It doesn’t seem possible that any touring musician could successfully juggle four musical projects, especially when those projects specialize in marathon-length shows filled with improvisation. But Warren Haynes has built a career of maintaining a rigorous touring schedule that shows no signs of slacking. As a solo artist and member of Gov’t Mule, The Allman Brothers Band and The Dead (the post-Grateful Dead touring entity), the singer/ guitarist has little white space on his calendar.
“I couldn’t do it without a lot of help from our management and from the management of all the camps involved,” Haynes says, speaking by phone from Asheville, N.C. on a rare off-day. “When you want something to work, you just try to make it work. At this point in my life and my career, I’m so busy that I only want to do the things that I really love. I don’t want to look back and say, ‘Oh, I could have done this but I was too busy’ if it’s something that means that much to me.”
Currently, Gov’t Mule is touring in support of its 2009 release By A Thread [Evil Teen Records]. The band’s first studio album in three years, By A Thread was recorded at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio in Texas. On Thursday, July 22, Haynes and band mates Matt Abts, Danny Louis and Jorgen Carlsson will perform at Sloss Furnaces with Jackie Greene opening the 7:30 p.m. show. Of his many projects, Haynes especially enjoys the democratic and collaborative spirit of Gov’t Mule.
“I think one of the beautiful things about having a band—and a really great band of musicians in the case of Gov’t Mule—is to see how people interpret songs,” Haynes offers. “If I’ve got a song that I’ve written, I bring it in and show it to the band and I want to see everybody’s interpretation of it before I say, ‘This is the way I see it.’ Usually, the collective interpretation is going to be so much better than anything I could think of on my own. That’s the beauty of having a band.”
Unlike many of its counterparts that call the “Jam-band” scene home, Haynes says that Gov’t Mule no longer takes songs on the road prior to releasing them on a studio release.
“We used to take them out and road-test them—it’s a great way of working out the wrinkles and the kinks. But with the Internet being what it is, as soon as you play something your whole fan base has access to it. So, in the last few years, we’ve been doing things differently and not playing songs until the record’s out just because we want there to be an element of surprise when people hear the new songs for the first time. We go into the studio and come out very excited about what we’ve done and we’re always curious to see what the fan reaction is going to be. With any band, it takes a while for some of the hard-core fans to grasp a change of direction and I think that’s appropriate. But with the new record, people seemed to latch onto it quicker than normally. I know we all felt really strongly about it and hopefully that means something as well,” Haynes says.
In addition to possessing a large catalog of original material, Haynes has performed a wide array of cover songs throughout his career. Songs by U2, The Eagles and Van Morrison—to name only a few—have found their way into Haynes’ live repertoire. Haynes feels a diversity of musical influences is a key asset to Gov’t Mule’s sound as well.
“I’m a huge fan of what I consider timeless music—music that I think is going to be around 50 or 100 years from now and that can be from any genre,” Haynes says. “Between the four of us, we have a lot of influences and with each album you hear a little bit more then you heard before. We feel some sort of need or obligation to turn our audience onto some music from the past that maybe they haven’t heard before. There are a lot of young people in the audience that maybe didn’t get exposed to a lot of music that helped form Gov’t Mule’s sound. So if we play a song and people in the audience find out who wrote it, then maybe they’ll go Google that person and check them out.”
A tireless worker even during the holidays, Haynes hosts an annual benefit concert in Asheville, N.C.—the town where he spent his formative years—that features a revolving lineup of stellar artists. Over the years, the event has grown in terms of both musical stature and fundraising.
“It started out as something fun to do for all of the local musicians,” Haynes recalls. “We started in a small club 22 years ago and it was a chance for all of the local musicians to play together at the one time that it seemed like everybody was around, which was the Christmas holidays. We would get together and play music and whatever money we raised, we would pick a charity and donate it. Through the years, it just got bigger and bigger and it became regional then national and now worldwide.”
And when the holidays end and a new year rolls around, Haynes climbs back on the tour bus. He relishes the sense of adventure that traveling brings while crediting a stable home life for providing the strength his endless tours demand.
“It’s a wonderful challenge,” Haynes says. “When you’re speaking from a musical standpoint, a challenge is a wonderful thing. I really owe a lot of it to my wife, Stephanie. Without her support, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish half of the stuff that I do. She’s very encouraging about me doing exactly what it is that I want to do. She’s also a huge part of the decision-making process because we work together on that.”
Tickets to the show are $36.95 and can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com.
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.