Drive-By Truckers Navigates Pandemic’s Darkest Days

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Patterson Hood talks about coping with depression, overcoming writer’s block, and emerging with a batch of new, intensely personal songs

As the Drive-By Truckers prepared to perform in Indianapolis on March 12, 2020, the mood surrounding the tour was particularly grim.

“Most of this leg had already been canceled, with the exception of Indianapolis, Chicago and St. Paul. [Minnesota], so we were just going to try to make it through this weekend, and we were already booking flights back from St. Paul, ”singer, songwriter and guitarist Patterson Hood said by phone from Indianapolis in early October in the post- noon that the group was preparing. to play a show in the same city where the world collapsed just 19 months ago. “And by the time we got to the soundcheck in Indianapolis, St. Paul and Chicago had been canceled. Then we balanced two songs and they unplugged for what turned out to be 17 or 18 months.

Amid the extended shutdown from live music, Hood returned home to Portland, Oregon, where he has lived since moving from Athens, Georgia, in 2015. Initially, the musician intended to enjoy of the downtime in the road to write. Maybe he would finally start the book he had been threatening for a long time, or at least get into songs for another Drive-By Truckers record. “And then it all got fucked up and I couldn’t write anything,” said Hood, who will join his bandmates in concert at Newport on Thursday, October 14.

Instead, for much of the pandemic, Hood worked to just keep his head above water, playing a series of livestreams where he found deep cuts and auditioned for unexpected covers. But these weekly shows did little to stem the overwhelming sense of depression that constantly threatened to overwhelm. “I’ve spent much of 2020 in a really, really, really dark place, and I’m fortunate that I was able to keep it together enough that I didn’t do something really horrible and tragic,” Hood said. . “But it wasn’t for lack of dark depression. Literally every day I had to force myself out of bed.

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Gradually, Hood said he had managed to find his way through immersing himself in the little moments, spending time with his children, and developing a fondness for cooking, which he gravitated towards in part because restaurants were closed for dinner, which meant he could devote part of his day to “planning dinner, making dinner and then dinner,” a routine that offered at least some sense of stability and comfort. The musician also made the conscious decision to avoid escaping into the bottle, “which certainly, in the short term, would have made me a lot happier, as I’m generally a gentle drunk,” Hood said.

Even so, the writer’s block remained firmly in place, with Hood managing only a pair of songs at the start of the pandemic – “The New OK” and “Watching the Orange Clouds” – both of which appeared on Drive. -By Truckers’ newest long-player The new OK, released in October 2020 and composed largely of unused songs recorded in the middle of sessions for Unraveling, from January 2020.

Hood wrote New OK track “Watching the Orange Clouds” the weekend after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, at a time when his Portland home had erupted into sometimes violent clashes between police and protesters. “Go ahead and cry for help / No one is going to save you,” Hood sings over the tune. “The voices that were hired to protect / Only betray you.”

As the track progresses, Hood begins to question the value of exploring these issues in his music (“I struggle over how or if I should share these stories”), as well as his own abilities with the pen (“I’m starting to doubt my own installation”). These are two natural emotions from a politically charged trilogy that began with American group in 2016 and ended with the release of The new OK, a four-year race in which the Drive-By Truckers tackled a wide range of social and political ills as the country entered what began to look like Hood like a death spiral.

“Our plan was: ‘We are going to extinguish [American Band], and then we’re gonna play hell this fall, and then [Hillary] Clinton will be president and we’ll move on and figure out what we’re going to do in 2017, ”said Hood, who was prompted to tackle these evils by his fears of where the country might go, as well as of what this direction might mean for her children. “And then things turned out differently. And so we ended up making another record, and then another record as well. “

“I also thought it was important that someone with an accent like ours, who’s from where we’re from – I mean, demographically, we’re Trump voters: a bunch of old white men from the Alabama – talk about this shit, ”Hood continued. “It was a lot like what we had to do at the time.”

It certainly helped that Hood moved from Georgia to Oregon just as Portland became the epicenter of an ongoing clash between liberal activists and white nationalist hate groups, including the Proud Boys, once landing. more the musician in a place where he was presented in the first row. sits in the long racial division of the country.

“I didn’t realize when I moved to liberal ‘Portlandia’ that it was a hotbed for white supremacy; they didn’t put that on the show, ”Hood said with a laugh. “But as a touring musician, you learn quite quickly that there is no longer a North-South division. Really, it comes down to an urban-rural divide in some really painful ways. If you are in beautiful Portland and drive 10 minutes in any direction, you can be socio-politically very easily in Alabama.

Hood addresses this chasm on the title track for The new OK, positioning the protests in Portland as “a battle for the very soul of the United States”, with rogue cops and violent fascists on one side and black moms, war veterans and protesters defending a shared humanity the other. “Shall we rise from where we’re planted / With our fists to the sun,” Hood sings. “Or are we going to settle for tear gas / Looking down at the gun.” “

Drive-By Truckers has long gone the old way, fearlessly recording songs and albums that struggle with everything from their Southern roots and the decay of white supremacy to the damage done to the working class by capitalist forces.

For Hood, however, after nearly five years of investing himself almost entirely in the grim social and political landscapes of the country, the writing only returned when he finally began to feel some sense of hope. towards the end of 2020, with knowledge that a COVID vaccine was on its way as the Trump administration was on the verge of demise.

“And then it’s like the floodgates open, and I wrote most of the songs on a new album over a two-and-a-half-month period starting in December of last year,” Hood said, who noted that these new tracks took on a more personal turn which he attributed in part to the focus on smaller moments he embraced during the pandemic, which came to light in new songs centered around things like fatherhood and aging.

As all of this unfolded, the band members also celebrated the 20th anniversary of their third album, Southern rock opera, released Sept. 11, 2001. At this time, Hood said that he and his band mates were motivated by little more than a desire to create something big, with a degree of daring, that wasn’t really changed over the course of two decades. -more since the formation of the group.

“We always approach things because we want to do them, and we always have a burning fire about it, which is wonderful,” Hood said. “Twenty years ago, when we played in dive bars over 200 nights a year… every show, we played it like we could never play again. And we always approach it that way, although I feel pretty secure now, unless the pandemic takes it away again, that we have a future in doing this. “


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