Interview:Warren Haynes - A Change is Gonna Come
When bassist Allen Woody died on August 26, 2000, many observers and even surviving members Warren Haynes and Matt Abts wondered if Gov't Mule still even existed. After all, the power trio was very much a three-way collaboration and endless conversation between Haynes, Woody and Abts. Standing at the crossroads, Gov't Mule fought to honor Woody's legacy even while carving out a new future for themselves.
A two volume set, The Deep End (ATO) plays out like a broken heart in the face of hope. At turns fast and lean, then longing and melancholic, the immense volume of music is matched in scope only by its honorable intentions. Filmed as a companion to the Deep End set, Phish bassist Mike Gordon's Rising Low began as documentary in form, but soon morphed into a statement piece, not only recounting the tale of the Mule, but looking at the sociological place the art of bass playing holds in modern rock.
Fast forward to May 3rd, 2003. Saenger Theatre, New Orleans, Louisiana. Like their trademark improvisations, the group dynamic was hitting a feverish pitch. Albums, films, Grammy nominations, dozens of guests, and hundreds of shows had culminated in The Deepest End, where another era of the Mule would end in one last night of glory and celebration. Like a phoenix, they would soon rise anew, but not unchanged.
Now a quartet, Haynes and Abts have been joined by keyboardist Danny Louis and Andy Hess, a bassist who counts the Black Crowes, Leo Nocentelli, and John Scofield as brothers in jam. GWO sat down with Haynes at the beautiful Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota to discuss the Deepest End and the nexus that has surrounded it for the last three years. As always, check www.mule.net for all things Gov't Mule and www.warrenhaynes.com for all things Haynes.
GWO: You once speculated that you and Woody had played two to three thousand shows together. Please describe what made his style so unique in modern times.
HAYNES: We all grew up improvising. Our first bands were all bands that would get together and jam, because the times were steeped in that. And he was one of the most intuitive improvisers I've ever worked with. Definitely able to propel the soloist, and Matt Abts is the same kind of drummer. The thing that Woody and Matt both share that I love tremendously is having no fear of the jam falling apart. Knowing that the only way you get to the real magic is by fearlessly exploring uncharted territory. He started out playing saxophone and guitar before switching to bass, so that gave him a rhythmic and chordal knowledge. He understood how guitar players play. One of the things that Cream had that we borrowed was where we would get into these "three-way jams" where each of us was playing something entirely different. It was a philosophy on how to approach and define what music is and what it can be. I think the fact that none of us were just rock musicians helped make the chemistry what it was. It allowed us to experiment with and be fueled by a lot of genres. Woody was a very aggressive player and played with this big massive sound. He had tons of low end coming through the amp and the high end came from the attack of the pick. He could also play extremely well with his fingers, but he only did that about twenty percent of the time.
I remember with Woody, and now Andy, we would talk about songs the afternoon of the show and then we'd go out and play it that night. It might not be like the original version but we played it our way and it sounded great. It was based on the fact that interpretation is a valid part of music. The listeners have no preconceptions about how music should sound; they hear the overall picture. To the ear of the listener, it may not sound incorrect and it goes by so quickly that you don't even know it, so why let that stop you from exploring some territory that's gonna lead you to something you couldn't achieve otherwise?
GWO: Can you talk about some of Woody's heroes who weren't able to be a part of the Deep End saga?
HAYNES: I wrote a letter to Paul McCartney that was given to him by a friend of mine who works in his organization. In the letter I appealed to Paul not as a Beatle or a pop icon, but as a seminal bassist in the lineage of great rock bass players, and the reason Allen Woody picked up the bass. I mentioned all the other people we had involved who were extremely innovative in their own right, and that if Jaco Pastorius or James Jamerson were alive today that they would need to be included for the same reason as Paul McCartney. And we got a very nice response that he wanted to be a part of the project but he couldn't fit it in his schedule. And to even get a response from McCartney was a great honor.
John Paul Jones was another one that we really wanted to be a part of it. John was onboard and we even had a tentative date at one point. He was supposed to be in the states but his plans got cancelled. We tried to do it later, but it would have meant pushing back the whole release, so we just agreed to hopefully do something in the future.
GWO: Though the performances are consistently great, are there moments that register a higher note with you?
HAYNES: The whole night was full of them. When we were playing with Les Claypool, he started playing the "Dueling Banjos" theme. Somehow we started playing in harmony, but it was totally impromptu.
The guitar solo and drum solo before "Sweet Leaf" were completely unplanned because it dawned on me that I forgot to tell anyone that I didn't know the words to "Sweet Leaf". I found myself up there and all of a sudden I need lyrics. We were going to play "War Pigs" and "Sweet Leaf" as the last songs of the set, so there was no choice but to stall. I start playing this guitar solo. The lyrics still don't show up, so I turn to Matt and say, "Matt, play!". We had already agreed that there would be no drum solo in the set, so he had no clue what was going on. He just kind of figured out that I wanted him to play a drum solo and he started to play. When I look back on it, he played a great solo.
Playing Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" with Paul Jackson, Jr. was great. We all knew it from our youth, and it was an honor to play it with Paul because he co-wrote it and played on the original version. The same with Fred Wesley. Someone came up during the sound check and said Fred Wesley's here. I'm such a huge fan and the version of "Down and Out in New York City" off Black Caesar was arranged by Fred Wesley, so why not have him play on it? He had forgotten the original arrangement, so Karl Denson showed it to him while we were onstage playing.
GWO: In retrospect, how does it feel to be able to stand on stage and in the studio with so many legends and inspire them in performance and song?
HAYNES: It was a combination of being overwhelmed by the joyous emotions that you would normally feel, and the bittersweet thing that was going to be present no matter what. And I feel like that also contributed to the fact that everybody checked their egos at the door. And then when Entwistle passed away, we looked back at the fact that the last sessions he ever recorded were with us. It was a tremendous, humbling learning experience. We were all kind of swept up in the moment. And I think it was lot heavier than anybody's realized.
GWO: Did the success of Rising Low give you the courage to film and release the Deepest End and make it more than a double live album?
HAYNES: We've always wanted to do a concert DVD, and wish that we had one with Woody. There's a few things that exist here and there, but none of them on the technical level of what we did with the Deepest End. And so it was just the logical next step. We had met with our management and label about how to finalize the whole Deep End concept and came up with doing one final blow up with as many bass players and guests as possible. Stefani [Scarmado], our manager, came up with the idea of doing it at Jazz Fest in New Orleans because a lot of people would already be down there, and it would make it more budgetarily feasible. New Orleans is the perfect setting for that because so much of the music we love came up from New Orleans. That's also when the Dirty Dozen Brass Band came into the picture, which was marvelous.
GWO: Each of the three live concerts you've released can be found in their full glory, with every song played that particular show. This is certainly unusual, but it hearkens back to the old jazz records, where they would record a night's set and the label would put it out as is. Can you talk about how the music influences the business model, and vice-versa?
HAYNES: Well, when we did Live at Roseland, we had found ourselves in a unique position. We had done one record for Relativity, and then Relativity folded its rock department. So we knew there was going to be a whole red tape period to find the right new label and to settle in, so the best thing to do is to put out a live record. At the time, we didn't have one show start to finish that felt like a record, and there were certain songs we felt were missing, specifically "Kind of Bird." The sound guys from Blues Traveler were recording their show to multitrack, and they were kind enough to ask us if we would like to be multi-tracked as well. After listening to the whole one hour set, we thought we'd just put out the whole show. And all we were looking for was a good version of "Kind of Bird"! And maybe because we didn't put all the pressure of it being a live record on it is why it turned out good, cause we were just jamming and having a good time. The whole 17-minute "Trane" was just us jamming waiting for people to get into the room.
We've always philosophically felt that the best live records are the one's that are culled from one performance, so once we were able to establish that tradition, it's good that we've been able to keep it going. When we did Live with a Little Help from our Friends, we were just going to record the show and see what happens. We had no idea that jamming with all our friends would turn into something so cool. The one thing we learned was the next time we record we're going to have plenty of tape, in case we get in a headspace where we feel like playing a real long time. We'd never played that long ever. Four hours and twenty minutes was out of the question back then. Now, here we are in New Orleans playing six hours? [laughs] But I don't recommend that on a daily basis [laughs]. That's something you have to do every now and then when everything lines up just right.
GWO: Do you think we'll ever see such a gathering on record or in person ever again?
HAYNES: I hope so. The Deepest End was unique in a lot of ways, with people calling it a modern day "Last Waltz." That's scary because the "Last Waltz" was about the Band breaking up, where this is about a new beginning. I was really saddened by the fact that Andy Hess couldn't be there, but he was on tour with Scofield and it wasn't meant to be.
It's unique in the way that it's about the bass players, which are the beast of burden in a rock and roll band. They're the ones holding down the fort and don't get a lot of the limelight. But the bass players we brought in were those who brought bass playing to the forefront. These are people that when they play they demand your attention and play with their own unique personality and character. I would like to see more and more people doing things like this, but usually there's not enough time and energy put into the material. We definitely did not want it to be like that. If you look at the three volumes, there's a lot of complex material there that you just can't come in and wing, which meant sending tapes and the guys doing their homework. And all these players are of such high quality musicianship that they delivered.
GWO: During the interview portion of the Deepest End, Vicotr Wooten said that everyone there had put the time into their own instrument to develop their own voice, so it was only a matter of having a conversation.
HAYNES: Especially on the more "improvy" tunes, like "Sco-Mule," which goes somewhere different every night, as it should, and you're just having a musical conversation. It's like having a first date with someone who turns out to be a good friend. Everyone is on their best behavior and everything is fresh. There is a reason why first takes are notorious for being the best, because that unspoken, indefinable thing happens when you play a song for the first time.
GWO: How do you see the Deepest End in terms of the different eras of the Mule?
HAYNES: The end of the old Mule happened when Allen Woody passed away. Then for the next three years, there was the Deep End, which was Gov't Mule with special guest bass players, some of which are family members. Oteil Burbridge, Dave Schools, George Porter, Greg Rzab, Andy Hess, even Jason Newsted. All these people took time and energy to become part of our family, and that's not something we take lightly. But still, it was not a real band until we reached that point that Andy was the bass player. It's almost like a three-chapter series. The old Mule died with Woody, we did the Deep End for three years, which the Deepest End finalized that, and now with the Rebirth of the Mule, we're headed into new territory.
GWO: Let's look at the New Mule for a second. Can you talk about your history with Danny Louis and why you look forward to creating with him down the line?
HAYNES: Danny and I met in 1992. I had moved to New York a couple of years earlier and put a band together with a great singer named Jeff Young on keyboards, Lincoln Schleiffer on bass, and Steve Holley on drums. The chemistry was great, but then Jeff left the band to tour with Jackson Browne, and eventually Sting. He recommended a few people to take his place and he mentioned that Danny would be his first choice. Then a few days later, I happened to run into Danny on the streets of New York. I felt like it was symbolic in a way, that he was waiting for me to call him and I just happened to run into him in a city of eight million people. The first time Danny and I played together I could tell instantly that Danny was someone I would love to work with. I would play something, he would counter what I was doing like a call and response, and it just clicked like it was supposed to. So he joined my band and we worked together for a couple of years. After the band folded, I started Gov't Mule. He always secretly wanted to be in Gov't Mule anyway, but he knew we loved the trio so much he never brought it up. Occasionally, we had him sit in and Woody would always go "Man, Danny gets it ? he understands who we are."
Before Danny joined, we had Chuck Leavell, who's such a beautiful musician that it's a pleasure any time you get to work with him. Eventually Chuck had to go back to the Rolling Stones, and when he did, I called Rob Barracco from Phil Lesh and Friends. Rob and Chuck both play a lot of piano, which took the Mule in another direction. We were open to that because we were lost and didn't know which way to go. But when we played with Danny, it started sounding like a band again, so eventually we made Danny a full-time member. He and I had written a lot of songs together and he's someone I draw inspiration from in a song-writing capacity. He understands what we are philosophically. He came in and intentionally went in another direction, and I think we all realized what that meant. When he joined the band I asked him what he envisioned, and he said Wurlitzer, clavinet, and B-3, and we all agreed that it worked well. Danny's a very unique player. He started out as a Lee Morgan-influenced jazz trumpet player who loved Nicky Hopkins-style rock piano. Strange dichotomy, but most of the musicians we love are strange that way. He can go all the way down to emotion and instinct, but he can also theoretically dissect music inside and out and knows where it comes from.
GWO: Can you lend us some insight on what went into the decision of Andy Hess?
HAYNES: Some of the guys we played with weren't available on a large scale. So we knew that whatever chemistry we hit upon was temporary. Each bass player had their own personality and drove the band in their own way. Schools probably drove the band a little more like Woody than anyone else, but Schools has his own personality as well. He just had a lot of respect for what Woody did. And a lot of people thought we should offer the job to guys like John Entwistle, as if these people were looking for a gig. It's fun playing with them, but it was never like Jack Bruce should be the new bass player.
GWO: I think that's what a lot of people wanted though.
HAYNES: We would too, on a certain level. But in the long run, Andy turned out to be exactly what we were looking for. Someone who loved and had studied all the different genres of music like Woody did. He has a similar tone to Woody, but a different approach which is more suited for the four piece, which works beautifully.
We weren't looking for a Woody clone in the same way the Allman Brothers weren't looking for a Berry Oakley clone. We were just looking for someone who could bring that spirit, respect what that really meant, but give it their own stamp like Woody did. No one could ever ask Allen Woody to not be Allen Woody. So in the same way, we needed someone who would have the same mindset. Andy is going to be Andy Hess, and we owe that to him.
GWO: The Mule started life as a trio, but even your first show had several guests. Can you take us deep and reflect on the art of the jam?
HAYNES: The chemistry is the most important ingredient in any band, but especially in an improvisational band. The original chemistry you had when you first played together are what bands are founded upon. But chemistry only takes you so far. You have to take that chemistry and run, stretching the boundaries in different directions. I feel like every year, Gov't Mule opened doors that were not open to us prior. And as you pointed out, even from our first show, we jammed with our friends. We always loved augmenting the trio by adding people. It gave us the best of both worlds, where we could play as a trio for a while, and then add somebody else to the picture and change everyone's roles. Both ways are beautiful, that's why we liked to do both. Especially with Allen and Matt, who would have to simplify their roles a little bit to make room for the other person. Part of the complexity of the trio is that each person must be clicking at all times. Each person has to pull up a lot of meaningful space, and you can never let your guard down and relax. When Woody died, that concept changed because the trio was based on the chemistry the three of us had. To recreate that seemed some what futile, so why not look for something equally cool in a different way. I think we're trying to make a quartet that sounds powerful in the way the trio used to sound.
GWO: Zeppelin put together "CODA" as a tribute to John Bonham and a bookend to their legacy. Have you considered collecting the various outtakes and project songs and putting them out as one last tribute to the legacy of the old Mule.
HAYNES: I wouldn't want to just put out a disc of stuff that's available other places. The unfortunate thing is, there's no studio outtakes as far as songs that we recorded with Woody that haven't been released. There's alternate versions of the same songs, but there's no different material, which is a shame, but in the long run, we ended up utilizing everything we had done.
GWO: "Pygmy Twylyte" and "Sin's a Good Man's Brother" were that last two, right?
HAYNES: Yes, and on an unrelated note, the first few days of the Deep End sessions, we did jam with all the bass players and recorded everything. There's jams that took place with Les Claypool, Alphonso Johnson, Rocco Prestia, entire blues performances with Jack Cassady and Pete Sears. So some of that stuff I'd like to check out at some point. If there was more stuff with Woody, it would be tempting, and maybe at some point if there's a Gov't Mule boxed set, it would be important to include those tunes on it. And there is some great live stuff. There's New Years Eve 99-00, which has some amazing stuff on it.
GWO: Why should people check out Warren Haynes and Gov't Mule.
HAYNES: Well, I guess the most obvious reason is to see if they like it [laughs]. I think people might have pre-conceptions of what Gov't Mule is. It started out as a hard-rock, improvisational power trio and to this day I feel a little stigmatized by that. One of the reasons I do so many projects is to keep from getting pigeonholed. I think one frustration that musicians in general tend to feel is that what the public knows them for gets turned into all they are known for as if that's all they do. So by exploring all these directions, you get to see more of my musical personality and how far across the board it can go. And I don't mean that like it's something unique, only that maybe I have the platform to explore it more than some people do. It's never been my life dream to be in a power trio, even though that was one of the things that moved me as a kid. It was a void and it needed to be filled and brought back to fruition. But to be a part Gov't Mule, the Allman Brothers, Phil Lesh and Friends, do solo acoustic stuff, jam with all these people, produce records, and be a part of projects that explore all the things I love to explore, that's exactly what my life dream was, and that way, I feel like I'm living out my dream. I'm just thankful that there's an audience there for it and the kind of music that I love to make can co-exist in a world with all the bullshit we hate.
GWO: Do you feel that you have been successful by your own definition?
HAYNES: Well, we're in it for the long haul. We've never wanted to go the route of instant gratification. On some levels, I'm sure there are times when we all feel like our music should be more popular to the masses than it is, but at the same time, we make our own choices. We're doing exactly what we want to do to please ourselves and whatever audience is built around it. We've never compromised that, we've never shunned our integrity to try and make more money or to try and get higher on the food chain. We've never adhered to any of the trends of the day, never jumped on the bandwagon, and all the music I loved through out the years, that's how they approached it. We're just following that model. Do what's in you heart and your time will come. And to me, every indication points that our time is coming. We're all steeped in jazz and the blues, and none of those artists made any money. At the same time, I'd like to see more people get turned onto our music, but I want to see that happen as it's happening now, in an underground way, and at some point, it will start to happen exponentially. That's how bands like Phish, Widespread Panic, and the Grateful Dead created their niche. I think the music industry looked at us as a band that never stood a chance, and it's really the people who are disproving that theory. And if it's taken longer than some people thought it would, well, then that's just the way things work.
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