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Warren Haynes, Gov’t Mule interview

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I recently spoke to Warren Haynes to discuss the new Gov’t Mule album, Revolution come, Revolution go.

Very recently Gregg Allman died – a sad loss to the world of music. How did you get the news?

Bert Holman, the Allman brothers manager called me when he heard about it. I was on tour, I was in Illinois, we were supposed to play a festival that night which we did. I think I found out around 12.30 and we had to be on stage at 6.30 or something like that. A tough day.

How would you describe his contribution to the world of music?

Well, Gregg was an amazing singer. He was one of those singers that as soon as you opened his mouth, you felt this connection with his voice and with the songs he wrote. As a founding member of the Allman brothers, I think they were so influential on people like myself. Then of course we played together for 25 years and made a lot of music, wrote a lot of songs together. I think he’ll go down as one of the great artists.

You’ve got a new Gov’t Mule album, “Revolution come, revolution go”. The title seems to suggest a political influence?

Some of the songs have some political connotations, but overall it’s not a political album so to speak. The title comes from the song “Revolution come, revolution go” which is musically speaking one of the centrepieces of the record, it’s very long, it travels into a lot of different musical directions, a lot of different sections, but the lyric in that song is political as well. The lyrics in these songs aren’t political in a preachy way, they’re more just from an observers standpoint.

When you’ve got a song that’s that long, how do you avoid the song kid of getting lost in itself?

I think it’s the exception rather than the rule. Most songs aren’t meant to be that challenging. There are a couple on this record, “Revolution come, revolution go” and “Thorns of life” that both kind of take the listener on a journey. I think it’s cool for that to be part of the overall picture but in contrast to some of the more traditional songs like “Dreams & songs” and “The man I want to be”, stuff like that. It’s very rare that you think that what this song needs is a bunch of other sections but that song really kind of gravitated to that kind of concept. There was a time when we thought we might divide it into two completely different songs but we kept coming back to the original thought which won out in the long run and I’m very happy with.

What’s your starting point for writing a song? Is it a guitar riff, an idea…?

A lot of the uptempo songs start with a guitar riff. “Stone cold rage” I think started with a guitar riff. “Revolution come, revolution go” I think the bass line that starts the song out was the first thing written. I wrote that with Jorgen and Danny and we would spend a lot of time on the bus late at night adding to it and rethinking it and stuff. Some of the more mid-tempo songs like “Dreams & songs” or “Travelling tune”, sometimes we’ll start with a lyric and I’ll add the music later. I think with “Travelling tune” they both came at the same time whereas with “Dreams & songs” I started writing this lyric, but usually a melody starts coming along the way. More of my songs start with the lyric than the music.
I don’t like to get trapped into a pattern of writing the same way all the time, so I try and shake it up.

That makes sense as if you always do something the same way it’s easy to get predictable.

Yeah and it’s always important to challenge yourself from some sort of direction to make throw yourself a cureveball I guess.

Do you tend to write alone or with others mainly?

Most of the stuff I write, I write alone, but in Gov’t Mule I like to write with the band as much as possible. I think there are five or six songs on this record that were collaborations of some sort, but looking back through my career, most of my songs I’ve written by myself. I love co-writing if it works out. Sometimes you’ll get a couple of songwriters together and maybe it’ll work out and maybe it won’t.

You can both be excellent song writers but if things don’t quite mesh together just right then it doesn’t work.

There has to be some comfortaebility where you let your guard down and each person is willing to try anything. That was the thing with Gregg Allman and myself – we wrote a lot of songs together over the years but it wasn’t really until we made “Hittin’ the note” somewhere around 2002 that he and I really became comfortable writing together to the extent that we were very relaxed and there was no pressure, and we were close enough at that time to let all the barriers go by the wayside. When I started writing for the Allman brothers and with the Allman brothers in the beginning I was writing with Dickey Betts because I was in his band before the Allman Brothers and since he and Gregg didn’t really write together, I end up writing more with Dickey. When they parted ways a few years later, Gregg and I started writing more and eventually became comfortable that way.

You’ve got some summer festivals, some US shows and a UK tour including Blues fest.

We’re going to be starting in Spain and going for about a year.

That’s a long time to be touring and away from home.

I’ll be in and out, in and out. With a new record out we’ve got to spread the word.

One thing I’ve noticed with your live shows is that while some bands play the identical show every night, with Gov’t Mule you get the feeling that every night is different.

In the States these days we’ll do four shows without repeating any songs. We’ll probably repeat more in Europe because we don’t play here as often but we never want to keep playing the same thing all the time. It’s important to us to vary the shows as much as possible.

How much do the guitar solos vary between shows?

It varies a lot, especially with the longer songs and the more improv oriented songs. Some of the shorter ones will stay a little closer to the script but for the most part it’s open territory.
One of the things that Gov’t Mule is built around is the chemistry and our love of improvisation, so that’s kind of what motivates us.

That’s the thing – even if you did the same set every night, each show would still be different.

yes that’s true. I think it would be nice if more bands took that approach but we just gotta do what we love. In the States you see a lot of bands in what’s known as the Jam band scene doing that, but we’re a little more of a rock band than most of those bands are so we’re more an exception to the rule. We’ve kind of got one foot in the jam scene and one foot in the rock scene and don’t really fit perfectly in either one. The audience we’ve built is from doing things the way we love to do them so I think it’s really important that our audience connects with the way we do things, that’s their taste as well. Most people that are hardcore Gov’t Mule fans don’t want to hear the same setlist every night, don’t want to hear the songs approached the same way every night, love the fact that we incorporate all these different influences into what we do, and I think it’s really an audience made up of hardcore music fans, you know, people who take music very seriously.

You also tend to tour without a support act and doing two sets.

Yeah it’s fun for us to do it that way because the second set’s always a little different in attitude than the first set because we’ve got the first set out of our system and you just kind of relax and take a little different approach, so taking the break is important I think.

You also get to see how the first set goes down and maybe adjust the plans for the second set accordingly.

And even if there are any technical challenges you can usually fix them during the break. One of the reasons we love carrying our own production and taking the approach we do, is to keep the technical problems to a minimum. We do sound checks every day but that doesnt prevent gremlins, it just reduces the risks.

Also no support means that nothing is touched between the sound check and the show, so less chance of things going wrong.

Yeah, something always changes when you go through that process.

When you sound check in some venues you’re doing it when it’s cold and empty then when it’s full of people for the show it’s a lot hotter so that probably affects the tuning doesn’t it?

Everything in general, tuning included. It’s that way with the sound too. You sound check when it’s empty and when it fills up the sound completely changes but at least you get a jump on it.

Thank you for your time

Ant May
I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.