Drive-By Truckers: the Righteous Path

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Focused on the Righteous Path:
Picking Up the Pieces with Patterson Hood
Words by Martin Halo

Athens, Georgia — Patterson Hood is back at his home in Athens, Georgia. It has been close to a full year of non-stop roller coaster turmoil for his Drive-By Truckers since they graced the stage of the PNC Bank Arts Center opening for the Black Crowes in July of 2006. Returning from the first leg of touring, supporting Brighter Than Creations Dark, he tries his best to recharge.

“We played a lot of shows,” he says, “and it was tough because we were all sick. I could go to bed right now and sleep for a week.”

Once Patterson Hood does get to throw up his feet and relax, it is the images of what transpired that will continue to haunt him. The release of Blessing and Curse [2006] was met with critical unrest as the factions, who made up the songwriting nexus of the Drive-By Truckers, began to unravel at the seams. Guitarist Jason Isabell was on his way out. It was something that band knew was about to come to a head, they just didn’t know when.

“It was looming,” offers Hood. “There was a lot of tension in the band and we didn’t know if it was something we were going to survive. A divorce was about to occur and it was very painful.”

That was only a part of the band’s problems. A flop summer shed tour supporting the Black Crowes left the band in debt and sparked a downward spiral. After it was all said and done it was Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley who was left holding the pieces. For the long time friends, it was a situation that they were used to handling.

“Cooley and I had so much history before this band even started,” says Patterson Hood. “We had a band back in the 80s that lived an entire artistic life in the dark. It never caught on anywhere. We practiced a lot, played a couple hundred shows over the course of six years and made a record that never came out. It was about as failed as can be. After it was over Cooley and I didn’t speak for years. This all happened before the Drive-By Truckers even started. But we knew we had chemistry, that was the lifeblood, so a big part of starting this band was developing a scheme to lure Cooley back into it.”

Records followed, and successful ones at that. But like anything chugging along in the fast lane, derailing at 150 mph stings. “We came home from the Blessing and Curse Tour not knowing if there was going to be a future for the band. We took time off because so many bands break-up and then after the fact when they are giving interviews they realize that if they just took some time off they would have stayed together. We felt the same way. That tour was the only time in this band’s history where we were not moving forward.”

“We decided we were going to do whatever the bottom line was to keep the lights on at the company. Once I came home, rested, and relaxed my brain I started writing with a vengeance,” says Hood. “It was real apparent to me very early on that I was writing songs in a different manner than ever before. They were songs I wanted this band to do. I think Mike Cooley came to the same conclusion.”

“I wrote about 50 songs, and Cooley wrote about 9. I don’t know how many Shonna [Tucker] wrote, she is so private.”

Weathered, weary, and tired the band embarked on a tour that marked their public reinvention in the spring of 2007. It wasn’t what audiences were used to. The band performed acoustically, in intimate venues, and showcased the infant material.

“The intimate gigs allowed the door to be opened for us to work on these new songs. We got together to rehearse, which never happens because we all live in different states, and when we showed up to rehearse we spent most of our time working on new material.”

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Patterson Hood:
“We agreed the record needed a strong third song that rocked real hard, which summed up all of the disjointed directions and ideas of the record. Two days before we reconvened in August to finish the project I wrote ‘The Righteous Path.”

“Then we went out and started bombarding audiences nightly with all of these new songs we had just written. We would just road test them, we just wanted to see how they would work. When we went into the studio in June the plan wasn’t for a record, we just wanted to lay down songs. Whatever order they fell, so be it. If we found ourselves working on something for too long, or having to put to much effort into it, we moved on.”

“There was just this attitude in the air like, ‘what do you want to cut next?’”

The Drive-By Truckers recorded 17 songs in 10 days, and while on the road they would convene a few times a week in the back of their tour bus to listen to the tapes.

“We realized almost immediately, ‘Holy shit, we have an album.’ It was a long album at that,” Hood offers.

“The more thought that went into cutting the songs down, the more we realized they all fit within the context of the record. Just perfect transitions, or one big work so to say.”

Brighter Than Creation’s Dark couples honest songwriting with the plunge of tribulations of a life sustained on the road. The band is survivors in an industry which swallows its combatants like merciless vultures having their way with wounded roadside prey.

“It works for us,” Hood says. “From day one this band has worked. We have had a hard road and a lot of turmoil. Every pothole that every band can experience we have gone through. But even after all we had gone through to make this record we all agreed that one piece was missing.”

“We agreed the record needed a strong third song that rocked real hard, which summed up all of the disjointed directions and ideas of the record. Two days before we reconvened in August to finish the project I wrote ‘The Righteous Path.’”

I got a couple of opinions that I hold dear
A whole lot of debt and a whole lot of fear
I got an itch that needs scratching but it feels alright
I got the need to blow it out on Saturday night
I got a grill in the backyard and a case of beers
I got a boat that ain’t seen the water in years
More bills than money, I can do the math
I’m trying to keep focused on the righteous path
I don’t know God but I fear his wrath
I’m trying to keep focused on the righteous path.
-Patterson Hood

“I think it applies to me,” says Hood in reference to the lyrical passages, “most of the people that I am close to are tying to do the best they can. I don’t have a boat, but when I wrote the songs I visualized that so clearly. It wasn’t written as fast and easy as it was recorded. My wife and two year old daughter were in the backyard kind of impatiently waiting for me to join them, while I was in my room writing that song. They were knocking at the door, and I was sitting, writing, hastily saying, ‘give me a minute I’m coming!’” | The Hood