“This isn’t about typical left, right, conservative, liberal, whatever. This is a whole ‘nother thing. This is a battle for the soul of our country.”
Patterson Hood’s voice is as confident as ever, but it’s clear he’s restless. The last eight months have been some of the hardest of his life, and with the presidential election looming, things aren’t looking too hopeful.
“I’m so scared of words like hope and optimism,” the Drive-By Truckers co-founder and co-frontman confesses. “We’ve got to stop the madness. I would vote for [former president George W.] Bush right now if it would get that motherf–ker [Donald Trump] out of there. I would vote for a reasonable Republican, if there was such a thing.
“I didn’t think I could ever hate a politician as much as I hated that motherf–ker,” Hood continues of Bush, “and now I see him holding hands with Michelle Obama and I’m like, ‘What the f–k?! I would vote for him in a f–king second if it could get that goddamn piece of s–t out of there now.'”
Whether he’s chatting on the phone or singing on a Truckers record, Hood minces no words about his feelings toward President Trump and his last four years in the White House. The Unraveling, released on Jan. 31 — weeks before COVID-19 ravaged the country and the death of George Floyd completely changed the national conversation on racism and inequality — prophetically and boldly captures those thoughts.
But with no ability to tour behind The Unraveling, and sitting in quarantine for months, Hood knew he and his bandmates couldn’t remain silent. The day after the first presidential debate, the Drive-By Truckers announced their second LP of 2020, The New OK, which came out 48 hours later, on Oct. 2.
“It was kind of a mentally life-saving thing,” Hood admits about The New OK. “It pulled me out of a really dark hole and gave me something to focus on — a brutal deadline.”
Near the end of July, Hood and company decided they wanted to put together a new record. By the first week of September, they had everything done, from the tracks to its artwork to the liner notes.
“It was a very intense process; it was a crazy time,” Hood says. “But it was good. It made me feel like I had something to do that I actually knew how to do.”
Of course, during quarantine, things weren’t quite the same. The New OK features tracks recorded during sessions for The Unraveling, a re-mixed version of 2017’s “The Perilous Night,” and a handful of brand-new songs, too.
“I miss my band,” Hood says. “I miss hanging out with them, I miss playing with them, I miss everything about it. We’ve been in a really good place for the better part of a decade, and it’s been really fun. But with The New OK, we had to figure out how to record three new songs with all of us separate. We normally make our records like we’re live: We’re in a room, and most of our studio records are live records.”
For the Truckers, though, as different as the process was, the end result somehow managed to capture that distinct, live feeling.
“It was crazy, but it was fun, and honestly, “Watching the Orange Clouds” turned out to be one of my favorite things we’ve ever recorded,” Hood exclaims. “I really love how that one turned out. I love what everybody did with that song.”
“Watching the Orange Clouds” came out of the weekend following George Floyd’s death. “I watched the whole country rise up in a chaotic firestorm,” Hood writes in the album’s liner notes. “[The song] calls for a righteous change.”
Not every listener has been happy with the Truckers using their voices to speak on political and societal issues, but even the most casual of fans know it’s nothing new for the band.
“We’ve been pissing people off for 25 years,” Hood says with a laugh. “[Our debut album, 1998’s] Gangstabilly pissed people off — I mean, not a lot of people, because not many people actually heard it, but those who did, they were pissed off. [Our sophomore album, 1999’s] Pizza Deliverance pissed people off. [2001’s] Southern Rock Opera? Yep. [2004’s] The Dirty South really pissed people off, which is funny now because the same people who say we used to be good when we had Jason Isbell in the band are the ones who are saying we’re being too political today.”
The Dirty South — with songs including “Puttin’ People on the Moon” and “The Sands of Iwo Jima” — was, as Hood puts it, “political as s–t.” He remembers, “When we were touring behind that record in 2004, people were shooting us birds and yelling, ‘F–k you!’ every goddamn night.”
“F–k ‘em. Isbell is as outspoken as I am about all of this, but probably a little more eloquent about it,” Hood continues. “And, of course, for a long time, people always said they liked the [Mike] Cooley songs because he’s not so political, and I was just like, ‘Dude, do you listen to the f–king words? That motherf–ker is more political than I am!’ But his songs might be funnier, I guess.”
As he gets fired up about the history of the Drive-By Truckers and what they’re doing today, Hood can’t help but get back to thinking about the election. While he doesn’t have much advice to share, he does admit he’s happy to do anything that might lead to a little bit of redemption in this country.
“Nobody wants to hear they’ve been brainwashed, but guess what? You’re being brainwashed, motherf–ker. Turn off your f–king TV. Walk down the street. Meet people.”
“If someone said learning how to do a handstand would make a difference, I’d do my best. I’d probably break my neck, but I’d still try,” he says. “I’m doing everything I can possibly think of, and that’s all I know how to do. I can’t tell people how to vote because it won’t do any good, but my pet peeve is people who you can just see voting against their own better interest because of something they’ve been brainwashed to believe. That’s sad, and of course, nobody wants to hear they’ve been brainwashed, but guess what? You’re being brainwashed, motherf–ker. Turn off your f–king TV. Walk down the street. Meet people.”
Ultimately, though, Hood recognizes his good fortune over the last several months: He and his family have remained healthy. He still has his house. And even in the midst of such monumental change in the music industry, he manages to maintain some sort of livelihood with virtual concerts and culling the archives for special Bandcamp releases.
“I wrote a song two days ago,” he says. “I’m doing pretty good. When I sit around and whine about poor little me, I have to admit that poor little me is still pretty f–king lucky.”
Fortunately, it sounds like the rest of his brothers in the band are doing well, too — yes, even Cooley.
“I think he’s alright, but he’s not happy,” Hood says. “I mean, nobody’s happy right now. Cooley’s version of happy may not be as happy as happy lovers or something, but nobody’s happy. Hell no, he ain’t happy. But we’re hanging in there.
“I don’t think any of us have gone off the deep end yet,” he adds. “I haven’t heard about a crazy redneck chasing his family through Alabama with an axe, so that’s a good sign.”
Hood laughs, and pauses for a moment.
“Well, at least not in that part of Alabama.”