Gov't Mule still bridging the gap between jam band and rock 'n' roll
Covering another band's song is the highest form of flattery in the music world. Perhaps it says a lot that so many musicians were willing to cover new songs by Gov't Mule even before they were released. In fact, their latest effort, "Shout!", has a second disc exclusively containing covers of the album by musicians including Elvis Costello, Toots Hibbert and Steve Winwood. Gov't Mule guitarist Warren Haynes talked with The Tribune about the new album, the band's 10th studio album, the covers and much more. The band, which formed in 1994, will play at The Depot in Salt Lake City on Monday.
You play a lot of music. What compels you to play so much, to spend all of your time devoted to this one thing?
I think the fact that it's not just one thing is what inspires me to do it more often. I have the opportunity to explore music in a lot of different ways and avenues. It's very inspiring because I work with a lot of different wonderful musicians on a lot of different projects and I think if I were only doing one thing all the time, it would probably get a little frustrating.
What's been the response to your latest record "Shout!" so far?
The response has been wonderful. We just started touring so we're going to be promoting it for about a year. So far, the reception has been amazing, but we're going to continue spreading the word and we're looking forward to it.
You've got a megaphone on the cover and the first track on the record is called "World Boss." It seems like there may be a political tinge to this album. Is that true?
There's been political aspects of some of the lyrics in every record we've done. With "Shout!", the title is really mostly about the concept of including the bonus disc of all the special guest vocalists. But if you combine the artwork, which is more centered around propaganda art, with some of the lyrical messages not many, but a few of them you get more of an insight into what I consider to be an additional meaning of "Shout!" which is more political. I think the other message coming from title "Shout!" is that we all have a voice and it's time for us all to use that voice.
You've used music to be your voice for a long time. Has that been effective for you, or do you just feel like that's the way you communicate best with the world?
I don't want to get into too much of a political discussion, but I'm involved in a lot of other political aspects as well. We do a lot of nonpartisan stuff like raising money for KidCount, which is an organization that encourages and helps people register to vote and helps people vote, which I think is very important and which I think goes hand in hand with what we're talking about.
How did the idea for the two-disc album with covers of your own songs come about? How have you liked it so far?
I'm very proud of the new record and the concept, and I love every guest vocalist's interpretation of our songs. It came about organically. We were already pretty far along into the recording process before we came up with the concept. Originally there was going to be one guest, and then two and then three. By the time it got to three, somehow the concept was born of, "Maybe we should do a bonus disc and have an alternate version of each song sung by a different guest vocalist." At that point I just basically made a list of every singer, other than myself, who I would love to hear singing it, and started making phone calls.
Do you have a particular favorite, one that stands out as what you think is the best cover?
I think each of the singers did an incredible job. That might sound like a cop-out, but that's what I really think. I take a different sort of pride in the fact that people I grew up listening to have reinterpreted our songs, people like Steve Winwood, Dr. John, Elvis Costello and Toots Hibbert. These are people who have influenced my music and my singing, and to hear them interpret our music in such a poignant way is such a wonderful feeling. As a songwriter and as a singer, I am very honored to hear these folks in our songs and taking them and making them their own.
Speaking of influences, I hear a sort of '90s grunge vibe, like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, on a couple of the tracks on the album. Was that intentional, or am I hearing things? How has that genre influenced this record, if at all?
If it's there, it's unintentional. But I would say that in very few cases are we influenced by that era of music, but having said that, two exceptions would be Nirvana and Pearl Jam, I think we're all fans of both of those bands.
You often get grouped into the set of "jam bands." Do you think of yourself as a musician that way? How has that designation affected you and your writing style?
I think what we have in common with the jam band world is that we do a different set list every night and that we take a very improvisational approach not only to our music, but to the day-by-day treatment of the songs. I think maybe one of the things makes us different from most of the bands in that world is that we're more a rock and roll band. We're trying to achieve on a nightly basis a nice balance between the songcraft and the improvisational spirit. I think one of those things without the other would be less dimensional and less exciting, speaking for myself personally. But I guess we have one foot in the jam world [and one] in the rock and roll world.
I think that any band that lasts as long as we have tends to not look back and tries to look at each recording as an opportunity to move forward and sideways, and expand the horizon musically and lyrically. It's always been important to us that each record be different than the one before it. I feel that's something we've always been able to achieve. And with "Shout!" this is possibly the most diverse record that we've made. I think we utilized more of our different influences making this record than we ever have before.
How many times have you been to Utah, and are there any standout performances or memories of the state?
I couldn't give you an actual number, but we've had some great shows in Utah and for whatever reason, there's a lot of people that not only love music but take music seriously enough to want to seek out music that's not being force fed to them by the commercial mainstream.
Does that mean you see yourself in opposition to the commercial mainstream?
I don't know that "opposition" is the correct way of looking at it. We don't acknowledge it or think about it. We just do what is important to us and we're thankful that there's an audience that responds to that. But in no way are we basing what we do on what the rest of the current music world is doing.
What can Utah fans expect from this show?
Well, every show with us is different. We do a different set list every night. So we'll look and see what we played the last time there and make sure it's completely different. ...One of the things that helps keep us fresh is not playing the same songs all the time.
Gov't Mule with guests Vintage Trouble
When • Monday, Nov. 4
Where • The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • 26 advance, $31 day of, at Smith's Tix