Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood is in a good mood, and with good reason. His Southern rock 'n roll outfit's new studio album, The Big To-Do — its eighth to date — is being justifiably hailed as one of the most accomplished of their 15-year career. And whether he's writing songs for the Drive-by Truckers, recording those songs, performing them on stage, or talking about his music, band and life, Hood is clearly engaged in the moment.
"This is a real good time for the band," says Hood, who happens to agree with the consensus that the band has reached a career high point. "We're really playing good, getting along good, and are really creative. This record was pretty much a joy to make."
The Big To-Do is also a timely disc, with ripped-from-the-headlines songs about the displaced and down-and-out, and recessionary echoes of lost jobs and the "unemployment blues."
"I don't think it was really intentional," he says of the timeliness. "I think it just happened that way. One of the songs was inspired by the death of a friend. One of the songs is from a crazy news story that kept following me around."
The latter is "The Wig He Made Her Wear," a song inspired by a murder that took place a couple years ago in Selmer, Tenn., about 35 miles from Hood's hometown.
"I'm in Norway and, on TV, they're talking about this crazy woman who murdered her preacher husband. Then a year later I'm in a motel in Mississippi, and on Court TV there's the trial for the same murder. I ended up writing about it. I kind of had to write it."
"The Wig He Made Her Wear" may not be the only reality-based song on the disc (there's also "The Flying Wallendas," about the famous high-wire walkers), but it does stand as the best example of the album's mix of dark lyrics and propulsive music, a long-running DBT combination.
"Our material, a lot of times, tends to be dark," Hood says. "But at the same time, it's an almost fun record to me. I like that contrast — the fact that it's sort of turning your dark days into something you can escape your troubles to."
The same can be said for the songs contributed by both Mike Cooley — who's now played with Hood for 25 years — and bassist Shonna Tucker, which tend to evoke a similar mood.
The Big To-Do tends to rock a lot harder than did 2008's Brighter Than Creation's Dark, the band's last album of new material.
"The last record kind of wandered all over the place. Some of it was rock. Some of it was country. Some of it was soulful. It was all music, good music that we liked. But this one is more focused, more rock."
Hood is also happy that the Truckers can concentrate on touring without having to worry about where their next record is coming from. Turns out it was cut at the same time as The Big To-Do.
"It's a very moody, swampy thing," he says. "I refer to it as our R&B murder ballad record."