From the Allman Brothers Band to his recent philanthropic musical collaboration on “All Along the Watchtower” with Ivan Neville, Cyril Neville and John Densmore, Warren Haynes’ guitar skills are constantly in demand. However, Haynes tends to always bring his musical focus back to Gov’t Mule.
What started as a side project has become one of blues rock’s most iconic bands. Mule is on tour now in support of its latest album, “Revolution Come…Revolution Go.” From politically inspired tunes to eclectic arrangements, this latest release is one of Mule’s most versatile projects.
The Azalea City has become a regular stop for Mule, and Haynes was once again happy to speak with Lagniappe leading up to the show.
Stephen Centanni: You’ve always been one of the busiest men in the music business. With all the projects and collaborations, you always make sure you come back to Mule. What’s the best thing about being out on the road with Mule?
Warren Haynes: We started out as a side project just for the fun of it and never really had any intentions of keeping it together, even for a second year or a fifth year or a 10th year or anything. Here we are 23 years later. It’s based on the musical chemistry that we have and also the fact that we still enjoy being around each other, which I am discovering more and more is pretty rare in rock ‘n’ roll.
Centanni: One aspect of the new album “Revolution Come…Revolution Go” is that you give your perspective on the political climate around the time of the last election. What overall message do you want Mule fans to take away from the songs that have a political statement?
Haynes: Well, there’s a handful of political tunes on the new record. It’s songs like “Stone Cold Rage,” “Revolution Come… Revolution Go” and “Pressure Under Fire.” They all tackle a different aspect of what’s going on. “Stone Cold Rage” talks mostly about the divide in our country right now that’s more intense than I’ve ever seen it in my adult life. I think that it was going to remain or intensify, regardless of who won. It’s just been something that’s been building up and building up. Now, we’re there.
Then, you get songs like “Pressure Under Fire,” which is taking a ‘60’s mantra look at the situation and saying, “Hey, it’s up to us to fix it.” If we’re waiting on politicians to fix it, it’s not going to happen. It’s up to people to work together and figure out what we need to do to be able to live together and work together and improve our situation. It sounds like a goofy ‘60s philosophy, but I really think that’s the only way out of where we are right now.
“Revolution Come…Revolution Go” is a tongue-in-cheek take on it, looking at it from more of a lighthearted perspective. Again, it’s saying that if every time that someone comes along and promises change, then the next party comes in and changes it back, then what have we accomplished? Nothing!
Centanni: I think the arrangements for those songs reflect the lyrics. Did the lyrics affect the arrangements or vice versa?
Haynes: With “Revolution Come…Revolution Go,” we wrote the music first and I added the lyrics later, and the same with “Stone Cold Rage.” With “Pressure Under Fire,” I think the lyric came first. It depends from song to song how that works out. Usually with the more up-tempo songs and rock, the music comes first.
Centanni: The album on the whole is a very interesting and fresh collection of Mule tunes. You’ve got those trademark blues rock songs, then you have songs like the title track and “Thorns of Life” that are both versatile songs. I love the transition from that jazz vibe to blues rock on “Thorns of Life.” The one thing that those two have in common is that it was a combined writing effort between you and the rest the band. What was it like collaborating on those two?
Haynes: Well, we did a lot of preparing before we made this record, because it was our first record after taking a break and our first record after celebrating 20 years as a band. We did a lot of reflecting and thinking about what kind of record we were going to make.
The whole tour prior to pre-production, we set the front of the bus up like a little rehearsal studio, with amps hanging from the wall and guitars everywhere. Every night we would get off stage and work on new material. Those two songs, in particular, I felt like they were going to be centerpieces of the record, meaning that they were gonna travel in many different musical directions. We spent a long time experimenting with different ideas and stuff. A lot of times between midnight and 4 a.m., we were rolling down the road working on music. It felt real good. We were in a real positive place with the band just feeling good about where we are.
From my perspective, it’s always good to have as many different sides of what we do captured in the recording. You get songs like “Dreams and Songs” and “Easy Times” that are a little more R&B oriented. Then you get songs like the two you mentioned and “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” (Blind Willie Johnson), which are a little more stretched out and exploratory. It’s the balance between those two things, which are really representative of who we are and what we do every night.
Centanni: Speaking of that Blind Willie Johnson song, you’ve always had an appreciation for early blues, and you’ve always had a talent for taking those old songs and bringing them into the modern times, which is sometimes not an easy task. What made you want to do that one?
Haynes: A lot of people who are blues enthusiasts, including myself, look at that song as one of the most reverent blues recordings of all times. It’s just a coincidence that it happens to be instrumental, but the title suggests a feeling and an emotional environment that is reflected in his performance on that tune.
I’ve always gotten chills every time I’ve heard that tune. At first, I was reluctant to tackle it. Then, I thought, “You know, we’re just going to take a lot of the licks and melodies on the acoustic and hum along with it and take it through more [of] a rock approach.” I had not originally written lyrics for it. At some point, I decided to write lyrics for it, which, again, was an odd choice. It all arose in the studio, really. We had talked about it for weeks, but we hadn’t tackled it till we got in there and tackled it. It came together really quickly in the same way that we did “John the Revelator” and “Railroad Boy,” which is taking songs that go back decades and, in some cases, even a hundred years.
Centanni: For years, Mobile has been a regular stop for Mule. What do you have in store for us this time?
Haynes: Well, we always want to do something different than the time before. We’ll probably lean on quite a few songs from the last record, but we’ll also go back and see what we played the past few times there and shake it up and make it different. We always look forward to playing there as well.