“Allen Woody and I used to say one performance is equal to 10 rehearsals,” says Haynes. “When you get onstage in front of an audience and you do something wrong, you never forget it.” Photo by Jordi Vidal
What’s it like working with him?
Don sits in the room with the band with headphones on, and he looks at us while we’re recording. We recorded two songs with him. The first was “Pressure Under Fire.” After we played take four, he said, “That sounds like a record.” Then we went in and listened to it, and we all loved how it sounded. And after take one of “Dreams & Songs,” he said, “That sounds like a record.” And we listened and went, “Wow, it’s really good!” Matt’s performance, Danny’s performance—everything just had the emotional connection to the song that it needed. So I was really glad we decided to make it a Gov’t Mule song.
Every Gov’t Mule album has about 70 percent songs that were obviously written for Gov’t Mule, and another 20 to 30 percent of songs that could have gone on one of my solo records, but wound up being interpreted by Gov’t Mule. That’s a balance we like—it makes our records more diverse.
When you’re producing, is it hard for you to let go of a song and declare it done?
I’m pretty good about closing the book and knowing that I’m happy with a song. That doesn’t mean I’m happy with every inch of a record—that’s definitely not the case—but I can usually tell when it’s final. But even then, it’s going to change over the next six months of playing it live. The real rarity, which we all hate, is when six months later you start looking at a song completely differently and it’s better than what you did in the studio. But that’s just part of it. It’s probably true of every rock ’n’ roll record ever made.
Do you do a lot of preproduction or do you write in the studio?
There are several songs on every Mule record that are written, arranged, and recorded all in the studio. And they usually turn out great. It’s nice to go in armed with a lot of songs and then open yourself up to the possibility of adding to them when you get there. It would be great to spend tons of time and money in the studio just trying everything over months at a time, but that’s an impossibility, so we have to be prepared when we get there. But I would say we’re less prepared than the average band [laughs].
You’ve done so much as a player, writer, producer, and singer. So how do you go further at this stage of your career, both in terms of your guitar technique and your mental approach?
Everybody looks at it differently. I think there’s a lot more music I haven’t touched on—whether it’s my own playing or the chord progressions or melodic harmonies. So I’ll make mental notes that I want to branch out and go a little further in different directions. Sometimes that will be coupled with experimenting with different sounds. The sounds I use in Gov’t Mule and that I used in the Allman Brothers were sounds I’d road-tested for years. They’re part of my voice and I’m very happy with them, but occasionally I think it’s nice to plug a different guitar into a different amp and just see what happens. That will usually influence me to play differently.
With Gov’t Mule, we want each record to go some places we haven’t gone before. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Like when we made the decision to record “Traveling Tune,” which was the second-to-last song I wrote for the album. That and “Sarah, Surrender” were both completely different than anything Gov’t Mule has ever done. “Traveling Tune” was much more melodic and country, and we’d never really gone there.
When I got the opportunity to join the Allman Brothers, it forced me to concentrate on that part of my influences more than I would have otherwise. That’s a good thing: I had this wonderful opportunity to be part of one of my favorite bands. But it made me look at my own playing differently, shape it differently, and critique it differently. And so there are situations where I want to go into a completely different bag. That’s why Gov’t Mule was formed, that’s why I do solo records, and that’s why I love doing all these different projects that are coming from a different direction. As a musician, it’s just fun to push yourself in different ways and use different parts of all the music you loved and listened to.
Are you still finding new influences?
There are so many old influences, you could never discover them all, and even with all the really great ones, you can never learn everything from them. I’m influenced by whatever makes its way into our world. As an example, I’ve always been a fan of John Scofield, but having the opportunity to play with him on a nightly basis, and hear the way his brain works standing four feet away from me, was a bigger influence than having listened for hundreds of hours to his records.
Allen Woody and I used to say one performance is equal to 10 rehearsals. When you get onstage in front of an audience and you do something wrong, you never forget it. If you’re lucky enough to be around great musicians while playing live, that shapes your playing better than hundreds of hours of practice. I had the opportunity to be in Dickey Betts’ band for three years before joining the Allman Brothers. And having the same opportunity with Phil Lesh and the guys with the Grateful Dead, getting to study the music from an inside perspective, is incredibly valuable. And that’s what I was saying about Scofield. It’s not just about riding the bus every night and listening to music together, but being onstage and trading eights and hearing how he approaches everything, which is completely different from the way I approach everything. I’m deeply grateful to have had dozens of those opportunities. It’s probably done more for my playing than anything else.
It’s like being a continuous student.
You have to maintain that or you’re going to plateau. I’ve always looked at it like this: If you’re a musician, you’re going to be a student for life.
In this promo trailer, shot at Arlyn Studios in Austin, Haynes and his cohorts offer a glimpse into how they tracked their new album, Revolution Come…Revolution Go, and share their thoughts about the new songs and the band’s creative process.