Meet: Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule

Warren Haynes is one of those musicians that everyone that meets him holds in high esteem. Joining the reformed Allman Brothers Band in the 80s he’s built a formidable reputation and list of credits to his name, not least fronting Gov’t Mule since the mid 90s.

2014 has been Gov’t Mule’s 20th anniversary and January sees the release of Dark Side of the Mule, a live set of Pink Floyd covers recorded at their 2008 Halloween show.

Despite still being one of the busiest men in rock music, Mr Haynes kindly took time out to answer some questions about Gov’t Mule, their new live album and his career to date.

Backseat Mafia: You’re celebrating Gov’t Mule’s 20th anniversary with an extensive tour and a series of archival releases and the first of these, Dark Side of the Mule, finds you covering a range of Pink Floyd numbers at your 2008 Halloween show. How important is it to you and the rest of the band to pay tribute to the acts that have influenced you?

Warren Haynes: Covering other bands’ music has been part of what Gov’t Mule has done almost from the beginning. Mostly in accordance to the way other bands in the (so-called) jamband scene take a similar approach. It’s only on special occasions like Halloween and New Year’s Eve where we cover an entire album, or do a special set of someone else’s music. These shows are very rare and very special for us. I think aside from the fun factor, it is important to turn your audience on to the music that inspired you and maybe they’ve heard it, and maybe they haven’t.

Were you tempted to include anything from Pink Floyd’s opinion-splitting album, The Final Cut, and see how that would go down with your audience?

We just picked 90 minutes of music that we really wanted to play. It was a hard choice because there is so much to choose from.

Listening to Dark Side of the Mule, it sounds like a particularly amazing audience you had that night. How risky is it for an act with as many self-penned classics as you have to go out on stage and play a set half of which consists of another act’s classic material? Or do you find that after all this time your relationship with your audience is so strong that they just come along for the ride?

We had just performed an 80-minute Gov’t Mule set of all original material, and I think most of the audience knew or expected what was to come. Since our Halloween shows are traditionally crazy and different, I don’t imagine there were very many people that didn’t know they were in for such a strange ride.

In recent years there’s been an increasing amount of established rock bands going that extra mile with the presentation of their archival releases such as yours. Do you feel this is a reaction to the download and streaming culture where there’s almost no emphasis on the physical release?

I think for a band like Gov’t Mule who plays a different set list every night, a business model such as this can be successful. It would not work for a band that plays the same songs, the same way night after night. This is really just an extension of our policies on taping from the very beginning. We’ve allowed the fans to record the shows and exchange the tapes, as long as no money changes hands, from the very onset of Gov’t Mule. Having where we offer every show in a more high-quality setting, and taking it to the next level of remixing and re-mastering shows for the archival releases, is just an extension of that philosophy.
You’ve always been an outstanding live performer and there are countless live recordings that have been taped and traded among your fans. Do you have a personal favourite of these?

I hand-select a lot of the classic MuleTracks and I think all of the special shows are among my favorites; the Halloween shows, the New Year’s shows, the rare times we do acoustic shows, things of that nature. The Sco-Mule recordings, in particular, I am extremely proud of and am anticipating the release.

Are there any of your shows that you wish someone had managed to record that somehow slipped through the net?

I think there are recordings of varying quality of most of the shows that come to mind. I wish some of them had been recorded professionally or multi-tracked so we could remix them. We didn’t start multi-tracking shows until further in our career.

Outside of Gov’t Mule, you’re perhaps best known for your work with The Allman Brothers, however you’ve worked with, and appeared on stage alongside, a bewildering amount of acts down the years and the bonus disc with your last studio album, Shout, made a great feature of this fact. Is there anyone that you’ve not had the chance to work with that you’d jump at the chance to jam with?

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with most people I would put on that list. A list that is definitely getting smaller and smaller. I’ve never worked with Neil Young, Tom Waits or Mark Knopfler, and I’m a big admirer of all three of those guys.

Are there any young bands you’ve crossed paths with in recent years that you’d recommend as ones to watch for the future?

There are bands like Earl Greyhound, The London Souls and The Revivalists that I really enjoy and think are carving a nice path for themselves.

Given the unique career you’ve carved through the music industry and the amount of top-draw musicians that have sought you out to work with, there’s potentially one hell of a box-set to celebrate your career at some point in the future.  What have been your personal highlights so far?

There have been too many to mention, and I say that as someone who is grateful to have had these opportunities.

Beyond your series of archival releases, what’s your next project?

I’m working on a new solo record, which is very different from Man In Motion, my last solo record. This project is centered more around acoustic instruments and taken from a more singer-songwriter direction. Although there is a lot of playing and improvisation, it’s in a completely different context. I’ve been working with the guys in Railroad Earth and I’m very excited about what we’ve recorded so far.
After all these years, are you still strictly a Gibson man?

I’ve always been predominantly a Gibson person. When the situation calls, I’ll play whatever needs to be played to achieve whatever tone I’m trying to achieve. In the case of Dark Side of the Mule, I played a fender Stratocaster and Telecaster, which for me is a rarity, and I really enjoyed it. I felt it put me a little closer to David Gilmour’s sound, which pushed me to play a little more under his influence and I was very happy with that performance.

There are four archive releases marking Gov’t Mule’s 20th Anniversary –

Dark Side of the Mule is available as a CD and Deluxe CD/DVD now and Double Vinyl on 12 January.

Sco-Mule (Gov’t Mule and John Scofield) will be available on CD and Vinyl on 26 January.

Dub Side of the Mule (with Toots Hibbert) will be released later in 2015.

Stoned Side of the Mule will be out exclusively on vinyl for Record Store Day.

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