Smile Politely

Drive-By Truckers get personal on new album ahead of Canopy Club show

The band Drive-By Truckers are standing and seated on the porch of a wood house. They are five white-presenting men. Two are standing, two are seating on a couch, and one is seated in a chair.
Drive-By Truckers; Bradley Gutierrez

Last week I sat down with Patterson Hood, guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter for Athens, GA band Drive-By Truckers. We talked about the uniqueness of their upcoming album, Welcome to Club XIII, just ahead of their appearance Wednesday, March 15th at The Canopy Club in Urbana. Hood and his band are known for their strong political stances, but this latest album was intensely personal, and by Hood’s words, “super autobiographical.”

You can expect Hood and his bandmates to put on a rock and roll show that is fueled by the spirit of spontaneity onstage. The band rarely has a setlist and plays from the gut, which is the true spirit of rock and roll. This versatility makes for a carefree attitude which translates to a night of great music and performances, where anything can happen — just like a meteor shooting out of the sky and landing next to your bus. (Keep reading for that story.)

Tickets are still available for their show on Wednesday, March 15th. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Patterson Hood: I had always planned on the follow-up to American Band being a bit of a detour. Although our band is political and there has always been a political aspect to everything we’ve done, our new album is more personal, and I wrote most of the songs as reactions to conversations I had with my kids during the Trump era. I would have to answer questions from my kids about things that they would see in the news. We’re the kind of family that kept up with what was going on, and with current events, so we talked about it. The things we were talking about were really kind of horrific things; they were seeing these things firsthand. My kids deal with lockdown drills, and school shootings are a real trauma to them. Both of them have had incidents in their schools that didn’t end up being major incidents but they were definitely scary incidents. 

All of that inspired [the album] The Unraveling (2020) and then [the album] The New OK was literally our pandemic record. A lot of the new stuff that was written for that record was written in the midst of Trump sending the troops into Portland and occupying my town. Seeing upfront things that were happening with my own eyes, and then seeing the way it was spun on the news, even the so-called more liberal news wasn’t accurate, and so after all that, we finally got to make that [more personal] record we’ve been wanting to make. I’m really proud of Welcome to Club XIII. To me, it’s one of our better records.

Smile Politely: The first track on the album, “The Driver,” is a seven-minute epic that sets the tone for the rest of the record. What inspired this song and why did you choose it to open the album?

Hood: I wrote “The Driver” last for the album, but I knew it had to be the first track. It’s autobiographical, drawing on my love of cars and constant movement. It acknowledges both the good and the dark sides of life on the road, and hopefully captures that experience in a way that resonates with listeners.

SP: In “The Driver,” you mention a meteor falling beside your tour bus in Idaho. Did that really happen?

Hood: It did happen. It was around 2009, and we were all asleep when it hit. We woke up in Boise and the driver was talking about it. At first we thought he was joking, but then we heard about it on the news. It landed right by the interstate, and we realized how lucky we were that it didn’t hit us. It’s almost like something out of a rock opera, you know?

SP: You record many of your songs in just one or two takes. How does that free-wheeling energy affect your creative process in the studio?

Hood: It’s a big part of our process, and I love it. In the early days, we didn’t have much money to make records, so we had to be efficient. We made our album Southern Rock Opera for about $7,000, recording in a warehouse and doing overdubs in a guitarist’s den. When we started working with a record company, we got into the habit of making albums in two weeks. But sometimes happy accidents happen, like when we recorded Welcome to Club XIII in just three and a half days. We didn’t even realize we were making a record, but we were so happy with what we got that we decided to release it as-is.

SP: Do you still face backlash from fellow southerners and conservatives in general due to your political views? How do you deal with that?

Hood: I believe in speaking my mind through my music, and if people don’t like it, that’s fine. I may not be as eloquent on Twitter as my former bandmate Jason Isbell, but I share his sentiment that I’ll sing what I want to sing and say what I want to say.

SP: Your band is often referred to as Alternative Country. How does that label make you feel?

Hood: I don’t particularly love it, but I don’t mind it either. We’re influenced by a lot of different genres, including country, rock, and punk. But I think the alternative part comes from the fact that we don’t fit neatly into any one box. We’re just trying to make honest music that reflects our experiences and the world around us.

SP: Have you heard your music called something you don’t particularly love?

Hood: Well, we often get called southern rock, and I really don’t like the connotation of it. I mean, we’re obviously very southern, but to me, there is no label as good as a rock and roll band. We’re a rock and roll band, and there are sub-genres that are under that umbrella. We have songs that I think are pretty old country and even pass for traditional country, and we have songs that are punk rock, with an R&B influence. We’ve skipped around and done all kinds of stuff, and I like it that way because I have pretty eclectic tastes. We all do. We all listen to all kinds of stuff. So, when they lump us into southern rock, and people think we have rebel flags, it’s not true. So, I’ve always kind of resented that sub-genre.

Drive-By Truckers
The Canopy Club
708 S Goodwin Ave
W Mar 15th; doors at 7 p.m.,show at 8 p.m.
Tickets $30+

Music Editor

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