Smile Politely

Feeling the best since… ever

Last year, I had an opportunity to speak with Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers prior to their performance at the Canopy Club. Well, that show happened, of course — but the interview running on this very magazine didn’t due to a little temporary lights out time that was beyond our control, sadly.


When I found out that the band would be performing as a part of this year’s stellar ELLNORA lineup at Krannert Center, a little digging around occured, and here we are. Interview in (digital) hand.

The band has been around for quite some time, though any rudimentary Google search and a Wikipedia page later can tell you all about that. I had a chance to speak with Hood about the tour, some of their songwriting techniques, collaboration within the band, and more.

Smile Politely: I’ll stay within the realm of recent doings — what was the consensus/state of the band following touring in support of Go-Go Boots? 

Patterson Hood: We were pretty burned out and knew we had some things to fix within the band. That led to a year long period of transition, which was kind of brutal but we definitely came out the other end a better band than we’ve been in a very long time. It also enabled us to take enough time to craft some really killer songs.

Smile Politely: What was the process like of reconvening after a bunch of time off and solo records mixed in during that time?

Hood: It was really quick and fun. Cooley and I sent around our song demos to the band and each other, we learned the basic structures then convened in the studio and cut the album really quickly. I think we tracked 17 songs in 14 days. Everyone was really focused and the energy was really great.

Smile Politely: What was the mentality going into making the new record after that time away from one another?

Hood: We were all glad to be back together and everyone was excited about the new songs, especially having so many great Cooley songs to work with.

Smile Politely: Talk about the themes that were dispersed throughout the record. Just how split up were the songwriting duties this time around? (Hell, the cover art is nearly symmetrical.)

Hood: We were all happy with how mine and Cooley’s songs locked together, as f we’d planned them that way. We didn’t. Neither of us had any idea of the common themes we both were writing about. It just happened that way. Was very happy with the cover too. It was a pre-existing painting that Wes did for a couple of friends of ours of their three daughters swimming in a lake. The similarities to the old Slint album cover were coincidental but appreciated. 

Smile Politely: You’ve always been a band that is warmly received by a wide array of people and tastes. Can you recall any particular situations where you’ve felt OUT of place amongst a lineup of bands/within a festival bill, etc etc?

Hood: It happens, but fortunately not very often. What we do tends to work live in most situations.

Smile Politely: Talk about your upcoming live film Black Ice Verite. What was the process like and inspiration behind putting something like this together?

Hood: We filmed and recorded the special show, an invite-only thing in our hometown of Athens, Georgia, on the night before our annual HeAthens Homecoming shows this year. Our goal was to get workable footage of 5-6 songs from the new album to use for video content. The snow and ice was unplanned, but we ended up making it happen anyway and just opening the doors to anyone who wanted to walk downtown for the show. We ended up getting great footage of the entire album and thought we would make it available. The way that the label is putting the thing out is pretty cool, as it’s all priced very fairly and done in a way that hopefully no one can say is exploitive of our fans. 

Smile Politely: Was snow in Athens truly “armageddon” (as many said) during the time you all were crafting the live film/show? The Midwest winter was brutal, but that seems to happen every year in the Midwest. 

Hood: I’m sure the amount of snow/ice was laughable to most of the rest of country, but the south has no provisions for such things, no plows, limited deicing technology because it is pretty rare. Also many southern drivers can’t function on ice. We can, as DBT spent years touring up north in vans and driving those conditions, but most Southerners are pretty helpless on ice. The town (and much bigger Atlanta and Birmingham) were literally shut down and people were abandoning their cars on the interstate. It was pretty funny if you weren’t caught out in it. It was still pretty treacherous in Athens, but fortunately its a small town and we could walk where we needed to go.  

Smile Politely: What’s your relationship like with ATO Records, having been there for a bunch of years now? 

Hood: They have been incredibly supportive to us. They seem to “get” us and appreciate us. It’s been a very happy situation for several albums now. 

Smile Politely: Considering one of the first live shows I ever went to was a Drive-By Truckers show (with Black Crowes and Robert Randolph), I’m pleased to think that attending this show (my first DBT show in almost 10 years) will be a new experience. New material certainly helps factor into the equation there, but after decades of playing shows, how does the band continue to evolve in the live setting?

Hood: This is the best that the band has been in ten years. Maybe forever. It’s a really kickass lineup and everyone is having a great time. This has been my favorite year of touring in our 18 year history. Having new material that we are excited about is essential, as nobody wants to spend the rest of our lives going out just playing the old songs. I’m very proud of our catalog, but if it’s not always evolving and growing, I’d rather just stay at home with my family. 

Check out Drive-By Truckers at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts this Friday, September 11th in the Tryon Festival Theatre at 9 p.m.

Photos by David McCallister.

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