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Published: 2015/09/28
by Matt Inman

With an Eye on the Past, Warren Haynes Looks to the Future

Over two separate eras, Warren Haynes was an integral part of the resurgence of one of the preeminent groups in America, The Allman Brothers Band (from 1989-1997 and then 2000-2014). Haynes, who also devotes his time to Gov’t Mule and his own Warren Haynes Band (not to mention an endless list of sit-ins and collaborative performances including a long relationship with Phil Lesh), has proven himself time and again as one of the premier guitarists in the jamband and roots rock worlds.

Most recently, Haynes joined forces with progressive bluegrass veterans Railroad Earth on his Ashes & Dust album. He and the band embarked on a tour for the record, and Haynes will now be joined by drummer Jeff Sipe and string collective ChessBoxer to continue taking the album on the road. Haynes took some time to discuss the tour and his various projects, including looking back (and possibly forward) to his time with the Allman Brothers.

How was the recent tour with Railroad Earth?

Good. I thought it got better and better as it went along and we had some great shows. It was a lot of fun.

Did you guys play mostly Ashes & Dust songs?

No, we’re trying to expand the setlist as it goes. We did manage to play all but one of the songs from Ashes & Dust over the course of that tour, but we’re trying to rotate and vary the setlist as much as we can. But since that was a finite window of opportunity, we weren’t able to expand it too much, but now that I’m embarking on this tour with Jeff Sipe and ChessBoxer, we’re going to be going for a long time so we’re gonna add a lot of songs and then continue adding and continue adding.

Did you find you were trying to play songs similar to the album, or did you try to vary the arrangements?

A little bit of both. Trying to play stuff that makes sense with that collaboration, but also trying to incorporate a little more improv and jam-oriented songs into the fold. Some of the shows were long, some of the shows were festival sets which weren’t quite as long, so it kind of varied from night to night.

What has the process been like taking Ashes & Dust to a live setting from the studio recordings?

Some of those songs are not intended as vehicles for improvisation. They’re just songs that are going to be played in a fairly similar way from night to night. Others completely open themselves up to interpretation, so those songs are going to continue to stretch on a nightly basis. As with most of my projects—and most of the stuff that I like to be involved with—I like to strike a balance between the structured songs and the improv-oriented songs. I think too much of either one doesn’t allow the show to breathe as much as it could.

How did this new band with Jeff Sipe and ChessBoxer come together?

I met the [ChessBoxer] guys through Béla Fleck. Béla had told me about these guys and I checked them out and really liked them. And of course, Jeff Sipe and I are old friends; we’ve played together many times. Jeff is one of my favorite drummers. He did my Symphonic Celebration tour where I played the music of Jerry Garcia with the symphony. I was just kind of looking to do something different and still in a similar direction to what I did with Railroad Earth and the music from Ashes & Dust, but I think this band is going to be a little jazzier. Every situation should have its own personality. I’m very excited about this new band and to see it develop. We’re going to be doing a lot of rehearsal, but the real rehearsal starts on stage, and the chemistry is gonna be really exciting. I’m loving playing not only the music from Ashes and Dust, but a lot of songs that I’ve written or been involved with, or outside songs that kind of fall in to this direction. But also, as I mentioned, adding too as we go along—because that’s going to be a fun part of the tour.

Was there any kind of rearranging of the Ashes & Dust material as you transitioned from Railroad Earth to this current band?

Some of the stuff will change in its approach just based on the fact that it’s different musicians interpreting the music now. We don’t want to get locked in to doing anything a certain way. So during rehearsals, which start in a few days, and during the early stages of the tour, we’ll be doing a lot of tweaking and reinventing. I like to be open-minded about where the music goes, I don’t like to rely on preconceptions.

In this month’s issue of Relix, you mentioned that in your mind, Ashes & Dust was the first in maybe a series of more acoustic, Asheville inspired albums. Do you have more songs, and is that still your plan?

Well we recorded 25 or 30 songs in the studio during these sessions, so there’s at least one album’s worth of material in the can. And then there’s another 8 or 10 songs that I’d like to record when I go back into the studio. I don’t know exactly what the plan is gonna be, but I know there will be more material in this direction presenting itself.

Will you try to record those new songs with the Railroad Earth guys as well?*

It’s hard to say. I think probably a few different recording situations. I might go to the West Coast and record some stuff with West Coast musicians. Probably record some stuff with Jeff and the ChessBoxer guys, and maybe some stuff with some other friends that just seem to make sense.

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