The first sounds you hear on Revolution Come … Revolution Go are heavy, boiler-room blues rock with a sharp-bite, wah-ing guitar, stabby organ and roiling bass and drums. It’s so familiar a feel for lovers of Gov’t Mule that you find yourself mouthing what you expect to be the first three words “Stone Cold Rage” — the title of the song — before Warren Haynes’ soulful howl pierces the music and delivers the goods.
The record, out June 9, is Gov’t Mule’s 10th and one of their most well-rounded since the early days of the band. It sounds oh-so-Mule-y, but like the best Mule records, departs quite naturally from those sounds, too, leaning into soul, R&B, jazz, country and Americana. If you’re a Mule fan, you listen to a 12-song collection like this and you hear how kindly these tunes will nestle into the broader Mule repertoire, from the groovy soul of “Sarah, Surrender” to the band’s intense reworking of a nearly-100-year-old blues instrumental (“Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground”) that adds original lyrics.
Gov’t Mule kicked off an extensive year of touring back in March, and is just coming off a typically guest-dappled blowout in New Orleans. It’s one of the Mule’s busiest years in recent memory, though as usual, Haynes himself will balance Mule commitments with other pursuits, including the recent Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Tour. It’s all work or all family for ever-present Uncle Warren, who, as usual, was kind enough to talk with JamBase about the new Mule record, examine the overall Mule outlook and what’s evolved in the nine years of the current lineup, and share some thoughts on friends old and new, from Don Was and Col. Bruce Hampton to Gregg Allman and the late Butch Trucks.
JAMBASE: Revolution Come … Revolution Go. How does the process go these days for the planning of a Gov’t Mule album? How has it changed over the years?
WARREN HAYNES: Well, I think one of the things that changed for this record is that we had more time to prepare, and we were more prepared as a result. I’d written more songs going into the studio and prior to going into rehearsal than I had in awhile, and we also had the opportunity to do a lot of collaborating, a lot of rehearsing and a lot of writing on the bus. I think we also had about five days of pre-production with the band and with Gordie Johnson. We looked at about 22 songs, all told, and wound up recording 17.
JAMBASE: Is there a song here you think really captures Gov’t Mule in 2017? “Stone Cold Rage” sounds really Mule-y — that’s the best word I can think of for it. “Sarah, Surrender” is totally different, and also remarkable.
WH: “Sarah, Surrender” was the last song I wrote for the record. It was written after we had finished the sessions in Austin, and we were in New York doing the Beacon shows at the end of the year. We decided to just go into the studio to see what would happen, and it seemed like it added flavor to the record.
JAMBASE: Are you still a constant writer?
WH: I’ve actually never been a constant writer, in the sense that I can go months, three to four month periods without writing anything. But once I start back writing, you know, I’ll write two to three in a row and get back into a working mode. It goes in waves with me — maybe my system is on input for a while and on output for a while. It does scare me every time I go too long without writing, but I’ve never had a time when I couldn’t get it started again.
JAMBASE: Another one that jumps out is your version of “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground.” That’s an ancient song — it’s like 100 years old. How do you land on one of those?
WH: Well, I’ve always loved that song. A lot of blues enthusiasts, including myself, consider it one of the spookiest blues tunes in history. It really is. We were thinking as a band of taking some old and not necessarily blues songs, folk songs — kind of the way we did with “Railroad Boy” — and transforming them into rock songs, into Gov’t Mule songs. When I was listening to that one night, I thought, that could be the one. It’s an instrumental, and then the turning point was when I wrote some lyrics for the tune to help take it in a rock direction. That song we did during pre-production — it was born in the studio.
JAMBASE: You still spend so much of your year balancing commitments that require different music and different headspaces. It was Mule and the Allmans and Phil & Friends once upon a time, and more recently it’s been everything from your tours with Ashes & Dust to the Garcia Symphonic Celebrations to your recent Last Waltz anniversary shows. Has it gotten harder for you to balance all that, to switch back and forth throughout a touring year?
WH: No, I don’t think it’s gotten harder. It’s harder to be away from home and from my 5-year-old son. That’s the hard part now.
JAMBASE: We’re nine years now into the Jorgen Carlsson lineup of Gov’t Mule. I remember thinking back in 2008 and 2009 when he first joined that he was a pretty natural fit right off the bat, but obviously a band grows and develops at a deeper level over a decade. What’s something you can do now with the band that maybe you couldn’t do then?
WH: Well, it’s kind of an odd juxtaposition. Jorgen brought his own personality to the music, which in and of itself pushed us to go in different directions. But he also has this uncanny, Allen Woody-like instinct for playing rock ‘n’ roll, so he pushes us back toward what we sounded like when we started — in a good way. Col. Bruce Hampton would think it has something to do with the fact that Jorgen was born on October 2 and Woody was born on October 3. But there’s something that works as chemistry with the four of us, and thankfully we’ve had now all this time to build on it.
JAMBASE: What’s a direction you’ve never or only kind of a little bit taken the Mule that you guys would like to explore more?
WH: Well, I think there’s a lot left from the standpoint of exploring within our influences. We’ve already utilized a lot of them but we can take them in different directions and use them in different songs. I don’t think there are a lot of genres that would be influential on us that you haven’t seen in Mule in the past, but of the genres we love and the influences we bring to it, there are hundreds of ideas and thousands of sources.
JAMBASE: I’ll reframe the question more outside-in. You took time away from the Mule to focus on Ashes & Dust for some stretches over a two-year period, and explored that side of your musical personality. What did you bring back to Mule from that?
WH: Ashes & Dust was such a departure for me. It was such a joy to make that music. I’ve written songs like that all my life and before I’d never had the opportunity, or, rather, granted myself the opportunity, to record and play that. “Traveling Tune” [from Revolution Come … Revolution Go] could have been on Ashes & Dust. There are probably two or three songs on Ashes & Dust that could have been Mule songs. Every Mule record has a handful of songs that could go either way. There are some songs that are obviously Gov’t Mule songs, and some that are not.
Coincidentally, “Traveling Tune” and “Sarah, Surrender” were the last two songs for the record. “Traveling Tune” could have been on Ashes & Dust; “Sarah, Surrender” could have been on Man In Motion. It’s interesting to see, though, what happens when Gov’t Mule takes them on and what happens when we apply our collective personality.
JAMBASE: As the tour’s gotten underway this month you’ve been dusting off some less-played Mule tunes. I saw “Scenes From A Troubled Mind” in the setlist the other night.
WH: Right, and we played “My Separate Reality” for the first time in a long time, and “Nothing Again” for the first time in a long time. We’ve made a list of songs we want to bring back that we haven’t played much or haven’t played in a while. I don’t know if I want to divulge a lot of that, but it is songs like “Towering Fool,” which will make its way back. We’re also hoping to bring back “Life On the Outside,” which we haven’t played very much at all. But we’re excited. We’re on the other side now of 20 years as a band and there’s a lot we can do.
JAMBASE: You have the producer credit on the record along with Gordie Johnson and Don Was. Gordie and you go way back of course, but I wanted to ask what Don brought to the recording.
WH: He’s such a pro. He’s been involved in so many records, and his presence and vibe is so work-friendly and encouraging. That was important. He also makes a lot of suggestions: some of them major and some of them very subtle, and they’re always valuable, the commentary he makes on things like arrangements.
He and I have become close the last several years, and I feel very comfortable with him. This was the first time we’d gone into the studio together, so I was open to whatever was going to happen. The thing about him is, he comes out onto the floor. He wants to be in the room where you’re recording and he comes out and sits there with us while we’re playing and puts on headphones. I don’t remember any producer doing that since Tom Dowd when we worked together with The Allman Brothers, and he didn’t even do it that often. But that was the first thing Don said, “I’d like to come out and sit with the band. Is that OK?” And we were like, “Absolutely.” It just kind of worked out. We had asked Gordie to come work on this record, and he had some time available as well as days he couldn’t be there, and it just kind of worked out that Don’s schedule lined up on those days.
JAMBASE: Your longtime fans and observers know to expect the unexpected at a Mule show, whether it’s one or two sets, all the variation you guys try, the friends you bring up, the covers and surprises. Do you still enjoy this as much as you used to?
WH: Yeah. You know, it’s amazing: how you walk on stage and you get the feeling from the audience and you’re together with the band, and it just seems to work. Even if you’re tired, or under the weather, whatever the case may be, maybe you’re thinking tonight’s going to be tough, and then everything falls in line.
That’s not to say that every show is as good as the next one — we all know that’s not the case. It’s important for us to push ourselves, not just on the songs themselves, but by bringing back old material, writing new material, rearranging some of the songs, letting go of the reins, opening up some of the jams. It can get a little scary onstage in front of a large audience, but that’s why we do this. That’s what it’s all about.
JAMBASE: You told Rolling Stone recently that your time is spent either on work or family. I imagine as you go on there’ll be a time when you just don’t want to be on the road so much — is that time approaching?
WH: Well, it’s always approaching, depending on how far in the future you want to look. Right now, things are better than they’ve ever been from my career standpoint. I figure it will happen organically, when and how it’s supposed to.
JAMBASE: And you’ve got a busy year booked with the Mule, but just to confirm, Mule is the big priority for the next year to 18 months?
WH: Yeah, it always is the priority. Mule always takes precedent. When I was fortunate enough to have some of these other opportunities, it meant a lot of scheduling nightmares, but we had people in our camp making sure that everything was equally represented. All the different other camps, too, were easy to work with in most important ways, I guess — I’ve always been encouraged that people wanted to work together. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together: we people that have chosen music as a career path. We’re all accustomed to what the positives and negatives are, so when you get an opportunity to do something really cool, it’s nice to have people understand. And if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be.
JAMBASE: Matt, Danny and Jorgen are all bought for the long-term with Mule, as well?
WH: Oh, absolutely.
JAMBASE: Jumping around, you mentioned Col. Bruce, and by the time many people read this you’ll be about to play his 70th birthday celebration in Atlanta [tonight, May 1]. You’ve known the Colonel for a long time — thoughts on what he means and your role in this celebration?
WH: Col. Bruce is an actor that’s been playing this character his entirely life [laughs] no, I love the Colonel. He’s been a good friend and a good source of inspiration. I’m excited that everyone is going to get together and honor him on his birthday. He deserves it, and it’ll be an amazing night of music. I have a feeling, though, it won’t be for the faint of heart. It won’t be for sort of casual listeners who don’t like to be challenged by music!
JAMBASE: You recently played Wanee, and it was the first Wanee since Butch Trucks’ passing. I imagine it was heavy. What was your experience?
WH: It was really sad, but it was also nice to see all of the people that loved him. Wanee was Butch’s brainchild, you know — it was his idea to do it and The Allman Brothers played it, but the original concept came from him. Being there without him was tough.
JAMBASE: Last, Warren, you’re quoted in a few news reports about your recent Gregg Allman visit. Can you update us on his health?
WH: He’s resting at home, and he needs our positive thoughts.
Revolution Come. Revolution Go
Rock & roll has always been a reflection of the times, and the new Mule is no exception.