Band performs in Lewiston on July 24
By Joshua Maloni
It's a safe bet many pre-1990 bands performing in Western New York this summer will have an established setlist, filled with songs five minutes or less in duration, taken from albums released pre-Clinton (Bill, not Hillary). Said tunes, while catchy, may or may not be relevant to the current sociopolitical climate.
Such a program is safe - tried and true, and easy to stage on a nightly basis.
Gov't Mule's not having any of that, instead thumbing its nose at such presentations.
The Warren Haynes-led band released a new album last year - a record that speaks to the divide in America, while also offering cuts that satisfy today's rock 'n' roll, blues and country music fans.
When these and other songs are performed on the Artpark Amphitheatre stage next week, brevity will be thrown out the window. Gov't Mule will let the music lead - for however long it takes to perform each number.
Haynes, who was a part of The Allman Brothers Band before starting Gov't Mule, has recently stated in interviews that he believes other musical acts in his genre are missing the boat. These artists are oblivious or indifferent to today's issues. And while Haynes isn't advocating for red and blue state battles, he recognizes unrest often leads to creative inspiration - just like it did in the 1960s and '70s. Music as art can bridge the gap between peoples and motivate listeners to seek positive change.
A lauded guitar player, Haynes also is a solid interview subject, offering intelligent, succinct answers. He chatted with NFP on Wednesday. An edited Q&A follows.
Warren Haynes at Artpark (File photo)
Q: In this day and age, everyone is somewhat reluctant to release albums, because it's not as easy to make them, to finance them, to put them out, to find an audience. And, you know, somebody that has had such an accomplished career as you, a lot of your contemporaries are just content to sit back on their laurels - they're happy to just play hits all night and not worry about making new music. I'm wondering, what was the appeal for you in making "Revolution Come ... Revolution Go"?
Warren Haynes: Well, that was actually the first studio record that we've made since celebrating our 20th anniversary as a band. And so, we were kind of looking at it as a new chapter. You know, we spent a lot of the time in between albums thinking about what kind of record we would make, because we had taken not really a hiatus, but we were all doing different projects. And so, we had taken a break from Gov't Mule. And when we got back together, we had a fresh perspective based on all the time apart, and all the fresh energy that you bring from one project to another.
One of the things that we talked about was going back to the beginning of Gov't Mule and visiting our earliest roots, but also going in some directions that we had never gone as a band. You know, maybe some of these influences had found their way onto the stage, but never into the studio before. So, there are a few songs, like "Traveling Tune" and "Sarah, Surrender," that are kind of different than anything we've recorded in the past. But, if you go album by album by album, each record kind of leads you to what might be coming next for us.
Because we love so many different types of music, it's important to us to utilize as many of those influences as possible. And just looking at the fact that we made it past the 20-year mark as a band, that's pretty incredible, and we were using that as license to kind of look at things through a different lens.
Gov't Mule started as a side project with no intentions of making a second record, much less a 10th record. And so, we just got to take it a step at a time, and do what feels right at the time.
Q: Some of these songs also talk about the divide in this country. It's obviously a very tumultuous time. You said in other interviews that some of the best music - if you go back historically - has come at similar times, when the country has gone through unrest. And you've talked about how you feel a lot of musicians are sort of missing an opportunity to tap into that spirit and make music. You guys didn't; you took advantage of it.
It's my understanding this record has really resonated with your fans and resonated with the audiences. And I'm wondering if that surprises you, in light of the fact that so many bands are not doing that today?
Warren Haynes: Well, I was very pleasantly surprised with how our audience connected with the new material right off the bat, when we were first starting to perform it live. Because playing new material with any band, especially a band that's been around as long as we have, it is quite a challenge. ... You don't want to play too many new songs over the course of a night, where people lose interest in the kind of celebratory aspect of the evening, which is people are coming out to have a good time and hear songs that they know. So, a lot of artists face that same challenge, or I guess every band - every artist - faces that challenge to various extents.
We actually have always been lucky that way, that our audience is kind of waiting for the new material and happy when it comes, and has always been very encouraging and seems to receive it well. But in this case even more so, I think.
Q: You guys have such a freedom on stage; you just sort of go where the music takes you. What do you like about that? What do you think your fans appreciate about the fact that, when you get up on stage, you're not as robotic as a lot of other bands?
Warren Haynes: Well, you know, we do a different setlist every night. Whenever we come back to a certain market or city, we look and see what we played the last time we were there and the time before that, and make sure that the show is completely different.
But the way we approach the music on stage is a little different than the norm, as well, in the way that it's very improvisational. And even the approaches to some of the same songs varies night after night.
You know, we're very influenced by a jazz philosophy, even though we're predominantly a rock 'n' roll band. I think that we've been lucky in a way that, from the beginning of Gov't Mule, we just kind of created an audience of likeminded people - people that look at music the same way we do, and take it as seriously as we do. I think a large part of our audience is made up of people who look at music as being a very important part of their lives. And we're lucky to have that kind of audience that will kind of go on this journey with us and be curious to see where it's gonna go.
You know, when I go to a show, I like to see something that's never happened before and is never going to happen again. And that's what we try to give our audience. And I think it has a lot to do with why a lot of people keep coming back to the shows.
Q: You guys have a very dedicated fanbase, and you will have a lot of people come out to see you next week that have seen you at Artpark before. But there's also a lot of people that are coming out to see you - to hear you sing, and to hear you play guitar.
We know that you are a guitar legend. How do you view yourself as a guitarist? Does that kind of a title have meaning for you? I'm sure you're flattered by it, but what do you think of yourself? How do you view yourself in the pantheon of guitarists?
Warren Haynes: Well, I think it's wonderful that some music fans listen to our music the way that I listen to the music that I learned from, and then have that same sort of appreciation for the music that I grew up studying.
You know, it's an interesting question, because, I mean, A) I think I'm too young to be a legend (laughs), but I don't know if I would be comfortable with that terminology regardless of what age I was. It makes me think of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" or something.
I love the fact that people are as serious about our music, and the other music that our audience loves, as we all were about the music that we took seriously growing up. I think it speaks largely to how many people there are these days that don't want to be force-fed homogenized, commercial music. There are a lot of people - and our audience is very indicative of this - that don't mind working a little harder to find music that they love, because it means that much to them. As opposed to just turning on the radio or whatever outlet and accepting what you're being given.
Q: We're going to see Lucas Nelson & Promise of the Real before you guys take the stage. What can you tell me about that act?
Warren Haynes: Well, they're great. We love those guys. I've known Lucas quite some time, and we toured together in Australia recently. And we're looking forward to the shows that we're going to do in the states.
They have a great band. Lucas - great singer, great guitar player; and I love the direction that he's going in right now. And it was interesting to watch them night after night when we were on tour together and see that they're kind of bucking the system themselves. I love the fact that they're just carving out their own niche and doing what's in their hearts. Because, I think, if more artists did that, instead of trying to second-guess the marketplace, then the music scene would be better, and the bar would be higher.
Gov't Mule performs as part of the July 24 "Tuesdays in the Park" concert at Artpark, 450 S. Fourth St., Lewiston. The show begins at 6:30 p.m. with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. For tickets, visit www.artpark.net.