Haynes, drummer Matt Abts and bassist Allen Woody had spent nearly a decade
honing their chops as one of the hardest-rocking, most melodic and most
consistently inventive jam bands on the scene when Woody died of a heart
attack at the age of 44 in 2000.
Haynes and Abts purged their grief by performing a series of tribute
concerts and recording two albums -- "The Deep End, Vols. 1 and 2" -- with
some of Woody's four-string idols filling his role. Some musicians might
have let those discs stand as the band's swan song. But Gov't Mule has
returned with a vengeance on "Deja Voodoo," picking up where the original
trio left off, and pointing the way toward the future.
The new lineup of Haynes, Abts, bassist Andy Hess and keyboardist Danny
Louis will perform at the Riviera Theatre tonight. I spoke with Haynes from
his home in New York before the start of the tour.
Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine
Tickets, $26 (18-over show)
Q. What was the mind-set going into this record?
A. We really wanted to capture the sound of the new band, because
it is a new band now, with two new members with Andy Hess on bass and Danny
Louis on keyboards. It's the first thing we have done with those guys, so we
wanted to show the natural progression and sound that this band has; we were
really writing with that in mind. I feel like it's the next record after
[2000's] "Life Before Insanity" in a way, because "The Deep End" records
kind of stand as a separate entity. I'm real proud of those; I loved the
music that we made, and I thought it was as cohesive as it could be, but it
still wasn't a band. This record really feels like a band to me, and it was
a pleasure making it. It all fell together nicely, and I was really pleased
with the way it turned out.
Q. You and Matt were very close to Woody. Did you ever feel
that "The Deep End" was the last waltz for Gov't Mule?
A. I think we thought more about that at the beginning, shortly
after he died -- whether we should just call it quits then. But once we
decided to keep it together, we felt, "Full force -- let's go for it and
open a new chapter. It's not going to be the same as it was, but it'll be
the same spirit and it will go where we were headed, anyway." Once we
started playing with Danny, and eventually when we started playing with
Andy, it really started feeling like a band again, and the old songs and the
new songs kind of translate equally well. Andy is doing an amazing job; he's
a different player than Woody -- he's not a Woody clone by any stretch of
the imagination -- but of course having been through everything that we've
all been through, that's the last thing we would want. But he has that big
personality, and he has that big bottom-end sound that Woody had, and the
pocket that he has with Matt reminds me of that pocket that Matt and Woody
had, which was Gov't Mule's sound in the first place.
Q. Despite all of your other musical activities -- the Allman
Brothers, Phil Lesh and Friends, your solo efforts -- something always keeps
you coming back to Gov't Mule. What is it?
A. Gov't Mule is where my heart and soul is. I would like to think
that Gov't Mule is going to continue to record and perform for years and
years and years to come.
Q. When you play with other musicians, do you always bring
something back to the band?
A. Hopefully, I bring something from each situation, because I
think that's an organic thing. You absorb a lot of what's going on around
you and pick up stuff even if you don't acknowledge it. It's definitely what
keeps me fresh -- jumping from one project to another, as opposed to being
equally busy with just one project. That would get a little mind-boggling,
but somehow going from one to another to another brings a lot of fresh
energy and different influences into the picture.
Q. You're really an old-school road warrior -- you're never
home! Doesn't that life get old?
A. The traveling gets old. The music never gets old. I've been
lucky so far; I feel like I'm having a great ride. To turn down any of these
opportunities is really what would seem crazy -- to look back and go, "Oh, I
could have done this, but I said no."
Q. What inspires you to sit down and write a song?
A. I usually don't write until I'm lyrically inspired; I usually
wait until I have some sort of lyric that is pushing me to write the music.
That usually has been the case with me, but within the last few years, I've
kind of made myself do the opposite, and I've been writing music and adding
the lyrics later, which is the reverse of what I normally do.
Q. For someone who's best known as a guitar firebrand, it's
interesting to hear you say that the words often come first.
A. I don't even know why that is! Maybe it is just laziness. I'm
not one of those guys who sits around and writes little guitar riffs and
puts them on tape. I do that occasionally, but for some reason that's not
really my thing. The inspiration comes all at once, and it usually comes
with some key phrase or some idea lyrically. Then I sit down and the music
comes shortly afterward. I guess that's backward from what most people do.
Q. So you don't throw a lot of music away?
A. No, I don't. I don't really like writing guitar-riff kind of
songs, where you have a bunch of cool riffs but no reason for it. I've
always been attracted to singer-songwriters -- there's that indescribable
thing that makes a song a song. It's not the bass line, and it's not the
snare drum sound, and not the tempo, and not, in most cases, the guitar
intro. It's something beyond all of that. I remember Tom Petty in an
interview when I was a kid saying that a certain phrase would make him want
to write a song. I tend to listen that way and write that way.
Q. What's your proudest moment on the new album?
A. I think a lot of it is very different. There are songs like
"Wine and Blood," where I'm glad that we were able to make that song fit
into the overall picture, because I really love it, and it is a departure
for Gov't Mule. Same with "Toy Brain," a song that I'm very proud of, but
the question was, "How do we make it sound like a part of the Gov't Mule
record?" I'm not only partial to ballads but departure songs -- songs that
are different from what we have done.
Q. You do like to challenge your audience. Do you feel as if
you've ever thrown them something they didn't understand at all?
A. I think every record throws them something that they don't
immediately get, but then, hopefully, eventually they do. I think you owe it
to your audience to give them music that is not digestible at the first
listen in all cases. Every song doesn't need to be so in-your-face that you
get it from the first listen; a lot of my favorite records were that way.
Q. How did the new blood change the way the band works?
A. Danny Louis wrote two of the songs with me, and we have a
history of writing together -- he co-wrote "Life Before Insanity,"
"Beautifully Broken" and "Trying Not to Fall." He's such a fountain of
musical information; his influences go all over the map. A lot of times,
he'll just play something that will inspire me to want to write a song. In
certain cases, we'll sit down and write the song together, and in certain
cases, we'll write individually, but I really enjoy working with Danny both
as a writer and as a player. With Andy [Hess], I just love the feel that he
and Matt create together. I'm really proud of what Andy has brought to the
table. I think the band has a deep groove that we haven't felt in a long
Q. The trio with Woody developed its ability to do these really
great jams without ever being self-indulgent, but it took a long time to get
to that point. How is that developing with the new group?
A. We really found ourselves in a situation where we got to that
place much quicker than we thought we would. Matt and I are both smiling
about it, because we're not even in the luxurious position of being able to
compare where the new band is to where the old band started -- we have to
compare it to where the old band wound up. We had almost 10 years of playing
with Woody, and we grew so much in that time. We were much better seven
years later than we were when we first started, so it's a lot of pressure to
put on new members, but I feel very good about [it].