back.
And I’m glad I did, because at the time I thought it was going to be two or three months, and now – That’s a really long bender… [laughs]
I decided early on not to drink a lot, and so I haven’t. I’ve probably been more sober than I normally would have been.
You know, we don’t drink like we used to – we couldn’t; we’re too old for that, and I wouldn’t be able to get anything done. But we like to have some beers, and have a few drinks, have a shot of tequila on stage or whatever.
But I’ve been pretty sober most of this.
(I smoke a lot of dope, though – thank you… [laughs])
I’m very thankful for the extra time I’ve had with my kids, and my wife.
I feel bad that a lot of the time, I was so stressed out about the worry, the financial worry and stuff that came with all of this. I wish I’d gotten to enjoy more of that time with them. I’m trying hard now to get better with that part of it.
Because I was in a pretty dark place this summer. I mean, it was hard.
Honestly, making The New OK probably did more good for me mentally.
If the record sucked, and everybody hated it, and there was no redeeming value to it whatsoever, I’d still would have to say it served a purpose in my life, for giving me this thing to work on that I felt positive about, that I think really helped me through a pretty dark time in my own head. So, there’s that, you know?
Once it was done, I’ve kind of been able to mostly continue onward on a little better plane.