Patterson Hood is a busy man. The de facto leader of the Drive-By Truckers spent 2007 in a flurry of activity, bouncing between various recording studios (where he produced a solo album by ex-bandmate Jason Isbell, collaborated with soul arist Bettye LaVette, and recorded the Drive-By Truckers' seventh studio effort) and the road (where the Truckers premiered new material as part of "The Dirt Underneath" tour). The Drive-By Truckers are now planning to travel the world in support of Brighter Than Creation's Dark, meaning that Hood won't find much rest in 2008. Nevertheless, the Southern singer/songwriter found a few free moments to talk with AMG about the album, the music, and the Truckers' soon-to-be terrible teens.
Allmusic - Tell us about John Neff, your band's newest member.
Patterson Hood - Late Night Johnny is both old and new. He was a founding member and has been playing in my "solo" band for years. Great having back in the fold full-time. We just all have a tremendous chemistry with him and he's a great guy to hang out with -- very funny and entertaining. He worked really hard on this album and was very involved in it all.
Allmusic - What's the story behind The Dirt Underneath tour?
PH - We wanted to take a little chance to kind of recreate our sound from the ground up. The idea was to strip the songs down to their essentials of lyric and melody and rebuild from scratch in front of a live audience, and then we decided to work up a bunch of new ones while we were at it. About 12 of the new songs were worked up and premiered that way last May, then we cut the album in June.
Allmusic - Why hasn't Shonna Tucker sung lead before? She sounds great.
PH - She never decided she was going to do it before. I've known she could sing and write as long as I've known her. Guess it just wasn't the time before now. I agree, though. I really love her songs and her singing. Her voice reminds me of teenaged Tanya Tucker and that's a good thing.
Allmusic - Which is harder to write: a war song or a love song?
PH - Maybe both. Both have the potential to get really lame really fast if you're not careful. With love songs, there's just so many already written that it's hard to find something new to say or some new way to say it. It's easy to get sappy and that would suck. With a war song, if you're not careful you end up just preaching to the converted, which is also lame. I don't ever want to get preachy, either. Ironically, if I was to write a love song, I'd probably look for the politics of love and approach it from that standpoint. I'd probably approach a political or war song from the opposite, looking for the personal in the political. Never been asked that; good question.
Allmusic - Wes Freed's iconic artwork has graced many of your albums' covers. How did those skeletons and scarecrows come to be the "face" of your records?
PH - Wes Freed is definitely a big part of what we do. We first met Wes and [his wife] Jyl back in 1997 when we were first starting out. We were already working on writing Southern Rock Opera and thought he'd be perfect to illustrate what we were writing. The collaboration worked so well we kept doing it. I love his art being the visual side of what we do. I want to write a graphic novel with him.
Allmusic - What's your favorite Mike Cooley lyric from this album?
PH - Second verse of "Three Dimes Down." I like all of Cooley's lyrics. I think "Bob" is a brilliant piece of writing. "Self Destructive Zones" is a standout, too.
Allmusic - Your band turned 11 last summer. What's in store for your impending teenage years?
PH - A troubled adolescence, maybe some rebellion. When we get our drivers license, watch out!