Legendary, whimsical British songwriter/rocker Robyn Hitchcock and Patterson Hood of politically charged Athens, Ga., rock band Drive-By Truckers pontificate on politics, making albums, and anticipation of playing at Pendarvis Farm.

COURTESY: DANNY CLINCH - The Drive-By Truckers and their currently Portland-based Patterson Hood (third from left), the guitarist and vocalist and songwriter, play Pickathon this weekend. They are tapped into the political scene, as Hood says, we get called political a lot. I consider it personal.After humble beginnings as a low-key fundraiser for KBOO radio, Pickathon has grown into one of the most acclaimed multi-genre music festivals in the U.S. The annual event, held this weekend at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, features everything from quietly intense singer-songwriters and bluegrass to boundary-bursting bands incorporating elements of rock, soul, country, punk, electronic and world music.

The Tribune recently engaged with two of the more veteran artists on this year's bill: Singular British singer/songwriter/rocker Robyn Hitchcock, who has recorded 21 albums as a solo artist and with his band the Egyptians since leaving The Soft Boys in 1981; and Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, an Athens, Ga.-based Americana-rock band that emerged in the mid 1990s. The Truckers released their latest album, the politically charged "American Band," last fall.

Let's start with Hitchcock, who emailed from Nashville, where he was relaxing at home pre-tour "with the cats."

Portland Tribune: It looks like your summer tour is starting with Pickathon. What have you heard about the event?

Robyn Hitchcock: A local friend in Portland told me it would be fun, so I was lucky enough to get on the bill. I'm not touring much this summer, just visiting my clan in Britain.

Tribune: What do you like about playing weekend festivals? Do you like to hang out for the weekend and catch other artists' sets?

Hitchcock: As you say, there's more chance to see other artists at festivals. A few of my friends are playing, neighbors from Nashville.

Tribune: Are you playing a lot of songs from your recent self-titled album? 

Hitchcock: Each time I release a record, the new songs have to compete with the old ones. Some new ones will make an appearance, yes. Some of my songs are antique now; they remind people of who they might have been once, and the younger listeners it reminds them of YouTube.

Tribune: The album was pretty well received. What kind of "statement" did you want to make? 

Hitchcock: I wanted to portray my life in Britain through the prism of Nashville. It's a very English record laced with some pedal steel for local flavor.

Tribune: Do you still believe in "the album" as an art form with a beginning, middle, and end?

Hitchcock: Yes. People may not need albums as much as they did once. CDs helped kill the demand by running too long. Eighteen minutes per side of an LP is just right — you don't have to listen to both sides consecutively like you do with a CD. At the same time an LP is not an anonymous random shuffle like the iThing will give you.

Tribune: Who do you now consider your peers?

Hitchcock: I know a fair number of my contemporaries: after a while you have age in common, if nothing else. Men of a certain vintage — it's mostly men that I know from my era — are still churning out the music before they're discontinued. There's nothing relaxing about getting old: You're under the gun — get on with it, gramps!

Tribune: Is it hard to reconcile your more ethereal musical tendencies with so much strife, division and angst in the world — political and beyond?

Hitchcock: There's always been strife and there's always been beautiful sunsets; misty hillsides and atrocities. Songs are often triggered by feelings that have lain in you all your life: sometimes the news of the day intrudes. I see that North Korea just fired a missile at Japan. Who knows if we'll make it to Pickathon? I've never been one to chronicle the times, really ...

COURTESY PHOTO - British singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock has recorded 21 albums as a solo artist. He will make his first appearance at Pickathon this weekend at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley. Tribune: Do you immerse yourself in U.S. politics or try to keep a safe distance?

Hitchcock: Politics is life — you can't escape it any more than you can escape your feet.

Tribune: On a side note, in 1991 I saw one of your more unique gigs, with R.E.M. on the "Mountain Stage" radio show in Charleston, W.Va. Do you remember that experience?

Hitchcock: It was an exciting bill to be on — that was R.E.M.'s only public show for that record ("Out of Time"). They cocooned themselves with Brits: Billy Bragg, Clive Gregson and Christine Collister, and me. R.E.M. were at their peak then — they weren't glued together by sidemen. I was very hungover and played to the line in the parking lot before the show.

Tribune: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Hitchcock: I'm looking forward to getting back to Pendarvis Farm. I performed the wedding ceremony for Colin and Carson Meloy (Colin leads Portland-based band The Decemberists) there in 2008. My career will continue after I'm gone — I hope — as an app. If we have any future, it will probably be as iPhones.

Hitchcock will perform Friday at 12:30 p.m. on the Mt. Hood Stage and Sunday at 6 p.m. in the Lucky Barn.


Here are some thoughts from Patterson Hood, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter with Drive-By Truckers. He corresponded from a tour stop in Maine.

Tribune: Where are you right now and where is the band based these days?

Patterson Hood: The band is based in Athens Ga., but we kinda live all over. Right now we're in Portland Maine. (Recent shows took place in Portland, Maine, the Hamptons, the Newport Folk Festival and the XPNential Fest in Philadelphia).

Tribune: What are your impressions of Pickathon?

Hood: This is our first time playing Pickathon. I went as a civilian two years ago and really enjoyed it. I'm thrilled to play it this year.

Tribune: Are you playing a lot of songs from the "American Band" album? 

Hood: Yes. It's our newest album and the songs from it make for a really rocking show. 

Tribune: The album was pretty well received. Is it hard to get your points across while helping people enjoy what's good in the world today? 

Hood: It's our newest album and the songs from it make for a really rocking show. ... The world's gone (expletive) crazy. ... In my wildest dreams — or nightmares — I couldn't make this (political stuff) up. Our album was a canary in a coal mine that was on the verge of (expletive) exploding. 

Tribune: Does the band's original country rock/alt-country approach create problems when you want to grow in other directions?

Hood: I don't really think of us as any of those sub-genres, although maybe we are all of the different sub-genres we get called. To me, we're a Rock and Roll Band — plain and simple. That's all we ever wanted to be. 

Tribune: Do you enjoy making records, and do you still believe in "the album" as an art form unto itself?

Hood: Yes. Totally. If that makes me a dinosaur, so be it.

Tribune: Is there still a camaraderie with musicians — famous and otherwise — from the fertile '80s-'90s Athens scene?

Hood: We are still based there, even though only two members actually live there. I was there for 21 years ... It's home for the band. I live in Portland, Oregon. Have for two years now. A wonderful town. Athens is still a great music town. Maybe not as famously as it once was, but there's still a lot of cool things happening there now.

Tribune: Who do you consider your peers who are still musically active?

Hood There's a lot of great music happening out there. So many great bands and artists. It's a really vital time for music being made, even though its more underground than it was a few years back.

Tribune: Do you immerse yourself in U.S. politics or try to keep a safe distance?

Hood: I gather you haven't heard the new album. We get called political a lot. I consider it personal.

Tribune: Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

Hood: We're all looking forward to playing Pickathon. It's a great festival.

Drive-By Truckers will perform Saturday at 8:50 p.m. on the Mt. Hood Stage and Sunday at 7:40 at the Woods Stage.

Take your pick

What: The 19th annual Pickathon "alt-indie" music festival, featuring more than 60 artists on six stages

Where: Pendarvis Farm, 16581 S.E. Hagen Road, Happy Valley

When: Thursday, Aug. 3- Sunday, Aug. 6

Tickets: Adults, $310 weekend, $125 single day; children 12 and younger free


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