A Southern Gentleman in the Old Northwest: Patterson Hood on Moving to Portland and Being Inescapably Southern

Music Features Patterson Hood

This isn’t an opinion piece, but it also is in no way unbiased. It’s a conversation with Patterson Hood about moving—at least temporarily—to the West Coast to get a different perspective on things, shake up his routine and create new opportunities for his family. Patterson is one of the kindest people I’ve ever known, and a huge supporter of the Athens, Georgia music scene. He’s also one of the dearest friends I’ll ever have, yet even at that, I am simply one of a large number of people in this community who already miss him terribly. The idea for this interview came through a series of conversations with Patterson, sitting on his back deck, drinking tequila over ice with records spinning, as he prepared to move. The actual exchange recorded here took place via email after he arrived in Portland, Oregon, his newly adopted home.

Paste: First off, congratulations on your flag/race op-ed in the New York Times Magazine on July 9. They contacted you about writing it, and I can only imagine how good it must feel to be considered a go-to Southern voice on such an important Southern—and, really, national—issue.
Patterson Hood: It’s certainly an honor to have a NYT byline. I do have very strong feelings about all of that flag stuff and race issues in general. I think racism probably accounts for more of the world’s problems than any other single issue, especially if you include the oft-related issues of prejudice against various religions or non-religions.

We’re basically taught in kindergarten to be nice to other people and not bully people for the way they were born, yet people can’t seem to grasp that simple concept. Do onto others. I didn’t go to church all that often, but I actually heard that one.

Southerners tend to say we are tired of being lumped in one group over our history, yet many Southern states still flew that goddamned flag at their statehouses. I was simply calling out the disconnect. Same time, I’m not a spokesman for much of anything, I’m a writer and performer and I have strong political views, but I way prefer to address them in my songs.

It’s pretty hilarious (and sad) that Kid Rock and Ted Nugent are doing some song about the flag. I’m just glad they’re from Michigan so it’s not my problem.

Paste: This has all come about as you and your family, coincidentally, have made a move to the West Coast to explore the option of living somewhere else, having different experiences and a change of routine. There is a little bit of irony-in-the-moment going on there. What are your thoughts on that?
Hood: I don’t know. Haven’t really given that part too much thought. I lived in Alabama for 30 years. Athens, Georgia for another 21. I think that makes me pretty Southern. Same time, I’ve spent the last 17 or so years living on tour. Traveling all over. Our band has always been really strong on the West Coast, and my family has always thought it would be a great thing to experience living in a city in a different part of the country or even in another country for a while.

Portland is a beautiful city, and we have been made to feel very welcomed here. The kids are at a good age to have a big life experience. Old enough to really get a lot out of it, but not teenagers yet so it’s not totally disruptive to their happiness. We spent three weeks driving across the country. It’s really big and really beautiful, and we had an incredible experience. You see how great our country can be.

Then you make the mistake of glancing at a TV and the ugly part of life creeps in.

The murders in Charleston occurred as we were driving out. We stopped for the night in Denver and saw it on the TV screen as we were checking into our room. We had been driving for about 10 hours that day, and seeing that just destroyed me.

Since [DBT bandmate Mike] Cooley and I have both written and talked about issues of race in the modern and post-civil-rights South, we both started getting asked a lot about South Carolina and the whole flag issue. I had written that piece about the modern South in The Bitter Southerner. That probably helped lead to the whole New York Times piece.

It’s also ironic that we actually intentionally sidestepped the whole flag issue on the Southern Rock Opera album. At the time we kinda considered it a non-issue and didn’t want the narrative to get all bogged down in that bullshit, and here we are over a decade later writing about it again. Pretty fucking weird.

Paste: You’ve traveled extensively, but never lived outside of the South. What is your reasoning for making this move now? Do you have any ultimate goals in making such a big move, or is this more of a look-and-learn scenario, just responding to, and reflecting on, your new experiences as they happen?
Hood: First off, to be clear, Drive-By Truckers are still based in Athens, Georgia, even though we have members living in four different states. Cooley and I haven’t lived in the same state since 1994, which is two years before we formed DBT, and that might be a source of our longevity. Also, my family still owns our house in Athens. My family is doing what it is doing for a host of very personal reasons and it’s exciting and fun, scary and hard but very thrilling. We have a one-year lease and are not making any plans beyond that for the time being. What happens after that will reveal itself in due time, and I’m sure that we will do what feels best for our family when the time comes, whatever that might be.

What we are doing is with the full support, even encouragement, from the rest of the band. My partners in this band are the absolute best, and I probably love them more now than ever before. They have just been phenomenal through this whole process.

Paste: Do you have any expectations, creatively, related to your move? It is impossible to say what will happen, but do you have any hopes for rattling the cage a bit creatively, based on placing yourself in a very new and different context?
Hood: Things like this, or as you say “rattling the cage” is always great for creativity and it certainly has been already. I’ve written more songs, keepers, this year already than I have in several years, and it makes me very excited for the next DBT album, whenever that might be.

Paste: I was with you during part of your Doug Fir residency, in Portland, during January/February 2014, and watched week to week as you won over the hearts and minds of a town that had not traditionally been a top-tier market for the Truckers. I felt like it was some of the best solo storytelling and performing I had seen you do to that point, and you seemed to really relax into it as it went. I could not help noticing, of course, that your extremely Southern self was sort of weaving a spell and charming the audience as an exotic presence—a real, live Southerner spinning his tales. How did that experience affect you creatively and also your decision to move there and really explore what it’s all about?
Hood: The West Coast has always been really kind to DBT. We have a long and excellent history out west in general. We made our upcoming live album in San Francisco at The Fillmore for some good reasons [Drive-By Truckers have a new extensive live set, recorded over three nights at The Fillmore in late November 2014, coming out this fall on ATO Records]. I have also done really well out there as a solo artist, which certainly plays into our decision and game plan.

Our family came out here and lived for a couple of months back in early 2014 and I did that solo residency at The Doug Fir. Those shows were very special. The crowd grew exponentially each night of the residency, and it was a great experience. Portland is a beautiful city with an excellent music and art scene and a great literary scene as well. Some of my favorite authors live out here. Also, I bought a bike and am trying to get into better shape.

I have been having a good year, personally and creatively. The band toured for 15 months behind the last album, so it’s been nice being off so much this summer. We finished mixing and mastering the live album between tours this spring and as I said, I’ve been writing a good bit. Writing songs and some non-musical stuff. Might still get around to finishing that screenplay or writing a book one of these days. Definitely excited for the fall DBT dates and hopefully starting a new album in the next year.

As mentioned above, the Drive-By Truckers have a live album coming out on ATO this autumn. It will be available on vinyl and CD in several different lengths and packages and will feature songs from DBT’s entire history.

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