Patterson Hood never thought he'd want to slow down — even after more than a dozen years leading his band of heathens the Drive-By Truckers through tour after tour and album after album, polishing off bottles of Jack Daniels on stage and making the ears of their live show-loving fans ring thanks to the band's sinister Southern rock stomp. But all of that has changed.
"Hell, I didn't think I'd be alive," Hood chuckles. "I didn't think I'd make the backside of 30, and I did my damnedest not to all through my 20s. As far as the success my band has had, I had really given up on that, and our early decisions were all kind of based on the fact that we were never going to be successful, so we were just going to be as rude, crude, and belligerent as we could possibly be."
This is the way Truckers fans will always think of the band, and the way they will probably always think of themselves, but now that they're mostly in their 40s, that rude, crude belligerence has given the Truckers the chance to live like normal humans for a change.
"I've got a two-and-a-half-year-old and a seven-year-old," Hood says. "Out of the last two years, I've spent 400 days on the road, and that's over half a year that I'm gone from my kids. I don't want to miss their whole childhood, and all I would have is that I'm an old man, and all I could say is I've played a ton of shows. Because that won't matter."
After one last short round of gigs, including a return to the Music Farm this week, the Truckers plan to "move into a little bit of a hiatus period." After recent changes in the band — most notably the departure of longtime bassist Shonna Tucker — and an overall sense of being plum worn out, Hood and the gang are ready for a break. Fans don't have to worry, though. Hood is very clear about one thing. "We're not breaking up," he says matter-of-factly. "I'd want to book it as a whole big farewell if we were."
The forthcoming hiatus is just another example of the Truckers being the Truckers. "We're a band that is always kind of going through flux and change," Hood adds. "It kind of even started out that way, but Shonna was with us for a great long time. We made records and toured for eight years, so we played around 1,000 shows with Shonna in the band."
The band won't name a permanent bassist until they return from their hiatus, but Athens-based musician and studio engineer David Barbe has filled in admirably for Tucker on a run of shows, and recently Matt Pence of Centro-matic has been lighting it up. "He brings a bit of punk-rock energy, which I've been really enjoying," Hood says of Pence. "Our band definitely has a lot of punk rock in our roots, and he's helping us to reconnect with that." The lineup currently features Hood and longtime songwriter and singer Mike Cooley, guitarist John Neff, Jay Gonzalez on keys, and Brad Morgan on drums.
While he's excited to see his family more, Hood knows himself too well to think he could just stop working. "Artistically, there are some things I want to focus on too," he says. "I've got a solo record, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, due out in September, that's pretty different than what the band does, although all the Truckers play on it at some point."
The style and substance of the album fits Hood's new lifestyle. "It's song oriented, and most of the subject matter actually centers around my family," he says. "It's still me and my voice and my songs, but, for lack of a better description, it's a really pretty record. It's very concise, and I wrote it all in a really short period of time. I actually wrote the title cut the last time we were in Charleston, last spring."
And of course, Hood has his projects to attend to, both new and old. He's put deep roots down in his adopted hometown of Athens, Ga. He owns a house, he's raising two children, and he's involved in his daughter's school. "I try to be a pretty involved citizen," Hood says. "And now there's an out-of-town developer trying to build a huge development mall right next to downtown on a pretty pristine piece of land, so I've joined Protect Downtown Athens, which is a group opposed to the size and scale of it."
Hood also stays busy on the board of Nuçi's Space, a resource center and practice space for local musicians. "For the last 12 years, it's been our band's pet cause," he says proudly. "My wife's actually the vice president of the board. There are thousands of musicians in this town, and musicians, myself included, have a lot of psychological problems. People with issues are often drawn to music as a way of kind of channeling our feelings, of getting a sort of angst out of your system. It certainly was for me."