Q&A With Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes

Three years after the August 2000 death of founding member Allen Woody, Gov't Mule marks the end of an era -- and the start of a new one -- with the Oct. 7 release of "The Deepest End." The two-CD/DVD

Three years after the August 2000 death of founding member Allen Woody, Gov't Mule marks the end of an era -- and the start of a new one -- with the Oct. 7 release of "The Deepest End." The two-CD/DVD set documents a May 3 performance at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans, a nearly six-hour show featuring the band -- founded as a side project by then-Allman Brothers Band members Woody and Warren Haynes with drummer Matt Abts -- and 25 guest musicians, 13 of them bass players.

The guest-filled concert stemmed from the two-volume album releases of the same name, which were recorded in tribute of Woody. Among those who joined the Mule onstage were former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, Phish's Mike Gordon, Bela Fleck, Les Claypool, P-Funk's Bernie Worrell, Widespread Panic's Dave Schools and Deep Purple's Roger Glover.

Gov't Mule has also announced Woody's permanent replacement on bass: Andy Hess, who has performed with the Black Crowes, Joan Osborne and John Scofield, among others. A fall tour featuring Hess and keyboardist Danny Louis, who has been playing with the band for about a year, begins Oct. 3 at the Backyard in Austin, Texas.

Haynes recently spoke to Billboard for an article that appears in the Sept. 20 issue. In the full Q&A below, exclusive to Billboard.com, he discusses about "The Deepest End" and the three eventful years since Woody's untimely passing.

The "Deepest End" release and naming a permanent bass player signify the end of an era for the group.

The end and the beginning.

It's been three years since Allen passed...

And it doesn't seem like it. We've definitely done a lot of work and accomplished a lot during that time period, but it's time for us to think about being a real band again. The fall tour, which starts in October, is going to be with the new bass player, and it's going to be as a band.

Obviously, any and all of the special guests that have worked with us in the past two to three years are always welcome. But we just want to get back to being a "real" band again. The way I look at it is, as much fun as it's been working with all of these people and as much of a great learning experience this has been, it's going to be somewhat liberating to graduate past that actually be a band again.

Has it changed the way you play, with so many different people in the group from one song to the next, let alone one night to the next?

Working with a lot of these cats that are just legends, just that in itself is an experience. But then, musically, we always try to keep our ears open to wherever the music wants to go, and all these people are legends for a reason. They all have extremely strong musical personalities. So instead of doing the norm for us, which would be to try and drive the train the way we want it to go, we really found ourselves listening a lot more and wanting to see where these people would take it. Learning from the music in that way, you know?

And what we found was that all these influences that we're always had through the years came out in larger doses, in some cases, than we had ever experienced. We travel a little further down certain roads than we ever had in the past, be it the funk road with Bootsy Collins or the straight-up jazz road with Alphonso Johnson playing upright bass, or the Appalachian road with Phil Lesh and David Grisman. All these things are influences we've always had, but we may not have gone down that road before.

So that was a nice thing. But just being in such a vulnerable state after losing one of your best friends and a huge part of the sound of our band, and all of a sudden replacing that, filling that void with all of these wonderful musicians who, in most cases, were influences on us, it was just a very emotional time, and very much a transitional state; you could just feel change happening all the time. As musicians, if we open ourselves up to that, it's a great learning experience and you come out on the other end recharged.

Gov't Mule has experienced quite an evolution, from its birth as an Allman Brothers side project playing club dates to a full-on band with dozens of superstar guests sitting in.

It doesn't feel like nine years; a lot of it just rushes by. When Woody was alive, we were probably doing around 200 [dates per year]. The last couple of years, maybe not quite so many, but still well over 100. It's a lot, but live is where we thrive. That's what propels the band.

I feel like every tour we do we reach new heights, and then that becomes point A and we have to start from there. Whenever we look backwards and listen to tapes from a year, two, three or five years ago, we always find interesting stuff, but we always go 'We're much better today.' But every live band that thrives on the live performance feels that way; it's a constant growing experience. Although it is fun, sometimes you go back and listen to tapes from the first few years and try and remember what was going on in our heads at the time.

We did the One For Woody concert, the benefit, at Roseland [Ballroom, New York, September 2000]. That was largely thanks to Dave Schools [of Widespread Panic]. He volunteered to step in and do that. Then Dave was such a big part of letting us keep it together without forcing us. Dave is just such a sweetheart, he said "Hey, I know what you're going through, I understand if you don't feel like doing anything, but meanwhile I'm going to be learning all your songs. If you need me, I'm here." It was such a wonderful thing.

Dave's like part of the family now. He and Woody were really close, and he and I have always been close, but we're much closer now than we've ever been. He, along with a few other people like Oteil [Burbridge, the Allman Brothers Band] were just instrumental in keeping this whole thing alive.

It took several months for us to start looking at it in a positive way like we wanted to keep the band together. Our first impression was, "That's the end." We got a lot of responses, not only from people in the business and people we respect, but from people who had been through similar situations.

Obviously, the guys in the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead have been through it many, many times. We're really close with Blues Traveler, and they had lost Bobby Sheehen. Woody and I had become pretty close with some of the guys in Metallica, and I got a phone call from James Hetfield talking about losing Cliff Burton. I got a call from Leslie West talking about losing Felix Pappalardi; and I got this really nice letter from Dave Grohl talking about losing Kurt Cobain. All of a sudden, I started to realize that the pain I'm feeling is not as unique as I'm making it out to be, that other people have not only gone through it but, in some ways, achieved bigger and better things on the other end.

You realize that that's based on all the momentum you've created with this person who's no longer there, and it starts painting a whole different picture. You start thinking, maybe we owe it to ourselves to keep it going.

Gov't Mule is really Allen Woody's legacy, because although he achieved some amazing things in the Allman Brothers, neither one of us were original members. Where, in Gov't Mule we started it from the ground floor and built it into what it became. We really needed to keep that going, I think.

The most poignant revelation that I had was when it finally dawned on me that the only reason that Allen Woody and I had ever met and even knew each other in the first place was because the Allman Brothers decided to continue after losing Duane Allman and Berry Oakley. Otherwise, Woody and I would never have crossed paths. And when that dawned on me, I thought 'We've got to keep this together, and we've got to start looking at it in a different way.'

What will the next nine years, or the next two years, bring?

I know that we want to get in the studio next year and make a studio record as a band. I know we want to continue, for Gov't Mule to grow, hopefully exponentially. It feels like now's the time for us to really start moving forward at a whole new pace. The past three years have gotten less and less foggy, and now we're starting to see the future a little more clearly; and realize there's something special about what we do and that we need to keep it together. For whatever people are interested in what we do, we need to keep it going.