By Brian F. Johnson
When life hands you lemons, it’s not always best to make lemonade with them. Sometimes it’s way better to write about those lemons — their bitter peels and their sour innards, and of course, the relief you feel when those less-than-pleasant tastes are finally cleansed from your palate.
For Patterson Hood, writing about sour and bitter times is as natural as breathing. The Drive-By Truckers frontman has been writing songs since he was a young boy, and lately he’s been writing more than just songs, but no matter what he does in the writing process, most of his material comes out as songs whether he wants them to or not.
In early January, 2012, exhausted by extended stretches of time on the road with the Truckers, the guitar wielding writer sat down to pen a book, something that he had tried before, along with a few screenplays, without much luck. Under the working title Slam Dancing In the Pews, Hood set out to tell the story of his late twenties, a dark time in his life, when his band had broken up, he’d gotten divorced, and had his car stolen, among other calamities.
Despite his best efforts, though, the book that he was trying to write ended up, once again, coming out as tunes, and less than a year later, instead of presenting a novel, he released Heat Lightning Rumbles In the Distance, an album that he said is the most personal thing he’s written in his 30-plus years of writing.
“Personal has always been in what I do,” said Hood in a recent interview with The Marquee. “Southern Rock Opera [the Truckers’ breakout 2001 double album]had some very personal aspects to it. On the surface, it’s the one giving me the most distance, because it’s written as a story of a ficticious band, but that guy in ‘Let There Be Rock’ is certainly me. So every song I’ve ever written has been personal in some way, or else I wouldn’t have been able to write it.”
In addition to telling his personal story of his late-twenties, Hood said that another central theme of Heat Lightning was his coming to terms with the passing of some of his family elders. “It’s me dealing with, or saying goodbye to the oldest generation of my family. I was largely raised by my grandmother and her brother, my great uncle, and the record was written in the last few months of his life. She was already gone, and he passed away while I was completing the record,” Hood said.
He explained that he has no idea how he changed from book writing to songwriting on this project, and for that matter said he still doesn’t know how a lot of writing works, at all. “I’ve been writing songs since I was eight, but I still don’t understand how that works. I know how to write a song. I know the technical end of writing pretty well, but as far as the inspirational end, I still don’t truly understand how that happens. I know what inspires certain songs, but as far as how it works, I don’t know,” he said. “Writing was my first thing. I came at the music part second. I became a musician as an afterthought for what I was writing. I was like, ‘Well, shit, I guess I need to learn to play something, because my original hope was that someone else would sing my songs.”
In addition to being joined by many of his Trucker companions for the solo album, Hood was lucky enough to be joined in the studio by his father, famous Muscle Shoals session bassist David Hood, who has played with everyone from Cat Stevens to Percy Sledge. While the elder Hood has played on some of Patterson’s albums in the past, this was the first time they actually got to set up and play in a studio together. “We had a blast,” Hood said. “He seemed to really love the songs and was very involved.”
In light of the twists and turns that it took to get to the end result, Hood said that he’s now pleased that the book didn’t come to fruition, as the album itself has given him a different perspective. “I can’t complain about a failed attempt at a book, because it did turn into a record that I’m particularly proud of. I still want to write a book, but I’m not sure if I want to write that book. In the end, I don’t know if I want to spend the amount of time in that place that it would take to write that book, especially now, with kids and all of that,” said Hood.
Hood will cap this year by completing his solo tour in support of Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, but he said that 2014 will be a year for the Truckers. The band will release a new album in the early part of the year and spend much of the remainder of the year touring behind that. Hood couldn’t disclose details of the album, but did say that bandmate Mike Cooley wrote “a good half of the record,” which breaks some new ground for the band, but it is still very much a stripped-down and primal Truckers album.
:: Patterson Hood ::
:: Larimer Lounge :: December 13 – 14 ::
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