By Steve Houk livingonmusic.com
Looking at things from a bird’s eye view — maybe one of an Osprey or Cooper’s Hawk sailing over his home in Oregon — Patterson Hood has a damn good thing going as he soars along in his mid-fifties.
Regarded as one of music’s most compelling songwriters and the leader of one of rock and roll’s most stunningly powerful (and still somewhat underrated bands), Drive-By Truckers, life is good for Hood.
But now and then, without fail, his oft-tormented mind cannot rest. Along with the immense joy of being a bandleader and a father (he has two children) can also come a simmering, percolating fury at the so-called bullshit of the world. For Hood that is the current direction of the country and the ancillary consequences that have blanketed his psyche and threatened the security of his kids. It’s this fury that can, at times, overshadow the good and startlingly remind him of the bad. But in Hood’s churning torrent of magnificent expression– an outpouring of seething emotion amidst honesty and eloquence– is where remarkable music is born. That’s the delicate balance of Patterson Hood’s life.
“I mean, it’s a pretty shitty time, but I’m trying to stay positive with it,” Hood told me from his home in Portland days ahead of the Drive-By Truckers latest tour, one that hits D.C.’s 9:30 Club Feb 28 and 29. “I’m by nature a fairly optimistic person, so it’s all a balancing act. Any given day, the balance is tilting too far in one direction and there’s always an ‘Oh shit!’ Too much weight on the back of the plane, move the weight to the front of the plane. I’m always trying to figure it out, it’s still a work in progress. The good news is I do enjoy my job.”
As the DBT begin their U.S. tour on the heels of their 12th record The Unraveling, Hood is stoked. He is clearly infused with the boundless energy that musicians feel as they hit the road with their beloved band after a brief break. And like before, it’s taking the brutally honest and often dark and real subject matter of some of his band’s new songs and turning it into rock and roll euphoria that is part of his adroitness, prowess and magic.
“The goal is now to take these dark fucking songs and find the joy in playing them live,” Hood said. “It’s almost like the Blues tradition, no one really thinks of our band as a Blues band in the traditional musical sense of what 12 bar blues sounds like. But in the sense of how Blues music came to be and what it stands for, is kind of what we do. I mean you take your troubles, you play them in a celebratory manner on a Saturday night, and people come together, and it kind of chases the darkness away, at least for the night.”
With songs on the new album including “Babies In Cages,” “Thoughts and Prayers” and “21st Century America” that address Hood’s disgust with current administration policies and their effects, Hood has written songs with such power and directness, no holds barred, punch in the gut lyrics from his perspective. And yet as Hood says, along with the dark comes the light, so even though it was a longer recording process, being back in the studio with his longtime band was a true joy and helped to define and hone the album’s direction, which Hood calls a “long process.”
Hood has had some astoundingly good company along his songwriting road with the Truckers, including of course Jason Isbell and Hood’s current longtime bandmate Mike Cooley. Die-hard Truckers fans will notice that there are a couple less Cooley tunes on The Unraveling than were on DBT’s previous American Band record, but that’s just an accepted part of the whittling process, and Cooley remains a revered part of Hood’s team.
“To me, the world’s a better place with the more Cooley songs, because I’m a big fan. If I wasn’t in this band, he would be one of my very favorite songwriters, period, anywhere. I think “Grievance Merchants” is just a fucking top shelf song, and I think “Slow Ride Argument” is kind of different than anything we’ve ever done in a really cool way,” Hood says. “After we get through next year, we’ll figure out what we want to do with all the other songs we wrote, and maybe turning that into a record, a very different kind of record.”
And then there’s The Unraveling‘s album cover, which largely sums up Hood’s currently riled mindset as well as his always underlying optimism. Taking a different direction than artist Wes Freed‘s remarkable fantasy-like drawings that graced past DBT album covers, the simple image on The Unraveling is a stunningly beautiful photograph of two children, Hood’s 10 year old son and his best friend, standing at the Oregon seaside at sunset, dressed as their hero Indiana Jones. But to the contemplative Hood, there’s a lot more to it than just the natural beauty of the image.
“Once we settled on what the album was, I was looking for a photo that captured something about that, and when I stumbled across that photo, it immediately spoke to me, it’s like, ‘Oh, wait a minute, this is how I want this to look.’ Because any optimism I have in life comes from the kids, that’s where my optimism comes from. Sooner or later, us old fuckers are going to die off and hopefully they’ll be able to fix some of this shit that we’ve left them with. So it’s like they’re looking out at that sun saying, ‘Maybe this world won’t be as fucked up as it seems right now with some of these people that are leading it.’”
Drive-By Truckers with Buffalo Nichols perform at 9:30 Club. For tickets please click here.