Reading Music: The Patterson Hood Interview


Music and books seem to go hand-in-hand if only because they’re both such powerful means of personal expression.  While many authors choose to write books about or inspired by music, many musicians in turn write or read books when they’re not making music, and in some cases even go so far as to write songs about books they find inspiring.  It’s a relationship that we at Music Lit 101 thought deserved some further investigation, and we aim to do just that with our new on-going feature “Reading Music,” where we’ll speak to musicians about what they’re reading and the effect literature has on their music.

When I was considering musicians to approach, one in particular popped into my head, Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers.  Patterson regularly talks about books he enjoys on social media, I know he’s turned me on to some great reads, so we approached him about being our first “Reading Music” interview and he gladly obliged.

Music Lit 101:  From following you on social media, I gather that you’re a very avid reader. Have you always enjoyed reading books?

Patterson Hood: Pretty much. I always loved being told stories as a kid. Loved Old Yeller as a kid. I started really avidly reading in my mid-20’s.

Music Lit 101:  Songwriters are storytellers as well. How has reading informed and influenced your music?

PH: I guess it all inter-relates. Often my songs contain a good bit of narrative, some might argue too much at times and I have at times enjoyed trying to push the boundaries of what can be done in a song format.

Music Lit 101:  On your band’s new album “English Oceans”, the song “Pauline Hawkins” was inspired by the book “The Free” by author/musician Willy Vlautin. What about Willie’s book prompted you to write the song?

PH: I was just very moved by his character, Pauline Hawkins. I can’t really put my finger on exactly what it was that moved me so and inspired me to write that song. She is really almost nothing at all like me, as a person or how she reacted to things, but I was very moved by her and the song kinda wrote itself. It certainly wasn’t planned.

Music Lit 101:  You also wrote a song with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck inspired by the book “A Long Day at the End of the World” by Brent Hendricks. How did that project come about?

PH: Peter actually wrote the lyrics to that. I think I changed it from first person to 3rd person, but otherwise tried to stay true to what Peter had written. It was already so good, I didn’t want to mess it up. He’s a very underrated writer in my opinion. I haven’t read that book, but I really want to. It’s on my list.

Music Lit 101:  The American South has a rich literary history, and has long been fertile ground for writers. As a native southerner, why do you think that is?

PH: I don’t really know. It could have something to do with the old culture of the south, or perhaps a story-telling tradition passed down from families, or maybe the hot climate and hard work made that a good thing to do on front porches after a long day at work. I know there were some really good story tellers in my family, and actually a couple of really good writers that could have pursued it further if they had had the opportunities.

Music Lit 101:  I understand your last solo album “Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance” started out as a novel, but you decided to turn it into songs instead. What brought about that decision? Any plans to revisit your novel?

PH: I really want to write a novel, but probably not that one. That one was about a songwriter and I wrote some songs from his point of view so that’s how it became an album. I have another thing I’m kicking around, but we’ll just have to see.  I stay really busy right now.

Music Lit 101:  Are there any similarities in your approach/process to writing a song versus a novel?

PH: My greatest strength as a songwriter is actually a negative when it comes to writing a book. I generally try to distill the big information into as few words as possible, hopefully with a catchy tune. The process of writing a book is kind of the opposite. I know I can tell a story and have some talent as a writer, but I still don’t know if I can overcome that obstacle. Guess we’ll see one of these days. I really don’t want to write a book that sucks.

Music Lit 101:  What’s your favorite book about music or a musician?

PH: I ca’nt think of a fiction one that I really like (although I might be overlooking something, as it’s kinda early today). Non-fiction, I LOVE “Rhythm Oil” by Stanley Booth, “Sweet Soul Music” by Peter Guralnick and “Respect Yourself” by Robert Gordon.

[Editors Note:  Music Lit 101 interviewed Robert Gordon about his book “Respect Yourself”]

Music Lit 101:  You’re currently on tour with Drive-By Truckers, I would imagine a book comes in handy, what are you reading right now?

PH: “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers. I’m also re-reading Marc Maron’s “Attempting Normal,” and just finished “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides.

 Music Lit 101:  Do you have any reading recommendations for our readers?

PH: Read anything by Willy Vlautin, especially “Lean on Pete” and “The Free” (which inspired my song Pauline Hawkins ). I also highly recommend Robert Gordon’s book on Stax Records, “Respect Yourself,” and Bill Bryson’s book about the summer of 1927.


To find out more about Patterson Hood:

Visit his website

Visit Drive-By Truckers website

Follow him on Twitter




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