Warren Haynes remains the rock'n'roll iron man, an inventive, versatile musician, singer and songwriter in high demand, whether it's with his Warren Haynes Band and Gov't Mule, the Allman Brothers Band, or various other outfits ranging from Frogwing to the Dead. Haynes' 2011 solo album, "Man In Motion," showcased the artist's more soulful, R&B leanings, but as an artist that has always charted his own course, Haynes' chameleonic nature suits both his creative impulses and his independent business model. In a rare break from the road, Haynes chats with Billboard about the vitality of rock and the challenges faced by young bands.
Billboard: Have you been hearing that rock is dead?
Haynes: Man, I've been hearing that for over 10 years, and I'm sure some elements of rock, particularly in the mainstream, appear to be deceased. But I think there are independent young bands that are going at it the right way and hopefully are bringing back a resurgence. There's no shortage of ticket sales for classic rock bands, but the marketplace is just so cram-packed with product that it's hard for a lot of things to find air. Unfortunately, as much as I hate to say it, in the case of rock music, the bar is very high. If you're going to be a rock'n'roll band you've got to compare yourself to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Stones, the Allmans, the Gratfeul Dead, and that's a high bar to contend with. I hear a lot of really cool young music that I hope will cause a new wave of excitement but I don't know that I hear a lot of stuff that competes with the greatest rock music ever made.
When you say bands "doing it the right way," what do you mean by that?
If you think back, rock music came about in the first place as underground music. The scene was happening on its own before the record companies even knew it existed, and in the beginning the labels and even radio didn't understand it they were just trying to jump on the bandwagon. The bands at that time were running blind and just doing exactly what they wanted to do, and it created a populist movement. I believe for really amazing music to come about in the modern day similar to that movement it will have to happen organically and not by second-guessing what they think people want to hear.
You've always operated outside the system. Do you even care about what's going on at radio or mainstream rock?
I've built my whole career making decisions based on what I thought was best for me and never trying to second-guess the public, which is a really dangerous thing because by the time you think you've figured out what the marketplace wants, it's ready to change again. I've been very fortunate, and I don't know if that's good advice for somebody else, but it's worked for me. I've never chased radio success and for the most have had very little, but my current solo record "Man In Motion" is doing quite well at radio. It's a little different from what I normally release, but again not trying to chase anything. I can only say the greatest rock music was made when people were making music strictly for themselves and like-minded individuals and not trying to second-guess the public.
When you play now with the Brothers, the Mule or solo, does it feel vital to you?
I think more so than ever. There's a lot of young people, 13- or 14-year olds even, that will come up to me after a Gov't Mule show and say, "tonight's my first Gov't Mule show," and we'll start talking and I'll realize they've just discovered Pink Floyd or Hendrix, and that music is affecting them the way it did us when we were kids, it's still that strong. I don't think the vitality of great rock music will every fade away, it will only get stronger. But in return it makes it harder for young bands to reach that bar.