Pat Green Interview: Texas Troubadour Gives Fans More ‘Songs We Wish We’d Written’
Pat Green is not a big advance planner. He will tell you this openly, and if you spend more than a few minutes with him, it is fairly obvious that not much rattles the tall, easygoing Texan. As he prepares to release his 12th career album, Songs We Wish We’d Written II, his second collection of cover tunes featuring guests like Jack Ingram and Collective Soul’s Ed Roland, he muses on the long, somewhat gnarled path that’s led him to this latest chapter in his career. Amazingly, after 18 years on the road and several different label homes, he still approaches making music in basically the same way. This time, however, was admittedly a little different.
“This is the very first time I’ve ever used my band the whole time on an album,” Pat tells The Boot. “I’ve always used my band in pieces, somebody on this track, somebody on that track, but never as a whole. But I really wanted it to be our project. So that was different. But I’m a very casual, seat-of-my-pants person. I am not that anal-retentive or micro-organized or anything, I just let life happen. If I try my best, and if I’m focused when I’m doing my work, then it usually comes out great.”
Fans of the Texas phenom would be hard-pressed to argue that point on this new collection, which features songs like the Lyle Lovett treasure “If I Had a Boat,” the Collective Soul smash “The World I Know,” and the Tom Petty classic “Even the Losers,” all colored in different shades of Green. The CD is a sequel of sorts to the one released over a decade ago, but it’s definitely not a carbon copy of that project, (although Cory Morrow joins his longtime buddy again on the second collection.)
“The last cover album we did was all with Cory, all duets,” recalls Pat. “But I’m not a big fan of a sequel being a copy — “Jaws 3″ being like “Jaws 2″ and “Jaws.” Of course, I had Cory on it again, just because we’re still great friends, but this time I wanted to get a broader spectrum of other artists. So we got some guys who hadn’t been heard of, like Aaron Tasjan, who has this New York band called the Madison Square Gardeners and does “Streets of Galilee” with me. And Monte Montgomery … everybody around Texas knows who he is, he’s one of the greatest guitar players of all time, and he did “Soulshine.” And then for the rock side we got Ed Roland from Collective Soul. He’s a great guy and I’m a big fan of ['The World I Know'], so he was kind of an obvious pick from friends of mine. And Jack Ingram has always been one of my real inspirations in my musical life, so he was an easy pick for “I Am Too.” I used to go see Todd Snider and the Wrecks play all the time, and that was easily one of my favorites they did.”
Some tracks mirror the originals, like the Lyle Lovett tune, while others are reinvented with sweeping strings and layers of instrumentation — evidence of Pat’s love affair with melody over lyric. “I have a song on that Waylon [Jennings] tribute album, “Rainy Day Woman,” and I chose it because I just I loved his melody work on that song. I’m much more drawn to melody in my life than I am lyric. Most people don’t know that, but I like great sounding moves … people who know where to take a note to make it drive. And Waylon was always that. I don’t know why I’m that way. Words just kind of come out of me, I don’t really worry about that, but I think a lot about how melody works. My dad always said the greatest songs were probably written melody first, and I think that’s the premise I’ve taken in my career, melody before lyric.”
Other songs made the cut because of their fond place in Pat’s heart, like Joe Ely’s “All Just to Get to You,” or Shelby Lynne’s “Jesus on a Greyhound.” “Joe Ely was such an inspirational person for me to even start singing,” recalls Pat. “When I was in Lubbock, Letter to Laredo came out my freshman year of college, and I remember loving it — I thought it was an incredible album! “Jesus on a Greyhound” is a song I’ve been listening to since “Wave on Wave” came out … it was recorded at the same time. Waylon Payne recorded it and that’s when I found it. He did all the harmony vocals on “Wave on Wave,” and we were born on the exact same day in 1972. So we’ve been good buddies for a long time.”
It’s been almost a decade since “Wave On Wave” first garnered Pat national attention and some chart success, and plenty has changed during that time. Years spent on the road in an industry full of ups and downs will put some miles on you, both literally and figuratively, but Pat doesn’t seem any worse for the wear or bitter for the experience. After all, it’s those experiences — good and bad — that inform his work and infuse his songs with the passion and perception we’ve come to love from the former Texas wild man who’s now a father of two. Reflecting back on it all, he still has a love affair with the road, even though it takes him away from his kids and has caused him the occasional embarrassment along the way.
“I’ve spent 18 years on the road, and there’s a lot of every kind of element in that kind of relationship,” he admits. “There’s elements of my life I would change if I could go back, not of my career I would change, but of the person I was while I was navigating that. I would much rather have done that soberly, than just totally wing it drunk and being a kid. But, then again, I wonder … if there wouldn’t have been as much brash, there wouldn’t have been as much flair, or as much color to it, and it wouldn’t have been as good. What if that totally changed the way it worked out? What if that led me to a different woman than my wife … what if I didn’t write “Wave on Wave” because of that? Because I was drunk as a skunk when we wrote “Wave on Wave!”
One thing for Pat hasn’t changed at all in those two decades. “I still love music, I still love performing,” he says. “I think I get the most out of performing than anything else I do. But there’s not a day I’m on the road that I don’t wish I was with my kids. I think that’s why I stopped doing 200 shows a year … I was getting anxiety, it was making me sick at my stomach, and I had fear and all these other feelings injected into me because I was afraid I was going to miss them doing something great or miss something bad happening and couldn’t be there. I do a lot of other work now so that I can work less on the road.”
That devotion to his wife. Kori, and to his kids is one constant that has never wavered, and while his daughter definitely has a bit of the performing gene in her, Pat isn’t one to nudge his children toward the spotlight. “My daughter likes to show off, and my son likes to listen, but we haven’t seen the performance thing come out with him. My deal with parenting is because I was one of 10 kids, I had to be really self-driven. My parents had so much other stuff going on. It was a merged family of yours, mine and ours, and I had to do it on my own or else it didn’t get done. I didn’t even start playing guitar until I was 18 and writing until I was 20, and it just happened. My daughter has a great imagination. And my son, he’s eight and reads huge novels! I’m fascinated with his brain, and excited to see where that takes him. But they’re definitely at opposite ends for sure.”
Though he’s scaled back a bit on touring, Pat continues to burn up the roads in Texas and beyond as he recharges the massive fan base he built nearly two decades ago and continues to grow today. As a Lone Star legend who’s inspired a whole new generation of artists, he’s happy where he is at this stage of the game, to be doing what he loves, able to express himself and his truths — some of them hard-learned — honestly, in the way that he desires, on a smaller label such as Sugar Hill.
“For me and my 40-year-old life, it just seems to be a natural fit,” explains Pat. “I was just really ready to not make records by committee. I’ve made my mistakes, most of mine are chemically related. But I think it’s easier to tell the truth and be honest with yourself the older you get … and when you’re experiencing the transformation from adolescent to adult, there’s a thousand different truths for you.”
And for the devil-may-care Texas troubadour who has weathered his share of storms, most of those truths will probably end up in a song.