Interview: Hank Williams III
Sun, 16 Nov 2008 01:12:26
For the grandson of country music legend, Hank Williams, the journey to Nashville to capitalize on his heritage was a means to an end. However, in grabbing hold of the traditional C&W sound pioneered two generations before him, Hank Williams III has refused to shed the heavily-tattooed, hardcore skin he's worn since his days spent drumming in underground punk bands. This marriage of attitudes is one that has come across as surprisingly natural throughout his solo career and during stints with metal super groups like Superjoint Ritual and, more recently, Arson Anthem.
While musically, Hank III’s different personas have always remained separate, his newest solo outing sees a slow and slight collision of his different worlds. Not since Johnny Cash "walked the line" between pure country and heavy rock during his later years has an artist found the common ground between genres that Hank III has on Damn Right Rebel Proud. Though this one might not make Hank’s list of personal favorites, fans of everyone from his granddaddy to Pantera just might love it.
Damn Right Rebel Proud is probably the darkest of all your solo CDs. At the very least, it’s the most metal; with some of the vocals you put in there.
Well, I dunno. I thought Straight To Hell was darker, but it is what it is. It's hard for me to compare this one with Straight To Hell because I think Straight To Hell kicks Damn Right Rebel Proud's ass. That's just the way it is. There are a couple of songs on there that'll appeal to the kids in black and a couple of songs for the country fans. I'm workin' on it!
Why do you think Straight To Hell is the better album?
The diversity and the way we recorded it are the mains reasons. The first disc is done with the super-pickers, the correct way, and the second part is full on weird; just me and my acoustic guitar. It gets into some pretty heartfelt topics. There's a lot more going on. I can see more of the metal kids respecting Straight To Hell a little bit more than Damn Right Rebel Proud is. It's more of a party album than Damn Right Rebel Proud is. That one has a couple of party moments on it, but Straight To Hell, I think the whole record is more of a party.
So did Straight To Hell come from a more personal place?
Definitely, it was a smoother process, and I got to do everything I wanted to do. With Damn Right Rebel Proud, I had nothing but problems from the first guy I tried to record with, and then the second guy… people weren't working with me, they were working against me. It's always a bit of a buzzkill when that shit happens. We'll see. I'm getting ready to start work on the new record. We'll get that rolling next month.
You don't sit still for very long, do you?
This is the longest I've been off the road in a long time, man. I've been trying to get the band back together and, hopefully, we'll be back out in January. I'm keeping busy, but it's been a bit of a stuck-in-a-rut situation, trying to get the new players in place.
So are you putting together a new line-up then?
Kind of. From the old line-up, I've got Andy Gibson on the stand-up steel and then Gary Lindsey, who's the front-man in Assjack. Everyone else has moved on to other things. We're real close though. I'm just a fiddle player away from gettin' on the road.
Are you still going to mix the traditional country set with the Assjack set every night?
Oh yeah, definitely. I'll be doing that until I'm 50. I’ve got a ways to go. I think that's what makes us different; being able to cater to both sides, so I don't plan on letting that part of the show go for awhile.
There are a couple of songs on the new album, "Punch Fight Fuck" and "Long Hauls & Close Calls" that almost bridge the gap between those two styles.
Yeah, but I've got to watch that because legally, I can't do what I want to do when it comes to that. I have to keep them separate from a legal standpoint, or I'll kind of hang myself. Like I said, I was trying to give the kids in black a little something they could call their own on this album. I also wanted to pay a little respect to G.G. Allin, 'cuz there's a whole crew of kids out there that do nothing but hop trains and listen to Hank Williams and G.G. Allin. That’s where a lot of that respect comes from.
Is that you doing the hardcore vocal on "Punch Fight Fuck?"
Yeah, any of the screams you hear on the album are just me going nuts.
Good job! I almost thought it was Billy Milano for a second.
Uh oh! [Laughs] That's cool, man. Me and Gary (Lindsey, Assjack vocalist) scream a lot alike, so people just assume that's him when they hear me. On Straight To Hell or Damn Right Rebel Proud, that's just the way it is because by the time we get around to doing vocals, everyone is gone except for me. Pretty soon though, Gary and I will be hooking up on a couple of back-and-forth style vocals.
You just mentioned legal issues that you'd faced with if were to bring elements of your metal/hardcore persona into your country albums. Is that where the ongoing problems you’ve had with your label, Curb Records, began?
That's just the tip of the iceberg. The metal thing is one of the things they're almost easy-going about, really. There are all kinds of different angles; it just depends on how you look at it. I'm already working on the new record because this one has been sitting around on hold for a year and a half. They definitely know how to waste time. It doesn't matter if you're independent and think outside of the box, like me; or if you're Tim McGraw, who just had a big article come out talking about his problems with the label. It just happens. You hope, that when you sign with a label, that they're going to be into you for you, but a lot of the time that isn't the case. They don't give you the freedom or respect that you deserve. I go out there and try to make friends, meet musicians and try to be active; when you've people that won't let you do shit and kill your creativity, it puts a damper on things. I've been in the major label game since 1995 and only have four records to show for it. That tells you everything right there. Frank Zappa and Hank Williams Jr., they're artists that have over 90 records out. That's what keeps me going, not just wasting time and moving backwards, which is what I've been doing my whole career. It's one of those things, man.
You've got plenty of outlets though, Hank—Arson Anthem, with Phillip Anselmo (Down, ex-Pantera) being a big one right now. What's going on with that band?
We just wrote and recorded a full-length record, which should be just about done. That will be coming out soon. We're going to play a show in December, somewhere in New Orleans. I'm not really sure where yet, but at least we'll be playing one. That's keeping us busy. Also, I've got a couple of doom/stoner projects I'm working on. I've always been a big fan of that stuff. Then I've got a sort of blast/grind project I'm playing with. I'm always keeping as busy as possible on that front.
In regards to the state of mind you go into when you're writing, what's the difference between Hank III, the country singer and Hank III, the metal dude?
The way I've always looked at is, with country music, you have to tell a story; the lyrics always make the difference. I'm always holding an acoustic guitar. With the rock, the lyrics are always the last thing to go into a song and the riff, or the chunk, is always most important. A lot of the time, you can't understand the lyrics, and they don't really mean as much, unless you're one of the few like Pantera. Lyrics like that were definitely inspirational and you could hear them loud and clear. With me, the lyrics on the rock side have always been more fantasy-land, compared to the country stuff where it’s a lived-it-done-it sort of thing. It’s definitely a Jekyl & Hyde mindset.
It seems though, that no matter which side you're coming from, you're going to reach the same audience.
We take pride in having the diversity of our fan base. One of the most important things to me is having the crowd out there. From 18 to 80 and all different styles. We had to work a long time to get there, but we’re super-proud because I know other country acts would kill to have that kind of diversity and I don’t think they ever will.
True; I don’t ever imagine I'd see too many Tim McGraw fans at a Superjoint Ritual show.
No, not at all, man, but there's a whole breed of people out there that love David Allan Coe and Pantera and Slayer. That foundation is there
From your standpoint, what's the common thread between all of these bands we've been talking about? What is it that draws that certain fan base to all of them at once?
I think it's either the partyin' theme, the drinkin' hard and havin' fun kind of theme; or the whole depression, self-hatred theme that's out there. Energy-wise, the styles are completely different, but there are some similarities between the partyin' that I see.
There definitely is something genuine that crosses all the boundaries.
It's hard to say, man. It's a trip when I'm hanging out with the guitar player from Obituary, and he's a fan. That guitar player, Jack Owen that played in Cannibal Corpse, and he's come out to see us before, the guys in Dimmu Borgir have come to see us. Randy Blythe, who sings in Lamb Of God, sang a country song with me and he’s always been a fan. Dez Fafara from Devildriver is a fan. It's pretty wild when these metal guys come down after the show and get drunk to some country music.
Have you ever thought about getting all these guys together for an album?
Oh definitely, that's something that's going to have to come into play when I don't have people telling me what to do, or how to do it. Matt Pike, from High On Fire, and I have talked about it. Brent Hinds from Mastodon has wanted to do this blues/country project for years. Just for the sake of getting together and having fun with a bunch of friends; it's definitely something we're going to try to put together. We just gotta make sure that there’s nobody around that wants to stick their nose in and tell us what not to do, and make sure everyone is taken care of. We want to do this the right way.
What is life on the road like for you?
It’s always up and down; it’s a roller coaster. No matter what band you’re in, or whether you’re in a van or on a bus, you’ve got your highs and you’ve got your lows. It can be the best feeling in the world when you’ve got the right crowd and the voices are all locked in and the band is tight. Or, it can be the worst thing in the world when you’ve got no voice and you’re sick as hell and you’re going out there, trying to keep up with the party every night. It can be a rush, but it’s a wave you’ve got to pace yourself on or you’ll burn out real quick. Everybody wants to do a shot with you, or smoke with you, or do a line, or pop pills and if you try to hang with that every night, you’re not going to be able to…There are very few people that can maintain that. Lemmy from Motorhead is probably one of the few that can do it every night and it still won’t affect his performance. He's just chemically built that way, to where he can hang in there. Ozzy did it for years, but you can see how it’s taken its toll on him, but he’s still out there fucking doing it to this day. I care about what I do, and I care about the fans and the performance. It’s a two days on, then two days off kind of thing for me. It’s a rush, man. There are a lot of good times, and then there’s a lot of pain that you just deal with. It’s all part of it. I don’t plan on letting it go for a long time when I think about guys like David Allan Coe, Lemmy, Slayer; Eyehategod just had their 25th anniversary and so did Antiseen. There's a lot of inspiration out there.
Let’s go back to before 1995, when you gave up playing in punk bands and first went to Nashville and signed with Curb. Did you ever see yourself taking that route before you finally did?
Well the way I always saw it, in rock n' roll, you're old by the time you're 25. I always wanted to rock out as hard as could at first, and then grow old with my country fans because that’s a fan base you can have good longevity with. That plan got reversed on me, it flipped on me, and that’s probably a good thing when I look back and see the diversity we bring to the show these days. I was trying to rock out as hard as could at first, and then the judge told me that playing music wasn’t a real job and to go out there and get $60,000 in back pay. At this time, I was only making $25 - $50 a week playing drums. That’s when I had to go sell my soul, or what have you, on Music Row for the child support. It was pretty intense at first. The first album, Risin' Outlaw, I definitely learned a lot. It was the first time I ever worked with a producer, and the last time too. After Risin' Outlaw, I finally got to take control and keep the record label people out of the studio and just do the record and say ‘here you go, take it or leave it.’ It was a learning experience, but I got that out of the way and put a niche on my belt. When I hooked back up with Phillip Anselmo, he did a huge thing for us and got us into a whole new crowd who had no idea they could respect this sort of music.
What was the label’s reaction when you turned in Straight To Hell and Damn Right Rebel Proud?
Honestly, I'm never around. The only reaction I’ve ever heard was for the video I made for "Long Hauls, Close Calls." Naturally, they wouldn't fund it or get behind it. They said, "No, that's a shitty idea. How about you try this." I just told them, "No thanks." When I turned the video in, they were pretty blown away, just as far as the editing and stuff like that goes. They saw it and said, "Well that's definitely unlike anything we've ever had as far as videos go." I'm hardly ever down there, so I don't really get to hear what they have to say about me. I know I offer that label something is unlike anything they'll ever get from any other artists they have. They'll either get behind it or they won’t. There are plenty of pop-country people and perfect, clean people that want to play the game, but they won’t get that many that want to march to their own beat.
Tell me about ReinstateHank.com.
The Grand Ole Opry kicked out Hank Williams right before he died. Shortly before, they had come to him and said "Okay, if you get your act together, we'll reinstate you. We'll give you a couple of months." They had that in writing. Over the years, they've had impersonators greeting people at the door. They've had Hank Williams play there. There are a million records and flyers saying "Live At The Grand Ole Opry: It's Hank Williams Sr.!" They just exploit everything about his image and his name. We’re talking about a man who was the very first inductee to the Country Music Hall Of Fame. He was inducted into the Rock N' Roll Hall Of Fame. For some reason, the little secret society at the Grand Ole Opry is just too good for that. I’m just calling them out. I've talked to the president and tried to go behind the scenes to do things the right way. In turn, I've gotten nothing but attitude from the president when he told me, "We'll never reinstate the dead guy." I thought, "Well, I'll let you hear what the people have to say about that." So we got the movement going on. Even if it never happens, at least we get to bust their balls on it and let people know that it’s bullshit to not show respect where respect is due. That’s pretty much the thing. We’ve got a DVD coming out with people like Phillip Anselmo, David Allan Coe and Henry Rollins talking on it. Next year we're trying to do a two-day event that we'll broadcast on an internet station. We'll let everyone from bluegrass to punk rock to jazz; whoever wants to come out and help raise some awareness is more than welcome. The plan is to stick with this as long as we can, we've got about 30,000 signatures right now and we're just gonna take it to 'em.