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Published: 2009/12/11
by Randy Ray

The Deep-Hued Fabric and Thread of Gov’t Mule

Jambands.com Site Editor Dean Budnick spoke with Warren Haynes for a preview of the 21st annual Xmas Jam earlier in the week. The site continues its conversation with the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter as we also take a look at the latest Gov’t Mule album, By a Thread, his creative process in the studio, his live work with the Mule, the Allman Brothers Band, and the Dead, and where he finds his energy, his seemingly “endless well of inspiration,” as spoken by one of the most well-respected musicians on the planet.

RR: Let’s start off with By a Thread. I was impressed with the range and depth of material, plus the fact that the chemistry within the new quartet gelled so rapidly.

WH: We rushed into the studio immediately after we hired Jorgen Carlsson, our new bass player. We forced our hand, which wound up galvanizing this new chemistry. I guess it could have gone either way, but we found ourselves in the studio having a great time and really happy with the way the music going—how smoothly and quickly everything was going—and the different directions we were exploring. It just all seemed to work.

RR: You once again chose Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio in Texas to record an album. How did that environment feed into the energy for this new quartet?

WH: We did High & Mighty there, and we went there for a couple of reasons. One is just to get everybody in a sequestered environment where we’re only thinking about writing, rehearsing, performing, and recording. That studio is literally in the middle of nowhere, outside of Austin. I think I only got to Austin twice in the two weeks we were tracking.

The other reason would be that Gordie Johnson—our co-producer and engineer—loves to work there. That’s his favorite place to work. He brought it up, and it was just a win/win situation. We loved the environment. We loved the equipment. It is just a really fun place to make a record. We were comfortable with having worked there on High & Mighty, so we went in, but we approached things completely differently. We set up in a whole different manner, utilized different parts of the studio, and just kind of went for a different sound. Even though those two records were recorded in the same studio with the same co-producer/engineer, they sound completely different.

RR: I’m glad you pointed that out because the live feel of the tracks, the ambient atmosphere of the room, and the sense of song structure is very strong on the album.

WH: Well, thank you. I feel like that as well, but it’s nice to hear someone else agrees.

RR: The amount of influences, old and new, and the variety of your various guitar playing comes across in an impressive way, too. I was wondering how much time you had with these songs before you went into the studio?

WH: Well, you know, that’s a good question because, somehow, the rumor has been perpetuated that we wrote all these songs on the spot which is not true. We did, however, write three of them in the studio on the spot, in addition to arranging “Railroad Boy,” which is a traditional song. So four of them sort of rose out of the floor while we were there.

The other songs I had written in the last year and a half or so with the exception of the last two songs—“Scenes from a Troubled Mind” and “World Wake Up”—which Danny [Louis, Gov’t Mule keyboardist] and I wrote together. Those songs were recorded during the High & Mighty sessions. Everything else was fairly newly written, but nobody had heard the songs until we started rehearsing.

We basically went to Texas and started rehearsing songs that nobody had ever heard before, and then, when we were ready to start recording, we started recording. It added freshness to the overall thing because we were just kind of piece-by-piece building this puzzle. So some of the last songs that were written were written out of necessity. We were thinking, “it would be nice to have a song more like this or more of a certain tempo, or a certain groove, and something different.

Part of the mission was for every song to be different than the other. That’s one of the things that I really love about the record because I think that’s the case.

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