Singer/songwriter/guitarist Warren Haynes is rock 'n roll's iron man. A maverick on both the business and creative sides of his career, Haynes splits duties as integral players in both the Allman Brothers Band and the Dead with his own hard-touring outfit, Gov't Mule, and occasionally finds time to offer up fruits from a well-received solo career.
Haynes is often, as he puts it, "stepping off one tour bus and onto another," and is out with all three bands this year. Gov't Mule will also release its eighth studio record, "By A Thread," in October. Recorded at Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studio in Texas, "By A Thread" comes on Evil Teen records, the indie label owned by Haynes and his wife/manager Stefani Scamardo, and distributed by RED.
Like his other gigs, along with the philosophy of kindred spirit bands in the improv rock scene, Gov't Mule is known for varying shows each night, and the popularity of such diverse performances have led to nearly two million paid downloads through the band's Mule Tracks site.
Haynes began his national touring career as a young guitar slinger in David Allan Coe's band in the early 1980s. He became a permanent addition to the legendary Allman Brothers Band in 1989, formed Gov't Mule in '94, and began playing with the various projects of members of the Dead in the late '90s. A ferocious and innovative guitar player and soulful vocalist, Haynes in demand for stages ranging from intimate theaters to massive festivals.
On the phone before yet another show (this one by the Mule) at Charlotte's new Fillmore, Haynes is affable and keenly perceptive as he discusses touring, recording, the music business and why it's good to be able to actually play live music.
Billboard: What is Gov't Mule's dynamic in the studio?
Warren Haynes: We actually are one of those bands that doesn't record conventionally. We set up in the studio live and play just like we normally do. Then we usually go back and overdub the vocals, and if there's something else we want to add, we do. We're kind of allergic to the normal methods of recording, where you record one instrument at a time. We feel like the kind of music we love benefits from a more old school approach. We're all standing in the same room, playing at the same time
What was it like recording "By a Thread" in Willie Nelson's studio?
We did [2006's] "High and Mighty" there too -- we really like it. He's got great equipment, but we love the atmosphere, too. It's a very unpretentious sort of vibe. Gordy Johnson, the engineer/co-producer we've worked with on the last couple of records, has such a fresh approach to recording that it's really led us to be more open-minded about things. We're trying a lot of stuff we might not normally try just because we love working with him.
How did your collaboration with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons on the song "Broke Down on the Brazos" come about?
That was the last song we wrote and recorded for the CD, and when we listened back to it we thought, "Wow, it's kinda got an old school, early-ZZ Top vibe about it." We sent him the track and he loved it. I flew to L.A. and sat in a room with Billy, and we overdubbed our guitars at the same time because I wanted us to be staring each other in the face when we did it. He was so amazing and added so much to the track that it's hard to think of it without him now.