Patterson Hood: Alabama Ass Whuppin’, Drive-By Truckers’ Upcoming Studio Album, and Thank God For Triple-A
“The Living Bubba” keeps Gregory Dean Smalley’s memory alive; but it’s become something broader as far as putting your head down and keeping going in the face of adversity. Gregory was facing the end – which not everyone is, of course – but it’s that feeling of not giving up whatever the obstacles are. I can imagine you playing that for as long as you want to keep playing … and people will still be feeling something from it.
Well, thank you – thank you for saying that. If I had to whittle it all down to one song – and I’ve probably written about 3500 or so by now – that would be it. If they said, “You can only play one song and that’s it,” that would be the song.
I mean, I’m as proud of the songs on our next record as I am about anything I’ve ever written – I think we’ve got some great songs. And I’m proud of most of the songs that I liked enough to put on a record in the first place. But that one’s special – that one’s my favorite. I knew when I wrote it that I’d done something on a different level than anything else I’d written up to that point.
You’re lucky if you can get one of those kind of songs in a lifetime of writing. And you’re right: it means different things to me now than it did in March of 1996 when I wrote it. It just keeps gathering more meaning, you know?
If we’re touring and, say, we’re all sick – we play that song … that kind of reminds us why we’re there.
I’m really grateful that I had the antenna up that day – I feel like that song was floating out there somewhere and I was the one with the antenna pointed in the right direction to get it. If I hadn’t written it somebody else would have.
For me, when it’s clicking it just feels like you’re taking dictation.
Definitely – definitely. I wrote that song in about the time it takes to play it. And I don’t think I realized the magnitude of what I was writing until after I was done and sat down with a guitar and started playing it back to myself.
And when you wrote “The Living Bubba,” Gregory was still alive?
Yeah – he passed away about a week later. I wrote it as a thank you to him. He booked the Star Bar in Atlanta – and probably one of the last things he did before going into the hospital was invite us to play the Star Bar for the very first time. I called him to thank him and his wife answered and told me he was in the hospital and this was probably it. I went and walked my dog – and the song hit me while I was out in the field with my dog. I ran home and wrote it down as quick as I could … and that was it.
I think the idea of letting your passion fuel your drive is a universal one that anybody can benefit from. Speaking of passion: it seems like every band has at least one fan site these days. I have to say that the Three Dimes Down site feels different than the typical thing where the members feel like the band they follow owes them something. Your followers are a different breed of cat – there’s just an honest love for you all.
They’re something else. The Three Dimes Down folks have taken it upon themselves to help with the Nuci’s Space charity that we’re all so passionate about. We do a benefit every year where we play the 40 Watt Club in Athens for a few days and donate part of the proceeds to Nuci’s Space. In the meantime, the fans at Three Dimes Down started doing their own thing a few years ago, seeing how much they could raise for Nuci’s Space. It’s amazing. They’re something else – we’re really lucky with the quality of people who love our band and support us.
Some of those folks travel great distances. We had a couple at the Georgia Theater last week that flew in from Scotland. And I think this was the fourth time they’ve flown into Athens, GA from Scotland to see us play.
It’s amazing to have people who are so dedicated to … to this bunch of madmen (laughs) who jump off a cliff – like you said. With guitars! (laughter)
You mentioned the new album coming up – what can we say about it?
Well, it’s done – we started mixing yesterday.
Yeah – we’re really happy with it.
The thing is, we started the sessions that produced The Big To-Do and Go-Go Boots about two weeks before Obama got inaugurated in ’09. We were touring and doing all kinds of other stuff – we did the Booker T tour that year; I put out Murdering Oscar that year; and the band did a bunch of touring – but whenever we had a chance we’d go in and record a massive number of songs that became those two albums. That was followed by 3-1/2 years of touring behind the records. It just became this long, drawn-out process. I mean, I’m proud of the records we did and I think they hold up, but this time we wanted to do something that was immediate and right now. And probably doing all this with Alabama Ass Whuppin’ was a reminder of how cool it was back when that was our way of operating.
So we said to ourselves that we were going to make a “two-week record” – book two weeks of studio and go in and so be it.
And we ended up finishing it three days early. (laughter) We were pretty much in there around the clock, but we did it. And I’m really, really, really excited about it.
And it’s the basic core band of yourself, Cooley, Brad, Jay, and Matt?
Yeah – and that’s it. We brought in two horn players for one song … and I think Barbe played the shaker on one song or something. Everything else is just us.
I love the lineup of the band right now; I think it’s leaner and meaner than anything we’ve had since the Alabama Ass Whuppin’ days – with that same sort of spirit. I love all the different incarnations of the band – I’m proud of all of them … but there’s something real special about what we have right now. There’s a camaraderie about it that hasn’t been there since the days we were slugging it out in that Econoline.
And this band could do a van tour and we wouldn’t kill each other. (laughter)
It doesn’t sound like you spent a lot of time doing overdubs.
No – we went in and just threw it down with a very minimum of overdubs. Several of the Cooley songs were scratch vocals that he did while we were cutting the basic tracks, so there’s drums leaking in on the mic and all that kind of good stuff.
And Cooley’s long, dry spell of not having songs has ended with a vengeance: it’s about half-and-half his songs and my songs and I’m really excited about that. I’m probably the biggest fan of anybody on earth of Cooley’s songs – the more the better, as far as I’m concerned. I enjoy the time when I get to be a guitar player in his band as much as I do playing my own songs. (laughter)
It’s a good one and it’ll be out early next year.
Does Jay play guitar on the album?
Oooooohhhhhh, yeah … (laughter) That man is smoking.
Since he came on board in 2008, I’ve thought of Jay as your do-anything-on-keyboards mad scientist. It wasn’t until I wrote about his solo album Mess Of Happiness in 2012 that I realized what a killer guitar player he was. Prior to that, I’d thought of him as your Garth Hudson.
And he’s got a little Mike Campbell in him, too, don’t he? (laughter) He’s incredible: guitar and B3 and Wurlitzer and piano and mellotron – a little bit of everything and such a primal player, too. I love it.
Well, cool. We’ll be looking forward to hearing it, Patterson. In the meantime, congratulations on Alabama Ass Whuppin’ – it’s a hell of a piece of work with a great story behind it.
I appreciate it – thank you very much. I hope we get the chance to talk again soon.
Brian Robbins parks his old Ford Econoline over at www.brian-robbins.com