RESURRECTION OF THE MULE: WARREN HAYNES

 
I think the very first song I wrote was when I was 12 and just started playing guitar. And curiously enough it was about drug and alcohol addiction. When I look back, it is so odd that I remember that... it was called "The Wasp." It was about this imaginary bug that would sting you, and then you were addicted to drugs.
--Warren Haynes : Photo by Andy Tennille
 

Yeah, I definitely hear the Porter influence on this album and I thought that was one of the obvious things the first time that I heard it. He must have had a profound influence on you.

On Andy as well. Andy is such a Porter fan. He would list Porter up there with his top influences. It's funny because in some ways he was stepping into Porter's shoes. One of the things that I love about Andy is that great big bottom end sound, but he doesn't play like Woody. He has a different approach. He is not quite as aggressive, but he is perfectly aggressive in a four-piece setting. Woody was such a sensitive musician that as soon as we added a fourth member he would tone his aggression down a little bit too. It is just a natural thing to do. In a three-piece, everybody has to be a little more wild, and a little more aggressive, but with each member you add you have to kind of start accommodating to the character and shape of the sound. And so whenever we added musicians, Woody's role would change instantly as all of our roles would. And you could see that when we played with John Scofield, or when we added keyboards or whatever the case may be.

It's funny, I used to bartend at Ziggy's in Winston-Salem, NC for a number of years when I was in college and saw the old Mule there a lot. There were nights that I thought that that bar might fall apart because Allen's bass playing was so...


By Jake Krolick
It was the thunder, man. But in a trio you know, you've got a lot to hold up by yourself when you're the bass player. And so it kind of has to be that way. And one of the things that Gov't Mule was founded on in the first place was that improvisational trio sound that nobody was doing anymore. And of course now, we've graduated past that, which most trios did. If you look back historically, most bands that started as a trio wound up making their statement as a trio and then forging ahead.

Makes sense. I want to jump into some songwriting, and talk about your approach to songwriting for a little bit. And we'll get into specifics about some of the songs on the new album a bit later. But I was curious Warren, when was the first time you wrote a song and what was it about?


By Adam George
Oh, man. (Pause) I think the very first song I wrote was when I was 12 and just started playing guitar. And curiously enough it was about drug and alcohol addiction. When I look back, it is so odd that I remember that. I started out at a younger age writing poetry and all my teachers tried to encourage me to go either poetry or go into creative writing or into journalism or something, 'cause I always was intrigued by writing and had some sort of knack for it. But when I started playing guitar, all that focus instantly shifted to lyrics and songwriting. And then I wrote some amazingly stupid songs at the beginning and this, the first one I remember I was 12 years old and it was called "The Wasp." It was about this imaginary bug that would sting you, and then you were addicted to drugs. (Laughs) It was the stupidest thing ever. Even so stupid that the other people in my band, we had a band of 12-year-olds, and the other guys were making fun of it. (Laughs)

What was the band called?

At that point, the band was called either Science Fiction or Royal Flush. That was the first two bands that I was ever in. I am talking 12-year-old kids playing around in the garage, you know.

That's great. Let's talk a little bit about your writing process. Do you start with music and then do you write words to the music? Or do you start with words and then write the music? Which way do you find easier?


By Tony Stack
My normal way of writing is to write lyrics first and to add the music. That's kind of the opposite of what most people do. For some reason, I don't know if it is just laziness, or I try and convince myself that it works better for me, but I usually wait until I am lyrically inspired to write at all. For some reason, it is much easier to take a lyric and obtain the mood of that lyric and try and write music that captures that mood, than doing the opposite. Now, having said that, I've recently written a lot of songs that started with the music first and I added the lyric. A lot of songs have turned out great that way. There is no right or wrong way. I'm kind of doing it the opposite way to just to kind of shake it up and not fall into a pattern or a routine, you know? But if I went back through my catalog, especially the songs that I feel are more lyrically sound, it usually started as a lyric. Sometimes the up-tempo rock songs I'll write the music first and then figure out how to get a lyric in there. But you're second-guessing yourself at that point, asking what mood does this music project, and can I write a lyric that falls into that mood? But there's a hundred different ways to write a song.

Do you write every day? I read an interview with Trey Anastasio where he talked about how he and Tom Marshall take writing trips; they'd go somewhere specifically to write songs. Are you a person who writes every day? And I was curious to know if you write prose or short stories as well.


By Adam George
I wrote a short story one time and it took like ten days to write like 14 pages or something. It was the most frustrating experience in my life. At that point I just said, I guess I am a songwriter. I do write poetry sometimes now. Sometimes I write stream of consciousness stuff at four o'clock, five o'clock in the morning, at the point where I'm almost asleep. Sometimes I'll get inspired and sit down and write two or three pages of stuff and then go back a few days later and look at it and see what is there. And in some cases, I'll pull out parts of that and turn it into a song. Some of them remain individual pieces of poetry. I've never published any of my poetry. I have thought about it a few times, but I'm kind of scared to compare it to poetry by people who take themselves seriously as poets. But more often that not, some of the stream of consciousness stuff has its way of lingering around and finding its way into future songs. That's what I like to do. I keep scrapbooks and notebooks full of lyrics, and sometimes it will be a whole page of stuff. Sometimes it will just be one line on a page that I want to remember. So in that way I'm always writing, but I'll go sometimes two or three months without doing any serious songwriting. And I always get scared and have that same feeling of, "Oh my god, have I written my last song?" But then something happens and I start working on one song, and then another one will come and another one will come, and then I start regaining my confidence. I think with me it's kind of like a more ebb-and-flow kind of thing. Sometimes, my system is on input, and all I'm doing is learning and searching and soaking up. And then at the right time, it will start spitting it all out. Plus, it's hard to write on the road, and I'm on the road a lot. I need that space where I am by myself at four o'clock in the morning and nobody else is around in order for me to just completely relax and start spitting out what's in my subconscious.

That sounds like a more realistic approach. As a writer, I think I'd feel the increased pressure of having to deliver on some kind of writing trip or something like that.


By Adam George
Yeah. For me anyway, I have certain windows where I know that I am going to be able to write during this time because I don't have the pressures of having to be somewhere at a certain hour, and then an hour later having to be somewhere else. And you know, so I do a lot of writing in November and December because those are times that usually I have time off, and I'm able to relax.

Talk to me a little bit about some of your songs. What do you like to write about and how much of your writing is autobiographical?

When I listen to my favorite songwriters, I have always been pulled into the real dark personal pieces, you know. The ones that I feel like are exposing raw nerve. And I have always taken that approach myself. Sometimes it can be a little dangerous because you are opening yourself up for serious criticism to write that way, because you're aspiring towards something that only the greatest writers deserve to do, in some people's opinion. I've always been mostly moved by that stuff. It's hard for me to sit down and write some stupid love song that I don't believe. I lived in Nashville in the '80s, and I was able to witness the whole staff writing and people scheduling three writing appointments a day, and getting together with three different writers, and by the end of the day they had written at least three songs and they didn't believe any of them, but they hoped they would all make some money. And it just really turned me off to that whole approach to writing.

So I try to take my cues from the people that I think are the greatest writers out there. Starting with Dylan, and of course you know, John Lennon and McCartney and people like Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, and Tom Waits. I try to learn from those people as much as I can. I am a completely different person, I am a completely different type of artist than all of those people, so however much I learn from them is going to be filtered through my brain and applied to a completely different approach toward music. So some people may read that these people are influences on me and go, "Wow, I don't really hear that," but lyrically speaking, they are. I am fortunate in the way that as a singer, I am influenced by my favorite singers. As a writer, I am influenced by my favorite writers. As a guitar player, I am influenced by my favorite musicians, and so I am able to mix those three categories together and see what comes out.


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