Patterson Hood's band, Drive-By Truckers, is notable for cranking out long records like clockwork, followed by grueling tours measured in months and years. Somehow, Hood, who co-founded and writes for the band, has also found time to release three solo albums in the past 10 years or socreative output that kind of boggles the mind. But his reasons for doing the solo albums appear to be less about needing a place for an overflow of songs than for seeking refuge.
His most recent effort, 2012's Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, came in the aftermath of a brutal stretch of touring with Drive-By Truckers that left the band's existence on shaky legs. The album was born from a batch of songs that Hood wrote for the band, then decided would work better as a solo record. The decision, he says, served him and the band well.
"In retrospect, all three of my solo records have occurred at times when there was some turbulence in the band," Hood says. "So a break was nice to get away from whatever was stressing me out."
Drive-By Truckers has a volatile history. Alcohol abuse, inter-band marriage and divorce, onstage fistfights and simple road burnout have led to a revolving lineup since its earliest days in the late 1990s. The most famous incident involves when Jason Isbell left on what has been described as amicable terms, only to reveal later that Hood had forced him out. That kind of drama probably isn't unexpected from a band operating at a frenzied pace just on the fringe of mainstream success. It's just that, over time, not many bands endure the storm, let alone find more solid ground.
"DBT is in better shape right now than at any time in our history," Hood says. "After this short solo run, we [DBT] will be releasing our new album and touring pretty extensively."
There are a couple things about Hood's songwriting that make him stand out. First, you can pick out his distinct voice alongside any other rock 'n' roll singer. It could be compared to Neil Young in its pitch and slight warble, though that's still not exact. The other element is his propensity for telling stories, often as spoken word pieces over the music. It has been a hallmark since the earliest DBT days, and continues in Hood's solo work.
"I love storytelling," Hood says. "It isn't easy, but when I can get it right it can be really rewarding and special. I've always loved the breakdowns in soul music, where Bobby Womack or Clarence Carter or whoever lets the band play a cool sequence and they just talk and tell stories or whatever. I have been incorporating more and more of that in my solo shows."
The stories Hood tells are often, if not typically, about the down and out. Drunks. Losers. It's kind of a Southern Noir thing, where bad choices fueled by bad lucknot to mention drugs and alcohollead to worse consequences. Heat Lightning actually began as a novel, with autobiographical undertones, which Hood shelved after 100 pages or so and turned into deeply personal songs.
For all the gloom and doom, whether it's in the words of his songs or the rumors that seem to constantly swirl around his band's imminent demise, Hood remains a positive guy. "When the crowd is quiet and I can hear myself, I really have fun playing these intimate solo shows where I can tell stories and do the quieter thing," he says. "But there is nothing much more fun than turning it up to 11 and doing the full-on DBT rock show. I guess the best is when there's a balance of all of it and I get to do it all."
Patterson Hood plays the Top Hat Sat., Jan. 11. Doors at 8:30 PM, show at 9:30. $15/$13 advance.