Last summer, Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers knew he had some songs he couldn’t wait on releasing. The Georgia-based band’s two previous LP’s, 2016’s American Band and early 2020’s The Unraveling, were both products of a divisive stretch in U.S. history, and Hood’s newest songs reflected the social unrest of summer 2020. Problem was, he was holed up at home for the pandemic in Portland, Oregon, while the rest of the band was thousands of miles away, scattered around the South. 

The only option was for the band to record the songs separately and share them online. The resulting album, The New OK, is in many ways a gloomy timestamp on a year that many want to forget. But when it was released in October, it was a sympathetic voice in a pandemic-addled world of Twitter tantrums and Donald Trump, that still managed to offer moments of release — especially on a raucous cover of The Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” For Hood, The New OK carried him through. 

Nearly a year later, the band is ready to rock again and brings its southern-inflected alt-country to the Maha Music Festival this Saturday. The Reader caught up with Hood via email to get his thoughts on his new music, parenting and returning to the road.

How does it feel to be heading back out on the road after all this time?

Incredible. The shows have been among my favorite I’ve ever gotten to play. I did a two-week solo tour and several shows with my partner Mike Cooley (as The Dimmer Twins) including the Newport Folk Festival, which was amazing. Omaha will be the second DBT show since the return. We will have spent all week in the studio, so we should be very warmed up and ready.

A lot of The New OK was written by passing tracks back and forth among members online. How was it to work that way, and how did it feel when you were finally able to work in the same room again?

It was weird but it worked well. At the time, the only way we could work together was to do it that way. I live in Portland, Oregon and the other members live in the South. I had some new songs and we wanted to put them out before the election, so it was our only option. As a band, we usually do most of our recording live in a room together, and that is like a part of our sound. Our goal was to have it still sound like the other songs we had already recorded, and I think it worked out. I credit David Barbe (our long-time producer) with putting it all together so well. At the time, working on The New OK probably helped to keep me from going completely crazy last summer.

The New OK by Drive-By Truckers

That record came out in the context of the darkest days of COVID and the last days of the Trump presidency. So much has changed since that album came out. Does it feel longer than 10-ish months ago to you?

Yes and no. As a band we have definitely ‘moved on’ in a lot of ways from where we were last summer. Same time, a lot of the things we talk about on that record are still out there looming and re-grouping for the next battle. The hearings this week and some people’s attempts to hide the truth show just how much danger we still are all in. 

I don’t want to spend too much time on this topic, but The New OK and The Unraveling, even back to American Band, have pretty serious themes of some dark realities in America. Are those themes still working their way into your songwriting? How are you feeling about America’s outlook these days?  

Those dark realities are still out there. Same time, I feel like we’ve said our piece (at least for now). We have basically a trilogy of albums addressing some bad shit, and right now we’re writing some different songs. Our new album we’ve been working on this week is very personal and has more to do with the individual struggles we all endure: family, aging, mental strife, and the thin lines between the things that can enable us to let go, feel alive and have fun versus the risks of addiction and going too far. 

One of my favorite songs of yours is “Let There Be Rock,” I think largely because I’m a sucker for ’70s and ’80s classic rock nostalgia. From my perspective as a ’90s kid, those times seem a lot less chaotic. If I’m anywhere close to right in that assessment, do you think that kind of simplicity and the youthful bliss of “Let There Be Rock” can still exist today? 

I think about that a lot. I did indeed grow up in the ’70s and the ’80s (I got my driver’s license in 1980) and am now raising kids; my oldest is 16 right now. Kids are still kids, thankfully, but they are living in a very different world. In some ways better, but in many ways not. I’m very impressed with the young people I know. Way smarter and kinder than we were in my day. I do worry with the levels of anxiety and depression they seem to carry around, and I know part of that is they don’t live in a time when they can blow off steam in some ways that were probably needed in our day. It’s complicated, because a lot of the things I seem to glorify in “Let There Be Rock” were also near-death experiences and none of us want our kids having those. I’m glad my kids aren’t out there drinking and driving and doing drugs and sneaking out of the house and shit, but those very things probably enabled me to endure what was sometimes a dark time in my own life. As a dad, I ponder all of that a lot.

YouTube video

Considering the political subject matter of the past few albums, do you change your approach to delivering these songs to festival-goers, many of whom are there to “vibe out”?

We have always been a band that plays what we feel, but we also play the room (as they say). Our shows are consistently fun, no matter the subject matter. The songs on those past few albums hold up, but right now we’re kind of playing songs from all over the place. We’re mainly just really glad to be back out there rocking. It’s going to be a great time this weekend. 

What’s your plan for this Omaha show? What can the crowd anticipate from you guys at Maha Festival?

We’re going to be on fire. It’s a killer festival lineup. I’m really excited to see Japanese Breakfast, Thundercat and Khruangbin. We’re thrilled to be on that bill and will raise holy hell.

Read The Reader’s interviews with Maha headliners Japanese Breakfast and Khruangbin.

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