Monday, December 4, 2023

Creating timeless music: Warren Haynes chats about new album ahead of Gov’t Mule concert

Warren Haynes during an interview with The Penguin radio station at Live at Ted’s in Wilmington Monday before his two-day show with Gov’t Mule at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

WILMINGTON — For legendary guitarist Warren Haynes, the latest Gov’t Mule album release is an homage to his childhood, coupled with uplifting inspiration about returning to normalcy after Covid-19 lockdowns.

ALSO: In Photos: Gov’t Mule and Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave play Live Oak Bank Pavilion

Haynes’ four-piece multi-genre rock band Gov’t Mule — Matt Abts (drums), Danny Louis (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals) and recently added Kevin Scott (bass) — will be playing its only two-night stop in Wilmington this week on its 21-date North American tour. Promoting its new 12-track album, “Peace… Like a River,” the band is scheduled to take over the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater stage on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Haynes told Port City Daily on a call Friday the venue checks all the boxes.

“It’s a cool location, set up in a beautiful little spot; it’s small,” he said. “And we’ve always had fun shows there. So that’s really the criteria for me.”

“Peace… Like a River” dropped June 16, one of two albums the band recorded concurrently with “Heavy Load Blues.” Both were created as members were stuck at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Normally, I don’t think I would recommend that,” Haynes quipped. “It was great because, you know, we were all still in the middle of lockdown. We couldn’t tour, we couldn’t travel, we couldn’t perform on stage. So it was the best way that we knew to be creative and kind of continue moving forward.”

“Peace… Like a River” is stylistic mash-up of genres, while “Heavy Load Blues” leans more into a genre Haynes has always loved.

In fact, Gov’t Mule tossed around the idea of a blues album for a while, he said. The goal was to do covers of favorite blues artists, Elmore James, Ann Peebles, and Howlin’ Wolf, for instance.  

“But during Covid we thought, ‘If there’s ever a time where the whole world’s got the blues, it would be now,’” Haynes said.

The band ended up producing more originals than planned.

They set up two studios inside the Power Station New England — different mics and instruments in each — and over the course of about six weeks recorded songs for “Peace… Like a River,” from noon to 9 p.m. After a short dinner break, the musicians moved into the second room to play blues the rest of the evening.

“[I]t seems daunting on paper, but it actually turned out to be the right thing,” Haynes said. “Long days are kind of the norm for us because once we get involved in work, it seems like time flies by. And at that point in time, it was the only game in town.”

“Heavy Load Blues” was finalized first, with “Peace… Like a River” mixed a few months later. “Peace… Like a River” converges varied elements of the band’s stylings, while retaining the classic Mule Southern-rock sound. 

“There’s obvious rock influences, soul music, even reggae influences, but I think it somehow all works together,” Haynes said.

He recalled growing up in the early ‘70s, tuning into FM radio and hearing an eclectic catalog over the airwaves — from The Rolling Stones and Crosby Stills and Nash, to Sly and the Family Stone.

“It was all considered rock music, even though it was coming from all different directions, and so that’s always stayed with me,” Haynes said. “And also growing up in a house where I had two older brothers that had very diverse tastes in music, so there was tons of different music playing in my house all the time.”

Creating all 25 tracks for both albums helped ensure Haynes’ sanity, he said. He decided to focus on material more uplifting than leaning into the solemnity of enduring a pandemic.

“I wanted to write about personal relationships and about moving forward with your life and the self-reflection and introspection and learning from the past and embracing the future,” Haynes explained.

The goal was to make music that is timeless — as if it could have been recorded more than 50 years ago — not stamped with the mark of Covid-19.

Gov’t Mule will take the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater stage Tuesday and Wednesday nights. (Courtesy David Simchock)

Similar to much of Govt Mule’s prior work, “Peace… Like a River” features guest musicians collaborating on a number of songs. Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) lends vocals on “Shake Our Way Out,” and New Orleans legend Ivan Neville with blues star Ruthie Foster invoke soul behind the radio hit, “Dreaming Out Loud.” Longtime friend actor and singer Billy Bob Thornton even makes an appearance and adds vocals to “The River Only Flows One Way.”

Hayne said he chooses who the band will work with based on a track’s specific needs — “crying out for someone’s unique personality.”

Gov’t Mule is coming off its Dark Side of the Mule tour, with one more date scheduled in October, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s 1973 album “Dark Side of the Moon.” Haynes said he’s looking forward to spending time in the Port City this week and being in one place for longer than one night.

“It’ll be nice to stretch out and play a lot of different stuff and to be in the same town for a few days,” he said. “Maybe try and find some new spots to see and hook up with some old friends.”

Haynes said fans can expect a wide range of old-school Mule at Tuesday and Wednesday’s shows. Though, currently, he finds most satisfaction performing from the new album.

“I tend to like a lot of the more mid-tempo, introspective kind of oriented songs from a writer standpoint,” he said. “But that’s only a small aspect of what we do because so much of what we do is based around improvisation and group chemistry.”

When it comes to prepping for a performance, Haynes said it’s about harmony and taking the listener on a journey.

“And when you find the right balance, I think it’s more effective than just having one of those things by itself,” he added.

Per Gov’t Mule standards, the same setlist will not be played.

“So for anybody that comes both nights, it’ll be like one continuous, long show,” Haynes said.

Gov’t Mule plays at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater Oct. 3 and 4 at 6 p.m. Two-day passes are available here, as well as single-day tickets here.

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