- Danny Clinch
- The rebel sons of the South.
The Drive-By Truckers' 11th studio album American Band has earned enthusiastic reviews in many quarters, and shows up on more than a few "Best of 2016" lists. Many critics have commented on the political nature of much of its lyrics. Band leader Patterson Hood, who acts as one of the group's two primary songwriters (along with Mike Cooley), didn't expect that to come as a surprise. "There's always been a political aspect to our writing," he says. "I just think the language is more direct now."
Hood points to a long list of titles from the Athens, Georgia-based band's back catalog. "'The Living Bubba' on our first album [1998's Gangstabilly] was about a musician dying of AIDS," he points out. Hood also takes issue with the idea that songs are either personal or political, but not both.
"Actually, the political is personal," he insists. "I don't understand the disconnect about why things have to be looked at as one or the other."
Although Hood is a son of the South — Patterson's father Dave Hood was a famed Muscle Shoals session player — he knows which side of the divide he's on. "I've grown up around people voting against their best interest," he says. "I came of age in the era of [George] Wallace, and I saw the damage it did to our state. Not just to the people that we were trying to oppress, but to ourselves.
"I don't see any of the things we were [writing] about on this record changing for the better any time soon, unfortunately," adds Hood. "And I was much more optimistic when we made the record than I am now." He notes that Alabama stands "ranked at the bottom five of almost every list you put it in. Yet we continue voting for assholes like [Republican Sen.] Jeff Sessions, who put and keeps us there." Faced with the reminder that Sessions is President-elect Donald Trump's choice for U.S. Attorney General, Hood roars, "So America's going to be Alabama now. Congratu-fucking-lations!"
Clearly, Hood writes about the things that matter to him. But does he feel a responsibility to pen a certain kind of song? "I think I have a responsibility to write the best song I possibly can," he says, "and I have a responsibility to not spout out a lot of bullshit." To that end, Hood makes sure to do deep research whenever he writes about a subject: "If I say something, I need to be able to back it up."
Meanwhile, the Drive-By Truckers have continued to expand their fan base over nearly two decades, all while resolutely charting the musical and lyrical path of their own choosing. Hood credits it all to growing up as the son of a session player, which led him to assume he too could make a living as a musician.
"It didn't occur to me until years and years later that it might not actually work out that way," he laughs. "But I continued to do it anyway, and eventually it did work out. And I'm grateful for that. I always wanted to be that guy onstage. I wanted to be that guy with the guitar, and hot girls in the audience."