Last year, Patterson Hood—Alabama-born, Athens, Ga.-dwelling rock-'n'-roll songwriter and de facto leader of the celebrated Drive-By Truckers—brought his wife along on a Portland visit for a solo gig and a friend's wedding. Hood had long loved his too-brief tour stops here, and says his wife also considers it "probably her favorite city in America," and the slightly more leisurely visit further whetted their appetites. So, "instead of the standard Christmas this year," they decided on a family trip here. The Doug Fir Lounge obliged, booking Hood for a three-week residency.
Leaving warmer climes in the midst of winter seems counterintuitive, but Hood says that's part of the plan. "We knew it was gonna be rainy and cold," he says, "but at some point we might want to look into living here, or having a place here, so [my wife] wanted to experience it when it wasn't absolutely, stunningly beautiful."
Hood's visit to Portland has otherwise featured a week laid up with a lingering cold and several days "on the phone for hours at a time with Delta," chasing lost luggage. But he's also had time to get acquainted with the Decemberists' Chris Funk, a neighbor in the Clinton area where Hood is renting a house, and he looks forward to hanging out with Richmond Fontaine's Willy Vlautin, who's opening Hood's first Doug Fir show Jan. 8.
"I'm a huge fan of his books," Hood says of his fellow literate Americana bandleader. Vlautin's latest tome inspired "Pauline Hawkins," a last-minute addition to the Truckers' forthcoming album, English Oceans. "She's a character in his newest book, The Free," Hood says. "I finished the book on Saturday, wrote the song on Sunday. We'd already finished the record, we thought, but we reconvened the band about three days later, recorded and mixed it in one day, and put it on the record."
Such bursts of creativity aren't foreign to the prolific Hood, 49, who's written more than half the songs on the dozen albums the Truckers have released since their 1998 debut, plus three solo collections, including last year's Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance. Still, being married 10 years, with 9- and 4-year-old children, Hood struggles with other demands on his time. "When you have kids, if you don't look like you're busy, all of a sudden someone will put a mop in your hand, or a diaper, or a kid,â he says.
Familial concerns, however, also inspire great work, like Heat Lightning's "Leaving Time," as good a gotta-go-on-tour tune as anyone's written. "The kids were at an age then where they were having a little separation anxiety," he says. "Seeing the suitcase by the door was making them upset, which therefore made my wife upset, and I wrote that song out of frustration. The kind of frustration that only your family can provoke."
Of course, a 17-year-old band like the Truckers—and a 29-year creative partnership with DBT's lead guitarist and songwriter Mike Cooley—can spawn its own family-style frustrations, such as the contentious breakup with former member Jason Isbell, whose subsequent solo career generated one of 2013âs finest records, Southeastern. The subject of Isbell comes up while discussing âBetty Ford,â a song from Heat Lightning about addiction.
"It wasn't all happiness," says Hood of Isbell's tenure. "He had some demons that he had to figure out, and I wasn't sure if he was ever going to." As such, witnessing Isbell's personal transformation and artistic success has been "one of the happiest things for me of the last lotta years."
Hood looks forward to a busy 2014 once he leaves Portland in late January. The new Truckers record drops in early March, spawning many more months on the road, but Hood says he's "really excited about the upcoming touring that we're gonna do. We had enough of a hiatus, so we really miss it. Which is a beautiful thing for a band that's been together this long."
"At some point, I'll probably write a book about the adventure I've had, 'cause there's a great book in that,â Hood says. âBut Iâm still having it.â
SEE IT: Patterson Hood plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., every Wednesday, Jan. 8-22. 9 pm. $12 advance, $14 day of show. 21+.