Gov’t Mule interview: The Gigs at the Break of Dawn

Warren Haynes of Gov't MuleThe Glorious Noise Interview with Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule

Indianapolis, Indiana

The brutal honesty relayed within the elaborate tales built around Blues, Soul, and Gospel music have proven to be a dear old musical friend to the cultural climate of this still young nation. Its transcendent nature is a constant echo of the purest incarnation originating from the deepest, darkest belly of the American South and graced with a shelf-life immune to the generational blitz of revolving modern trends. Existing as an antidotal underbelly to mainstream culture, the roots of American music continue to overshadow the accomplishments of Fall Out Boy, Simple Plan, AFI, the All American Rejects, and even manages to remain cooler than that pesky yellow bracelet that pop culture has so widely glorified as the key to the mainstream city.

The gap in musical evolution has left the sheer swagger and beauty of this land’s finest musical contribution reduced to nothing more than a faint whisper blowing along the delta shores of the Mississippi.

Keeping it alive is a core group of practitioners who still have Blues running through their veins and embedded in their blood; spawning a discussion on the state of American music and the release of a new studio achievement with who other than resident Allman Brother and Gov’t Mule founder, Warren Haynes, who is about to spend another New Years at the Beacon Theatre in New York City.

“The first sound that I can remember falling in love with was hearing regional black gospel music over the radio in North Carolina when I was still at a young age,” says Haynes. “It made the hairs on my arms stand up and ultimately made me want to start singing.”

“I had two older brothers who were album collectors. They had great taste and all of this amazing music was there like a library to check out whenever you wanted.”

“It started with Soul music, with the likes of James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding. Then it eventually progressed to great rock music, great blues, and jazz,” he explains. “In the beginning I was exposed to more electric Blues, the acoustic styling came later.”

In my eyes there is one thing that separates a credible musical entity from one that will fail to reach an audience after their fans grow past their teens, the roots of their influences. If I told you that after interviews with Jack White, Beck, Gregg Allman, Ziggy Marley, and Robert Randolph that their one similarity was the root of their influences, would you believe me? Spanning close to three generations and numerous genres these artists draw from the same records, and are cut from the same cloth as one Warren Haynes.

“You would hear Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Miles Davis, or Bob Dylan, playing in my house constantly. It was a huge influence on me that I still carry with me today,” he shares.

Embarking on a summer stint with the Allman Brothers Band, Warren Haynes also packed the stenciled gear cases of his other full-time project, Gov’t Mule, for extended roadwork in the summer of 2006 in support of a recently recorded studio effort released on ATO Records, High & Mighty.

The Mule’s current recording and touring line-up includes Matt Abts (Drums), Andy Hess (Bass), and Danny Louis (keyboards).

“We did the record at Willie Nelson’s studio in Austin, Texas,” says Haynes. “It took about three weeks to complete with us all set up together in the same small room so we could look each other in the eye when we were recording. The sessions were very old school, even more so than our previous records.”

Produced by Gordie Johnson the LP was recorded in analog on a large 2-inch tape reel. “We wanted to bring back that old school approach, sonically speaking,” says Haynes. “That is what we were striving for and I think Gordie Johnson was able to pull off a recording that sounds like everything we remember was great about old records,” as laughter follows.

Haynes’ comments are not in reference to just the aesthetic environment of the studio, but the way in the recording process is formulated. It is live, it is recorded in analog, and each time they play these songs they are played differently. This is a separation from bands like Blink-182 and Jet who spend at times up to six months in session laying down tracks that will be played in stone for the next decade.

“Gordie and I are old friends,” he explains, “I have known him for about ten years. Not only is he a great friend, but he is a great guitar player, songwriter, and arranger. He was vital to the sessions because a lot of his ideas are coming from places that I would have never thought of.”

Johnson’s influence is most prevalent on Gov’t Mule’s most heavily reggae influenced composition to date, Unring the Bell, as Haynes will gladly explain. “Gordie is pretty much a reggae aficionado so we took full advantage of his skills.”

“We were all extremely pleased with the way the recording turned out.”

Creatively speaking, Warren Haynes has been lucky enough to be blessed with a musical career that now spans a handful of current projects, which has yielded unlimited visionary boundaries and has exposed the musician to a laundry list full of prolific talents, which include Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Derek Trucks, Jack Bruce, John Entwistle, Dickey Betts, Chris Robinson, Les Claypool, and Billy Cox.

“Most of what a musician learns comes from being around other musicians,” he says. “We [Gov’t Mule] did the Deep End: Volume 1 and the Deep End: Volume 2 with twenty-five different bass players to honor a late friend,” as Haynes references the Mule’s founding bassist, Allen Woody, who died in August of 2000 in New York City from causes still inconclusive. “Those sessions, with all of those wonderful special guests, influenced the direction in which Gov’t Mule would take from that point forward.”

“For me it works out very nicely that I have these different projects to showcase different sides of my musical personality,” referring to the Allman Brothers Band, the Grateful Dead, and Phil Lesh’s & Friends.

“I think most musicians feel like they get trapped in whatever it is that they do and don’t get the opportunity to step outside of that as much as they would like to. It is not a complaint it is just an observation. I have been lucky enough to be able to work with all of different musicians in all of these different projects. I am able to stretch out in a lot of different ways that I wouldn’t be able to if I was just in Gov’t Mule.”

Haynes’ perspective on music is well versed and conversant spilling over the confines of his albums and into the worldwide media market.

“I feel like we are on the verge of a lot of great art and a lot of great music. I say this because the commercial side of things is so screwed up that it is going to be left to the underground side of things to make its mark and I think that is where all the great art comes from anyway,” states Haynes.

“The more the mainstream shoves integrity aside the more the artists built on integrity will resurface in another place. All of Gov’t Mule’s lyrics have had political statements and some kind of social commentary. I have been a little bit more outspoken on this record in that department as far as observations of what is going on in our world right now,” he explains.

“The song Like Flies is just about that. It opens up with the lyrics ‘We are at a place in history where the bar is at an all-time low/We have applauded mediocrity until there is no lower we can go,'” Haynes recites. “I think that is in response to this trend of people that just want to be famous and they don’t care what they have to do to be famous. There is more striving to be famous then there is to be good at something. People that take that shortcut to success and fame are missing out on all of the positives that make up the journey of getting better at what you do.”

“I read somewhere where someone said that, ‘art is less important in modern society than ever before,’ and after thinking about it I think it’s probably true. So now it is a discussion about timely music and timeless music,” says Haynes. “Timeless music will prevail and timely music will fall by the waist side. That is pretty much the most black and white description I could give. Anyone who is trying to make music based on where music is today and the trends of the year in terms of giving people what they think they want is timely music. Music that you could revisit thirty-years later and it is just as powerful as the day it was recorded, now that is timeless music.”

“I think that goes hand-in-hand with the concept of a moving live performance prevailing in the future,” says Haynes, “and that people who utilize technology to make a mediocre singer sound like a good singer will become out of vogue so to speak.”

Haynes’ final comment solidifies his resolve, “because what technology can’t do is give you soul. There is no way you will be able to push a button and make someone sound like Aretha Franklin or Ray Charles, it will never happen.”

Some people might argue that the inverse could be true, that you could take a modern band and put them in a vintage studio and record them on a reel and they will produce the same result as Haynes. Well… have you heard Jet lately? They do everything by the “vintage book” but still come up short in terms of musicianship and song writing in the face of contemporary peers like Gov’t Mule, and a blistering trio from Australia by the name of Wolfmother.

Gov’t Mule will be hosting their annual New Years Eve run at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on December 29, 30, and 31. For more information including additional tour dates, discography, and merchandise see Gov’t Mule’s website. Stream “Mr. High & Mighty” (Win, QT). More.

Million Miles From Yesterday

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *