Warren Haynes Goes To The Dark Side Of The Mule

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Gov’t Mule (Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff)

As the creative wellspring behind Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes has always shown that the musical inspirations behind his band range far and wide. Pink Floyd is one of those influences that loom large for Haynes. So much so that this year marked the 10th anniversary of his band performing Dark Side of the Mule, an album inspired by a 2008 three-hour gig performed at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre on Halloween that featured one batch of original material and another all-Floyd set. It proved popular enough to be released in 2014 as a single CD and a deluxe three-CD/DVD set.

Currently on the road with The Avett Brothers and The Magpie Salute, Rich Robinson’s post-Black Crowes project, the Mule is conducting a brief run of dates that finds them tipping their cap to Floyd.

“We’re only doing seven shows for Dark Side with the Avetts and Magpie. Then we’re doing tons of other stuff on our own and some other dates with just us and Magpie that are just the two of us that aren’t Dark Side dates. But there’s only a handful of dates in honor of the tenth anniversary of what we thought was going to be a one-off 10 years ago. We do an opening set of all Gov’t Mule material and then a second set of all Pink Floyd material,” Haynes explained. “It’s not us playing the album Dark Side of the Moon. It’s just us playing whatever Pink Floyd songs that we want to play. After the Dark Side shows, we’ll go back to doing our normal two-set shows where anything goes. For these shows, it’s going to be one long set and it will start out as a Gov’t Mule set and then morph into the Dark Side, meaning the scenery on stage will change as will the lighting and sound. It’ll all turn into a Dark Side show. We’re really excited about it.”

The Avett Brothers (Photo by Andy Thrasher)

The Dark Side set features quite a bit of on-stage spectacle, ranging from lasers and props to the incorporation of three female back-up singers on songs like “The Great Gig In the Sky.” There’s even an invite for members of the other opening acts to participate, with Robinson playing guitar and singing lead on Meddle’s “Fearless” and The Avetts playing the same role for “Breathe (Reprise)” and “Time” from Dark Side of the Moon. For Haynes, it’s a real treat to be able to dig into the canon of a group he was first exposed to by way of Dark Side of the Moon in a friend’s basement and another time while hanging out with his buddies at a local swimming pool in 1973. With his interest suitably piqued, he checked out the English quartet’s earlier material, all of which made an indelible mark on him.

“Every aspect of Pink Floyd really resonates with me. Lyrically, it’s amazing and the timelessness of the music doesn’t sound like it has a date stamped on it. You can hear it in any decade and it really holds up,” he said. “But really, it’s the uniqueness. That was such a cool era of music because every great band sounded like themselves and nobody else sounded like that. Pink Floyd had that [special] sound that was unique to them. It’s hard to describe, but to actually create something that specifically personal that you can hear it and recognize it for what it is winds up being quite amazing. I love [David] Gilmour’s guitar playing and his voice. It makes you feel different because there’s a weight to it. It’s not like listening to pop music.”

The Magpie Salute

Once this string of dates is over, Haynes and his cohorts will continue touring with Magpie Salute and digging deep into the Mule’s last outing, last year’s Revolution Come….Revolution Go. Recorded on Election Day 2016, the thematic flow of this collection reflects the divide currently going on in the United States. It ranges from the demand for personal accountability that is wrapped into the swaggering blues-rock stomper “Drawn That Way” to the plea for tolerance and brotherhood that infuses the soulful and soaring “Pressure Under Fire.” And while the album was being recorded all while the unlikely outcome of the election was becoming a reality, Haynes was quick to point out that there was a bigger picture at stake informing this particular project.

“We’d been loading up that day, setting up and getting sounds and preparing to record while following the election loosely. We thought, like everyone else, that the election was going to go the other way. By the time we were dialed in and ready to record a song, we started recording and walked out of the studio and people were predicting that Trump was going to win,” the North Carolina native recalled. “We didn’t think it was going to happen and there were a handful of songs written from an observant standpoint that talks a little bit about the political climate. Who won the election didn’t change what the songs mean. They were mostly about the divide that’s going on in the country right now, which was going to get worse regardless of who won the election. People have asked whether we rethought the songs and I say no, because they’d have the same meaning either way. There were only a handful of them. The rest of the songs on that record deal with life, reflection and relationships. It kind of goes all over the place.”

Currently, the road will be Gov’t Mule’s home through the end of 2018. In the meantime, Haynes is busy penning new material, unclear where it’s going to end up. But it’s a scenario that he’s perfectly okay with.

“We probably won’t make it back into the studio until this is all over and there’s no rush really. I’ve been writing a lot but so far all the stuff that I’ve been writing kind of goes all over the map,” he said. “I haven’t been specifically writing for a new Mule album, which is always fun. One of the things that Dickey Betts and I talked about way back when we were writing for the Allman Brothers was how important and fun it is to write for the strengths of the band. When you have a project on the horizon like that, it makes you focus on writing that way and the result is always good.”

Gov’t Mule will be appearing along with The Avett Brothers and The Magpie Salute on July 12 at Northwell at Jones Beach Theater, 1000 Ocean Pkwy., Wantagh. To find out more information, visit www.jonesbeach.com or call 800-745-3000.

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In addition to being editor of Garden City Life and Syosset-Jericho Tribune, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI).

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