We spoke with Patterson Hood about coping with the dismantlement of Western progress, encountering backlash in unexpected places, conveying an unclouded anger in his songs and why he still remains optimistic about the arc of human history.
It takes a toll on me, my family and every single person I know or love. I feel that a war is being waged on all that I hold dear.
I recently spoke with David Crosby for this publication, and he was kind of lamenting that nobody was stepping up to the plate to write the next “Ohio,” as it were. He didn’t think an artist was going to step up to address the current American freak show. If I were to respectfully correct him on that, I would play him your new tune “The Perilous Night” first as an example. Would you characterize that song as trying to fill a vacancy, like Crosby described, or were you just writing from the heart about what troubles you?
You’re welcome to play it for him. I’d love for him to hear American Band too. I had lamented that exact thing myself. Although there’s no shortage of really relevant and political music being made in hip-hop and even pop, rock was largely silent, at least last year. People are starting to speak up a lot more now that our very fabric of progress is being dismantled daily. I began writing “The Perilous Night” last December on the day of the electoral college vote but canned it as I thought it was too negative and devoid of light. Then, after Charlottesville, I readdressed it and finished it in one sitting. Sometimes you just have to vent your anger, and I’m plenty angry right now.
Even beyond bad policy or whatever, I’ve been mostly concerned about a sort of war on intelligence, dignity and beauty. I feel as though there’s this big, giant monster trying to destroy all of those things and replace it with an idiotic, McDonald’s version of reality. How do you cope with this sort of degeneration that seems to repeat itself every 24 hours?
It’s been really hard to cope with. It takes a toll on me, my family and every single person I know or love. I feel that a war is being waged on all that I hold dear.
I’m a 25-year-old guy who moved to New York from the San Luis Obispo area of California. It’s all kind of made me think about whether I just moved from one bubble to another. I guess your digs in Portland, OR, would count as a “blue” area as well. Do you think there’s such a thing as being impervious to the terrors of Western society just by living in a certain city, or are we more connected and complicit in all this than we might realize?
I moved from one blue bubble, Athens, GA, to a bigger one in Portland. Same time, we’re impacted by this shit too. It impacts all of us. My family has preexisting conditions on three of our health ratings, and you’d better believe I was sweating the possible dismantling of the Affordable Care Act. The new tax plan will totally fuck us and anyone that does this for a living. You better believe that’s no accident. It’ll especially fuck those that live in blue states which tend to have higher property taxes. Ironically, San Luis Obispo was the only town on our initial tour behind American Band where we encountered nasty backlash over our message in person. There were the occasional hecklers, but that night we had a substantial portion of our audience get up and leave and these guys holding up signs that said “Blue Lives Matter.” Weird.
I’m not religious at all, but was trying to conjure some kind of heavenly afterlife scenario to help me and my friends deal with grief and horror.
I still somehow am holding on to some sort of cautious optimism about the overall arc of history moving in a positive direction. It’s a zigzagging path, and right now is one of the worst zags, but I’m hopeful for the next swing of the pendulum.
I was listening to a couple of my favorite songs you’ve written as I prepared for this question — “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” and “Guns of Umpqua.” Both handle really broad and terrifying topics — namely, death and murder — in very different ways, while contrasting them with the tiniest details of your inner life. I’m curious about your idea of compartmentalizing your internal and external worlds. How good at you from keeping political nightmares walled off from your day-to-day worries as a musician, husband and parent?
I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing. Some could argue that I’m too good at it. Both of those songs were attempts to find some peace within myself as I was contemplating the unthinkable. In the case of “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife,” I slightly knew the Harvey family and had a lot of friends who were close to them. Wonderful people and the most horrific thing imaginable.
I’m not religious at all, but was trying to conjure some kind of heavenly afterlife scenario to help me and my friends deal with the grief and horror of something like that. I’m really proud of that song. I have some friends who really love it and thanked me for doing it and some others who prefer for me not to play it when they are there. I received some really nice notes from some family members, but I usually don’t play it in Richmond unless I’m asked to.
Speaking of “Guns of Umpqua,” I’d like to focus briefly on the national issue of gun violence. It seems like the notion that anything is going to be done about this is growing more and more faint, like there’s so little forward momentum that it’s going backwards.
If the senseless murder of a classroom full of little children doesn’t inspire those fuckers to even try to solve anything, I don’t have much hope for any positive change in my lifetime on the issue of guns. I had wanted to write a song about that for a pretty long time, but the Umpqua Community College shooting seemed to hit a specific nerve that gave me an entryway to the story I needed to tell.
I spent a long time acquiring a certain degree of skill, but I never want technical tomfoolery to cloud up the feeling I’m trying to convey.
To bring this conversation way back in time, I’m really interested in some of the stories you’ve told about the earliest days of your music career, back in the Adam’s House Cat days. I love the sense of frustration and lack of anything to lose that was conveyed in songs like “Buttholeville,” which completely throws out poetry and nuance in favor of this gut feeling.
I feel strongly that my job as a songwriter is to convey a specific feeling or feelings. Sometimes that can be done with a poetic flair or some kind of technical ability in the writing process, but sometimes that can best done with a pure gut emotion. I spent a long time acquiring a certain degree of skill, but I never want technical tomfoolery to cloud up the feeling I’m trying to convey. Some subjects don’t need to be flowery in their delivery.
What else can you tell me about your memories of this time, when you first began to play music with Mike Cooley? What was the dynamic like between the two of you?
We spent those years fighting like warring brothers. There was always a great chemistry between us musically that we were fortunately (barely) smart enough to realize enough to tolerate each other back then. Now it’s the payoff, as we really get along incredibly well and the chemistry has grown exponentially. Back then, Cooley didn’t write, or at least didn’t admit to writing.
He was the guitar slinger. He must have liked my songs enough to tolerate me being in his band. I thought he was often an asshole, but I loved what he did to my songs. We butted heads, but woe be anyone else who ever said a word about either one of us. We were both always pretty protective of each other when it came to outsiders. Like brothers. Now he is truly the brother I never had and the best partner anyone could ever have.
Finally, I’d like you to describe the latest moment of pure, unadulterated joy you had. What was going on? Why did it make you feel the way you did?
Most nights with the band are like that. Unless someone is sick or there’s some outside thing preventing us from doing what we came to do, I really love the band and the show. I’ve also been really enjoying my solo shows of late. I can find great joy in my family. I love going to movies and shows and good restaurants. I really love a good night’s sleep too.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: December 11, 2017
Total questions: 9
Word count: 1497
Reading time: Five minutes
acquisition, Affordable Care Act, anger, Bible, brotherhood, California, Charlottesville, chemistry, contemplation, David Crosby, devoid, Drive-By Truckers, flair, grief, Heaven, horror, insurance, Jeremiah, movie, nerve, Oregon, path, Patterson Hood, pendulum, poetry, politics, Portland, positivity, protection, restaurant, righteous, San Luis Obispo, technicality, toll, tomfoolery, unthinkable, warring, zigzag
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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