Still Bringing On The Music After 25 Years
For a quarter of a decade Gov’t Mule [fully Government Mule] has been feeding its international audiences with an awe inspiring mix of mind-blowing blues, southern rock and seventies hard rock whilst allowing influences from soul, jazz and even reggae into the mix. To celebrate that joyous fact the American foursome recently released a live CD/DVD package titled ‘Bring On The Music – Live At The Capitol Theatre’. This lengthy package [2 CD’s and 2 DVD’s] contains no less than 52 songs and was recorded/filmed at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester. The 9-camera video shoot was directed by renowned music photographer and director Danny Clinch [Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters a.o,]. Both CD’s contain nine songs whilst the DVD’s hold a 190 minutes long concert film, which includes interviews with the band and behind-the-scenes footage. Also included is a huge photo gallery and bonus video’s for fan favourites ,,Soulshine” and ,,Travelin Tune”. Since none of the audio songs are featured on the film ‘Bring On The Music – Live At The Capitol’ has a huge deal to offer.
Photo by Paul Jacobs
Long time admirer and HBLS contributor Stan Novak recently met up with bandleader Warren Haynes when Mule set foot at the Ribs N Blues festival in Raalte, The Netherlands. The singer/guitarist not only elaborated on his experiences with Gov’t Mule but also opened up about the Allman Brothers Band and his relationship with the late and beloved Gregg Allman in particular.
Two hours before show time Novak and Haynes sat together in a portacabin dressing room.
Warren, over the years Mule released a series of live DVD’s. What separates ‘Bring On The Music – Live At The Capitol’ from the rest in your opinion?
,,We mostly wanted to document where we stand today. Jorgen [Carlsson] has been in the band for ten years now and Danny [Louis] for about 17 and this is the first DVD with Jorgen that contains all original Gov’t Mule material. We deliberately limited covers this time. This is also the first concert film that we’ve ever done with a director at the helm and he shot a lot of behind the scene stuff and many interviews. So it’s certainly not just a live show. We’ve known director Danny Clinch for a long, long time and working with him was as fun and easy as always. Him being a friend and someone we trust certainly made things go smoothly. He’s such a wonderful photographer and director. We played two nights at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester and shot over six hours of music. Since only two songs were played both nights we had a lot of material to choose from. In the end there were only six songs that did not make the cut. It makes me very proud that we were able to capture the band on two good nights. It was a lot of fun making it and I am very happy about the way it turned out. We intentionally played some songs that we had not played much recently and some that we hadn’t played in a very long time. It was also important to record songs in different version than those of previous releases.”
Your regular set lists are always very much in the moment. I assume that this time around it was more or so written out and probably even rehearsed.
,,For this project we indeed had to take another approach. We would play songs during our soundchecks. Soundcheck is usual our rehearsal moments. I can recall that over those two days we rehearsed ,,Sins A Good Man’s Brother’’, ,,Life Before Insanity’’, ,,Far Away’’ and the one cover we did , the Pearl Jam song ,,Come Back’’. We rehearsed that one during soundcheck and played it the same night. We decided that we’d include it if it would be good enough. It is the first, no the only time we played that specific song live.”
Did the project cause extra tension on stage?
,,Whenever there is a camera crew around or you know you are recording the most you can hope for is to forget that it is happening. It is also one of the reasons we choose Danny Clinch. In a situation like that it is best to work with someone who is kinda part of the family. All things considered I think we were able to relax and give it our best. I am sure there was a lot of nervous energy but it all tuned out good.”
The film brings back memories to the `Deepest End’ DVD, which you recorded at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans back in 2003. I really love that registration. I remember it as a rather unpredictable event, a very much in the moment kinda thing. I am pretty sure you took lessons from that.
,,Yeah, that `Deepest End’ live event was really something. We did not expect the show to last that long. Maybe we planned to be on stage for three hours but certainly not six. I mean, at 4 am we were still playing. During the whole day we did not know who would show up to join us on stage and who would not. It took a lot of improvising to pull it off and I am glad we were able to capture that whole event on film. But this time around we indeed were a little more prepared to say the least.”
,,As long as we can do justice to the music and keep having fun we will continue’’- Warren Haynes
Mule’s 25 years have been pretty fruitful. You put a lot of labour into it to get where you are at the moment. Since you all are not getting any younger I’d like to ask how many more good years you feel you still have ahead of you.
,,You know, I think as long as it feels right we keep doing it. I reflect to people like BB King and John Lee Hooker who played till in their eighties, although I don’t think we can take it that far. Our music is simply too intense to carry it that far I believe. But as long as we can do justice to the music and keep having fun we will continue. We are very proud of what we built and in some way it is still growing and changing. As long as the process is organic like that it feels good. We are slowing down a bit on the number of gigs. We don’t do as many as we did ten year ago. We still have a rigorous schedule though but if we feel like we need to play less we will do so. But everybody is enjoying it still. Matt [Abts] is the oldest of us [he will turn 66 in September!] but he is still playing great every night. I don’t know how drummers do it at all but with Matt it still feels good. I sure hope to have another interview like this in five years or so. As long as we are able to make new music, music that we feel good about and is inspiring then we are good. We need to look ahead but on the other hand we also like to bring back old songs and re-invent them. We take advantage of the fact that we have so many songs to choose from. That also keeps us fresh. In this past week in Europe we must have played over 100 songs. Stuff like that keeps us from being stagnated.’’
Photo by Paul Jacobs
I followed the band from the start and in Europe your popularity was stable ever since, playing the 600 – 1000 seaters on a headlining night. What is your status in the States?
,,The crowds are definitely bigger in the States but we feel like we have to keep coming back to Europe to cultivate the audience. The only way to keep the audience to grow is by keep coming over. Yes, our venues in States are bigger, we headline for anywhere from 2000 to 3500 people. It depends on the state. In the big cities we do even better. The two, three thousand seaters are most comfortable though since the crowds are big but without losing the intimacy, which we like. But I can see the band still grow on in Europe. I’d like to see the audience get more divers but I am very glad to have the fans that we have. When we first came over I did not know if there was gonna be any audience for us. What we hear a lot is that the jam band scene in Europe does not exist the way it does in America. We consider ourselves a partial rock and partial jam band though and I believe it is fair to say that the Europeans have discovered our rock side mainly.”
Your line-up has been rock solid for ten years now. I know it’s not a pleasant question to ask but will the band continue if one of the current members would for whatever reasons quit the band?
,,That is hard to say. It would depend on the circumstances. I don’t look forward to yet again having to change the chemistry. I hope we never have to be in that situation. Chemistry is very important to this band. It is very different from bands that play the songs the way they were written. We need to create what we feel like is uniquely ours. That is such a big part of our sound. Anytime the line-up changes it takes a long time to take that back into play. It was extremely hard to continue after Allen Woody died back in the day but that is almost twenty years ago. At that time I did not believe it would be possible. Luckily many of our friends convinced me and Matt that we needed to continue.”
Photo by Jay Sansone
ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND
Haynes was a member of the Allman Brothers Band from 1989 to 2015. In the ABB he teamed up with bassist Allen Woody, with whom he eventually would found Gov’t Mule in 1994. Haynes on the importance of the ABB for the conception of Gov’t Mule:
,,Well, my experience with the Brothers was the biggest thing in my musical career. It was a huge opportunity for me and the most wonderful experience. My run with them is something that I am extremely proud of and grateful for. Allen Woody and I discovered out chemistry together in the Brothers. It is where we met and without that we would never have become musical partners. So us being in the Brothers has everything to do with Gov’t Mule’s existence.”
You have lost a number of befriended musicians these past years. Most recent one being Dr. John. God bless his soul. Does all this make you aware of your own mortality?
,,Every time you lose someone you want to take better care of yourself and think about your family more. And also appreciate everything that you have and all the opportunities still ahead of you but certainly also the things from the past. I am not taking for granted all the opportunities we had and the lively hood it gave us. There is a lot of work, commitment and sacrifice in what we do but it is the best life that I could wish for. I am very grateful for that. When you lose someone it make you think about that a lot. And you just want to give it your very best.”
Touring has become more healthy these past five years or so, correct?
,,It is indeed easier now to eat healthy, especially on the road. It is something that people demand in general these days. For example, our bass player Jorgen is a vegetarian and ten years ago making sure to have vegetarian available on the road was not easy. But that has absolutely changed for the better. We are all able to take better care of ourselves and the crew as well. Instead of seeing them eat hamburgers and pizza’s all the time they are able to adapt to a healthier lifestyle.”
Photo by Danny Clinch
Being asked for his fondest memory on Gregg Allman who passed away May 27th 2017:
,,I have so many fond memories of Gregg because Gregg, Allen Woody and myself shared a tour bus so it was the three of us on the bus all the time. It was all about listening to music together and making each other laugh. Woody was one of the funniest people I have ever met and the three of us were just constantly cracking each other up. Those are moments I think back on a lot. Musically there were so many great moments together. I have very vivid memories of the songs me and Gregg wrote together. When we wrote the song ,,Desdemona” for instance, the first song we co-wrote for 2003’s ‘Hittin’ The Note’ album I knew immediately that we set the bar very high for the rest of the album. Since it was written first we knew what we had gotten ourselves into. I first met Gregg in 1981 and we have played so much music together…. [with staggering voice] I really do miss him a lot…’’
What are your thoughts on ‘Southern Blood’, his last solo album, which was released shortly after he died? Personally I get goose bumps all over from the opening song ,,My Only True Friend” in which Gregg asks to be remembered for the musician that he was. He could not have written a better song for that.
,,I am very glad he was able to have the courage to follow thru with all of that because it is a beautiful way of saying goodbye.”
,,He said it was the most he had laughed in a long time and I think that was kinda the purpose”-Warren Haynes
Were you able to say goodbye to him personally?
,,Yes. Me and Derek Trucks went down to his place in Savannah, Georgia a couple of weeks before he passed. I knew at the time that he did not want to see a lot of people. A lot of old and dear friends were not able to connect to him. But Derek and I made a point of going together and it did us a lot of good and I think it did Gregg a lot of good too. He was laughing and we were telling stories. He said it was the most he had laughed in a long time and I think that was kinda the purpose, to make it as light hearted as possible but acknowledge the importance of our relationship. I am very glad we were able to do that because I knew the end was soon. I just did not think it was that soon.”
BACK TO MASCOT
Gov’t Mule released a number of albums via Dutch label Mascot Records. The most recent studio release ‘Revolution Come Revolution Go’ however was released thru another channel. ‘Bring On The Music’ now leads the band back to Mascot. What’s the story there?
,,You see, we have our own label, Evil Teen Records and finance our projects ourselves. When the projects are almost finished we approach two or three labels that we trust and like to work with. If they like the music then we try to strike some kinda deal. This allows us to make the project turn out exactly the way we want to. It all comes down to whoever seems most excited in representing us. I always loved working with the Mascot folks and I think they are very eager and they always convince me that they are firm believers in the music. To me that is very important and I am glad it works out this way.”
After my interview time is up Haynes is asked to proceed to soundcheck. But not before the signing of some vinyl artwork. While doing so he adds these last words to our conversation:
,,You know, one thing I was very happy about is that Dickey Betts and Gregg were able to communicate before Gregg passed. This is from a personal standpoint so you don’t need to mention it but if you want to you can. Dickey and Gregg spoke before he passed so they re-connected in the end and that is something that we were all very happy about.”
HBLS contributor Stan Novak (second left) with Gov’t Mule [Photo by Paul Jacobs]
Credit header photo: Jacob Blickenstaff
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