Put Your Ears On

Charleston City Paper | September 30, 2006
“I love my comedy dark,” says Patterson Hood, one of three songwriter-frontmen for the Georgia rock band Drive-By Truckers. “Laughing at tragedy may be the secret to a long and happy life … the idea of making a double-album about George Wallace and the fall of Southern rock may be one of the funniest things I’ve ever imagined.”

Over the years, the Truckers have occasionally been mistaken for a comedy act. That probably doesn’t offend Patterson Hood. The band’s lyrics are satirical in varying measure. They’re also wounded, confused, resilient, and, like the high-octane guitar rock that ferries them, American in their hardwiring.

So call them funny. But don’t call them “Southern rock.” After creating a dense cast of small-town misfits and gaining mass acclaim with Southern Rock Opera, a concept album about, among other things, the career and aerial trajectory of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hood is pretty much finished talking about Southern rock, whatever that is.

“It’s redundant,” he says, “as rock ’n’ roll was invented in the south. It conjures up images of overweight guys with mullets singing from a right-wing point of view while guitars noodle endlessly… I always prefer the term ‘rock ’n’ roll’ for my band, as that is far more open-ended and fitting. Rock ’n’ roll, in its original definition, encompasses elements of country, blues and whatever else you want to put into the pot.”

The Drive-By Truckers formed in 1996, in Athens, Ga., a beer-drinking music mecca with a perpetual identity crisis. Athens had then recently embraced the psychedelic experimentation of Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, and others under the Elephant 6 banner. He and his long-time friend Mike Cooley recorded a few albums with three guitars and no theremin. Although they only hinted at the expansive rock to come, the early platters Gangstabilly and Pizza Deliverance attracted a sympathetic local coterie. After Southern Rock Opera raised the stakes, guitarist Jason Isbell replaced Rob Malone and quickly proved himself Hood and Cooley’s songwriting equal. Bassist Shonna Tucker and drummer Brad Morgan round out the current lineup.

DBT’s latest LP, A Blessing And A Curse (New West), defies the band’s old pigeonholes. It’s got all the goofy grandiosity and galvanizing punch of records past, but with a heightened musical and lyrical curiosity. In particular, Hood’s material blurs the distinctions between “rock” and “soul,” as ordained by his heritage. His father David Hood was a bassist for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section — as one of his son’s favorite comedians (along with TV satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), the elder Hood is a powerful influence on all fronts. Hood is a man who keeps his friends close and his sense of humor closer.

“When we started this band,” recalls Hood, “Cooley and I had already been slugging it out for a decade, and that was ten years ago. He and I hardly ever fight anymore. We’re very much like a family, albeit a sometimes extremely dysfunctional one. People say we don’t communicate, but sometimes that may be the key. Through it all, I think a supreme mutual respect for each other as people and artists, is essential, and sometimes still not enough… Knowing how and when to say no is important.”

While he still digs the “pre-mullet” Skynyrd, Hood reserves some admiration for the “uplifting sad songs” of The Flaming Lips. “It’s a balance that we aspire to, with sometimes mixed results. I think our live show manages to walk that line pretty well, but I’m afraid that our studio records still tilt a little too far into the dark side.”

Charleston City Paper

Founded in 1997, the locally owned and operated City Paper is Charleston's only weekly alternative newspaper and the second-largest publication in the metro Charleston area. Reaching a strong mix of active, affluent locals and tourists, the City Paper has thrived...
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