Warren Haynes Looks Back On 20 Years Of Gov’t Mule + His ‘Unbelievable’ Time With The Allman Brothers
20 years ago, Allman Brothers Band members Warren Haynes and Allen Woody wanted to have some fun outside of their regular day job and they formed Gov't Mule. As Haynes recalls, they didn’t have any serious goals for the band when things first got rolling.
“It was just a fun side project. We didn’t even have any designs on doing a second record or turning it into a touring band or any of the things that eventually happened,” he says. “Maybe that’s why it worked, because we were just flying by the seat of our pants and taking it one step at a time. Every decision we made was based on what we felt like would be the best for us and in no way second guessing the marketplace or music industry.
"We were just kind of saying, ‘Well, since we are becoming a band, what’s the next step?’ We’d try something and see where it went. The one thing we knew was that we didn’t want to stay where we were. Us starting out as an experimental rock power trio, if you will, was just a fun thing to do in the moment. It was never like, ‘Let’s do that for the rest of our lives,’ it was, ’Let’s do that and see what happens.’ Once it turned into a band, then we had to figure out, ‘Okay, what’s the second record going to be like.’”
Two decades later, Haynes and Gov’t Mule are continuing to explore and find answers to those questions as they come around. They’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of Gov’t Mule with a flurry of releases culled from the band’s legendary Halloween and New Year’s Eve gigs, including the recently released ‘Dark Side of the Mule,’ 90 minutes of Pink Floyd covers recorded live during a 2008 Halloween concert in Boston. (Gov't Mule will perform their Floyd tribute as one of their two sets at Mountain Jam 2015).
Similarly, the limited edition vinyl release ‘The Stoned Side of the Mule: Volume 1,’ featuring tracks recorded during a 2009 Halloween gig in Philadelphia, captures the band making their way through seven handpicked classics from the Rolling Stones catalog.
They’ll continue to unpack treasures from the archives in early 2015, with ‘Dub Side Of The Mule,’ a set of reggae jams with Toots Hibbert of Toots & The Maytals, taken from a 2006 New Year’s Eve gig in New York City, an evening which also featured guest appearances from Gregg Allman and Blues Traveler’s John Popper. The group also plans to finally release the long-anticipated recordings of their 1999 collaboration with jazz guitarist John Scofield, who teamed up with the group for two shows. Fans can finally hear the results of those shows via a newly mixed and mastered three-hour set called ‘SCO-MULE’ that will be released on double CD and double vinyl in January.
To celebrate the arrival of the ‘SCO-MULE’ album, Scofield and Gov’t Mule will hit the road for a special set of tour dates. We recently had the chance to speak with Haynes and he shared details regarding the upcoming trek and the anniversary releases. He also spoke about some of the new music that he’s working on and the “once in a lifetime opportunity” that he had being a member of the Allman Brothers.
Playing covers for you seems like it’s a way to continue to educate today’s music fans and keep an awareness going of the important songs and cornerstone artists that might otherwise fade away.
That’s definitely part of it. You know, it’s also just having fun and kind of interjecting some freshness into our three-hour shows. Because I think when you play a long show like that, doing something that’s a bit of a curveball kind of rounds out the overall picture. And as I mentioned, it’s fun for us and the audience that we’ve kind of garnered through the years is used to that sort of thing. Because since we’re somewhat lumped in with the other jam bands, a lot of them or all of them take a similar approach. We’re just a little bit more of a rock band, I think.
Are there curveball moments that stick out as far as things you tried out in the moment like that which didn’t work?
Not for the most part. You know, we’re pretty good at picking stuff that we’re confident in and also a lot of preparation and rehearsal goes into it. You know, it’s funny, I guess the audience has changed a bit in our 20 years, because the first time we covered the song 'Tempted' by Squeeze, I think the audience scratched their head and wondered why we were doing it. Then we didn’t do it for quite a few years and the next time that we did it, everybody thought it was awesome. [Laughs]
I know that when I look at Mule Tracks, sometimes I’ll see a song pop up and I’ll be really curious to hear the spin that you are going to put on it.
I’m sure that there are some that didn’t come off as well as others, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. We’re brave in the way that we’re really going out on a limb and exposing ourselves. Since you brought up Mule Tracks, just the concept of making every show that you play available to the public is kind of guilty of that bravery or stupidity or whatever it is.
You guys and the Allmans started releasing live recordings from every concert really early on. Initially, was it difficult to make that decision to openly document and share everything like you have?
Well, we’ve been allowing people to record the shows and trade the tapes as long as no money changes from the very beginning. When we started Mule Tracks in 2004, it was just an extension of that to offer what we consider a higher quality recording of the shows. It’s turned into a nice business venture for us, you know, we’re approaching three million songs downloaded and for a band like Gov’t Mule that’s largely under the radar, that’s pretty impressive.
There are bands that have tried what you have done and just haven’t found the demand from the audience.
Well, it works because we do a different show every night. If we just went through the motions of performing the same setlist every night, it would be futile. But since the shows do vary to the extent that they do, it works for us and it presents a challenge to us as well. Because we have to make sure that every show is different.
I think Mule fans are stoked to hear about the tour with John Scofield. What have you guys talked about for those shows so far?
We haven’t really dug too far into it other than the obvious that we’ll do a lot of the stuff that’s on the upcoming release of the recordings that we did in the late ‘90s, but we’ll expand on that quite a bit as well. There will be a lot of stuff from his catalog and a lot of stuff from our catalog and maybe some outside material that we’ll add. We’ll try and make those shows different from night to night as well, so that’s going to be a fun challenge too. I’m expecting that it will be the equivalent of Gov’t Mule doing a set without John and a set with John or something along those lines.
There are a few new archival Gov’t Mule things that have come out recently. There’s the 'Stoned Side of the Mule' thing that was released on Black Friday and the 'Dark Side of the Mule' release that just came out. What’s special about both of those bands for you as a musician and as a music fan?
I grew up in such a fertile time for great rock music. It’s really easy to take for granted a lot of the amazing music and amazing bands and artists that we were all exposed to growing up. Music like Pink Floyd music and Rolling Stones music, when you hear it now, it’s as good or better than it was when it was created and that’s the highest compliment that I can give any band or artist.
Both of those bands are unique in the way that every song they perform sounds like them and no one else. So the challenge for us was, how do we put our stamp on that music but still pay tribute to the uniqueness that is inherent in the music? It does show that we’re influenced by that music, but it also allows us to try and merge their sound and our sound together, even on a song-by-song basis. On some of the songs, we stick a little bit more true to the original versions and on some of them, we get a little more carefree with the interpretation. But all in all, it’s about having fun and doing something cool for Halloween that we enjoy and that the audience enjoys as well.
The ‘Dark Side of the Mule’ release comes with video of the entire show. Have you filmed quite a bit of stuff over the years?
Not a ton. We filmed a few special shows here and there. There’s also a bonus DVD of the set that we did with Toots Hibbert for the ‘Dub Side of the Mule’ that’s coming out that’s taken from one of our New Year’s Eve shows. But the filming process for that was not nearly as high-tech as the filming process for ‘Dark Side.’ When we did the Floyd stuff, we pulled out all of the stops for that. We had surround sound, we had a laser light show, we had three female background vocalists, two of which toured with Pink Floyd. We had Ron Holloway playing saxophone, so it was a really over the top night and we wanted to make sure that it was on film.
For this upcoming New Year’s Eve show, I understand you’re going to be jamming AC/DC tunes with Myles Kennedy. That sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Yeah, we’re psyched about that. We’ve been talking about doing an AC/DC set for quite a few years, but it’s a little out of my range from a vocal standpoint. Myles’ range is higher than mine and it worked out that he was available this year. He’s the perfect guy to do it.
That’s a band that if people only know the radio hits, there’s just so much more beyond that.
Yeah and similar to what I said about the Stones and Pink Floyd, somehow everything they do sounds uniquely like AC/DC and there’s no confusing that.
I know you’re starting to think about another Gov’t Mule record and I’m curious about that. But I’m also curious to know if you think you want to do another solo record at some point?
I’m actually working on a solo record right now and Matt [Abts] and Jorgen [Carlsson] are almost finished with the second POA (Planet of the Abts) record, which sounds great. I made an appearance on there as did Danny Louis. My solo record is coming from a much more acoustic standpoint, although there’s a lot of electric guitar as well, it’s predominantly acoustic instruments with a more singer/songwriter approach. There’s a lot of Appalachian instrumentation but there is a lot of playing.
It’s a record that I’ve been wanting to make for many years now, so I’m glad that it’s coming to fruition. As far as the next Mule record, we’ve been talking about what kind of directions we might explore, but that’s about as far as it’s gone. We want to make sure that it’s completely different from ‘Shout!’ and probably different from anything we’ve ever done.
When are you charting to have that solo record out?
I’m going to continue working on it for the next few months, off and on and we’ll see where it goes. Hopefully next year sometime.
Now that the Allman Brothers thing is wrapped up, what are your thoughts looking back on that whole experience?
Well, that was a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience for me. You know, the Allman Brothers were and are always one of my favorite bands. To have that opportunity to be involved, especially to the extent that I was for 25 years, I have nothing but positive emotions about that.
It is a little bittersweet -- it’s a very emotional time right now, because it was such a huge part of my life. Especially when I was in the band, but even prior to that. That music means more to me than anyone could imagine. Being on the inside of it and helping keep it alive was an unbelievable experience. On one hand, I hate to see it end but on another hand, I think it’s the right decision.
Warren Haynes Talks Allman Brothers