The Core: Warren Haynes on Touring Dark Side of the Mule, The Avett Brothers and More
The Gov’t Mule guitarist offers an inside look at the band’s tour with The Avett Brothers and The Magpie Salute, his latest batch of Allman Brothers Band covers and why the Revolution is far from over.
OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE SCENE
This summer, we are going to be part of an interesting package with The Avett Brothers and The Magpie Salute. We were looking for something fun and different to do this year, and just thought it would make for a good night of music. Each band has their own fans and is coming from their own place, which will keep the night interesting, but there is an overlap—a common ground— among all three bands in the way that we all appeal to the same type of music lovers. And there will be a number of possibilities [to collaborate].
I go pretty far back with The Avett Brothers. We’re all from North Carolina, so there’s that connection—a kinship based around the whole regional, Appalachian musical language. We hit it off right off the bat. We’ve played together a handful of times, and they have done Christmas Jam a few times. We also did a Garcia tribute together not too long ago. [Haynes performed with The Avett Brothers during Dear Jerry: Let’s Play 2, a two-night Jerry Garcia celebration held in October 2016.] Initially, I was only going to join them for a few songs and then it turned into: “Why don’t you just do the whole set with us?” So we had some rehearsals, did the show and that allowed us to get to know each other a little better onstage. Of course, interpreting that music is something everybody does a little bit differently, which is for the best. Jerry Garcia started out playing the banjo, and was a huge proponent of folk music and bluegrass music. And that’s one of the key elements of The Avett Brothers’ music as well. The Avetts and Gov’t Mule each have one foot in the jamband world and one foot in another world, although we are coming from opposite sides.
The Magpie Salute and Gov’t Mule did a show in Holland [in 2017] and that was an opportunity for me to see them live. I really enjoyed the set, and their connection to the European audience was really strong and immediate. I thought, “We should do some stuff together.” We talked about playing either in Europe or in the States and, as it turns out, we’re gonna be doing shows in America together, both with The Avett Brothers and Lukas Nelson.
“DARK SIDE OF THE MULE”
Most of our fans, and your readers, know that on Halloween and New Year’s Eve we do these thematic shows where we play somebody else’s music or a set of songs related to a special theme. And 10 years ago on Halloween, we did a second set of Pink Floyd songs at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. I intended for it to be a onetime thing, but we recorded and released it as Dark Side of the Mule [in 2014]. We chose that name because it was a play on words, not to indicate that we were going to play Dark Side of the Moon, though a lot of the songs we played did come from that album. We did a “Dark Side of the Mule” set again five years later at Mountain Jam and now, 10 years later, we’ve had so much encouragement from our fans that we are going to do an actual tour—albeit a short one—bringing it to different parts of the country. It’s gonna be a blast because it’ll be the first time we’ve ever done “Dark Side of the Mule” as more than a one-off. We added a track or two for Mountain Jam, and we are going to add a few more songs this summer so that we can make our set a little bit different every night and vary it up as much as it makes sense to on the short tour. Every night, the show will start out with a healthy portion of Mule songs and then morph into “Dark Side of the Mule.”
STANDOUT SPRING SIT-INS
Our history with [harmonica player and recent Mule guest] Hook Herrera goes all the way back to the beginning of Gov’t Mule: He sat in and played harmonica with us during the first show we ever played—Los Angeles in 1994. He played on our first record, he played on our third record, and he and [drummer Matt Abts] went to Moscow together for a few weeks. So he’s drifted in and out of our world over the years. We don’t get to see him or play with him very often because he lives in Europe and, since he was going to be here [in the States] for a week or so this spring, we decided to pull him into the fold, which allowed us to play some blues, which is always fun. But I also wanted to shake it up and do some stuff that wasn’t blues-oriented. We did a couple of Los Lobos tunes—“Tears of God” and “River of Fools”—and we did stuff like John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.” So it’s a nice opportunity to play a few covers and some of the original stuff that he helped us with, like “Bad Little Doggie” and “I Think You Know What I Mean.” He recorded both of those songs with us, so it was fun to go back to the way that they originally sounded with his harmonica.
Don Was and I have become good friends over the past few years and we were both part of The Last Waltz 40 tour. We really enjoy playing together. He spends more time as a producer than he does as a player these days so it’s always a lot of fun for him to jump onstage and kind of express himself that way. After doing a bunch of shows together, it made sense for Gov’t Mule to pull him in to co-produce some of our new record. We really enjoyed working with him in the studio and look forward to doing that again.
A HEALTHY BREAK
We released Revolution Come… Revolution Go about a year ago, and the songs are starting to take on new shapes on the road. They sound different every night and are growing over time; it’s fun to see where they wind up. One of the things I’m really looking forward to is playing some of the bonus material that was only available on the deluxe CD. There are three songs we haven’t played yet from the deluxe CD, and there are two songs that we recorded which were just released on a vinyl single for Record Store Day. So I’m looking forward to working those into the live performances as well. We’ve gradually worked all the new material into the show, and those are the last ones to be added into the fold.
Taking some time apart after we did [2013’s] Shout! was a really healthy thing for us. Everybody did different projects during the interim and, whenever we regroup after those breaks, things always have a way of coming together in a new, unique sort of fashion. Everybody was really happy to be playing together again and writing together again. Since we passed the 20-year mark [in 2014], we’ve started to look at the future as an open slate to just do whatever we feel like doing and spend a lot more time together—we did a lot more writing and rehearsing for this record than we have in quite some time. And a lot of great songs came out of that. We’ve spent weeks working on songs like “Thorns of Life” and “Revolution Come…Revolution Go,” getting them to the point where they were ready to record. It helped us in that we had about 21 songs to choose from in the studio, and we wound up recording 15 or 16 of them. It’s nice to have that luxury because making the best album is not always just picking the 10 or 12 best songs; it’s picking the ones that work together the best and that create a flow and that are different enough from each other to maintain a listener’s interest. So, sometimes, if there’s a couple of songs that are similar to each other, one might make it on this record and one might make it on the next one.
OF BANDS AND BROTHERS
We’re starting to think about the next [Mule] project. It’s nice to have a project to write for: If there’s an album on the horizon, then I’ve always got that project in the front of my mind when I’m envisioning my songs. That’s the first step, and we will see where it’s going. But I’m writing throughout the entire year to varying degrees, regardless of whether there’s a project going on or not. So, if there isn’t a pending project, then I’m just writing whatever comes to mind. And that’s a good thing too, because I have a lot of different ways to express myself and outlets that I can pursue. Writing for a band like Gov’t Mule or the Allman Brothers Band makes you think about the strengths of that band, specifically, that you’re writing for.
[In terms of playing songs from the Allman Brothers catalog], I feel that keeping their music alive is very important. There are tons of bands who are helping keep that music alive—and it’s gonna remain vital regardless because of the important role that it played in rock-music history and the history of the jamband scene. But, being connected to it the way that I am, it’s an interesting challenge to see which ones we can interpret in our own way, while paying tribute to the legacy at the same time. It just seems appropriate. It’s gonna be fun to play after Dickey [during Peach Fest]. I’m really looking forward to it and I’m glad he made the decision to start touring again. I’m looking forward to hearing that band and possibly doing some playing together.
This article originally appears in the July/August 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.