Q&A: Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood

They've been called America's greatest rock band by more than one critic, and they're certainly one of the busiest.

Which comes easiest to you, melody or lyrics?

It all either happens, or it doesn't. If it happens, it happens pretty easily. I've been writing a long time, and I consider myself a writer before anything else. I've kind of learned to do everything else in the service of writing. It was the opposite for [Drive-By Trucker bandmate Mike] Cooley. It's ironic that Cooley became such a great writer -- and I think he can out-write me sometimes -- because he came to it as a musician first for years and years before he ever wrote a song. But I started writing songs when I was a kid. I was too young to have any inhibitions about it at all. By the time I was old enough to have any inhibitions, I'd been writing so long that I was good enough to guide myself through them.

Why do you think Drive-By Truckers aren't a bigger band?

I don't know. Maybe it has something to do with that [Southern rock] label. Sometimes the thing that first gives you that leg up is the foot that ends up kicking you in the nuts.

Talk a little bit about the documentary, "The Secret to a Happy Ending."

I met [director] Barr [Weissman] in D.C. in 2004, on the Dirty South tour. I went out and talked to him, and in five minutes I completely knew that he was the guy. He said, "I'm one of those kids that you sing about. Rock 'n roll saved my life as a teenager, and I want to make a love letter to rock and roll in appreciation of that, and I want your band to star in it." Just the fact that he was approaching it from that standpoint was what won me over. He said, "I don't want to do a tell-all. I don't give a shit about the band's battles with record labels, drugs or each other -- that's not the story I want to tell. If all that exists, that's one thing, but that's not what I'm here for…I want to capture that aspect that makes people who are complete strangers worship this band like they do, and made me worship the bands I grew up worshipping."

So he came and he followed us around…they came to our home town, interviewed my Mama and my Dad [legendary session bassist Dave Hood], and members of Jason [Isbell's] and Shonna [Tucker's] families, spent time at Cooley's house, and they really got into why the stories we tell are important to us. He planned on finishing it in a year, and five-and-a-half years later, it's finally coming out. The story started twisting. All of a sudden there starts to be all this crazy turmoil in the band, divorces and personnel changes and some of the shit we were going through during that era.

There are a lot of uncomfortable things for us to watch. Everybody saw it once to sign off it, but there's at least a couple of members in the band that said, "I'm signing off on it, but I never want to see it again because it's too painful." I can live with the fact that there might be some cringe-inducing moments in the film. I'm enough of a film nut to where I can take solace in the fact that it's a great little film. I'm proud he's made a film about us that really holds up.

If he wanted material, he picked a good time to choose this band.

Yeah, but so much of our fighting was way too passive/aggressive to make for good film drama. It wasn't like we were screaming at each other and throwing shit; that would have almost been a relief. There was probably more of that in "Brighter," which was a happy record to make. Cooley and I can get bumpy, he and I have been bumpy for 24 years, but it works. He shot me with a b.b. gun making "Brighter," and that's when we were actually somewhat getting along good.