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Brantley Gutierrez

Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood on Speaking Out, Alabama Roots and New Album 'Welcome to Club XIII'


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Patterson Hood -- who, along with Mike Cooley, is one of the Drive-By Truckers' two singer/songwriter/guitarists -- has always said that dualities play a big part in the band. With a background like his, it stands to reason that they would. Hood grew up in Alabama back in the '70s. But he grew up in a liberal, musical household (his father is David Hood, bassist for the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section). So he has a unique perspective on certain things. As a teenager, he initially rejected the Southern rock that most of his peers were into in favor of punk  and indie-rock  -- only to eventually embrace both.  (Hood chronicled his musical and personal evolution in the Truckers' 2001 masterpiece, Southern Rock Opera.)

In recent years, Drive-By Truckers have become more overtly political than they once were. Their 2016 album American Band dealt with subjects like immigration, the Trayvon Martin murder, gun violence in general, and depression. Hood has said that the Truckers intended to follow American Band with a somewhat lighter release -- but that didn't happen. Between Donald Trump's election and all it wrought, the band's next two albums were, if anything, even darker and more political. 2020's The Unraveling and the quickly released follow-up The New OK dealt not only with mass shootings but also with subjects like economic inequality, drugs, the George Floyd murder and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Truckers returned on June 3 with their 14th studio effort, Welcome 2 Club XIII. While not exactly a light album, it's less overtly political than their last three have been. But this is still a Drive-By Truckers disc: rocking, intelligent and concise (nine songs). They recorded it in Georgia in just three days with their longtime producer, David Barbe. In addition to Hood and Cooley, the Truckers are rounded out these days by keyboardist Jay Gonzales, bassist Matt Patton and drummer Brad Morgan.  

The title track of Club XIII is a warts-and-all look back at the Alabama club that Hood and Cooley played at with Adam's House Cat, their first band. When I ask him what kind of venue it was, Hood says, "Industrial carpet and disco lights. You know, they had a big dance floor and they would play disco songs when [we weren't] playing. The floor would be packed with frat boys and sorority girls. Then the band would play and everybody would go outside and play and wait 'til the band was finished."  The song mentions some of the music that he and Cooley cut their teeth on -- from Foghat to the Jim Carroll Band. As a certified Carroll maniac, I asked him about Jim. 

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"The band that I was in [back then] -- the only song they'd let me sing was 'People Who Died'," he replies.  "[The Jim Carroll Band] album Catholic Boy came out when I was 16. So we started covering the song then -- 42 years ago. And I've covered that song in every band I've been in since, including the Truckers! I've always loved [Carroll]... I never got to meet him [but] he did hear our song. A mutual friend of ours played him our version of it and supposedly he liked it. That made me very happy."

One of Club XIII's other highlights is the opening track, an eerie, seven-minute song called "The Driver." 

"[That's] probably one of the most autobiographical songs I've ever written," says Hood of the track. "I learned to drive when I was 12. And I've been driving since. Much of my youth [was spent] livin' in what felt like a dead end town -- it was a dry country growing up and there wasn't a lot to do. A lot of the time, I would go out at night and just drive around.  That's where I would think. At various times in my life, I've kinda had moments of clarity where I've made decisions that affected the rest of my life while driving around. Including the decision that I talk about in the song, about dropping out of school. You know, I was driving around [listening to] The Replacements' [album] Tim, which had just come out. And I was like, "God, this is what I need to be doing. I don't need to be wasting my time flunking out of school,  tryin' to learn something that I'm not even interested in.  I should be playing in a loud, out of tune band. So I did!" 

"The Driver" benefits not only from Hood's lyrics and the band's slow build but also from the bewitching harmony vocals of a singer named Schaefer Llana.  "She was Matt Patton's assistant engineer at his studio, Dial Back Sound, in Water Valley, Mississippi," Hood explains.  "She's a solo artist in her own right... I produced an album [for] an artist named Jerry Joseph; it actually came out during the lockdown but we made it in 2019. We cut it there [and] when we were recording it, we needed a female vocal. And Matt was literally saying, 'Schaefer actually sings her ass off. You should get her to do it.' So we got her to sing on this one song -- and she blew us away."  Llana also lends her vocals to the album's closing song, "Wilder Days" -- which is another look back at the Truckers' roots.

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The Truckers plan to spend most of 2022 on the road, in support of Club XIII. Hood is eager to get back to playing new songs after spending much of the last two years in lockdown -- and he's aware of his band's unique position as a kickass Southern rock band that's liberal. There's that duality again. 

"On paper, we're the demographic of the quintessential Trump voter," he admits.  "Middle-aged, white, Southern males who didn't finish college.  I mean, that's as Trump-voter as you can get! Someone who fits that demographic needs to be speaking out about Black Lives Matter. [And] about what happened to Trayvon Martin, what's goin' on in our with our police departments,  immigration policies. We need to be doing this. That was such a big part of our call to arms about making [American Band], and the two that we made after it. If I had a British accent, I could refer to them as 'the trilogy'," he laughs.   

READ MORE: Mary Gauthier Explores Love After Loss on New Album 'Dark Enough to See the Stars'

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