It has been a while since Gov’t Mule rolled through the Azalea City, but they could not resist visiting local fans for their 20th anniversary tour. They are also supporting their first studio album in four years.
“Shout!” is a big album in many ways. This double-disc introduces the listener to Mule’s latest batch of original material on the first disc. The second disc takes the first disc’s material and reworks each song with vocal collaborations from a versatile list of guests that range from Grace Potter to Dr. John.
Guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes chatted with Lagniappe about the new album, as well as his recent announcement that he would not be performing with the Allman Brothers Band after 2014.
SC: I’ll go ahead and ask this question and move on to other things. With the Allman Brothers being such a major facet of your career, how does it feel to be moving on?
WH: I think the public perception of what’s going on with the Allman Brothers is a little distorted and convoluted, because we haven’t come out with a press release from the entire band. Basically, the band is kind of winding down at the end of this coming year and it is something that we all have been talking about for the past several years. I think most of us feel like the 45th anniversary is the right time to stop touring. If something comes up in the future and we want to do it some more, then maybe we will. It’s a surprise to a lot of people, but not for us. We’ve been discussing it for years.
SC: “Shout!” is such a huge album in so many ways, and it’s unique. What made you want to take this album the way you did?
WH: We didn’t come up with the idea to make it a double-disc with all the guest vocalists, until we were midway through the recording process. It really started one song at a time. I started feeling like that it would be nice to have Dr. John sing on “Stoop So Low” and Elvis Costello sing on “Funny Little Tragedy” and Toots Hibbert sing on “Scared to Live.” The next thing we know, we started looking at it like why don’t we make this a whole project and do a bonus version of every song. I’m glad it went that way. It gives people not only more insight into the songs themselves, but also insight into what it is that a great singer does when they interpret a song. If you listen to the two versions, they’re completely different from each other. I’ve learned a lot from listening to the guest versions as far as interpreting my own songs.
SC: To my knowledge, this is the first time that this has ever been done. What did the label say when you came to them with this project?
WH: The last several records that we’ve made, we financed them ourselves. When we’re finished, we go to a handful of labels and see who’s most interested in forming some sort of partnership. Since I was dealing with Don Was at Blue Note for this record, he was extremely excited. He loved the record before he knew about the guest versions. Once he heard that, he was even more excited about it. He was a big support in helping me deal with some of the coordination and scheduling. It was great to have the label in our corner and not thinking we were going against the grain. That’s the reason that we’ve done things our own way recently, anyway. When we’re making a record, we want to feel like we’re making the record that we want to make and see if the label is excited after the fact.
SC: You’ve got such a versatile line-up of guests for this thing. You’ve got everyone from Jim James (My Morning Jacket) to Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple). What was the selection process like? Did you have someone in mind for each song?
WH: I sat down about 3 a.m. and looked at every song title. I just thought that in a perfect world who, other than myself, would I love to hear sing this song. I made a wish list and started making phone calls. Fortunately, most of these people are people that I’m already friends with or had some sort of working relationship with. So, it wasn’t so much of a stretch. At the same time, these are some of my absolute favorite singers. When I listen to the songs with them performing them, it reminds me of some of the influences that I’ve had and that we’ve all had through the years.
SC: What was it like going back and redoing these songs? Did they give their input?
WH: In some cases, we would go into the studio side-by-side and work on the stuff together. We did that with Elvis Costello, Grace Potter, Ben Harper, and a lot of the singers. There were times like with Dr. John and Steve Winwood that we couldn’t make it work within the timeframe before the deadline. So, I just sent them the songs and had them record their parts on their own. When they would come back, I would listen and go, “Wow! This is incredible!” It varied from song to song. In each case, I had multiple conversations with each singer and said, “You know, don’t concern yourself so much with how I sang it. Just sing it however you feel it.”
SC: To me, the first disc of “Shout!” brings that old school blues-rock vibe of 30 years ago and brings it into the modern age. What was it like writing the material for this one?
WH: Luckily, we had taken a year off, which I think allowed us to gain a lot of perspective on what kind of record that we wanted to do. I had been writing a lot of songs, and Danny (Louis) and I got together and wrote some songs. Then, the whole band got together and wrote some songs together. In each case, when we would work up a different song, it would seem to occupy its own space and not be too similar to the other songs and still work together. That’s the most you can hope for when you write an album. Sometimes, you write a bunch of songs, and you started second guessing whether they belong together or some of them are too similar or whatever the case may be. Each time we worked up a different song, it seemed to add to the whole picture. I think a lot of it is the cards falling into place.
SC: After you’re finished with the Allman Brothers this year, can we expect some new Mule or a new solo album?
WH: I think it’ll be both. I look forward to making another solo record, but it won’t be similar to the last one, which was “Man in Motion.” I think my next solo album will be coming from the singer-songwriter standpoint of what I do and have more acoustic instrumentation. I have a lot of songs that I’ve written that I’m dying to record, because they fall into that category. I’m also looking forward to the next Mule record. At this point, Mule will be touring for quite some time and recording into the future. The band is in such a great place right now, where we’re all getting along great in the band, collectively. We’ve been playing together wonderfully. We’re all excited about this tour, which happens to be the 20th anniversary.