Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule Talks Peace and Blues

Image by Shervin Lainez

Warren Haynes has an impressive roster of bands that he’s been a part of, but his baby is Gov’t Mule. The long-running jam/rock band is set to perform at The Orpheum Theater in New Orleans on May 5th, and Warren has promised surprises for the show which takes places during Jazz Fest 2023’s second weekend. Culture Creep spoke to Warren about this show, Gov’t Mule’s latest album Peace… Like a River, and how the pandemic shaped the sound of his music the last few years.

CC: Your new album is a companion to your previous album. How did the pandemic shape the songs of these albums?

Warren Haynes: In the way that all of the songs were written during lockdown. I was able to write more during that time period than I have for years and years because I had so much time on my hands. Some of the songs reflect the situation, but I didn’t want to write a bunch of pandemic songs. They’re more about what people feel inside one-on-one, looking for inner peace in relationships.

CC: I heard that you went into the studio with a two-room set-up. How did that work?

Warren: That was inspiring. We wanted to make two records that sounded completely different than each other and that was the way to do that. It turned out to be the right recipe.

CC: Did you record them at the same time?

Warren: We actually stumbled upon this formula which turned out to be perfect. Around noon, we would go into the studio in the big room and record songs for Peace… Like A River til about 9 p.m. Then we’d take a break, have some dinner, and move over to the small room and play blues the rest of the night. And that was the day. It really worked out great because by the time we started playing blues, it was a good time to shut our brains off, stop thinking, and start playing blues like we were in some small, sweaty club.

One of the inspirations for doing Heavy Load Blues during the lockdown was that we had been talking about making a blues record for a long time, but it was on the back burner somewhere in the distance. But during lockdown the whole world had the blues. No time like the present, you know. I think that’s why we released that record first to get that out there and identify with the fact that we were all in this together.

CC: What does your latest album represent?

Warren: In some ways, it represents getting past this and moving on, hopefully in a more enlightened way. I think we all did a lot of reflecting, when I say we I mean the whole world, about what’s most important to us, so a lot of the songs deal with that. I think from a musical standpoint, we were excited to bring back this whole concept of writing and arranging songs that had a lot of different moving parts and more complex arrangements than what you hear these days in popular music. It was based on the fact that we love that and always have, and I hate to see people force their short attention spans on the growth of music.

One of the great things about the modern world is that people have access to the music that they want. They can discover it in one second. That’s a good thing.

CC: That’s a great thing, but payments to artists is a whole ‘nother thing.

Warren: That’s a different story. I’m hoping we can resolve that issue because the music industry, artists, and writers especially have suffered so much. It would be nice for people to get their due. It’s a strange dilemma. You have ways of making new fans and fans have ways of discovering music, but it doesn’t necessarily reciprocate in the way of people getting paid for their art.

CC: “Dreaming Out Loud” has a very New Orleans flavor because Ivan Neville is on it. How did you get in touch with Ivan?

Warren: Ivan and I go way back; we worked together quite a few times. He and Ruthie Foster are singing with me on “Dreaming Out Loud.” Both of them sang on “Man in Motion” on my solo record. I’m a big fan of both of their voices not only as lead singers but the way our voices blend together. It was great to have both of them be a part of this. It really turned out cool.

CC: On “Dreaming Out Loud,” you use quote from civil rights leaders. Why and do you think those ideas are still relevant to today?

Warren: When I got the idea for the song, it reminded of Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech, so I thought it would be interesting to instead of paraphrasing actually bring some of his quotes to the lyrics. I’ve never done that before; it’s an interesting way of approaching a lyric. But for the song, it made sense. I do think all those quotes are as much or more relevant than ever.

CC: I was really drawn to the song “The River Only Flows One Way” because it has a spooky feel to it. How much input did Billy Bob Thornton have on the song?

Warren: When I wrote that song, I knew that I wanted the verses to have that spoken word feeling. We recorded a version with me singing it, but we didn’t really want it to be my voice. I thought about Billy Bob; he and I have been friends for quite a while. He has one of those voices that puts it in a spooky mood instantly. It worked out great.

CC: Do you think that you’ll make albums in the future in the way that you made these albums?

Warren: I’m not sure that I would want to do it again so to speak. But it was perfect for the whole lockdown dilemma that we were facing. I’m not ruling it out. It was a lot to take on, but at a time when we really needed a lot to take on because we were going out of our minds.

CC: Are there any musicians out there that you would love to work with?

Warren: I would love to do something with Paul McCartney, even if it was just jamming on a song. Those things usually happen organically. I’ve been fortunate to work with so many people that I grew up listening to that I definitely have no complaints in that area.

CC: Any final thoughts before the New Orleans show?

Warren: We’re psyched to be back. It hasn’t been that long since we were there, but you can never be in New Orleans too many times.

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