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A New Beginning: Hank Williams III Talks Creative Freedom & New Albums!

Hank Williams III has spent the better part of twenty years on the road, developing his own unique style and amassing legions of devoted fans, all while carrying the torch for his grandfather’s legacy and the other country outlaws who paved the way. Recently released from the creative shackles that had been binding him at Curb Records, Hank III spent the early part of 2011 holed up in his studio at The Haunted Ranch fanning his creative flames and piecing together a monstrous new project. His hard work and undying devotion to his art has resulted in an unprecedented three album release – the double-country ‘Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown,’ the doom-rock ‘Attention Deficient Domination,’ and the speed metal ‘Cattle Callin’. All three of the albums are to be released on September 6th through his very own, just-launched label Hank3 Records. With a full tour on the horizon to boot, there is little doubt that 2011 will shape up to be one of his biggest years to date. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Hank III to discuss his epic release, the challenges involved with that huge undertaking, the misconceptions that surround him, his hopes for preserving his grandfather’s legacy at The Grand Ole Opry and much more.

No one knows better than you about being chained creatively after your long sentence with Curb Records. Did you do anything to celebrate your release?Nah, man. I just started writing and playing. The winter time around here is kinda depressing anyway, but there was no big party or anything like that. My big party was creating something all over again musically. I was just glad to finally be done with that, have it behind me and I was looking forward to the new beginning.You have definitely been busy creatively. Why did you decide to drop all of the albums at the same time?

Basically, I just wanted to do something in my eyes that is d

ifferent. I don’t think that it has ever been done before as far as approaching three different genres at once. Yeah, there have been cross-over songs and a bunch or different people have recorded different styles of songs but I don’t think releasing that many different records in that many different genres has been done. Another reason I wanted to do it was to get back on the road and concentrate on that for the next two years. I think that this is the first time ever, out of my whole career, that I have ever had a record come out and then be able to do a tour. That is just not how I am. I tour because I tour. That’s what I do! I just wanted to come out of the gate strong, that was another inspiration!Did you feel any more pressure this time around seeing that you are finally free of those creative shackles?It was definitely getting to me. The workload was pretty massive with doing the recording aspect, the playing aspect, the mixing, the mastering, the artwork on all of it! Yeah! I was getting pretty spun out from the process but hard work pays off and who knows if I will ever have the type of energy to pull something off like this again. It was tiring but exciting all at the same time.

What can you tell us about the writing process for these albums? Did it vary from album to album?

Basically, I started with the country first. I would be a little more serious for about eight or nine hours in the daytime. As the nighttime would come in, I would sorta switch gears. I would either play guitars on the “Attention Deficit Domination” stuff or start working on the “Cattle Callin’” record. So I kept it serious during the daytime but then I would loosen up and have a little bit more fun at night. I did that daily from 8 a.m. until I couldn’t go any further. So, half and half. That is where a lot of those ambient sounds and some of the weirder stuff on the “Guttertown” record came from, just havin’ fun and experimenting a little more at night.

Were there any specific influences that were ringing in your head at night while you were putting that together?

There are all kinds of different vibes on that album. You definitely have got a little bit of a Charlie Daniels influence, a little bit of a Primus influence, you’ve got your weird ambient sounds like Sunn O))). I don’t know where you would say that some of the Latino or Mexican flavored sort of stuff comes from. All sorts of different stuff. As far as the “ADD” record, there is definitely some Sleep and The Melvins influence for sure. On the country album, there is a little bit of something from everywhere. Yeah, there are a few country songs on this record but there is a lot of stuff that isn’t considered country at all in my eyes. We’ve got a bunch of Cajun influence on there like Nathan Abshire and those old Cajun guys definitely had a lot of influence on the “Guttertown” record.

You have some guest appearances along the way. What can you tell us about those and how they shaped up?

As far as Hellstomper, I was raised listening to a band called Hellstomper and a lot of my sound came from them. I was always a big fan. He has a song called “Don’t Sing My Songs.” “You can steal my wife, you can have my dog, you can take my car, just don’t sing my songs.” I called him up and said, “Man, I’ve got a song that sounds too much like ya’ll. A. I need permission and B. will you sing on it with me?” So, it was cool to have Alan King come in and lay down his tracks. Les Claypool is on the “Time To Die” song. I just went out and gave him a whole bunch of classic country stuff, I made a little package for him. I said, “It would be awesome if you might consider playing on a track one day.” I grew up with that band and all of his projects. He has been a huge influence just because he is just so open minded and does so many different things musically. It was awesome to have him be a part of it. The same kinda thing unfolded with Tom Waits. We had talked about it for a while and he did that “Mojo” piece on me, so we got to be in person and get to know each other a little bit so that it felt more natural for him. He definitely liked the Cajun style and ended the record with “Ghost to Ghost” song. That was definitely epic for us! The last two are Dave Sherman from Earthride, which is a stoner rock/doom metal band, T-Roy from Sourvein, which is also a doom rock band. As I recall, those are all the outsiders that are on the record.

That is great stuff. Anybody else you are interested in collaborating with in the long term?

There are so many, man! Ya know, Wayne Hancock and I have been talking about making a WH/HW album for a long time. It is hard to say, ya know. Sometimes I write songs and I have people in mind but who knows. There is so much influence, whether it is Buzz from The Melvins, The Reverend Horton Heat, Mike Patton or Dave Lombardo from Slayer, the list goes on and on. We will have to see what the future holds, man.

Let’s talk a little about “Attention Deficit Domination.” This focuses a lot on your life as a percussionist. Is that something you have been looking forward to doing for a while now?

I have been wantin’ to slow it down. For so many years, I have played so fast in Assjack and never have gotten to feel the groove as much. So I was lookin’ to slow it down, basically. Yes, there is a lot of percussion on that record, you’ve got an acoustic drum set and a Roland drum set. It was a lot of fun for me to slow it down and sludgin’ out. That is another part of my career that I haven’t had the opportunity to focus on much. We have been playing it a lot lately, gettin’ it ready to bring on the road. We’ll see where it goes from there. Bands like Black Sabbath, Pentagram, The Melvins, Sleep, Earthride — all of those kinda bands had so much influence on that style of music and I am listening on the past, I am stuck on the old stuff. We’re playing with older gear and doing all these things to pay respect to that kinda sound.

“Cattle Callin’” is one of the more unique records that I have heard in a while. What spawned the idea for “Cattle Core?”

Well, I was kinda raised around that a good bit. I have worked cattle, my granddad used to take me to the auctioning barns. I’ve branded cattle, I’ve had to drag them off the side of the field, I’ve herded them, so I have definitely been around it. I have always had a fascination with the auctioneers’ speed. Most of the guys that I wanted to use, I didn’t get a chance to use because they just didn’t feel right and thought that I might be pokin’ fun at them. I mean, if you type in Hank III and do a quick read about me, you might see some negative stuff out there. [laughs] A lot of these men were 70-years-old and not wanting to associate themselves with me. But, thank god for guys like Tim Dowler out of Canada, Mitch Jordan and Jason Miller, who let me create my vision and take it to the next level. I just thought it was an interesting fit, kinda like shining a different kinda light on the heavy metal stuff. It was a lot of fun creating it and getting to know these guys as well. It was pretty exciting! I am already hopin’ that I get permission from the guys that weren’t interested this time around to bring them in for the next go-round. I have been trying really hard to find that one kid that might want to come out on the road, so that we can have a real auctioneer on stage as opposed to workin’ around samples. That is something that we are trying to piece together.

You recorded all of these albums at your studio, The Haunted Ranch. You seem very comfortable there. What can you tell us about the place?

It just has a really laid back feelin’ to it. The whole house is dedicated to music, it is gear everywhere, cables, posters! I mean, the whole kitchen is full of pedals. I don’t know, it is a real comfortable feel. I have had a lot of bands come through and say that they feel at home here. It’s not uptight. You walk into some studios and automatically feel nervous, I guess because it is so nice or so well kept. I guess this place just has kind of a work vibe to it. If you get freaked out from the work side of things, you can go outside and relax for a bit. It is a whole house dedicated to music, man. A lot of different sounds. The rooms kinda flip-flop. Sometimes we will use one as a drum room but then it will turn into a vocal room, stuff like that. It’s one of a kind for sure.

What was the biggest challenge in putting the whole package together in such a short time-frame?

The hardest part, I would say, was the mixing process. At that point, my gears were already gettin’ kinda burnt and it was hard to have the patience that comes with working on a mix for what is supposed to sound good. I’ve already blown my ears doin’ 20 years on the road and never wearing any earplugs. That makes things a bit harder. The writing was fine but someone like me, you pick it apart so much that there is a certain time that you have to let go and say, “OK, that’s it! I already spent a week on this song and 200 tries to get it where it supposedly sounds good.” That is definitely the hardest part of the process for me.

What can we expect from your new label, Hank3 Records? Are you looking to develop new projects with this outlet?

I am gonna just worry about puttin’ out my stuff. I don’t want to ever be in the position to do another musician wrong or make them feel like they didn’t get what they deserved. That is kind of a tough situation to be in and I think that since I have so many different sounds, I can just worry about puttin’ out what I do and that will be enough. I am just lookin’ forward to havin’ a chance to do whatever it is that I want to do. If I want to do this or if I want to do a sci-fi record, well that could be next. It will be great not to have to go through so many different lawyers to make music. It will be a great thing for me.

That has to be a breath of fresh air for you.

Absolutely, man! There is a lot of new creativity happening and I am looking forward to seeing what it brings out of me.

You touched on it briefly but what do you think is the biggest misconception out there about you at this point in your career?

It’s hard to say. Maybe people think I am a super stoned out, drugged out kid but there is a shitload of work that I do. If you have seen one of my live shows, you can see that. Writers that were sayin’ 10 years ago that I was ridin’ the coat tails of the Hank WIlliams name, well, maybe they see things differently now. I am definitely not takin’ the easy road, I am just doin’ what I do and that is being a musician and playing music. I don’t know. I take pride in doing the longest show for the cheapest ticket price, man! We started out with a crew and a bus out there for seven bucks. Now I am able to keep it runnin’ as a national act for about 24 bucks. I take pride in that. I think that it is a time to give, especially right now with everything going on with the economy. We play to the working man and woman out there. That is what we are proud of.

We aren’t getting any younger, Shelton. What kind of a toll does touring and playing these extended sets take on you both physically and mentally?

Man, that is a day by day thing! I will deal with that when I get back out there! I have always had a history of being sick on the road. The voice will be there for a week and then it will be gone for a week. I will be strong for a week and then I am barely able to do it but man, I live for that moment on stage. I do whatever I can to prepare to have a good voice for any given night, sometimes it is there, sometimes it’s not. My goal has always been to work the road as hard as I can until I am at least 50 but look at Lemmy. Look at Willie. Look at these guys that are just knockin’ it out and takin’ it to the next level! So who knows, where I will be but I git the rest of my life to play short shows! Right now I have the energy and I am focused on keepin’ it a long show with all the different genres for all of our crowds out there.

Do you think that somewhere down the line when you do start slowin’ down that we might get an autobiography out of you to get an idea of all that has gone on behind the scenes and on the road?

That would definitely be interesting. Writing is hard for me due to my A.D.D. and the dyslexia and stuff like that, it has always been a challenge for me. But yeah, in time I think it could be an interesting book but I think I have a few more stories to live out there before I settle into writing one. But, I bet it would be interesting for sure!

One of the biggest blunders in music history is the fact that your grandfather is not a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Why do you think this has dragged on for so long and what can we, as fans, do to help right that wrong?

To me it is a simple matter of respect. Why they just won’t bring him back into the circle these days after the fact is just way beyond me. The biggest thing that I would like to see is just a ceremony or a dedication saying, “Tonight we are bringing Hank Williams back into the circle.” Whether it is a statue in front of The Grand Ole Opry or a show that is dedicated to reinstating his name would mean all of the world to me and to his legacy. It is a matter of respect and you should show respect where it is due. Tom Waits, his piece that he did in the “Mojo” magazine, basically sums it up. Right now, it’s the same ol’, same ol’. People can just talk about it, spread the word, sign the petition, cross their fingers and keep bugging these people to provide a respectful closing to say “Welcome Back.” It is as simple as that.

We will help spread the word on that and your new releases, Hank! Thanks for your time and all the best to you. We will see you on the road!

Thank you, man! I appreciate it!

For the latest news on Hank Williams III, all of his musical ventures and upcoming tour dates, visit his official website at www.hank3.com