Gov’t Mule is currently on the road in Europe. They are also getting ready to release previously unheard sessions from the beginnings of the band in August.
The Tel-Star Sessions was intended to become the band’s debut album and features the original Gov’t Mule lineup of Warren Haynes, Allen Woody and Matt Abts. The archival album is scheduled for release on 5th August via Provogue/Mascot Label Group.
Warren Haynesâ€™ career speaks for itself, having witnessed great success with Govâ€™t Mule, as a solo artist, and his 25-year stint with The Allman Brothers Band all the while performing in various guises with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. Thatâ€™s just to name but a few of his musical projects.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Warren Haynes whilst on tour with Gov’t Mule in the UK to talk about his new solo album Ashes and Dust, life on the road with The Allman Brothers Band and the secret to Gov’t Mules success.
NRR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review, we really appreciate it.
Haynes: My pleasure.
NRR: So you are currently out on the road across Europe with Gov’t Mule. How have the shows been going so far?
Haynes: Really good. I’ve enjoyed this tour quite a bit, it seems like we’re starting to reach more and more people over here and we’re starting to play in some cities we haven’t played in the past and it feels good, it feels like the word is spreading.
NRR: In August Gov’t Mule are about to release The Tel-Star Sessions, which were recorded back in 1994 and I believe it was originally intended to be the band’s first album?
NRR: Why didn’t that happen, why didn’t the sessions become the first album?
Haynes: Well, it was nine songs, five original songs, and four covers, and that’s all we knew at the time. We were originally just gonna make an extremely low budget record and put it out just for the fun of it. We soon released that getting a record company’s involvement and all that sort of stuff was taking time and over the course of that time I was writing more songs.
By the time we started procuring a record deal …oh I had written this song, we had written four or five new ones, let’s record those as well, oh ok well let’s record them at a different studio and maybe we should record the old stuff again too. You know at the time we were just thinking it’s progress you know and so they eventually became looked at as demos, until about a year ago when I went back and listened to them for the first time and I was like wow this stuff is really good. It needed a better mix, which it has now and it sounds amazing. I’m very proud of it.
NRR: Back in those early days of the band Gov’t Mule was seen as your downtime between working with The Allman Brothers Band. Did you ever envisage back then that the band would take off like it has?
Haynes: Not in the beginning, we were only doing it for fun, with no aspiration or design on staying together a year, two years, five years or anything it was just something fun to do as a side project. When we decided to make a record, we at that time didn’t even think there would be a second record.
But it started to catch fire, first within the band it started feeling more important and then we started realizing that the audience was growing and it just seemed to make sense that well let’s just see where it takes us. Not knowing that it would eventually reach a point that we had to make a decision on whether to leave The Allman Brothers to devote full time to Gov’t Mule.
NRR: Over the years Gov’t Mule has placed little dependency on mainstream media, and obviously these days it’s very important for bands to grasp ahold of that with a lot of bands aiming towards the commercial side of things. You’ve managed to stay relatively underground yet being very successful at the same time. What do you think the secret to the band’s success has been?
Haynes: I think probably the most general secret is everything we do we do to please ourselves, musically, even with the business to a certain extent. Every decision we make, we make based on what we think is best for us. I don’t know if that’s good advice to give a young band or young artist, but it’s worked for us.
We’ve never made a decision based on what we thought the public might want or what the radio or the media or anything would expect or want from us. It’s always just been based on what do we want to do? I think there’s something to that philosophy that allows you a chance at becoming more a part of timeless music than bands that adhere to the trends and then three years later the trends are changing. So you know we were never part of a trend anyway so it doesn’t matter if they change.
NRR: Last year you released your solo album Ashes and Dust, and you are going to be returning to the UK again in the summer for some solo shows. I was just wondering could you tell us a little bit about that album and the inspiration behind it?
Haynes: Well I grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, which is in the mountains of North Carolina surrounded by folk music and bluegrass and even Celtic music and what they call mountain music where I’m from. So I heard that music from the time I was a tiny child. I didn’t really discover that I loved that sort of music till I was probably fourteen or fifteen.
My dad listened to country music, but he loved bluegrass like Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers and things like that. I guess when I discovered Bob Dylan something happened that made me want to understand songwriting and that whole craft of telling a story. So I befriended all these local singers-songwriters and folk musicians that were really good at that. They all took me under their wing and would take me to these little folk clubs and let me hang out and meet everyone and eventually come onstage and play with people. It was a big part of my musical upbringing. It wasn’t as big a part as me wanting to play blues or jazz or rock and roll or sing soul music and all that sort of stuff.
So eventually my career sort of went in one way and I left most of that behind but thinking when the time is right I will make a record like that. I didn’t want to make it when people would not accept it and would think it was just assinine, but I think a lot of my audience understands that that side of me exists and when I do solo acoustic performances it’s kind of like that, so really this is just an extension of that.
NRR: Gov’t Mule is well renowned for keeping each show an individual experience, with very few setlists being alike. How do you go about picking a setlist for a show and do you have a special formula that you adhere to?
Haynes: Well it’s easier on a night like tonight where we’ve never played here before. So we don’t have to think about what we played the last time we were here. When we played in London or when we are playing some of the shows in Germany we will go back and look and see what we played the last time we were there and make sure that it’s completely different.
When we go to a town for the first time it’s more important that we make a good first impression, that we play what we feel like playing and that we play a little bit of everything spanning our career and also nothing from last night, nothing from the night before that sort of thing. We usually go about three nights without repeating very much.
NRR: Out of the sort of 300 or so tracks you’ve got to choose from is there any particular song that you enjoy playing more than any other and if so which song and why?
Haynes: I don’t know that there’s one, there’s probably ten or fifteen that are my favorites. It really depends on the interaction with the audience. You know like the version that we played of “Game Face” last night in Bristol, was very interactive and we were connected with the crowd in a way that makes the band kind of utilize that inspiration and I think that’s really the most important thing is if we feel we are connected with the crowd that we can play beyond our own normal heights you know.
NRR: Over the years you’ve collaborated with literally a who’s who of the blues and rock world. I was just wondering is there anyone still on your list that you would actually like to perform or collaborate with that you haven’t actually got around to yet?
Haynes: Well I’ve never played with Neil YoungÂ or Mark Knopfler …Tom Waits, I’ve never played with Jimmy Page, we’ve talked and hung out a tiny bit, but as you mentioned I’ve been very fortunate that if I made a list most of the people on that list I would have checked off, some very recently you know. I finally got to play with B.B. King a few times toward the end of his life, but it took until then for that to work out.
NRR: Having a 25 year career with The Allman Brothers Band it must have been emotional leaving the stage with the band for the last time at The Beacon Theatre. What are your feelings about the band now?
Haynes: Well that was a very emotional night. It was more complicated by the fact that the band really performed great that night. It was the best show that we had played in quite some time and even at rehearsal we knew we had six shows left to go and we knew that for the final show we wanted to do three sets, which the band had never done. It was going to be a long, exhausting night but everyone was positive about it, everyone was inspired and the show was great. At the end of the night, we were just emotionally drainedÂ but in a very positive way.
I think we went out on the right note, you know and that was very important to myself and to Derek Trucks because we wanted the final tour to be more than it was. We wanted the tour to be many more cities than it wounded up being. So when it turned out to be just a hand full of shows we were a little disappointed but we were really glad that if we were gonna end up in New York City let’s go out with a bang you know.
NRR: Obviously over the years there has been several Allman Brothers reunions. Do you think that the door is now completely closed on that band or do you think that at some point in the future something might happen in some shape or form?
Haynes: Well I don’t think the door is closed. You know as a fan, which I remain, I would love to see them play with Dickey Betts again. I don’t know if that’s possible, but I think that the obvious best reason for the band to play together would be that. But at the moment, there are no plans for anything to happen, but I don’t think anyone is really closing the door.
NRR: What’s your favourite touring memory from being on the road with The Allman Brothers Band?
Haynes: Well since we are talking about B.B. King and it’s the anniversary of his death-day. We were in Memphis and The Allman Brothers and B.B. King were staying at the same hotel. The fire alarm went off about 8am and so they evacuated the hotel and I rode down in the elevator with B.B. and he was in his pyjamas (laughing).
We stood outside waiting to see if there was gonna be a fire and of course there was no fire, something overheated in the elevator or something and it caused the alarm and the fire department had to come and clear everything. So B.B. and I stood outside and chatted at eight in the morning before anyone had their coffee and waited till they said ok you can go back in now (laughing).
NRR: Regularly in your shows you perform covers of various different artists from those that have inspired or influenced you and I was just wondering if you could choose any artist to cover one of your tracks which song and artist would you choose?
Haynes: Well that’s a good question, a very hard one to answer. One of the things that we were able to do with our last album Shout!Â was to reach out to people that we felt like would be the right person to cover a certain song. As an example, I called Steve Winwood and said I have a song that I would love to hear you sing if you are up for it and he said well send it to me and we will see what happens.
Steve and I are good friends, and have been for quite some time, but he’s also one of my favourite singers so hearing him sing “When The World Gets Small” was a big deal to me. Dr. John singing “Stoop So Low” was a big deal, Toots singing “Scared To Live,” Elvis Costello singing “Funny Little Tragedy” all those things made sense because it sounded like that was the person who was supposed to sing them. Glenn Hughes sang “No Reward” he did an exceptional job as I knew he would.
My original thought for “Soulshine” when I first wrote it was not that I wanted to do it, but I wanted Ray Charles and B.B. King to do it as a duet and that was my pipe dream that I knew was never gonna happen. Then I don’t think that Ray even ever heard it but B.B. had commented to Larry McCray who recorded it first, where did you get that song, I like that song. So I thought oh maybe there’s some hope that B.B. would actually record it at some point you know. But I have several songs I would have to give it more thought, but I have several that I’ve written that would be perfect for someone else you know.
NRR: Just whilst you are on the topic of Shout!Â there, I’m very good friends with the guys from Vintage Trouble and I know you recorded with them and toured with them. What was it like working with those guys?
Haynes: He [Ty Taylor] really sang a great performance of that tune. It was nice because we didn’t know each other yet. Like we were meeting on the phone and I had just started to hear their music and thought I dig this, this is good. Then when he recorded his vocal for “Bring On The Music” we were very happy with it. Then we booked some shows together and they started opening up for Gov’t Mule, and then we all became friends, and it was cool.
NRR: With all of the various different projects that you’ve got on the go does it ever get a little overwhelming?
Haynes: Yeah, sure (laughing) life get’s overwhelming, I think it’s sometimes it’s more the life part than the music part.
NRR: Having worked with the likes of The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh and Friends and having a successful solo career and a great career with Gov’t Mule, do you ever have to stop and pinch yourself and think is this all really happening. How do you manage to stay so grounded?
Haynes: I absolutely have to stop and pinch myself sometimes. There are a lot of things that have happened throughout my life that I just think did I dream that or did it really happen you know. What I call Forrest Gump moments. There are a lot of them and I’m very fortunate that way to even list them all would be impossible for me. But it doesn’t change the fact that I still feel that way about the opportunity to be in that position you know.
It’s quite amazing I mean even if you had to pick one like the Blues at The White House playing for President Obama with Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger and B.B. King and Buddy Guy and my friends Derek and Susan and Gary Clark. Jr. Like that’s a pretty special thing, just that one thing.
Speaking of being overwhelmed I mean I had to fly from Denver to Washington D.C. back to L.A. back to Washington D.C. to make that all happen, because when they called me and said we would like you to be part of this my schedule was already almost impossible. We just said OK take a deep breath, we can make this work and we kind of didn’t tell them the part that yeah, I won’t be able to make the first rehearsal I will be at the second one (laughing). When I finally got there the day of the show, I was just like completely out of it, and I remember being in the bathroom testing my voice to see if it was going to work, like I only had to sing one song (laughing) but I was so exhausted I was like is my voice even going to work for one song, but it was great, I really loved it.
NRR: What else do you have in store for the rest of the year?
Haynes: For this year, we are gonna tour with Gov’t Mule, we have all of the festivals stuff that we’re gonna do. Then, of course, coming back here with Ashes and Dust. Then more touring with Gov’t Mule and then we will start making a studio record somewhere around October or November and it will make for a very busy year but that’s ok.
NRR: That’s brilliant, and thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us, we really appreciate it.
Haynes: Thank you.