Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers tries to write something every day. More often than not, his daily writing doesn't yield a song, at least not at first. But sometimes, it eventually turns into one anyway. Take the novel he was attempting to write earlier this year.
"Well, I hate to use that 'n-word,' because I ended up not liking it much," Hood says with a laugh, calling from home in Athens, Ga. "It was fiction based around the age of 27, which was the most screwed-up period of my life. And my original idea was to use things I was writing back then or things I was writing now in character as a 27-year-old between chapters. And in that, I hit a rich vein. There came a point where I had to admit the song parts were good and the book part maybe wasn't."
Hood wound up abandoning the book, but the songs that emerged from it will make up his next solo album. It's in the works for a 2012 release, and his description of it sounds startlingly different from what you'll hear from the Truckers onstage at the Hopscotch Music Festival tonight. The solo stuff he's working on now is mostly quiet and acoustic, with more strings (!) than electric guitar.
As for the mother band, the Truckers are still focused on this year's "Go-Go Boots" (ATO Records), an album that followed 2010's "The Big To-Do" by less than a year. Longer on grooves and ambience than six-string fireworks, "Go-Go Boots" has a swampy, bluesy feel that you can trace to the band's work in recent years backing up soul luminaries Bettye LaVette and Booker T. Jones.
Still, that's not as recent a development as you might think. Hood points out that traces of soul have been a part of the Truckers' sonic universe from the start. The group's 1998 debut album "Gangstabilly" closed with "Sandwiches From the Road," a tribute to Muscle Shoals soul guitarist Eddie Hinton.
"I didn't have the chops to do that justice," Hood says. "But I hoped that as I got better and the band matured, we might revisit it. The Betty LaVette record was a milestone for us, and, of course, Booker was a big influence on 'Big To-Do.' So much of the way that music was arranged was influenced by things we learned from Booker. But we also had a lot of songs that didn't fit, which is how we ended up with two completely different-sounding records out only 11 months apart."
Indeed, "Go-Go Boots" is a lot less loud and raucous than "The Big To-Do," which made for quite an adjustment once the band started touring on the latter album.
"The show now is very different from last year," Hood says. " 'Big To-Do' was faster-paced, but I like the dynamic of the show right now. We never set out to be this constant barrage of guitar solos and stage pyrotechnics, which almost became expected at some point. This show is closer to where we like it, with the songs as the focus. We are first and foremost a songwriter's band. Somewhere along the way we became known as a guitar band, which we've rebelled against at times."
One of the new album's more notable story-songs is "Used To Be a Cop," a slinky funk number that could almost pass for prime Steely Dan (or the theme song for a 1970s-vintage cop show). Hood envisions "Cop" as the soundtrack to a short film about a defrocked cop stalking his ex-wife and watching her dirty-dance with a young man at the first disco-tech in the Truckers' Northern Alabama stomping grounds.
"When we first cut that, I remember thinking, 'Our fans will probably hate this, but I like it,' " Hood says. "But it's ended up being kind of a crowd-pleaser and it even got some radio play - which surprises me because it's a long and nasty song about stalking your ex-wife. Figures, you know? But it's a nice counteraction to 'Everybody Needs Love,' which is as beautiful a love song as anybody could write. I thought it was cool to have both those on the same record."