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Published: 2013/05/31
by Dean Budnick

Warren Haynes’ Windows of Improvisation ( Reader Interview)

Photo by Allison Murphy

It will be a busy summer for Warren Haynes. Last night in Portland, ME Gov’t Mule kicked off their latest tour, which will include stops at Mountain Jam and Bonnaroo. In mid-June he will spend a few days away from the Mule as he begins his eight-city Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration tour. Then it’s off to Europe for more Mule shows. August will see him return to the road with the Allman Brothers Band. Then in early fall, Gov’t Mule will release its latest studio album, which Haynes describes as “a very special record.” All of these topics are covered in the following reader interview.

Let’s start off with your songwriting. A number of people mentioned “Dusk Till Dawn” which you debuted with the Allman Brothers at the Beacon in March and wanted to know when in the process of writing a given tune you determine whether it will best suit the ABB, Gov’t Mule or the Warren Haynes Band?

It varies from song to song and project to project. Some of them could go either way and some of them obviously lean more one way than another. I think “Dust Til Dawn” could probably be a Mule song or an Allman Brothers song, but we chose to make it an Allman Brothers song. Sometimes I don’t decide until after the song’s already written. But if there’s a project on the horizon that I’m writing for, then I’m thinking about the sound of the band and the strengths and the fortes of the band as I’m writing and as I’m choosing which songs are going to go into which camp, which makes it a little bit easier. But a lot of times as a songwriter, you’re just writing with no project in mind and however the song turns out is how it turns out and then you decide later which way to interpret it.

In terms of writing music for the forthcoming Gov’t Mule album, did you think going in that you want to move the sound in a slightly different direction or did you just take it as it comes and just sort of think broadly of what Gov’t Mule represents to you?

Well, I think it’s nice if there’s a broad similarity to what I think of when I think of Gov’t Mule in the way that if there’s a song that can feature our collective personalities and individual personalities. But I think for us it’s more important that we don’t repeat ourselves from record to record, that the songs we write and choose to include for each record stand on their own and don’t resemble in any significant way any song that we’ve included on previous records. That’s the biggest challenge I think any artist or any band faces when you’ve been at it for a while, is how to continue growing in new directions that still sound familiar to your audience and still feels familiar to yourself but without feeling like you’re touching too closely to something you’ve already done.

Here’s a fitting follow-up: “When you came back with the Mule after taking some time off how did this impact on the evolution of the band’s sound, if at all?” Ken G.

Well, I think for one we all gained a new perspective on what it was that we were trying to achieve for the future of Gov’t Mule. With the hiatus, I think it kind of allowed us to step back a little bit and look at things differently. And also the fact that everybody’s doing a lot of different projects during that time off, and each project kind of influences you in a subtle, unspoken sort of way. In some ways, the chemistry of a band comes right back and starts where you left it. But at the same time, we’re not looking to revisit the past, we’re looking to break new ground. Now having said that, Gov’t Mule’s been through so many changes personnel-wise and stylistically that from time to time we will go back and kind of listen to some of the really old stuff and draw some sort of influence from it. But for the most part, I think it’s healthy just to feel where everybody is at the moment and usually we’re kind of on the same page and I’m always trying to steer it in a way that hopefully the music winds up being fresh and new, not just to the audience but to us as well. And you can only steer it so much, a lot of it just happens organically.

“I read an interview last year where you named three artists that inspired three of the songs on the forthcoming album, Sly & The Family Stone, Free and Levon Helm. Is there any other artist you can think of who may have had a hand directly or indirectly in serving as a source of inspiration for the music on the forthcoming release?” Dave Y.

Those are the three examples we cited as being situations where we were obviously paying tribute or some sort of homage or at least honoring a certain band or artist or even particular album— in the case of the song “Stoop So Low,” we wrote and recorded it during the 40th anniversary of Sly & The Family Stone Fresh album which is one of our favorites. The song “Bring on the Music” was written and recorded during the 40th anniversary of the breakup of the band Free, which was a big influence on all of us, especially on the original power trio of Gov’t Mule. And the obvious nod to Levon Helm who passed away and someone we all admired before any of us any knew him, and we were lucky to consider him a close friend. I played with Levon a lot of times and was lucky enough to have had that opportunity and when I wrote the song “Forsaken Savior,” I felt like it was not so much about him but inspired by The Band’s music and Levon’s musical persona, and we just wanted to kind of give a nod to that.

“When can we expect the new Mule record and what can we expect from it, whether it would be if there’s something thematically or if anything jumps out that can you can share relative to that?” Dawn H.

We’re hoping to have it out by mid-late September, it could even be early October. But it’s going to be a very unique record, a very special record for us. I have a feeling that people are hopefully going to embrace it in the way it’s meant. I’d like to say a lot more about it but I have to wait…

You debuted a couple of songs with the Mule, are those from the album? If so, how many from the album have been in rotation at this point?

I think we’ve played three songs from the new record so far. And we’re going to start working up all the new material in a way that we’ll be able to play everything live, in addition to some other new material and some other covers and a lot of fresh windows of improvisation. I imagine by the time the record comes out, we’ll have played most or all of it. But as I’ve talked about in the past, I don’t want to give it all away before the record comes out because these days everybody has access to everything you do. So I think it would be wise for us to at least wait ‘til towards the release date to have played all the songs, but one by one we’ll start unveiling them.

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