A couple of years after the release of their first ever blues album “Heavy Load Blues”, Gov’t Mule are back with a new studio one, “Peace…Like A River” (Fantasy/Universal), born at the same time, yet very different sonically and thematically then the previous record. We had the chance to talk about it during our conversation with Warren Haynes, an artist whose stature makes him one one of the most respected voices of our times.
You recorded them at the same time in two separate but close studios, right?
Yes, Heavy Load Blues was done in a small room with low ceilings and small vintage amplifiers. We had a separate piano and organ and a small vintage drum kit in this little room. And then in another room with high ceilings we set up all our normal Gov’t Mule gear. The intent was to make two records that sounded different and I’m very happy about the way they both came out.
How did you choose the songs? There is a kind of theme a message and the words “peace” and “river” show up a lot over the songs.
In some ways there is a concept but it also covers a lot of ground stylistically and musically. And even lyrically with songs like Shake Our Way Out and Head Full Of Thunder have a bit of a sense of humor, are not taking life so seriously. And a couple of songs on the bonus EP have a sense of humor as well. But they do all connect in some ways, possibly because they were all written at the same time period when we were all struggling with the pandemic. I didn’t want to write a bunch of pandemic songs, but anything I wrote during that time was gonna somehow connect with the other songs written in that same period because it was such a heavy time.
The irony lies also in having lines like “take off your mask baby, let me see your wicked smile” in the song you do with Billy Gibbons.
Yes and now we’re all celebrating, trying to get on the other side of this craziness. It feels great to be happy again but we also have learned a lot.
And elsewhere in the record you sing “we’re stronger after the storm” or “your neighbor is not your enemy”.
Hopefully one of the things that people in general take away from this situation is that we’re all in this together and in order to get out of it we have to do it together and become closer, get past our differencies. Start looking at things differently. And hopefully everyone can agree on that.
Indeed, but still our society seem to be quiet divided.
Oh absolutely. And i talk about that in some of the lyrics as well. And in the last record, Revolution Come Revolution Go, I did that too. On this record it’s more hopeful and more positive. I think when the whole world goes through something as globally challenging the only solution is for everyone to rise to the occasion and do their part. I also talk about how we can’t depend on politicians to make the changes, we have to make the changes ourselves.
Another song which is maybe a centerpiece of the record is “Dreaming Out Loud” with Ruthie Foster and Ivan Neville. You quote directly Dr. Martin Luther King. What did you have in mind when you wrote that? Does that feel like we’re back in the Sixties?
It does feel that way. In the States right now there is a lot of politics heading in the wrong direction. When I wrote that song, I had the idea at 3.A.M. just the chorus, “forgive me I’m dreaming out loud again” and the melody. So I sang it into my phone so I would’t forget it. And when I woke up the next day I listened to it and it reminded me of the “I Have A Dream” speech from Martin Luther King. So I decided to utilize some quotes from great leaders which is the first time I’ve written a song that way. It was a very different sort of process, but I’ve figured by using actual quotes I could say more about what it was that I was trying to say. Every time I sing in the lyrics “somebody said…” then it is followed by a great quote. It’s a very precarious time right now, I feel like there is a lot of great stuff happening, but if we’re not careful a lot of bad stuff is trying to happen. People are trying to make it happen. And we can’t allow that to take place.
Music can be such a powerful unifying force.
Absolutely. Music is one of the few things in life that can do no wrong. And it’s very important in my life, in your life and in for so many people around the world. It can be a universal language and also a very healing substance. Sometimes expressing thoughts through music can be more effective than trying to communicate verbally.
What about the song you do with Billy Bob Thornton, “The River Only Flows One Way”? It’s unlike any other song you’ve done probably.
Yes, I’ve never written a song where I’ve felt the verses should be spoken instead of sung. When I decided that I sort of knew that I wanted somebody other than myself to take on that responsibility. So I started thinking about different people that could do it and Billy Bob and I have been friends for quiet a few years now and I love the quality of his voice that just draws in the listener, it’s very spooky and captivating. It was interesting to get him involved and I think it captures the song very well. That’s what the song needed. The lyrics is kind of meant to be this demented beat / poetry spoken words kind of thing and the narrator need to have that spooky quality in his voice.
How did you meet Celisse Henderson who sings on “Just Across The River”. She’s also a guitarist. I remember seeing some videos of her and she reminded me a bit of Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Yes she’s a fantastic guitar player herself even though she only sang on this track. I’ve discovered her music in the past three years of so and she’s really great. I was looking for a female gospel voice to provide the counter for my voice and I think she was perfect for that.
You were close to Gary Rossington who we lost a few months ago?
Gary and I played together several times, we toured together both when Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers did shows together and also Gov’t Mule and Lynyrd Skynyrd did shows together. We recorded “Simple Man” for one Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Album and we also performed the song at the LS Tribute Concert in Fox Theater in Atlanta. Gary was a great guitar player and co-wrote some amazing, timeless songs that are gonna be around for a long, long time. I was honored to be asked to be part of that tribute along at CMT Awards along with Billy Gibbons and Slash, and also with Paul Rodgers who I’d never worked with before. Gary and Paul were friends for fifty years.
Jeff Beck also passed earlier this year. You even recorded “The Pump” for a tribute album, “To Beck And Back” years ago.
Beck was possibly the most unique guitar player of all. I’m a huge Jeff Beck fan. He somehow continued to get better and better and better throughout his life, to keep adding dimensions to his own style. I’ve said before, that I have to be careful not to listen too much Jeff Beck because I would want to try to copy him and that is never good for any artist, to sound too much like somebody else. He was so great that he was enticing, he made guitar players want to learn how to do what he was doing. I’m fortunate that I was able to see him play several times toward the end of his life and he was playing fantastic every time. Every record he did was different than the one before and I have nothing but the utmost respect for Jeff. Oh and I’m honored that eventually I was able to play with him on stage.
Is there anything from Gary or Jeff that in any way filtered though your music?
Yeah, I think both of those guys influenced my music in ways that are hard to describe. Based on how much I was exposed to that music and how much I’ve loved a lot of that music. You know, sometimes we don’t know exactly in what way somebody’s influence shows up. Sometimes it is more obvious than others. Recently we played two nights in my hometown Asheville, North Carolina and the first night we played “Freeway Jam” with my friend Mike Barnes, a wonderful guitar player who I grew up with, and the next night we did “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”, which was only the second time I ever played that song. And it is very daunting and very beautiful at the same time. And of course we covered severla Lynyrd Skynyrd songs of the years, not just “Simple Man”.
Is it anything like when you played stuff from The Rolling Stones (Stone Side Of The Mule) or Pink Floyd (Dark Side Of The Mule), I mean does covering that music take you to unexpected turns?
Yes, absolutely and you always discover something or learn something about that music that maybe you did not know or realize before. And somehow that will make its way into your music in the future.
You worked as producer for Marcus King a few years ago. What’s your take on artists from Marcus generation, do you think they look up to you as you did with Johnny Winter or Duane Allman back then?
I feel like musicians from this generation you’re referring to have a lot of music to acknowledge and learn from. Much more than we had, because they have everything that happened since then to listen to as well. In some ways it’s up to them to keep real music alive and to continue the tradition of not giving in to the trends of pop music and aspiring to take music into the future that rivals the past. There’s so much great music from the Sixties to the early Seventies and that music will prove to be some of the greatest music ever made but the young generation can carry that into the future and create something new that hopefully will be timeless in the same way. And there are a lot of great young musicians out there right now. You mentioned Marcus who is a great singer and guitar players but I’m starting to see more and female singers and guitar players, more so than the past maybe ten years. I don’t know why, but maybe it’s a better time for them.
Would you do that again, producing a record for another artist?
I really enjoyed doing that when I have time to do it, so yes if it were the right situation I would enjoy to do it.