Hank III: Straight from the Darkness

By: Sarah Hagerman

We all like metal and whiskey/ Livin' hard and chasin' down hell/ We'll never give up on what we have/ Because the darkness gives us our thrills – Hank III "3 Shades of Black" (listen to it here)

Hank Williams III
Depending on where your cultural interests lead you, it could be easy to take appreciation for the darkness for granted. I am one of those who think that art shouldn't shrink from those shadows. But lest we forget, we still live in a world of parental advisory stickers and The Jonas Brothers, not to mention more insidious forms of repression, where that darkness not only scares the shit out of some people but is something they actively try to stifle. Maybe that is what is so threatening to some god-fearin' folk about Hank Williams III.

"If you're from where I'm from, here in the Bible Belt, it's probably just the topics I talk about," Williams illuminates in his gruff voice, on the phone from his Nashville area home. "Which would be the downer side of things, whether its drug or alcohol related, or religious related, some of those darker topics put me outside of the box. It's slowly kind of changing, but you get classified kind of, written off I guess. Kind of hard to explain, but people in a bigger city, Chicago or something like that, if you're that way that would hardly be any kind of difference to them. Drugs, so what? Religion, so what? Some people in the big city are so fucking go, go, go; they don't sweat the small stuff. Here in the South, because the times moving slower, I guess at a slower pace, people have more time to get picky with others."

I was curious if he felt that the dominant conservative culture had also in some way inspired some artists to react against similar issues.

"I mean a lot of the people that I know in the music business, it's kind of strange, but most of the people that are rebellious in the business are in the darker things. Most of the un-rebellious people in the business are into the lighter side of things," says Williams. "I guess [that culture] has been shoved down a lot of people's throats down here. [The South] will always have the breed of the hell raiser or rebel or whatever that is. There are definitely a lot of them out there."

Hank III by Mike from hank3.com
Williams has always been attracted to the darker side of music, from his teenage days as a punk rock drummer on through his current projects. Continuing to pursue these interests without the support of his label Curb Records, he has, "four or five [metal albums] gathering dust," that he hopes to release. Additionally he drums with hardcore punk band Arson Anthem (whose ranks include Mike Williams of Eyehategod and Phil Anselmo of Pantera), based out of New Orleans. And of course, there's his own metal band Assjack (whose MySpace ID is simply "gofuckyou"). He explained the tricky situation regarding his metal output when discussing the song, "Long Hauls and Close Calls" from latest album Damn Right Rebel Proud (released October 21 through Sidewalk Records):

"I was trying to get a good crossover song in there, because a few kids in black I know will be buying [the record] and I wanted to make sure they were being taken care of. Because I was just let down with [Damn Right] itself, that's what I was trying to do. I have to be aware that legally I can't make the records I want to make. Weird as it sounds, I have to keep it country. I can't mix the two," says Williams. "Officially if I mixed the two, like the way Mike Patton or The Melvins do it, I would be in the courtroom. But in fourteen more months that will all go away and I can be what I want. So, I'm doing my time. After eleven or twelve years, it will finally be done."

Referring to the fourteen months left on his Curb contract, signed out of financial necessity over a decade ago when he had to make child support payments, Williams has been locked in a long-running and well-documented battle with the label. If you don't know much about Curb, I suggest going to their website and glancing at the Artists Page. It's telling. Amongst the sea of country kids who look freshly packaged from the CMT assembly line, amongst Leann Rimes, Tim McGraw and collections with titles like Ultimate Songs of Faith and Inspiration, is Hank III, cigarette hanging out from his mouth, scrunched somewhere between a grimace and a grin. Damn Right is yet another skirmish. The parental advisory sticker and release on Curb subsidiary label Sidewalk are, according to Williams, "Curb's way of not standing behind me. It's like how the last record was on Bruc Records, this one is on Sidewalk. That's just their way of not supporting me or not being proud of what I do. That's just their way of not saying, 'Yes, we are Curb Records and we stand behind this guy and are not ashamed to work with him.'"

Hank Williams III
Recorded at his home in an attempt to "cut out the middle man," this is where a lot of artists would try to pussyfoot around what they saw as the problem, or talk about how their new record was "their most fully realized studio effort to date" or some such bollocks. But that's not Williams' style.

"I think Straight to Hell [2006] was a better record than this one. It was a lot smoother; a lot better tricks are going on. Here, the creativity was not going on, I didn't have the right guys working with me on this one. That's kind of the summation of how I'm feeling about it."

So, what do you mean about "the right guys"?

"Not the musicians. It's the people in the behind the scenes process of it that were not quite there. For a prime example, you don't fucking start coming off drugs when you're going to start working with me; that's nothing but problems. You're setting yourself up for a disaster. Other personal issues that are fucking with them, they bring that with them into our session and it just turns into a pissing match," says Williams. "Like I'm going to ask you to make an effect [he demonstrates] and you're going to take 45-minutes to make that effect. Riiiight. It's called Pro Tools, you're supposed to be a wizard at it, not fucking retarded and slow and just pissing me off. If you're not going to work with me, just cancel the day. Don't make me sit here for five fucking hours to get two fucking delays out of you. That's a little bit of the insight into the behind the scenes tediousness of being in a room with a guy who's not on the same page with you day after day, trying to have a pissing match with you. I mean, that's pretty much what happened on the whole record. Not the players, but the other folks who have to make it go down. It can get to you. Sometimes it's fun and laid back and sometimes it's a grind and just a bummer, because you're trying to get creative, not have your creativity blocked. That's a bit of a buzzkill when that happens."

Continue reading for more on the III...

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