It’s 2017, and people are angry.
You can feel it on Gov’t Mule‘s tenth studio album, Revolution Come…Revolution Go, officially released today. Anger is a big part of today’s social climate, more so than at any point in recent memory. The lead-up to the 2016 election, during which most of the material on the album was written, saw candidates from polar opposite ends of the political spectrum talking about making big changes — starting a revolution. But the election was ultimately marked more by its vitriol than by its substance. “Stone Cold Rage,” “Revolution Come…Revolution Go,” and “Pressure Under Fire,” among others, feel like an explicit call to action. “If there’s gonna be a new generation of great music,” Warren Haynes tells Live For Live Music, “it has to tackle what’s going on in our country, what’s going on in the world. Not just politically but socially, personally, in every context. Because that’s a big part of what music is.”
Though the record was undoubtedly colored by the “shocking” election results, Haynes explains thoughtfully, “I realized, you know, it really means the same thing regardless of who won. Because the country is so divided that half the country, or approximately half the country, was gonna be pissed off whichever way the results went. But the handful of songs that were political, we started looking at from a different direction.”
In some cases, like the seething ZZ Top-like blues storytelling of “Drawn That Way,” the songs took on an unintentional yet undeniable political tone in the sobering reality of Trump’s America. On the track, Haynes spews animosity at an unnamed low-life leader (“Cartoon Savior, no matter what you say—You can’t stop yourself from lying, you’re just drawn that way;” “Where do you find room for all that denial?”). However, he insists that the song was not intended to address the orange elephant in the room. “Oddly enough, ‘Drawn That Way’ is not about a politician. It’s actually about a televangelist. But there are really only a few lines that would make that separation clear—otherwise you could definitely make that translation [laughs] . . . I wrote that one close to a year before we actually made the record. I was workin’ on it for a long time. And it wasn’t even about a particular televangelist. I just kind of created this composite creep.”
Whether art imitates life or life imitates art, in 2017 both surely come with a healthy dose of anger.
It’s 2017, and Warren Haynes is in “full Mule mode.”
They don’t call Warren the “hardest working man in rock and roll” for nothing. Over the past year, he has largely assumed the role of “teacher,” helping educate the masses about their musical heritage through tribute projects like the “Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration,” the “Last Waltz 40 Tour,” and “New Orleans Is Waiting For Columbus,” along with the ever-present “jukebox” aspect of Mule’s live shows. “We think it’s important to connect the dots, you know?”
“In the case of, like, Waiting for Columbus, that’s one of my favorite records of all time, so when the conversation came up, I was like, ‘absolutely, let’s do it.’ Same with The Last Waltz—I mean, that’s one of the greatest rock and roll moments in history. Speaking for myself and pretty much everyone else as well, if you do the same thing all the time, you’re bound to get stagnated with it. We’re lucky that we have these opportunities to do these other things. And in some cases, they’re more just for fun than anything else.”
“Now, having said that, now that Gov’t Mule’s new record is here, I’m gonna be focusing pretty much strictly on Gov’t Mule for the next year or so. That’s how it goes. Things just kind of go in cycles and move in waves. When we get back into ‘Full Mule Mode,’ it’s always a really fun challenge to see where it’s gonna go over the next year or so. It always winds up going into some musical directions that we never predicted prior.”
It’s 2017, and the music world is at a generational crossroad.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a musician more closely tied to the past, present, and future of live music than Warren Haynes. He cut his teeth playing with Dickey Betts, who eventually brought him along for the Allman Brothers Band‘s 1989 reunion tour. “None of us knew it was gonna go beyond that,” he explains. “The band sounded great, everybody was getting along, so they said let’s do it again next year, and then the next year, and so on. I wound up being a part of that organization for twenty-five years. . . . And then you fast-forward to the late ‘90’s when Phil Lesh called me about doing some stuff together. He and I hit it off and became friends and musical partners, and that led to me working with the guys in The Dead. When you think about the fact that the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers are really the two forerunners of the jam band scene, it was invaluable for me to be on the inside of each of those situations and kind of learn things in a way that you never could without having that access. It’s something that I never take for granted.”
Just as much as Warren Haynes bears the torch of the golden age of rock and roll, he has also helped pass the flame to the new guard, mentoring many talented young musicians and influencing countless others. All the while, Mule has kept kicking, continuing to push the boundaries of their craft over the two-plus decades since their inception.
Over the past few months, we’ve lost Butch Trucks, Col. Bruce Hampton, Gregg Allman. The brightest stars of the golden age of rock and roll are beginning to fade away. Meanwhile, contemporary guitar masters like Derek Trucks and Eric Krasno are gracefully stepping into elder statesman-type roles within the community, and prodigious new talents like 21-year-old Marcus King and 14-year-old Brandon “TAZ” Niederauer are poised to claim their own seats at the table. From Col. Bruce to TAZ, from your Allmans to your Kings, there is a common thread between the legends of old and these fresh-faced rising stars: Warren Haynes. And from his seat at the nexus of “back then,” “right now,” and “what’s next,” he sees a bright future in a thriving contemporary “jam-band scene.”
“Live performance is gonna be a huge commodity in the future,” Warren muses, “Because when someone opens their mouth and starts singing and it excites you, moves something inside you, there’s no replacement for that. There’s no machine that will make you feel that. You can take a mediocre singer and process them all day long, but it’s not the same as when you hear, y’know, pick one of your favorite singers and insert here. For me, if I hear Aretha Franklin or Ray Charles or Otis Redding, from the first moment they open their mouth, I’m sold. It’s an instant connection. James Brown did that to me before I ever picked up a guitar.”
“I think it definitely is a fertile time right now for new music,” he speculates, “I see a lot of cool, inventive, unique, creative sort of stuff coming up on the horizon. It’s kind of a reaction to how ridiculously predictable the pop bubble has gotten. The more corporate that side of it becomes and the less it becomes about emotion and stirring up real feelings inside people, the more bands on the other side of that take the opportunity to just be themselves and acknowledge where all the music came from. And I really have a lot of hope for that.”
It’s 2017, 50 years after the Summer of Love, 50 years after the most revolutionary cultural, political, and artistic era in American history. Of course, that era ended as quickly as it began. Revolutions come, and revolutions go. As Warren says, things tend to go in cycles, move in waves. But in today’s world, the echoes of the ’60’s ring louder than they have in some time. With artists like Gov’t Mule and Warren Haynes leading the way for a vibrant music scene defined by a commitment to improvisation, flanked by the young guard he helped inspire and stoked by today’s tumultuous social and political climate, it feels like the creative cycle is trending upward.
Can you hear that sound? It’s 2017, and the revolution is coming again.
[Cover photo by Andrew O’Brien]