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| 20 August 2015 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Despite having every reason to sing his own praises, Warren Haynes is remarkably quiet by rock star standards. Softly spoken and very humble and down to earth, he seems genuinely flattered when praised, despite a career which has seen him play for acts as legendary as The Allman Brothers, Govt Mule and The Dead.

Warren Haynes 01

With a new solo album, Ashes & Dust, under his belt, Haynes has stepped out of his own comfort zone and produced an album that focuses on acoustic songs with a rootsy, Americana feel. To make that happen he drafted in Railroad Earth, a band from Stillwater, New Jersey who Haynes had jammed live with in the past.

With rumours of a possible visit Down Under in 2016, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE got Warren Haynes on the line to tell us how Ashes & Dust came to be.
100% ROCK: Warren, thank you very much for time today, man. I’m sure you’re very busy at the moment.

Warren: My pleasure, no worries.

100% ROCK: How has the response been to the album? It’s an amazing piece of work. I really enjoyed it.

Warren: Thank you. So far it’s been great. You know, I think it’s quite a departure from [my usual work]… some people may be a bit surprised by it. Everyone seems to be reacting very positively to it and I’m very proud of it. I think it turned out really great and so hopefully that’s a good indication.

100% ROCK: Well it is a bit of a departure, I guess, and I read somewhere that you’ve been accumulating some of these songs over the past 30 years. Why do you think you didn’t make an album like this, this mellower sort of album in the past?

Warren: Well you know, joining The Allman Brothers in 1989, and then starting Govt. Mule in 1994, I did a solo record in ‘92. Since ‘89 I’ve been kind of extremely busy doing all the things that I love and pursuing these amazing opportunities – working with The Allman Brothers, working with Govt. Mule, working with the guys from the Grateful Dead [as The Dead] and all these other projects that I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of. Probably the past 6 or 7 years I’ve been thinking about making a record like this but it took until now for it to make sense. Maybe that’s for the better. Maybe people will embrace it more than they would’ve 10 years ago… I don’t know, but I know that I feel really grateful that I’ve had the experiences and the opportunities that I’ve had the past 25 years – but they kept me busy for sure.

Warren Haynes - Ashes & Dust cover

100% ROCK: Oh, absolutely. And listening to the album, it sounds perfectly natural, it sounds very YOU, even though it’s a departure sonically, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that you must play that way [acoustically] by yourself, perhaps off stage and away from those other bands.

Warren: Yeah, anyone who’s seen or heard one of my solo performances has experienced this side of me. Even my Live From Bonnaroo album [released 2004] has the same kind of feeling, but this time I was able to do it with other instrumentation and I think adding all the acoustic instruments and upright bass, kind of helps accentuate that side of my personality. But you’re exactly right: when I sit at home or on the tour bus and pick up an acoustic guitar and sing a song, the first thing that comes to my mind is one of these kind of songs that I spent a large part of my life doing and I’ve been writing these kind of songs all my life, probably since I was 14 years old.

100% ROCK: In part the album brought to my mind that great Robert Plant/Alison Krauss album, Raising Sand. It has that Americana feel to it that operates in that little cross-over of bluegrass and country and the blues and early rock n’ roll. Is there a snobbery or a rivalry between blues purists and Americana/roots purists at all?

Warren: I don’t think so. I think most people that are purists about roots music tend to embrace all roots music and it’s only the intentionally sell-out sort of pop, watered down music that they look down upon. I could be wrong, I’m sure there are some people that willingly possess more snobbery than that, but I have a lot of friends that are somewhat purists in the roots world and they all embrace anything that has legitimacy, you know. And most of the people that I work with and hang out with have quite a diverse array of tastes and I think that’s pretty common really. You know you would be amazed how somebody who plays blues or jazz may also love reggae music or folk music or, you know, rhythm and blues – whatever the case may be, because I think anything that has that real soul is kind of obvious and people get it.

100% ROCK: Yeah, I agree. My tastes are extremely eclectic, everything from heavy metal right through to pop and soul and everything in between, so it’s all about good music you know – good music is good music.

Warren: Yeah, absolutely, and I don’t think there should be boundaries. And when people ask me for advice, like young musicians, I always tell them: ‘don’t discriminate, listen to every kind of music and try and find the best in every kind of music and that will help you figure out who you are.’

Warren Haynes 02

100% ROCK: And also, you know, you’re not going to create an individual style if all you listen to is AC/DC or all you listen to is Muddy Waters or whatever. You have to get different influences don’t you?

Warren: It’s funny you should say that because I think BB King actually was quoted as saying that every great musician had at least one influence that you wouldn’t expect and the interviewer said, ‘oh, well what was yours?’ and he said Django Reinhart!

100% ROCK: Wow. You played with BB a couple of times on stage didn’t you?

Warren: I did. I was lucky enough to know him a little bit and played with him a few times and he was just a true giant and I was proud to know him.

100% ROCK: When you’re putting all these songs together – and as I said some of these songs date back three decades – is it hard to make them sound cohesive as an album?

Warren: Well we recorded about 30 songs, and I basically picked the 13 that I felt worked the best together, and part of that is also songs that work together but don’t sound too similar to each other, so I think there will be at least one follow-up record in the same direction, and some of the songs will be similar and some will be different. But that was a major concern – it’s like, ‘oh let’s pick one albums worth of material that seems to make a cohesive statement,’ and I still look at albums as being conceptual, you know? I’m not one of these track-by-track guys. Every great album that I grew up listening to had a personality of its own.

100% ROCK: The band you’ve got on board for this album, Railroad Earth, how did you hook up with them?

Warren: Well I’ve known ‘bout them probably for six or seven years, and then somewhere around that time they opened a show for The Allman Brothers, who were playing at Red Rocks in Colorado, and they were the opening act. I heard the set and really liked it and then we played together a few times and I felt like there was a nice chemistry and then I invited them to join me in a show that I was going to be doing as a solo performance, and I had some of the guys join me on a few songs and it was really cool. It kind of went into a nice direction that we all could feel was very natural and organic. I thought maybe this would be the way to approach my next record.

100% ROCK: You must have some kind of crazy musical memory. You’ve played with all these different people and when you’re doing especially the Govt. Mule gigs, you play for a couple of hours and your sets are never the same. How do you keep all that information in your head?

Warren: Well I seem to have a good memory but I think also that part of it is we’re not trying to play anything exactly a certain way you know. It’s not about achieving perfection, it’s about trying to achieve some organic natural sort of take on the music and sometimes it can include a few mistakes or wrong notes, you know. All natural music definitely does!

Warren Haynes 03

100% ROCK: And Grace Potter does a great job on Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman. What was it about that song that you thought would fit her so well?

Warren: Well we did it first time several years ago. We’ve done it several times since as well. We were just kicking around a few ideas about songs that might be fun to do together. She was the opening act for Govt. Mule a few years back and somehow we came up with Gold Dust Woman and loved performing it. I’ve always loved that song but I don’t think I would ever have recorded it in normal way. I think having the opportunity to do it with an Americana acoustic sort of approach made sense to me, and when I talked to Grace about that she said, ‘yeah we should definitely do it.’ It honours the original version but it also takes it into a different place.

100% ROCK: It’s just such a great version of the song. I was listening to it the first time and thinking, ‘it’s Gold Dust Woman – it has to be the Fleetwood Mac song…!’ but it was transformed. I thought it was very much a Warrren Haynes song first off.

Warren: Yeah we stretched it out and allowed it to have some sort of improvisational life, you know, and I think it was cool because one of the signs of a great song is that you can interpret in so many different ways, and that song can be two and a half minutes long or it can be 10 minutes long.

100% ROCK: Awesome. So was it emotional when you called an ending to The Allman Brothers band?

Warren: Oh absolutely, yeah. I mean, I think all of us feel like it was an extremely emotional year… Even though it was something we’ve been talking about for three or maybe four years, as far as the entire band talking about making a 45th anniversary, final tour, but when it actually was upon us it was more and more emotional and I was very proud of us. I thought the band went out on a high note. I thought the last shows were really strong and especially the very last show was quite strong and we all rose to the occasion individually and collectively, and had a wonderful performance. And, you know, twenty five years in The Allman Brothers for me – what an amazing opportunity and amazing journey. They’re one of my favourite all-time bands. You know, I’ve always maintained that if I was going to join a band that I grew up listening to The Allman Brothers would be at the absolute top of that list.

Warren Haynes 04

100% ROCK: Fantastic! I’ve heard a rumour that you might be touring this album down in Australia next year. Is that likely to come off?

Warren: We’re sure trying, yeah. That’s definitely something we’re trying to make happen, so I think we’re getting closer to it being a reality.

100% ROCK: That would be awesome, mate. So, you said you spoke to BB King and he said that his one strange influence was Django Reinhardt. What was yours?

Warren: I’m sure I have a lot more than one, but I think he said ‘at least one.’ You know for me something that is not so obvious is, say, Merle Haggard or George Jones or let’s say Ed Coleman. He just passed away… or even something like, you know, I like bands like Yes and the Mahavishnu Orchestra! But I think coming from a family where we all had pretty diverse tastes, you know, it was hard for me to discriminate – I just was looking for great music, you know?

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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