Interview: Patterson Hood Opens Up About Adam’s House Cat, His First Band With Drive-By Truckers Co-Founder Mike Cooley
Sept. 21, 2018, will forever be a day of celebration for Drive-By Truckers co-founders and co-frontmen Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. On that day, Town Burned Down, their first band's Adam's House Cat's album, finally saw the light of day after a nearly three-decade-long wait.
"I think a lot of people were surprised with the record," Hood tells The Boot. "I mean, we were surprised when we dug into the tapes and started mixing it, how well it had held up and how good it was. I'm as proud of this record as any record we've ever put out. It's been really great to finally get it out after all these decades."
The story of Town Burned Down is mythical and fabled — and completely true.
"I don't even understand or fully know some of the story, I really don't," Hood admits. "We recorded the basic tracks — the band's tracks — in one day, on Nov. 25, 1990. It was upstairs at the Muscle Shoals Sound [Studio]; we ran wires from the control room up to these giant cavernous rooms that were not being used."
"I'm as proud of this record as any record we've ever put out. It's been really great to finally get it out after all these decades."
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was a former naval reserve building, and so when Hood calls the rooms giant and cavernous, he's not joking. "They were gigantic," he remembers. "We love the sound in those big rooms, and so the idea was to capture the sound of the band reverberating through those great, big spaces."
When Adam's House Cat recorded, they were still reeling from the stereotypical '80s digital reverb drum sound, so they wanted to get as far away from that as possible. "We loved big drums, don't get me wrong, but we were hoping to get more of that [Led] Zeppelin, Headley Grange vibe and less of the '80s sound," Hood says.
A few months after tracking the band's parts, Adam's House Cat returned to the studio. "It was on the day that the United States started bombing Baghdad — Operation Desert Storm. That's when we recorded the vocal tracks," Hood recalls. "I was never genuinely happy with those tracks. But, we mixed the version of the album anyway, and somehow, those mixes got lost. We mixed it onto half-inch tape, whereas the original multi-track version was on 2-inch tape. For a while, I swear it was all lost, but we eventually tracked down the 2-inch tape. That half-inch tape, though, it's probably lost forever. It most likely got destroyed in a tornado, which is kind of a crazy story."
For Adam's House Cat, however, crazy stories seem par for the course.
"Those tapes were all in storage in the vault at the studio, and we tried to get them from the people who eventually bought the studio," Hood shares. "But when they were liquidating everything and closing the studio down, they wouldn't give us our tapes. Presumably, they took them with them to their studio in Jackson, Miss., which then got hit by a tornado. We didn't even know what tapes they had, we just assumed it was everything. We figured it was all lost forever. But we ended up locating the 2-inch tapes, which meant we had the whole unmixed version of the record, which I preferred anyway because I wasn't happy with those first mixes and my vocals. That's what we had to work with when we resumed in 2018 to put it all back together."
Though Town Burned Down is 27 years old, it's as much a fresh debut for Hood and Adam's House Cat as it would've been back in the '90s. That's largely because Hood found himself back in the studio with the tracks, re-recording his vocals.
"We didn't touch anything but my vocals," he says. "Only the lead vocals. The backup vocals were left alone. I did all the vocal tracks in one afternoon in about two hours, right before the Truckers' homecoming shows in Athens, [Ga.], earlier this year. I was initially reluctant to do it, but there was one song we recorded that didn't have a vocal take, and we really wanted that song to go on the record, so I was going to see if I could match the vocals and have it sound okay alongside the other tracks. It took about 10 minutes, and it sounded so much better than the other vocals, so it was like, well s--t, let's try another one. And I just said, f--k it, I'd rather someone hear how good the band played then hear how bad I sang back then. I stand by it, and so far, no one seems to mind too much."
That first song that Hood tracked was "Shot Rang Out." Though there have been bootlegs of Town Burned Down floating around for years, that track was never released because the band never finished it in the original recording session.
"I didn't even remember the song existed," Hood confides. "I wrote that song right before we made the album in November 1990, and we had played it in some practices, but I don't think we ever played it live. We tracked it with just a scratch vocal, and then we eventually decided we didn't like the song and abandoned it. Upon listening to everything, I don't know what our problem was. It's as good as anything on the record. It was exciting to have this song that nobody knew anything about, too — including me."
For many bands, when they spend time with decades-old songs, the experience can bring back memories of days gone by, and often, it can be hard to re-visit early work. Hood found himself floating somewhere between peace and hurt during his time with Town Burned Down 27 years later.
"You know, the singing part, that was unbelievably easy," he says. "It was weird because I didn't even know if I could still sing like that or if I would remember the words. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. I had the tracks really loud in my headphones, stood in front of the microphone, and just channeled it. It was like I was in a time machine and it just happened. It was all one or two takes. It had to work a certain way because it was going to have to sync up with the existing backup vocals, and there was no redoing any of those."
"I had the tracks really loud in my headphones, stood in front of the microphone, and just channeled it. It was like I was in a time machine and it just happened."
Those backup vocals included the work of John Cahoon, Adam's House Cat's bassist, who died in 1999.
"Being in the studio, listening to this stuff, mixing this stuff, it was really heavy," Hood admits. "John passed away, and I'm not sure how well I even processed his death at the time. When he passed away, I was in the thick of launching the Drive-By Truckers. We were on tour, and I was actually leaving that afternoon when I got the call from my dad that John had died, then I left for tour and was gone for several days. I wasn't able to attend the funeral. I was somewhat disconnected from John anyway by that time, and so even though he was someone I have very fond memories of — and not fond; I have all kinds of memories of him — it was really heavy listening to the tracks and isolating the tracks with him on them, listening to the way he played and the way he sang ... especially his singing voice."
Cahoon quit Adam's House Cat before the album was ever finished. That's when bassist Chris Quillen joined the band and contributed some of his own vocal work, too.
"Chris passed away, also," Hood says, as he remembers his bandmate. "John left the band before we finished the original version of the record, and that was kind of the beginning of the end I guess. When Chris took his place, he played the last tour we did and sang a little bit of the backup vocals. He passed away in a car accident in 1996."
Drummer Chuck Tremblay almost faced a similar fate in the spring of 2017, when he had a near-fatal heart attack. "I had lost touch with Chuck for so long," Hood explains. "It's a miracle he survived his heart attack."
Pain and sorrow aside, the theme of Town Burned Down is not the most upbeat, either. "It's all about feeling trapped," Hood says. "That was the recurring theme, that was the theme of everything on that record. Even the songs that might not have been directly about it, the theme played into the mellow dynamic of it."
By 1990, Adam's House Cat had already been together for six years, and they had a pretty good grasp of what it meant to be struggling rock stars. "We fell into that trap of trying to get a record deal," Hood confesses. "We were on the verge of getting a deal and then it would fall through. It just kept happening like that. We spent all those years on the verge of something that never happened, and so we were finally like, f--k this, we'll do it ourselves and we'll put it out ourselves. Then we made the record and broke up."
"The Drive-By Truckers didn't want to repeat the mistakes that Adam's House Cat made. As you can imagine, it was a really cathartic thing to finally get to release this album after all this time ... It's been a really important thing."
As Hood puts it, that perpetual frustration in Adam's House Cat was the driving force in the early days of the Drive-By Truckers. "We didn't want to repeat the mistakes that Adam's House Cat made," he says. "As you can imagine, it was a really cathartic thing to finally get to release this album after all this time. The band was such a dismal failure in its time, having it come out and having people really excited about how good it is ... it's been a really important thing."
Hood doesn't want to shoulder all of the celebratory accolades, though. He recognizes that, for some band members, the release of Town Burned Down is uniquely meaningful.
"Chuck didn't go on to do the Truckers like Cooley and I did," Hood offers. "He never had another act of his career. He continued playing drums in different bar bands, but this is the only album he's ever put out ... and the thing is, he was an amazing drummer. And he still is. He was the heart and soul of the band."
As trapped as Adam's House Cat may have once felt, that presentiment seems to be gone. What hasn't changed though — and what has only grown through the work of the Drive-By Truckers — is the willingness to call it like it is.
"We've always been political, and Adam's House Cat definitely had that side, but much more so than this record reflects," Hood pronounces. "We have a lot of songs — Town Burned Down is almost like a greatest hits. This wasn't supposed to be the only record we made. We planned on making another album in Memphis, which is ironic because we just made our new Truckers record in Memphis."
Hood takes a breath as he shifts his focus from Adam's House Cat to the Truckers, while explaining the clear and almost-supernatural connection between the two bands.
"This new Truckers album, it's the first time we ever recorded in Memphis," he says. "We've planned on it since the Adam's House Cat days, so it's kind of full circle that we finally got to record there. In the end, actually, Memphis is what broke us up. Cooley and I moved there, and we were going to find a new bassist, and Chuck was supposed to join us but he wasn't able to. When Chuck couldn't join us, that was the end of the band. All of that kind of came full circle this year with the release of Town Burned Down and recording the new Truckers album."
Though the new LP likely won't hit the streets until sometime in the second half of 2019 — Hood says they'll likely mix it early in the new year, and then he hopes to take the summer off before putting it out — there are a few tracks influenced by Town Burned Down.
"There's a new song that was written while we were in the studio mixing the Adam's House Cat record," Hood explains with an obvious happiness in his voice. "It was directly inspired by the experience of sitting there with those songs. We left the control room and wrote it — we were inspired sitting there hearing John sing after all those years."
As he reflects on his life and the career of these two bands, Hood can't help but feel proud, grateful, and contemplative.
"It's heavy," he admits, "but it's all interconnected. I like that; I like how our past is tied with our present and our future ... I can't help but think, somehow, someway, this was all meant to be."