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Warren Haynes On New Gov’t Mule Live Releases + Life After the Allman Brothers

Warren Haynes
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Warren Haynes is celebrating Gov’t Mule‘s 20th anniversary the right way — by putting out a bunch of great music. The new releases are all either collaborations or covers, all of them live, of course. Out now are ‘Stoned Side of the Mule,’ featuring a set of Rolling Stones covers from Halloween 2009 and ‘Dark Side of the Mule,’ featuring a set of Pink Floyd covers from Halloween 2008. (Gov’t Mule will be performing their Pink Floyd audio and visual tribute only once in 2015, and it’s going to be at Mountain Jam.)

‘Dub Side of the Mule,’ from a live show with Toots Hibbert from New Year’s Eve 2006, is slated for release in early 2015 and ‘Sco-Mule,’ a long-delayed collaboration with John Scofield originally recorded in 1999, is due on Jan. 27. Gov’t Mule are also following up that release with a tour that starts Feb. 8 in Seattle.

Gov’t Mule’s particular strength, like with most jam bands, is taking a good song and opening it up; Haynes in particular has always excelled at adaptation, exploring different voices on the guitar — like, for example, stepping into David Gilmour’s shoes on ‘Dub Side’ — and leading his band, mostly successfully, into new situations.

“It’s cathartic when we tackle another band’s music,” Haynes tells us. “It has a way of inspiring us, collectively and individually.”

We talked to Haynes about the new releases, and also got him to open up on playing the Star-Spangled Banner live for the first time. He also shared his feelings on the Allman Brothers, one month after that band’s final concert.

Tell me about working on David Gilmour’s solos on ‘Dark Side of the Mule.’ What’s it like going through and learning his solos, and putting your own voice into them?

It’s all really just from having heard them so many times through the years, and whatever seeped in through osmosis, because one of Gilmour’s most artful traits is that everything he plays is memorable. And he’s one of those rare musicians who sounds like he’s singing through his instrument, which I love. Every time I listen to him, it makes me want to play fewer notes, because he does it so masterfully. And that stuff stays with you. His phrasing, his note selection, his tone, his touch are all combined into this beautiful picture that I’m a huge fan of.

Dark Side of the Mule
Evil Teen

And you do this somewhat often — you’ll learn a band’s catalog or part of it and then perform it live. Do you come away with a different perspective on your own playing when you do that?

Absolutely. And oddly enough, that’s a question that’s being asked a lot based on people hearing these releases. I think it’s cathartic when we tackle another band’s music. It has a way of inspiring us, collectively and individually. Myself, as a singer and a songwriter and a guitar player — it makes me reexamine my choices. Because a lot of times I think musicians shy away from certain parts of their vocabulary based on whatever music they’re playing at the time. Whenever you embark on something different, you’re going to utilize parts of your musical vocabulary that you haven’t thought about in awhile.

I know you’re probably already preparing for your New Year’s Eve gig with Myles Kennedy, and I understand you guys are going to tackle some AC/DC material. Are you going through the same process with that?

That’s something we’ve been talking about for a few years now. We wanted to do it with Myles whenever he had the availability, and this year worked out, because vocally that stuff is a little bit outside my range. Myles has a higher vocal range than I do, and he’s the right guy for it. So, I’ll be concentrating more on the guitar side of AC/DC, which will be a lot of fun. And again, I’ve never really studied it other than just enjoying it and hearing it. So I’m going to dig into it a little deeper than I ever have. It’ll be a fun challenge.

It also seems like a particular challenge for you guys because it’s a little more straightforward rock and roll than what you’re used to.

Absolutely. Everyone’s going to have to alter their approach a little bit to benefit the music. Because one of the strengths of AC/DC’s music is the simplicity of it, and the repetition that works masterfully with their style and their songwriting.

Well, and I wanted to ask more generally, when you go through another band’s catalog, do you pick your favorite songs? Do you go for the crowd pleasers? How do those setlists come together?

It’s a combination of all those things, except when we decide to cover an entire record, like we did with ‘Houses of the Holy’ or ‘Who’s Next.’ But we did Hendrix and the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, and this year we did Neil Young for Halloween. We just pick stuff from their history that works for us, that’s going to be fun — we try to find the right balance of popular songs and a little more obscure songs and try to find a way to make it work for the whole picture.

Now, ‘Sco-Mule’ is coming out January 2015 — your onstage collaboration with John Scofield, recorded in 1999. And you’re also touring with Scofield next year. What does John Scofield bring out of you as a guitar player?

I’ve been a fan of John’s probably since the ’70s when I heard him with the Cobham – Duke Band. And his solo records in the ’80s were so innovative. He just has such a unique voice, as a jazz guitar player. When we started playing together, it kind of automatically pushed me to play in a jazzier way, and for him to play in a rockier, bluesier sort of way, and that’s kind of the whole point, you know? It challenged both of us to play differently to fit the overall picture, and it was very inspiring to me. Those first shows we did, it really pushed the band to a whole new level.

Evil Teen

It’s funny — Angus Young and John Scofield are kind of totally on opposite sides of the guitar spectrum.

Yep! I would agree with that. But equally important in their own way.

‘Sco-Mule’ was recorded in ’99, and I know that it was shelved after the passing of [Gov’t Mule bassist] Allen Woody, and there have been so many things that have happened since then. But were people asking about the record? Was it nagging at you?

People have asked about it through the years, but I think even more importantly, it was something that I always wanted to release, because I was very proud of it from the moment we did it. We went immediately into the studio and started mixing it with the intent of putting it out within a year of when we recorded it. And then when Woody passed away, everything just changed, and our focus shifted to figuring out if we were still going to be a band and if so how were were going to continue making new music and pursuing new directions, and it just hasn’t made sense until now, I think for two reasons — one being that this is the 20th anniversary, and one being that we’re finally able to put a tour together with John Scofield.

On an entirely different note — you’re playing the national anthem tonight (Dec. 4) at Madison Square Garden. Have you ever done that before?

[Laughs] No. I’ve never done it in front of the audience. It’s just going to be a very mellow instrumental version, and not some odd interpretation. It’s just going to be me playing the song with the ES-335 and an amp and some tremolo.

Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask. Because in the endeavor to give that song the emotional weight it deserves, some have, in the past, been given to showboating.

Yeah. And I don’t want to sing it. It’s not a fun song to sing — it’s not a song that opens itself to interpretation, and that’s what I do as a singer. I’m not someone who just likes to sing the melody and leave it at that. And any time I hear someone take it over the top and interpret it, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

In my life, I’ve heard two people do it on guitar — Jimi Hendrix, who took it to a whole other place and made a statement, and this terrible idiot show-off kid at my high school who played it before one of our football games.

Ha! [The Hendrix performance] kind of “did it” for everybody. I don’t think anybody needs to take that approach ever again. One thing I would consider doing if there were chordal accompaniment behind it would be playing it on slide guitar. But since I’m playing it by myself, I’m going to do more of a combination chord-melody sort of thing.

Note: Haynes went on to perform the song the night we did this interview. Check out his performance:

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Now that the last Allman Brothers show is a month behind you, do you have any reflections on the 25 years you spent as part of that band? Has it being behind you changed your perspective at all?

My perspective of that is that it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I was a huge fan from the time I was 9-years-old, from the first time I picked up a guitar. The Allman Brothers music is among the most important music in my life, whether I was involved in it or not. Being on the inside of it and being allowed to be a part of it for 25 years has been an incredible experience and not one that I could ever take lightly. It’s a very emotional time for me, because on the one hand I hate to see it end, and on the other hand, I think it’s the right thing.

Next: The Black Keys + Gov't Mule Set to Play Mountain Jam 2015

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