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Published: 2011/09/12
by Brian Robbins

Rise of the Planet Of The Abts

“Hiatus,” as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language : “A gap or an interruption in space, time, or continuity; a break.”

“Hiatus” is what Gov’t Mule has been on this year, but the band’s members have done anything but take a “break.” Multi-instrumentalist Danny Louis has been feeding the roar of the all-star collective known as Stockholm Syndrome, while Mule frontman Warren Haynes has aired his inner soul man with his Man In Motion album and subsequent live shows.

Meanwhile the Mule’s powerhouse rhythm team of drummer Matt Abts and bassist Jorgen Carlsson have been making some music of their own in the band Planet Of The Abts (or POA, as it is name-checked in the band’s version of “Off The Hook”). Guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist T-Bone Andersson completes POA’s power trio lineup, with the band’s sound ranging from Pink Floydish shimmering soundscapes to full-throttle rock and roll that combines the raw power of the Stooges with Electric Ladyland musicianship. Oh – and a groove that just never, ever, quits.

Planet Of The Abts’ self-titled debut album was engineered by Steve Holroyd, whose studio talents earned him the title of honorary fourth member for the sessions. The band’s live shows have proven that they sound just as powerful and multi-layered in the flesh as they do on record. And POA plans on keeping busy until it’s time to throw the halter on the Mule once again – as well as on standby to take advantage of gaps in Gov’t Mule’s schedule to continue their own musical journey.

There ain’t no flies on these guys.

Matt Abts was kind of enough to share a slice of one busy afternoon to talk about the making of POA’s debut album with us. It was a fun conversation.

BR: Right off the bat, I wanted to say that some folks might look at a side project like this and see it as a potential threat to the main band – in this case, Gov’t Mule. POA, however, feels like a strengthening of the bond that was already there between you and Jorgen – and something that can’t help but be good for Gov’t Mule when you all get back together.

MA: Absolutely – between Jorgen and I working on POA, Danny’s involvement with Stockholm Syndrome, and what Warren has going on with his solo band, we encourage this kind of thing. After 17 years in the Mule, Warren and I were looking for the right time to just give it a rest. There are no bad vibes or anything like that.

BR: Oh, no – I know. You all have a great family; for instance, I owe Warren’s wife Stef and Kendall from her office a thanks for helping me make the connection with you.

MA: Oh, yeah – everybody encourages each other and it’s all good. When we get back together to play, everybody’s really rejuvenated again. It’s a good thing.

BR: I think I may have read somewhere that prior to Jorgen joining the Mule, he hadn’t paid any attention to your early stuff with the late Allen Woody – but he sure nailed that vibe. Not like somebody who had grown up trying to imitate Woody up in his room or anything … it was simply a case of kindred souls who had never met. It seemed like you and Jorgen just melded right from the beginning.

MA: This is true. You know, somebody had to tell Jorgen who we were. (laughter)

BR: No!

MA: It’s true. He did not know who Gov’t Mule was.

BR: Oh that makes it even better – that’s great. (laughter)

MA: Yeah, it is great. Growing up in Sweden, Jorgen didn’t know who the Allman Brothers were … he never listened to them; it was more European music. They didn’t hear “Whipping Post” and all that stuff. (laughs)

So it’s really cool that he wasn’t familiar with us and managed to be such a new inspiration to us, you know? But you’re right: he does have elements of Allen Woody, there’s no doubt about it. I think as Warren put it, it was like going back in the past, but also moving ahead into the future. It was really a unique experience getting Jorgen into the Mule.

BR: How about Planet Of The Abts – did you and Jorgen have a sound in your heads that you were looking for prior to T-Bone, or did you find the sound when you met him? And how did you meet him?

MA: Jorgen and T knew each other when they were growing up in Sweden – that’s the connection. The two of them were playing music together before they came to the United States – although they didn’t move to the US together; I think Jorgen actually came first and T came over later. But yeah – they knew each other back in Sweden. I’d never played with T Bone until POA.

We started this project in Jorgen’s studio about a year ago – he lives not too far from me in the Los Angeles area – and finished it this past April. Jorgen and I had a project we wanted to do and we had a great all-analog studio to do it in. It wasn’t like we’d planned to form POA during the Mule hiatus; it just turned out to be perfect timing. We’ve been doing gigs and we’re just now getting the music out there; we’re really excited about it.

BR: And at this point, you’re self-releasing the album, correct?

MA: I don’t know if I want to be on a label. (laughs) This process has been really great in the sense that we’ve had complete control over everything. Now, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t switch over to a label if we had interest, but I’m not waiting around. After 17 years in Gov‘t Mule and all the years in the music business, I have some resources myself … (laughs)

Sure, it would be nice to have some funding, but so far we’ve done really well between having Jorgen’s studio to work in and everyone simply putting in their time on the project. There were the three of us plus our engineer, Steve Holroyd, who’s like the fourth member of POA on this particular project.

BR: And is Steve part of your live sound in any way?

MA: No, he’s had nothing to do with the live shows. When we put this together in Jorgen’s studio, there were three musicians and we treated Steve just like the fourth. Everybody put in their time and efforts; we all sang backup vocals when they were needed, including Steve. We just split it 25% for everybody on this record to make it easy. Everybody contributed. It worked out great that way.

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