Warren Haynes on His New Solo Album, Gov’t Mule’s Future and Working With B.B. King: Exclusive Interview
Warren Haynes certainly isn't slowing down after the Allman Brothers Band's retirement. He'll release a new solo album titled Ashes and Dust on July 24, amid a round of summer dates that include a pair of performances at Mountain Jam with his regular working band, Gov't Mule.
The Americana-inflected Ashes and Dust features an album-length collaboration with Railroad Earth, plus a guest appearance by Grace Potter. Both will join Haynes at this year's Mountain Jam, to be held June 4-7, 2015 at Hunter Mountain, N.Y. A highlight of the schedule: Gov't Mule is set to perform their new album Dark Side of the Mule in its entirety on Friday, June 5. Check out the fest’s website for more information.
We caught up with Haynes in London, as he finished up a European tour with Gov't Mule, to discuss Ashes and Dust, working with Railroad Earth and his memories of the late, great B.B. King.
You always take an interesting path, as you move from one thing to the next. Man in Motion gave you the opportunity to explore your roots and your love of soul and blues music. On the heels of that, how did the idea for this new album come about?
I've been accumulating these kind of songs for quite some time, having written songs in this direction all my life. At one point, I was even going to make a record like this before making Man in Motion. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't because several of these songs have been written since then. My goal was to honor the songs the best way I knew how, and giving them this kind of treatment seems to do that.
It’s interesting to hear that the material for this album stretches across a 30-year span of time. What did the archive of materials you were working from look like? How did you go about pulling it all together into a cohesive stack of prospective material to tackle?
A few of the songs had been demoed, but most were just in my head – songs that I would pull out from time to time when I pick up an acoustic guitar. We recorded around 30 songs for the project so I'm still deciding which ones fit together the best. These 13 seem to work together for this release. Now, I can start thinking about the next one.
I know that you wrote at least one song with Todd Sheaffer of Railroad Earth. Did you work collaboratively with the members of the band to finish the material in a similar fashion, or was a lot of it already written and in a form that was ready to go?
Todd and I wrote "Word on the Wind," as the last song written for the project. It came together quite quickly, and made a great addition to the project. All the other songs were complete prior to recording, but I still like to leave them open to interpretation. A lot of the arrangements changed during the recording process.
You’ve spoken in the recent past about how your relationship with Railroad Earth developed. What did you envision they would bring to this material?
When we played together there was a natural chemistry between us, in addition to the chemistry they already have together. Their styles, combined with the large array of instruments they all play, helped bring the songs to a place, musically speaking, which is very organic and comfortable and reminds of the way I envisioned them when I wrote them.
What can you tell us about some of the songs on this new album?
These songs represent the singer-songwriter side of me that's been with me all my life. I've probably written more songs in this direction than in any other, strange as it may seem.
Grace Potter shows up on a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman,” which is something the two of you have done live together in the past. How did you end up recording it for this collection?
It seemed like the right time to capture the song in the studio. Recording it this way, with the acoustic instrumentation, really casts it in a cool light.
Will you get the opportunity to tour with Railroad Earth?
We're gonna do as much as schedules permit.
Earlier this year, on the subject of a new Gov’t Mule album, you told me you thought you were "going to wind up with some songs that have large instrumental passages but are vocal songs." Where are things on that next record?
We're only in the beginning stage of talking about what kind of direction we want to take, which always has a way of changing.
You paid tribute to the music of the “Three Kings,” Albert King, Freddie King and B.B. King during Gov’t Mule’s New Year’s Eve performance in 2012. With the passing of B.B., I wanted to ask you about your specific love for his music and what you learned from him as a player and music fan.
I was in love with B.B.'s voice before I ever picked up a guitar. It was him, along with Ray Charles, that helped me realize I could focus equally on singing and playing. B.B. had a huge voice – and I tried to capture that sort of sound as well and to make my guitar sound like my voice the way he did. His sense of space in his phrasing was a lesson to all guitar players. Whenever I feel like I'm playing too many notes I say to myself, "Just think B.B. King."
Did you ever have the chance to share the stage with B.B.?
A couple of times. It was a huge honor for me.
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