Warren Haynes on Life After the Allman Brothers Band: Exclusive Interview
Warren Haynes stayed true to form on his latest album Ashes & Dust, even as he took his deepest step yet into Americana.
A member of the now-defunct Allman Brothers Band, Haynes has also collaborated over the years with the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews and Elvis Costello. He even played on a William Shatner project. This time around, Haynes is backed by the progressive bluesgrass band Railroad Earth; Phil Lesh and Grace Potter also appear on Ashes & Dust.
We caught up with Warren Haynes ahead of his guest spot this evening with the Roots on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon for a talk about the end of the Allman Brothers Band, the new album and what's next.
You're sitting in the Roots tonight, have you spent much time with late night’s greatest house band?
We’ve played together, but I’ve never sat in with them on Fallon.
It seems like their guests have a great time. What do you expect?
It’s always been fun to play with them. I sent them a list of suggestions we could play. And I’m assuming the set list will be similar to that. [Laughs.] But I have no idea.
“Spots of Time” appeared on your studio release, but this Phil Lesh co-written song has been around a while, right?
Not that long. A few years, I guess. I wrote it with Phil when we were in the studio working on something else a while back. He said he had some music he wanted to give to me. He hoped I would write some lyrics and the melody. He said, “It’s called ‘Spots of Time.’ I said, “Oh, do you have lyrics already written?” He didn’t but he told me the music and title were inspired by a Wordsworth poem called “The Prelude” that referred to “spots of time.” It’s a phrase Wordsworth used in several of his pieces. I wasn’t familiar with the poet’s work, so I Googled the poem then I based the lyrics on what Wordsworth's work meant to me.
If you don't mind me saying, that’s a pretty complicated way to write a song.
[Laughs.] It was kind of an unorthodox way of of going about it, but it turned out so well. I love the song. Of course, Phil’s music has his uniqueness all over it.
And the song found its way into a few Allman Brothers' sets.
Yes, the Allman Brothers began performing it live the last three years or so that we were touring. I’m sure we would have recorded it on the final Allman Brothers record had we made that record.
Thinking about the Brothers and Phil Lesh, I wonder if you wish the Allmans did something big like the Dead did this summer to put a stamp on the final run of shows, to cap your legacy.
I do. I think we should have made more out of our last year. And I think in hindsight everybody probably thinks that. At one point, I thought we were all on the same page but it was hard to maintain communication sometimes in that organization.
Do you have more Lesh collaborations that came out of those sessions?
There’s one more song I wrote with Phil that I actually recorded with Railroad Earth. I haven’t released it, but we’ll see. I recorded 25 songs for this album, so they’ll be a follow up of some sort.
You constantly collaborate. Do these team ups always go well? Are you sure of the chemistry before you go into them?
You usually have a pretty good idea that it’s going to work, but you never know until it starts happening. I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by so many musicians and have these opportunities. I can’t think of any times that I thought something would turn out great and it didn’t. [Laughs.] But you still just don’t know what it’s going to be until it happens. For instance, the Ashes & Dust band we put together for this tour has a similar instrumentation to Railroad Earth, but it has a different approach. It’s a little more jazzy.
We’re basing our repertoire on the strengths of the band and we’re adding songs every day, going back through my catalog, pulling in old songs, odd covers, rearranging the material based on how we play together. It’s interesting to see how it's all taking shape and yet changing all the time. I’ve never done anything like this, and I’m having a blast. It’s changing day by day.
I’m hoping Grace Potter joins you one night for “Gold Dust Woman.” You have played that live together right?
We have. That’s where I got the idea to put it on the album. Our voices blend so well together. It’s a beautiful version. One of the things that helped us hit off in the beginning was our love of a wide array of music. She can do this kind of song, and so many more things.
So, what’s next?
I like bouncing around. We’re going to make a new Gov’t Mule record soon. I still want to make a jazz-influenced instrumental record, which I’ve never done. I still want to make a traditional blues record, which I’ve never done. The next Gov’t Mule record will be different from what we’ve ever done. And I love what I’m doing right now. I just don’t know in what order it will come, but I prefer it that way. I think that’s what keeps me inspired and keeps the energy flowing.
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