Gov’t Mule is a band that thrives on collaboration. Over the years, they’ve invited artists including Billy Gibbons, Flea, Grace Potter, James Hetfield and Ben Harper to join them in the studio and/or on stage. But for their new album, Shout!, they took collaboration to the next level.
Instead of doing an album of duets, the band took a novel approach, removing Warren Haynes‘ vocals from the record and replacing them with an all-star cast of singers like Dr. John, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Dave Matthews, Steve Winwood and Elvis Costello.
Haynes told Radio.com that the idea for the “bonus disc,” which is available with the original version of the LP, came about when he asked Costello for a bit of technical advice.
“I’d written this song called ‘Funny Little Tragedy,’ which was very different, and is very different, than anything Gov’t Mule has ever done,” he said. “A little more akin to late ’70s, early ’80s, the beginning of punk, New Wave — the Attractions, the Clash, Stiff Records. It has a little bit of that vibe. We’d never gone down that path before. We’d sent him an email, and I said did he have any advice to capture the vocal sound.”
Costello sent him back a very long email but Hayes said the gist of it was, “We always used a very cheap microphone, so use, like, a $100 microphone.'” Which he did. But from that point forward, he thought it would be nice to have Costello sing it.
“I think in the beginning we were thinking we’d just have him sing a verse,” Haynes explained, noting that a similar thing happened with Dr. John and Toots, from Toots and the Maytals. “There were two other songs, ‘Scared to Live’ that we thought about Toots for, and another called ‘Stoop So Low’ that we thought about Dr. John for, but we still hadn’t made the decision to bring any guests onto the playing field.”
Soon enough, though, they came up with the idea of using guests on a bonus version of the album.
Ben Harper, who guests on the song, “World Boss” on Shout!, previously appeared on the band’s 2000 album Life Before Insanity, but according to Haynes, the two have a relationship that goes back to the mid-’90s and Gov’t Mule’s H.O.R.D.E. tour.
“There was a little side stage where any of the bands could request time, like an open mic night, and go and jam, so [Ben Harper and I] did that,” Haynes said. “Then we started jamming together more and more.”
Mule shows can be akin to open mic nights at times and on the right night in the right city, the band can have famous and not-so-famous guests on stage with them for over half the show. The band is currently thinking about how to get some of the Shout! guests to their upcoming gigs including a theoretical 20th anniversary show that could take place next year to honor the milestone.
While Haynes says that the next few months will be dedicated to Gov’t Mule, he’s more than happy to talk about some of his recent projects, including this past summer’s tour where he performed the songs of Jerry Garcia backed by a local symphony orchestra.
“I had never done anything with a symphony before, and that was part of the challenge that was appealing to me,” he said, noting that it was also fun to have such an amazing catalog of music to choose from. “My biggest mission was to pick songs that I thought the symphony would elevate and take somewhere different. It was really fun.” Haynes said that he would be open to reprising the tour in the future.
His ties with the Grateful Dead don’t end there, of course. He spent a few years with ex-Dead bassist Phil Lesh in his band, and says that there is talk that the Phil Lesh Quintet–featuring Haynes, Lesh, guitarist Jimmy Herring, keyboardist Rob Barraco and drummer John Molo– will reunite. In the meantime, Haynes and Lesh are getting together for a few gigs in December, including Haynes’ annual Christmas Jam in North Carolina, a concert that raises money for Habitat for Humanity.
And what about the Allman Brothers Band?
The current lineup of founding members Gregg Allman, Jaimoe and Butch Trucks on drums, along with percussionist Marc Quinones, bassist Oteil Burbridge, and guitarists Derek Trucks and Haynes has been together for 13 years — longer than any other incarnation of the band. However, it’s been a decade since they released their last album, 2003’s Hittin’ The Note.
“I think we’re a little closer than we were,” Haynes says of the band’s recording future. “There’s a few new songs floating around. It’s a matter of getting everyone psyched to do it and finding the time to do it because the Allman Brothers only work a small part of the year, and I know in all of our minds, it would have to be better than Hittin’ The Note for us to want to do it. That was a nice watermark for us, so whatever the final record’s gonna be should be something as good, or better.”