Southern Rock Rises Again

Heard about the Drive-By Truckers? Probably not — yet.

Southern rock is rising again with this quartet that just released their fifth album "Decoration Day" to rave reviews. They're not on the charts. They're not on the radio much, but everybody seems to be talking about them.

Rolling Stone magazine calls them "the best new-school southern rock you can buy." Billboard magazine declares them "the best of Neil Young infused with the narrative detail of Bruce Springsteen."

So wanted to see what the fuss was all about. We chatted with singer and guitarist Patterson Hood about life, politics and rock 'n' roll.

Fox News: First of all, who are you?

A: Patterson Hood, 39 years old. I sing, co-write and am one of three guitarists in the band Drive-By Truckers — probably the unofficial spokesperson, although they shouldn't be held accountable for the things I say.

Q: What is a drive-by trucker?

A: Me and the other four guys play in a band by that name. The name was in tribute to the two kinds of music I was mostly listening to back in 1995 when I made it up (old timey country and urban/hip-hop). We play neither. We play the other two kinds of music — rock and roll.

Q: Do you drive a truck?

A: I do have a 1969 Chevrolet C-10. It's pretty beat up, but usually starts.

Q: You have been anointed "the kings of southern rock" by some critics. Do you live in castles and have princesses and drink out of goblets?

A: I have never really thought of us as "southern rock." We are a rock 'n' roll band. Rock 'n' roll was essentially invented in the South and much of our subject matter is set there, but we play all over the world and it's not really all that different. I have always loved music with a strong sense of place, whether it's Springsteen's Jersey, Iggy Pop's Detroit, or OutKast's ATL. You write what you know and I'm from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, (although I live in Athens, Ga.). I drink out of goblins.

Q: Are you a religious band?

A: Actually, we have a song on our second album called "Too Much Sex, Too Little Jesus" that I call a gospel song. Most religious folks wouldn't agree. I'm not the least bit religious so I wouldn't know for sure.

Q: To what do you owe your recent success? The songs? The live shows? The attitude? Management luck?

A: Despite the best attempts from the corporate fools who try to control things, rock 'n' roll ain't dead and the kids still want to rock. We  — and a bunch of great bands you've probably never heard of — are doing the best we can to give them something to rock to. Everyone does work really hard but I do feel like the luckiest man alive.

Q: Your new album is called "Decoration Day." Wasn't Decoration Day the precursor to Memorial Day? What is the meaning of the song? (The Cowboy Junkies also have a song called "Decoration Day." Any connection?)

A: Singer, guitarist Jason Isbell wrote that one. I think it was a precursor to Memorial Day. The song is about a family feud and its repercussions. I've never heard the Cowboy Junkies song, but would suspect it's quite different.

Q: You sing about tough stuff. The first song on the album — "The Deeper In" — is about incest between a brother and sister. You sing about infidelity, guns, death, poverty. Is this searing social commentary or is it just life as you know it?

A: It's all code.

Q: Are you schooled musicians or from the University of Hard Knocks?

A: I got kicked out of the University of Hard Knocks and went to work at The Factory of Hard Knocks. Two of us have college degrees, but not me. They ended up at the factory anyway.

Q: You are currently touring. How have you been received up North and out West?

A: We're always touring. Up North and out West both treat us fantastic. Much better than in the South and Midwest, not counting Chicago, which has long treated us great.

Q: The world lost two of its greatest with the passing of Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash. How did this affect you?

A: Very sad. At least they're together again now -- no doubt having a feast.

Q: You have been compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young. They have an infamous war of words with "Southern Man" and "Sweet Home Alabama." Which song is in your CD player?

A: Neither. Right now I have The Tom Collins' (great band from Atlanta) new album playing. Just listened to the new Richard Thompson album and the new album by Centro-Matic. I do love the new Neil Young album ("Greendale"). For the record, Neil and Ronnie's war of words was all meant in fun and they became friends and were big time mutual admirers (but then you know that, since it's all documented on our song "Ronnie and Neil" from "Southern Rock Opera").

Q: How do you feel about file sharing?

A: I'm all for it. It's the radio of the new millennium. The corporate fools are just too stupid to realize it. I'll dance on the music industry's grave and howl at the moon. For the record, our current label, New West Records, have shown themselves to be very cool and quite progressive on most matters. They will no doubt survive to dance and howl with me.

Q: What's next for the band?

A: We are currently recording both a new album and an EP for release next year. The EP is our dirty little love letter to rock 'n' roll and will be a concise hard rocking affair. The album is tentatively called "The Dirty South" (although it could easily change). It seems to deal with what can cause an otherwise good man to do terrible things — murder, arson, tornadoes, sacrificing oneself to protect your family — that sort of thing. We're also still touring behind "Decoration Day" for the next few months.

Q: Are you political?

A: I sure tried not to be, but the extent to which those evildoers in D.C. have [expletive] stuff up has reawakened my activist streak with a vengeance.

Q: Anything else you want to say?

A: We've spent most of the last five years living on the road. I'm pleased to say that 99 percent of the folks we've met are just great people who do the best they can to do the right thing. The news only reports the bad [expletive], then the powers that be react to that. Keeping everyone afraid is good for business but bad for life as we know it. The rest of the world thinks we're acting like [expletive] and we are. Rock 'n' roll is alive and well and living at a stinking dive bar near you. Roll down your window and take a deep breath, but whatever you do, don't drink the water.