Monday, March 14, 2011

Patterson Hood of The Drive-By Truckers Talks "Go-Go Boots"

The new album by The Drive By Truckers, Go-Go Boots, was easily one of the most exciting releases to kick off early 2011, as well as a collection that finds the band stretching out in new directions. It's an easily enjoyable and addictive album, like all good vices should be, and it's a record full of what Truckers' fans return for each time around- along with some new surprises. The band's brand of unique storytelling is here, but this time around, the group offers a fresh new helping of southern sounds into their songwriting, namely, soul.

Go-Go Boots has been in my steady rotation since I received it, and each time I put it on, the notion of picking Patterson Hood's brain about the record was one that kept nagging at me each time. The album reminded my of the band's previous work recording with Bettye LaVette and Booker T. James, but was 100% a Drive-By Truckers album through and through. I am always impressed when artists allow their influences to weave through their own work, and coupled with their own voices, create something original that feels seamlessly effortless.

So when I started a short list of interviews that I would like to conduct in 2011, speaking with Mr. Hood about DBT's Go-Go Boots placed at the top. As a band that I've been following and sharing with others for years, Go-Go Boots finds the band in a new place- easing forward with looser grooves that allow each of the tunes to open up in new ways. Lyrically, the characters and circumstances that have drawn listeners into their stories remains, but are now presented with an apparent, masterful ease.

Being a fan of the Truckers' work on Bettye LaVette’s Scene of the Crime and Booker T. Jones' Potato Hole, can you describe your experiences working on these LPs and your previous experiences that have fueled the musical direction of Go-Go Boots?

Patterson Hood: Thanks. I'm really proud of that Bettye album. It was a life long dream of ours to get to make that kind of record as well as the album we did with Booker T. Jones. Both of those albums certainly influenced Go-Go Boots, as did our year of playing with Spooner Oldham, and our recording of the two Eddie Hinton covers that we ended up including on Go-Go Boots.

Can you describe the band’s writing and recording process for the new album? Were there any major differences and/ or similarities?

PH: A lot of this album was recorded at the same time as our work on our last album, The Big To-Do. We had a very specific album in mind that we wanted to release as our follow-up to Brighter Than Creation's Dark. We wanted to make this very straight ahead "rock" album, but we came in with all of these other songs that we felt really strongly about that didn't fit that album. So we decided to record all of them and sort it out later.

Some of the "other" songs were among our favorites but just didn't fit into what we wanted to do with The Big To-Do. By getting all of them recorded, it bought us the ability to spend a bunch more time thinking about what we wanted this Go-Go Boots album to shape into.

Around that time, we cut the two Eddie Hinton songs for a tribute 45 (Shake It Records' Dangerous Highway: A Tribute To The Songs of Eddie Hinton). Doing those songs, "Where's Eddie" and "Everybody Needs Love", was a real challenge and it kind of opened all of these new creative doors to us that heavily influenced the completion of the album (which is why we ended up including them on the finished album). That led directly to me writing "Mercy Buckets" and "I Do Believe" which tied the album all together. It was a great experience and was maybe the most fun album to make that we've ever done.

Who were you listening to while writing and recording Go-Go Boots? And who would you say were some of your influences during this period?

PH: I'm always listening to a ton of stuff from all directions. And at the same time, when we're on the bus when we tour, we listen to a ton of old Soul and R&B (always have) as well as old country, punk, arena rock, etc. Our tastes are all pretty eclectic although we do all seem to gravitate towards the older sounds.

I don't really like the way that most modern albums sound, all that compression and smashed sound gets on my nerves. I like albums that sound like a band playing live, although there are certainly exceptions. I loved the Broken Bells album and Spoon. And I have always loved Radiohead. We all listen to a lot of Bobby Womack, Eddie Hinton, Tony Joe White and Tom T. Hall.

What are your thoughts on the interplay between the historical sounds of gospel, soul, and country music ?

PH: That's a lot of what we do. It's funny that you mention the gospel. I don't think any of us really listen to a lot of gospel and I'm not particularly religious in any way, but the age old battle between the soul and the flesh has been fertile ground for literature (especially southern literature) for eons and is certainly a reoccurring theme on this album- with all of our murderous preachers and stalking ex-policemen. Musically, this album reconnected us with our Muscle Shoals roots.

Three of us grew up there and, of course, my Dad was part of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section that played on all of those classic country/soul records in the 60's and early 70's. His work with The Staple Singers, Bobby Womack and Willie Nelson was an especially big influence on this album, as was the playing and writing and singing of Eddie Hinton who was also part of the MSSRS back in the day. 

How do you see Go-Go Boots within the band’s discography?

PH: I think it really reflects where we are now and a place we've long wanted to be, but it took a while to find our way there. I'm really proud of our discography and most of the records we've made, even the ones that didn't quite work out like we wanted, there's still some interesting stuff on them, but this one just sparked on all cylinders from day one. It's one of my very favorite things we've ever done.

What do you think it adds to the band’s trajectory?

PH: Well, we never really set out to be this "guitar" band. Ever. Our focus has always been on the songs and doing what we needed to do to play the songs as they were intended. At one point that meant really turning up the guitar quota, especially around Southern Rock Opera, which of course HAD to be very guitar heavy.

That really worked for the trilogy of albums we did then (Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day, and The Dirty South). But after that, we began to feel trapped by the machine we built and it has taken us a while to figure out how to proceed. Brighter Than Creation's Dark was actually a huge step in that direction, and I'm really extra proud of that one. Go-Go Boots just really builds on what that album started. As I said earlier, the Bettye LaVette and Booker T. Jones albums play heavily into all of that also.

Are there any experiences from making the record itself or aspects found on the album sonically that that you look forward to re-visiting and working out more down the road?

PH: The next album is a total blank slate right now. This is the first time in our history that we've released an album without a clear idea of what comes next. That's actually kind of liberating at this point in my life. I'm kind of excited about not having any idea what we'll do next.

Right now we're going to tour really hard for this album and make the most of what I feel like is a new peak for our band, then I'd really like to take a bit of an extended hiatus before even thinking about what comes next.

How do you see the new material working into the live DBT shows in 2011?

PH: The new songs are really working great into the show and are really going over incredibly with the crowds. Usually there is at least six months or so after a new album comes out before the new songs are loved by the audience, but this has not been the case in the least this time.

Several of our biggest show-stoppers of the night are brand new songs and that's really encouraging and exciting to me.  "Used To Be A Cop", "Go-Go Boots", "Pulaski", "Dancin' Ricky" and "Mercy Buckets" are all huge response songs already.

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