Warren Haynes just might be the busiest musician on the planet. The veteran guitarist splits his time between two Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame bands, the Phil Lesh Quintet, and his own band, Gov't Mule. Haynes also recently released Live at Bonnaroo, a live album from his solo acoustic performance at the annual Tennessee music festival in 2003. His idea of a vacation this summer: four days off between the end of the Allman Brothers Band's summer tour and the beginning of The Dead's second leg of their summer shows, during which he flew to L.A. to play Leno.
This week, Haynes and drummer Matt Abts released Deja Voodoo, the first Gov't Mule studio album since the passing of founding member and bass player Allen Woody and the addition of new members Andy Hess and Danny Louis. The reincarnated Mule has a fuller, funkier sound courtesy of Louis' keys work, Hess' bumping bass, and his ability to groove with Abts. The Mule's music is still focused on Haynes' searing guitar, but the new additions provide him with an excellent foil. The band took to the road this week on a two-month, cross-country tour in support of the new album and will most likely be coming to a venue near you. Enjoy.
AT: Take me back to the day in 1997 when you and Allen Woody decided, "Hey we like this Mule thing, we want to take it full time."
WH: Well, we actually procrastinated quite a bit, because leaving an institution like the Allman Brothers is a scary thing to do, you know? There was a long period of where we knew that we needed to make that move and pursue Gov't Mule full time, but we just had to work up the nerve. When that came about, we left in April of '97 right after the Beacon run because that was the biggest window that would give them time to make changes. And at that point in time, we were just really very excited about the future. Things were just going really well for us on all fronts. The band was hitting on all cylinders, and it wasn't so much the case in the Allman Brothers. There was a lot of dissention, not a lot of creativity, and the band wasn't rehearsing. There were no plans to do another record. It just felt like we were going through the motions. Mule was the exact opposite, and so that helped us make our choice. We felt like, unless we made that move, people were always going to view the Mule as a side project. In order for people to take it as serious as we were taking it, we had to show ourselves and the rest of the world how committed we were.
By George Weiss :: 07.10.04
AT: Woody passed in August of 2000, and here we are four years later with the first new Mule studio album since his death being released next month. How have the last four years, and the whole Deep End experience, been beneficial to you in overcoming the loss of Allen, and how do you think that experience has reflected in this new studio album?
WH: Well, I think that us deciding that we wanted to record with all these different bass players, all of Woody's heroes, and not jumping into choosing a bass player right away, was really in a subtle way what kept Gov't Mule together. And what allowed us to continue to grow and maintain momentum without having to cross over into territory that we were uncertain about. Going in every day with a different bass player standing where Allen Woody used to stand, in most cases his heroes, was incredible. You know, walking in one day and it is John Entwistle, and the next day it's Jack Bruce, and the next day it's Larry Graham, and the next day it's Chris Squire--that's a good week. (Laughs) That was very intimidating for us, very enlightening, very liberating, all these emotions were mixed together. It was very bittersweet because we were still mourning our partner. But at the same time celebrating his life by honoring him with some of his absolute favorites.
Allen Woody by J. Baadshaug
And we learned a lot from that whole experience. Every bass player and every special guest that we recorded with brought something fresh and exciting to the table, and we were able to tap into it and learn from it. And I think that that has something to do with the new direction that Gov't Mule is exploring on the new record. You know all those influences had been brought to the surface, so at that point it was okay to utilize them.
AT: Yeah, all of these different guys brought their own characteristics and personalities to those recording sessions. You guys were bound to be influenced by that experience.
WH: Absolutely. We just kept our ears open and you know, tried to not force the situation and tried and see where it would go organically and see what each person was going to bring to the table and try to be inspired by it and learn from it.
One of the things that you've mentioned about this new album is the band's new sound. What is the sound of this new band, besides the obvious influence of the additions of Danny Louis and Andy Hess to form a quartet instead of the power trio format? What makes the sound of the new Gov't Mule different than the old Mule?
Well, this is a chemistry between four people now, instead of a chemistry between three people. Andy and Danny both play like they are in a quartet, which is what we are now, so it works out perfectly. When Woody passed, Matt and I kind of made the decision to add a member at that point because we didn't want to put ourselves or the new bass player or the audience under the pressure of constantly comparing the old to the new. We thought it was time to open up a new chapter. If you go back to Life Before Insanity, you can see a lot of these directions being hinted at on that record. That was the first record where we really utilized production and overdubs and, you know, a lot of different instrumental textures. Woody and I both played a lot of different instruments on that record. And we had keyboards on that record, we had Ben Harper playing lap steel and singing. So you can see where it might have grown from that point forward had we not halted the progress. And then if you mix in all the influences from all the different bass players throughout the whole Deep End project, Deja Voodoo was the obvious next step.
In the notes that I read on the release of this new album, you said that with each new Mule studio album, you guys try to break new ground and explore new areas. Yet Michael Barbieri has had a consistent hand in producing these records from the beginning. How do you think that consistency with him as a producer has played out as far as the finished products with each of these records? And what is his greatest skill that he brings to the production of these studio albums?
Sonically speaking, Mike is one of the best that I've ever worked with. The sounds that he is able to capture on tape, to capture what a band really sounds like and not change it in any way, unless it wants to be changed, is an art. And he is a true artist in that way. It's funny because, at the end of every record, Mike comes up to me and goes, "You know, on your next record, you are probably going to want to try a different producer." And we always have the discussion, and I go, "Yeah you know, one of these days we're going to have to do that, but I am not sure if we are ready to do it yet." And then I started co-producing with him recently, so it changes the dynamic a little bit. I'm sure we are going to try someone new in the not-so-distant future. Maybe even for the next record, with Mike's blessing. But he is just so comfortable, he is almost like part of the family at this point. Maybe that is the reason to try somebody different, to shake free of that comfort zone.
I didn't know if his constant influence on these albums has made you guys feel even more comfortable as musicians to explore different things, and that the idea of breaking new ground with each records is that you have this consistent feeling with the producer that it makes you feel comfortable as a musician to explore. Because this record, and this is no knock on Woody because he could get really funky, but I think this record is a lot more funky than some of previous Mule records. It has got almost a New Orleans-like vibe to it.
Yeah, the chemistry that Andy and Matt have together is totally different than the chemistry that Matt and Woody had. But it is equally impressive in the way that the first time I heard Matt and Woody play together, I heard this instant lock. The same thing with Matt and Andy. That's something that you can't force, you can't coerce it. It either happens or it doesn't, you know, and when a bass player and a drummer have that instant pocket together, you are just thankful and you don't question it. Of course, Danny is such a groove player as well that the band takes on this whole different sound. It is a sound that we were tampering with anyway, but when you throw people like Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Flea, and Les Claypool into the mix, it manifests itself pretty easily. Playing with George Porter and having him on the road with us really influenced this band a lot. And Porter is part of the family at this point. He's one of my favorite musicians, and we were just blessed and honored to work with him. So it was people like George, Oteil Burbridge, Mike Gordon, Jason Newsted, and especially Dave Schools that kept this band together.
Gov't Mule by Adam George