Rollo & Grady Interview // Patterson Hood

Rollo & Grady Interview // Patterson Hood
Image by Jason Thrasher

Drive-By Truckers frontman, Patterson Hood is set to release his second solo album, Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs) this Tuesday. The humble singer-songwriter prefers to call it a side project “since it was certainly not done alone.” Hood began writing the songs on April fool’s day 15 years ago when he moved to Athens, Georgia in 1994, but shelved them to focus his energy on his then new band, the Drive-By Truckers. He revisited the project in 2005 and recorded it with David Barbe (Sugar), Will Johnson and Scott Danborn of Centro-Matic and his DBT band mates. This is also the first time Hood’s father, David Hood, famed Muscle Shoals bass player, joins him on a record.

When I spoke with Patterson last week, we discussed his excitement over the release of Murdering Oscar, his longtime relationship with Truckers guitarist Mike Cooley and big-box retailer deals.

Rollo & Grady Interview // Patterson Hood

R&G: Your upcoming album Murdering Oscar is 15 years in the making, but I imagine the last four years were the hardest for you [Hood completed the album in 2005, but could not release it due to a contract dispute with former label, New West Records]. How excited are you to be finally releasing it and what does it mean to you?

Patterson: I’m thrilled it’s finally coming out. It’s a project I really believed in and thought it was a good record, just something that needed to come out. It was a long frustration not being able to, so I’m just glad it’s coming out now. I didn’t do much to it in the intervening four years, but I think the little bit I did do made a big difference. I think it’s a much better record than it would have been if it came out in ’05, so I’m happy with that. It’s all been worth it.

R&G: It still had to be a hard time for you.

Patterson: Oh yeah. It was something I was pretty angry about for a long time – even bitter, at times. Like I said, it’s all worked out now, so I’m willing to put a happy ending on it and move forward. I’m really proud of the record. I think it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done, and everyone that played on it did such a great job. It’s already affected the band in a positive way. I think it could be easily argued that making that record kind of led to John Neff [Truckers guitarist] rejoining the band, and that’s been a very positive thing for all of us. It probably led to Jay [Gonzalez, Truckers keyboardist] joining the band, though he’s not on that record. That was the first record I did with a keyboard player, and I really liked it. In a lot of ways, there’s a closer relationship between that album and where the band is now – certainly than where the band was then. If the album had come out in ’05, it probably would have been seen as a peak-sized departure from what people thought I did or from what the band was doing, but having it come out now fits pretty nicely between the last and next Truckers albums.

R&G: Why didn’t some of the songs from Murdering Oscar make it on to Killers and Stars [Hood‘s first solo effort]?

Patterson: This is just a different era. The Killers and Stars songs were all written right then. It wasn’t meant to be an album; it was just a bunch of songs I wrote right then and there that I had demoed in my living room, and over a period of seven years between when I did it and when it came out, people were passing around copies of it. People kept asking for it. I decided to put it out. It wasn’t like Murdering Oscar. We actually set out to make an album when we made this record.

The Truckers went through a tough time in 2006. You were dealing with writers block, the band was strapped for cash and you guys were exhausted from non-stop touring. You ended up accepting an opening slot for the Black Crowes to make ends meet. What was that experience like for you and the band?

Patterson: Yeah, it was a tough time, but those times happen. Those are the times, I guess, that make you appreciate the better times. It’s something we had to go through to get where we are now. That tour was rough because it was a hard tour and we played a lot of dates. We were away from our families for longer than we wanted to be. My daughter was very little at that time – she was one. That’s a tough time to be away that long. The fact is that, as a band, we’ve been lucky that we’ve never really made many decisions based on money. Lord knows we were poor and broke for years and years, partly because of that. We turned down some things that probably would have been lucrative, but we didn’t want to do them, so we didn’t. With the Crowes tour, we were backed against a wall. We were in a lot of debt from decisions some of our former managers made that didn’t work out – we owed a lot of money. We owed so much that we didn’t even have the option to take time off to fix some shit within the band because we had to pay this huge bill we owed every month. That tour enabled us to wipe that slate clean and it bought us time off to go home and work on our lives, write another album and straighten things out in the band. It was a good thing. I don’t really want to talk about it, because I don’t want it to sound like there was any problem with The Black Crowes. They’re great – they’re a great band. They were nothing but good to us all the way through the tour and they helped us get through it. They were super-good guys. It was just a bad time for us. It just happened to be on their tour. That’s all.

One of the tracks off of Murdering Oscar, “Heavy and Hanging,” is about Kurt Cobain’s suicide. You wrote it shortly after his death and you were going through a divorce. Did you ever have suicidal thoughts during that time?

Patterson: I’ve felt these very suicidal tendency periods in my life. I’ve managed to keep that wolf at bay when it was probably the most pressing. I’m grateful that I never crossed that line. It wasn’t for lack of it occurring to me. That’s a big part of why I’m so involved in the cause that our band has – the Nuci’s Space foundation that we raise money for every year in Athens. That’s one of the reasons we all feel so closely connected trying to help that cause. The biggest part of their mission is suicide prevention for artists and musicians. It’s kind of a local thing, but it should be a bigger thing in more communities, especially places like Athens that have an arts community. There’s just not really anything helping those people. Nuci’s Space has had pretty remarkable success through what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.

R&G: I have a lot of friends who have already heard Murdering Oscar. What do you think about leaks?

Patterson: I think it’s just how it is. It’s like the atomic bomb. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back. I think that’s kind of where technology’s at. For artists to sit around and bitch about it is useless, because you can’t change it. The best thing to do is to do what you do until it works in your favor instead of against you. Don’t sue your fans.

R&G: They will support the band by coming to your shows, telling their friends and possibly buying merchandise.

Patterson: Yeah. They do come to the show, and they do buy the t-shirts, and I like to think that by packaging, by putting a little bit more money and a little bit more care into the packaging of the records, there will be people who, even though they’ve been listening to the music for two months, will still go out and buy it because they either feel like they should support the artist – and bless them for that – or because the packaging looks so good that they want to have something that they can hold in their hands besides just music floating around on their little box. That’s kind of what I do. Hell, I’ve had the fucking Wilco record for a month, maybe two months. I love that record, and when it comes out, I’m going to go buy it on vinyl, because I can’t download vinyl. You can download the music from it, but it’s not the same as having that record in your hands. That’s why I think vinyl’s made such a comeback. I think the idea of the music not having any kind of physical manifestation has bothered some people and made them appreciate vinyl. I love my fucking iPod. It’s on the road with me. I have 10,000 songs at my beck and call at all times that I can listen to, but when I get home, I play my turntable. That’s all I play at home is my turntable. Anything I download that I want to listen to past the second time, I buy. I think that’s fair enough.

R&G: There were rumors in the past that you and Cooley [Mike, Truckers Guitarist] were going to put out an album.

Patterson: The two of us doing a project together? We’ve already got a project together [laughs]. We’ve got a big project together. I can’t imagine, at this point right now – when the band’s so kick-ass – I can’t really imagine either one of us doing a project without it being directly related with the Truckers. I’ll still do side projects because I’ve got friends I want to work with or do something with or whatever, but as far as making a record with Cooley, it’d be kind of crazy to do something and it not be the Truckers at this point.

R&G: You and Mike are hands down one of the best combinations in the music business today.

Patterson: We’ve got 24 years now under our belts. We might be good for another 24. It seems like it’s getting easier, so I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t play together as long as most of us are physically able to. I figure even if it gets to a point where it’s not a full-time job, I think we will still play together and collaborate as long as we’re both alive. It’s too good for us not to. I think we both get a lot out of it. Hell, we even like each other now [laughs]. We didn’t use to. If we could stay together for ten years of not liking each other, then there’s probably no reason to break up now.

R&G: When did you come to the realization that, “I like this guy.”

Patterson: I don’t know. It was more of a matter of when we were willing to admit it. It’s not like we disliked each other – we just didn’t get along. We couldn’t be more different. Anytime you’re trying to forge a path with somebody that you disagree with about everything, it takes a while to build up that mutual respect that enables you to say, “Whether I agree or not, he’s probably at least 50% right – maybe more.” It’s just part of growing up. We’re definitely more like brothers. We grew up together, learned to do all this together, figured it out ourselves, and usually the hard way. In the process, we learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses and our own weaknesses. It’s a pretty great relationship, really.

R&G: Did you guys ever come to blows?

Patterson: It never did come to blows. We almost did. It wasn’t a good fight. Any of the times we almost did, it probably would have been a good fight, depending on who was most pissed off and who was drunkest. Most times, it was probably both, so it could have gone either way. He better knock me out in the first punch, because if he don’t, I’m going to kill him [laughs].

R&G: I love it.

Patterson: He was the one of us more prone to throwing the first punch, I think.

R&G: So you’re honestly telling me it never happened, not even once?

It never happened, but if it does, he’d better hit me hard. He’d better sleep with the light on [laughs].

R&G: I think you could take him. He’s a scrawny motherfucker, but he’s crazy [laughs].

Patterson: Don’t underestimate those crazy scrawny ones. They’ll fuck you up. Not to mention neither one of us is above using knives if necessary. It would get ugly [laughs].

R&G: Springsteen, AC/DC, Eagles, and Pearl Jam have done Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target deals. What are your thoughts on big-box retailer deals?

Patterson: I don’t like it much. I don’t like it much at all. I think Springsteen went back later and disavowed it and called it a mistake, and I think the Eagles and AC/DC made a lot of money and took the money and ran and that’s probably fine for them, because neither one of them are the kind of bands that really ever took stands about that kind of thing anyway, so whatever. I love AC/DC; don’t get me wrong. They’re not known for taking social stands though. But it was probably a bad mistake for Bruce to do it, because he is known for that, and it did go against the grain of what supposedly stands for. When he got called on it, I think he realized it, maybe. The Pearl Jam one is kind of interesting. It’s a little different because they kept the independent record stores as a separate thing. It’s an exclusive deal as far as the big box goes – they’re only at Target, which is probably the lesser of evils between the Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart thing anyway, to me. They kept that, but they’re wide open for what they do with the independent stores, and they may even be talking about doing some special configurations for them. That would have been my biggest complaint with those kinds of deals: when it fucks over the indie stores. I think anyone in the music business almost has an obligation to see them survive. If not obligation, at the very least, if they know what’s good for us, they’d want to see it survive. I think that the death of the indie record store would be one of the worst things that could happen to the music business at this point. Anything that’s done to look out for them and helps them is a very good thing. I know that my life would have been a lot less good growing up if I didn’t have the record store to go hang out in.

Patterson Hood & the Screwtopians – Tour Dates:
June 18 Nashville, TN Grimey’s in-store
June 18 Nashville, TN Mercy Lounge
June 19 Louisville, KY Headliner’s
June 20 Chicago, IL The Metro
June 22 Philadelphia, PA World Café Live
June 23 Brooklyn, NY Music Hall of Williamsburg
June 24 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom
June 25 Washington, DC The Black Cat
June 27 Athens, GA AthFest

Pre-order Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs) (Click Here)

MP3: Patterson Hood – Heavy and Hanging
MP3: Drive-By Truckers – The Righteous Path
MP3: Centro-Matic – Patience for the Ride

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