Improvisation, integrity keep Gov't Mule kickin'
Warren Haynes seems inclined to believe there are lessons to be learned from a mule's legendary stubborn demeanor.
His musical animal, the improvisational blues, jazz and rock band Gov't Mule, “is an entity that refuses to be stereotyped,” explains the heralded artistic multi-tasker, who leads the group he founded in 1994 back into Pittsburgh on Aug. 18 to headline an indoor show at Stage AE.
Early on, the guitarist-vocalist says, people characterized the musicians as part of the jam scene or southern rock approach to music, among other descriptions.
“But I don't think that describes us. We take all our many and varied influences and combine them together and try to create fresh, new music,” Haynes says. “Having said that, we take a very old school approach to the music. We are not just stuck in just being influenced by old genres of music, but we are convinced that a lot of the open-minded process and mind sets went into making a lot of older music much more gratifying.”
There's a jazz sensitivity to be found, too, he adds.
“We take a very jazz approach to all the different types of music we play, a lot of call and response and interplay based on listening very intently to each other,” Haynes says. “One person doesn't know what they will play until they hear the other and then they respond to that.”
The Allman Brothers Band alumnus says that improvisation is definitely the lifeblood to all the music Gov't Mule makes.
“There is a lot of great music that is very unrehearsed and very spontaneous,” he says. “A lot of very good music is made with little or no rehearsal. It is very gratifying to walk on stage with a group of musicians you have that kind of confidence in. You know you can do it.”
Drummer Matt Abts; Danny Louis, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist; and bassist Jorgen Carlsson round-out the quartet that began as an experimental rock power trio side project while Haynes was on break from the Allman Brothers.
“I think a lot of critics and music writers tend to appreciate what we are doing because we are not kowtowing to the industry,” Haynes says. “We are doing what's in our heart and trying to keep the voice of integrity alive. We tend to get a lot of respect for that.”
One national magazine suggested that Gov't Mule's dedication to craft is “edifying, life-affirming and deeply satisfying.”
That's no insignificant praise, Haynes acknowledges. “We take music more seriously maybe than some people may in this day and age,” he says. “Passion is where it all begins. We all have a deep passion for music that never goes away.”
That really is the key says the North Carolina native: “Walking on stage with the passion it takes to perform this kind of music and having this kind of line up that is inspiring to do that.”
The audience of course is an inspiration night after night, he says. “That propels the musicians to heights they would not be capable of without an audience. On a night when all the elements line up right the music can go places way beyond what any of us would ever think it could go,” he says.
The Pittsburgh audience can expect Gov't Mule to draw from material on their new “Tel-Star Sessions,” the band's first, and never-before-released, collection of demos made in 1994 at Tel-Star Studios in Bradenton, Fla. The newly mixed and mastered recordings feature the original line-up of Haynes, Abts and the late Allen Woody.
Haynes believes that a lot of the music his group is performing now is quite similar to the music the band was making in the earliest years, with the exception that it is now a quartet. “In some ways we've come full circle and in other ways it only makes sense if you step back and connect the dots,” he reasons. “And that seems right to me. You want to keep growing and you never want to be static or done changing.”
It is difficult to tell what constitutes a “magical” night on stage, or that type of energy, he says. “But you can feel it from the very first note. If it is one of those rare nights that is absolutely magical, we all know it from the beginning and the audience knows. It is just undeniable.”
Every show is different, he says.
“It's a musical journey in which we go from rock to blues to jazz to soul music to reggae to wherever it feels like going on any night. All the stuff we love will rise to the surface,” Haynes explains. “Performing live is having the freedom of being able to go wherever we want to go. I can't imagine being in a band that plays the same songs, the same way every night.”
In a lot of ways Gov't Mule is a musical laboratory “for us to go where we feel like going at the moment and the sky's the limit,” he says.
He appreciates that the band's fans are extremely supportive of that approach.
“Our fan base is incredible, made up of people of all ages who really love music far beyond the average fan,” he says. “They have a real passion and devotion. They are looking for something that is only going to happen that particular night and it's never going to happen again.”
What does he hope people take from Gov't Mule's music?
“The most I could hope for is someone listening to my music feels the same way I felt about the music I grew up being so passionate about and continue to be so passionate about,” Haynes says. “If one person feels the way I feel when I'm listening to Otis Redding or Freddy King or Van Morrison or whomever it might be, then that's great.”
What is personally most satisfying to the artist, he says, is “whatever I achieved I have achieved without compromise.”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.