With new members, Gov't Mule evolves
The past five years have been the busiest, and best, of Warren Haynes' career. His band, Gov't Mule, averages about 200 concerts a year, and he's established himself as one of the premier guitarists of the era, having played with the Allman Brothers, the Dead, and Phil Lesh & Friends.
There's another factor at play in his success, however, that has nothing to do with Haynes' talents. Music in general, Haynes thinks, has taken a turn that is more welcoming to artists of his ilk. Instead of tuning into MTV or commercial radio or other traditional sources, more people are seeking out music on their own.
"It translates into all genres, but it's mostly bucking the mainstream, whether it's jazz, bluegrass, blues, rock 'n' roll, soul, folk music," says Haynes, who will perform Friday with Gov't Mule at the Byham Theater. "And all those genres, in some way, influence what we do. So we're getting fans from all directions. We're a rock 'n' roll band that has all these other influences, and so it's not uncommon to see in the audience a person in a Black Sabbath T-shirt sitting next to a person in a John Coltrane T-shirt."
Gov't Mule's most recent album, 2004's "Deja Voodoo," explored these varied strains of music with verve, from the slow-burning "Little Toy Brain" to "Lola Leave Your Light On" and its Jimmy Page-like riffs. It was the first Mule release that included keyboardist Danny Louis and bassist Andy Hess -- who replaced the late Allen Woody -- and Haynes selflessly credits them for helping him and longtime drummer Matt Abts to expand the band's sound.
"Nobody wants to get painted into a corner, where they feel like they have to do a certain thing or they're going to lose their audience," Haynes says. "From the very beginning, Gov't Mule has been about surprise and change. With each record, you could see the band growing into new directions. Now that Danny and Andy are in the band, it's growing exponentially into new directions, because they're bringing in so much outside influence. We want to continually challenge ourselves, and hopefully take the audience with us."
Haynes suspects there is another reason for the band's increased standing that is obliquely related to the anti-mainstream sentiment of listeners. In times of turmoil, rock music seems to produce works that are of superior quality than in tranquil times.
"People are taking life more seriously; people are thinking more and more about their own existence," Haynes says. "But they're also needing an escape. And maybe the escape has to be more challenging. It's hard during trying times to turn on some really stupid television show and be satisfied with what it's giving you. So maybe your intelligence needs to be challenged a little bit more. Beyond that, it's an instinctual thing. Music is one of those things nobody can tell you what to like or not to like; it's your own personal thing, and I think that's part of the beauty of it. You don't have to explain it or talk about it."
With: Tea Leaf Green.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Where: Byham Theater, Downtown.