Warren Haynes Discusses His Grateful Dead Tribute Show and Gov't Mule's Star-Studded New Album, 'Shout!'
As a guitarist, do you still feel like you have something to prove? Does being so well established give you license to not burn on a song?
I think on this album you probably get more different angles of my guitar playing, which is just a reflection of the diversity of the songs and what they demand of the guitar player. I’ve never believed in forcing myself on the song. There has to be a balance between respecting the song and inflicting your personality upon it.
Danny Louis played the [guitar] solo on “Funny Little Tragedy,” because what he played was more appropriate than anything I would have come up with, because his style is more aligned with that genre. We recorded that live, and his solo is off the cuff. I’m playing a PRS baritone guitar on the left side, and Danny’s playing a Strat on the right side. I caught him off guard by looking at him and saying, “Danny Louis,” and having him solo.
Is there more baritone guitar on this album than on your previous releases?
Yes. It’s also the primary guitar on “No Reward” and “Scared to Live.” The funny thing is, after we finished these sessions, we flew down to Little Rock for a festival and Staind were on the bill. We were on the same flight back and I ended up sitting next to the guitarist, Mike Mushok. We started talking shop and I told him about this, and he goes, “That’s my signature guitar!” I only knew it was a PRS baritone. Small world.
What else did you play?
“World Boss” is an Epiphone solidbody that was hanging in the studio that I tuned down a half step. “Forsaken Savior” is my 1961 335 with a capo on the second fret. “Done Got Wise” is the most interesting song. I wrote it with a guitar tuned to an E7 tuning that I discovered by mistake. I was trying to tune to an open E and had not yet tuned the D string to an E. I started playing and it sounded really cool. Jorgen was sitting across from me and I started playing a bunch of slide chordal ideas in this crazy tuning, and it sounded really cool. So for the recording, I tuned an Epiphone 12-string to E7.
It’s very bizarre and has a very Zeppelin-y sound, but to the best of my knowledge [Jimmy] Page never used that—nor did anyone else that I’m aware of. As a result, I had to overdub the solo. It would have been impossible to improvise a solo in that tuning. It made it fun to play a solo. I had to listen really closely because the dominant seven in every chord had its own melodic slant I had to work around. It was a cool challenge. Other than that, there’s a lot of my signature Les Paul on the record.
Yet your guitar sound is different.
Most of the guitar sounds are my 1969 100-watt Marshall “Plexi” that I haven’t used in a long, long time. We basically set up a cool clean sound with it and a cool dirty sound. We still used my Diaz for some of the more Fendery-sounding stuff and a Super Reverb in a couple of places.
I usually go in with a bunch of amps, run them all together, mic them and decide what’s working and what isn’t so we can audition them as we’re going song for song. This array usually includes a small amp like a Fender Pro Jr. or a Gibson Skylark, sometimes at my feet like a monitor. The 4x12 cab is usually in another room, but on the stuff where I’m getting feedback and playing long solos live on the track, I had it in the room behind me, and it was so loud I had to keep cranking the headphones up to get the band up above the Marshall. You need to have the feedback on your back if you’re going to manipulate it.
It’s rather amazing that you play most of your solos live on the rhythm tracks.
Every time we do a record I think, Next time I will overdub more so I can experiment more. But I always end up keeping the solos that I play with the band, because that’s ultimately what I prefer: the interplay among all of us. As much as I love the challenge of playing differently, the collective improv thing always seems to win out.
I did overdub a few solos, but the chemistry that I have with Matt, Jorgen and Danny is based on collective call and response. We’re all listening in a way that’s very jazz-like, and all four of us are always basing what we play on what someone else plays, so every take and live performance of a song will be different. We take that approach even with some of the simpler chord structures because I just find it more satisfying than everyone finding a part and sticking to it. The music I grew up loving was played that way, and it didn’t begin to change until the mid Seventies, which I think was to its detriment, because there was so much beautiful music made by taking that everyone-listening-to-everyone approach.
It’s been four years since the last Gov’t Mule album. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Do you think that all factored into this album sounding quite different from anything you’ve done?
A lot of factors played into the final result. We allowed ourselves to take a hiatus, and that year off helped us gain some perspective, look back on everything we’ve done and figure out what kind of record we wanted to make. This is our most diverse record, and I don’t think we could have done it 10 years ago.
Each song we brought to the table had it its own personality; it sounded like Gov’t Mule but didn’t sound like anything we had ever done, which helped the overall flow and kept the process moving forward. Next year we are celebrating our 20th anniversary, so I think it’s appropriate to shine a light on as many influences as possible and how much we’ve grown over the years. It took this long to have a license to release something this diverse.
Why did it take so long?
If this was our first or second album, it might be construed as too wide of a turn, but I think it makes perfect sense given the whole trajectory of the band. A lot of artists don’t take the risk of spreading themselves too thin because they’re worried that their audience won’t be accepting. With Gov’t Mule and myself, people knew from the start to expect the unexpected. And I think each record we’ve done has gone a little farther down that path.
Photo: Ken Settle/Atlas Icons