An interview with Hank3
For over a decade Shelton Hank Williams, better known as Hank3, has been a driving force in country music, moving the genre forward by injecting a heavy metal attitude while always being respectful of the sounds of the past. He has made a name for himself throughout the music industry for doing things his own way and on September 6 he will do so again, releasing four albums on his own independent label. Recently I had a chance to talk to Hank over the phone about the new albums, his past struggles with Curb Records and his thoughts on a new tribute album dedicated to his iconic grandfather.
AS: First question I had for you: what’s it like being on your own label now, as compared to your previous releases? I mean the recording, the promotion, everything all the way down the line.
H3: Well, the last two or three records the recording was the same and it’s all been done at the house, kinda me and Andy [Gibson], my steel player. So that hasn’t really changed much. The biggest thing that’s changed is just takin’ on a heavier workload and makin’ things that are a little bit harder. Now I just have to go through my lawyer rather than going through three or four different lawyers. And I’m just makin’ sure that the artwork is right and little things like that. So it hasn’t cut into my creativity. So far, so good. That was my biggest thing. I’ve been held back for so long and it was just kind of exciting to sort of start all over again and get the new stuff out there.
AS: Before I get into any more questions about the new albums, I did have one question about Curb Records- and I know that you have had your share of problems with them the whole time you were on the label and all that- but what is your opinion of them earlier this year releasing the This Ain’t Country album that they released under the title Hillbilly Joker?
H3: Right. That just goes to show that they don’t respect their artists, whether it’s me or someone like Tim McGraw who’s made them millions and millions of dollars. It still isn’t enough. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s music or the racing business. Mike Curb’s a better politician than he ever was a musician and that’s that. You can see it on little moves like what they did with me or what they’re doing with somebody who’s already made them all kinds of money.
AS: Yeah, I think I read an interview a few years back where your dad was even speaking out against Curb Records.
H3: Yeah, it don’t matter if it’s Merle Haggard, Hank Jr., myself, Tim McGraw, or, like I said, people in the racin’ business. It’s a reoccurring theme and that’s why on my record label, I’m not gonna be workin’ or puttin’ out other people. I’m only gonna be puttin’ out me. I don’t wanna take a chance on doin’ another musician wrong or makin’ them feel cheated or not feel like they’re as important as they should be and that’s because I’m a common respect musician. Because in the end I’m just a player just hangin’ in there, man, and I’d never wanna do another musician wrong like that.
AS: What would be your suggestion to fans who want to hear the This Ain’t Country record?
H3: I’ve already told ’em. Go out there and burn it and give it away. I give away our music all the time. Come to our show, bring your video camera and record it. All I ask is that you don’t sell it. One of our greatest marketing plans you can ever have is makin’ people feel connected. It’s never hurt the Grateful Dead and it’s never hurt me. It’s just made our fan base a lot more loyal and a lot more deep.
AS: Yeah, I think that the fans will respect you if you respect them.
H3: Man, when I started off, yeah, I started off in a van and all that, but when things got a lot more official, I was runnin’ 12 guys and a bus and the shows started off at $7. Now I’m still runnin’ 12 guys and I’ve had to take it up to $24 to 28. And that’s because I’m thinkin’ of the workin’ man and if he can afford to buy a ticket, have a couple beers, maybe buy a t-shirt at the end of the night. Having the longest show of any national act with these kind of ticket prices is something I’ve taken pride in for many, many years. And people see that and they know we’re not tryin’ to rip ’em off and charge $250 a ticket.
AS: Getting on to some of the new stuff, I noticed on the Guttertown album that there’s sort of a theme running through it and a story. How did you come up with the idea behind that?
H3: There’s been a long history of Hank Williams bein’ involved in the Cajun stuff: my dad bein’ born in Louisiana and me working with a lot of the New Orleans people and in general I’ve always felt comfortable and that music has helped me out. I’ve always felt connected to it. The Guttertown theme is, well, we could all be in Guttertown here soon. Who knows, the way things are? And I’m tryin’ to talk to a lot of the driftin’ kids out there who hitchhike from show to show to come see us and pull it off. I mean, just a lot of the drifters, a lot of the kids who ride the trains. It’s geared towards them a lot. You know, times are tough right now for everybody and I think that’s another reason why the Guttertown theme kinda comes into play.
AS: On the other album, Ghost to a Ghost, the album is definitely country but it’s really not like your previous country albums. You seem to mix a lot of the metal and punk influences in there and it’s all sort of connected, more so than on your previous albums.
H3: Yeah, this country record only has four or five songs that would be considered country and the rest of it, I don’t even know what you’d call it. But I’d just say it’s more me bein’ me and gettin’ people used to some stuff I might be doin’ in the future. Like I would consider “Guttertown,” “Day By Day,” “Ray Lawrence Jr.,” “Outlaw Convention,” “Cunt of a Bitch,” some of those are definitely more country-oriented. Then there’s stuff like “Ghost to a Ghost” and “Trooper’s Holler” that are little more outside of the box, more metal with Pink Floyd-slash-Mexican influences. I don’t know, man.
AS: One thing I noticed, even on the songs that are more straightforward country. You’ve done songs like these in the past obviously, but these aren’t exactly the type of songs you’re best known for. These really don’t sound like your grandfather or people like him so much as it does artists like Waylon or your dad and guys from that era.
H3: It definitely has a lot of the Waylon beat to it: the phaser and some of that groove, the tick-tock guitar. It has a little bit of that feelin’ for sure. And when you see me live, I still dish out a lot of the fast-paced, high energy songs, but this is more of the beat that we haven’t gotten into as much and it’s just, you know, another sound that’s waitin’ to come out. But, you know, Waylon. Fuck yeah, he influenced me! Something here also also you may be noticin’ is I’m playing drums on all of this stuff and that will change things up and make certain beats stand out a bit more, because I’m not playin’ like the traditional guys around town.
AS: Yeah, speaking of the drum thing- and I’ll use this to lead in to the metal records- is there anything going on with Arson Anthem these days?
H3: That’s a band where we just get together every now and then and have fun, you know. Whenever Phillip wants to do something different and Mike just wants to get in the jam room and hit the record button, we get together. That band is strictly for good times. It’s no pressure. It’s about gettin’ in the jam room, man, and having fun, not picking it apart or taking months to make a record. It’s just, ‘Ok, this idea, let’s go for it.’ And every now and then we get to do it live.
AS: Yeah, I’ll move on from that to the Attention Deficit Domination record. I really enjoyed that album and I’d personally rank it above the AssJack record as far as your metal stuff goes. But there’s one song in particular, “Livin’ Beyond Doom.” What were the influences behind that one? I noticed soundbites of David Icke and the lyrics were also sort of in that vein. How did that song come about?
H3: Well, some of that conspiracy stuff is always there, man. And it doesn’t matter if it was payin’ respects to Sleep or whatever, they’ve all sang about the same thing over the years and it goes hand in hand with a lot of that doom, scary, eerie kind of stuff. But I would say that that’s the definite real heavy song on that record that takes it kinda to the next level, you know. It’s the ten-minute jam track and it hits on a lot of topics. It’s fun and it’s something– I haven’t gotten to slow down and bring that out and feel that as much. I’ve been wanting to get that part of my career goin’ for a long time and I’m finally gettin’ there. That whole album is dedicated to the kind of Layne Staley kind of vocals. Thank God for the Melvins work ethic and their sound. You know, all those doom bands over the years that helped me kinda get there. That project means a lot to me.
AS: Yeah, one thing I noticed on that album is that it definitely fits in with the doom metal, sludge, stuff like that, but there’s also a few tracks that had a sort of old school Black Sabbath vibe, I think.
H3: Well, that’s where it all came from, man. Fuck, I listen to Black Sabbath just about every day and that’s influences: Sabbath, the Melvins, Pentagram, Sleep, and on and on and on and on. And definitely, full-on definitely. That sort of vocal effect definitely comes from that “Lord of This World” song. Full-on, man. It’s heroes you’re talking about there to me, so it’s hard to write something in that style and not sound like them. They laid the foundation for so many bands.
AS: What are your future plans right now, as far as studio work, touring, whatever?
H3: The next two years is dedicated to the road, man. That’s another reason why I wanted to get all of these out there while I could right now, so we could get back to doin’ what we do, which is just workin’ the hell out of that road. And eventually I’ll slow down again, hopefully have a brand new batch of songs. So month on, month off the next two years, just, you know, get the States in there, maybe go outside the United States a little bit.
AS: Your show’s gonna include ADD this time instead of AssJack, correct?
H3: Yeah, ADD and possibly the Cattle Callin’. We’ve been workin’ on that for the past two weeks tryin’ to get that there. Locally, we’ve been playin’ country and hellbilly and ADD. My hope is to do country, hellbilly, ADD and Cattle Callin’ if we can get it there.
AS: Yeah, I wanted to bring that album up a little bit too, Cattle Callin’. That album, I won’t say it’s something I’m gonna listen to all the time, but it’s something different and I respect the hell out of that. It’s really cool. How did the idea for that album come about?
AS: The speaking of the auctioneer and the speed of that music. It just seemed like a good fit. I’ve worked on cattle farms, I’ve branded cattle, I’ve miked cattles, and I used to go to the auction barns with my granddad. I was raised around that lifestyle and it’s something new and different for heavy metal. You’re used to hearing either the full-on scream or the Cookie Monster vocal in metal. And I think it’s a way to inspire young auctioneers around the world and it was a lot of fun for me, man. Some of those guys just brought it out in me, hearing their speed. Each one was different. And, dude, as the New Orleans kids would say, ‘man, that’s a bunch of anxiety metal right there.’ You know it sounds like an anxiety attack or something. Real frantic, real just crazy sounding, but just another avenue I’ve yet to kind of explore, man.
AS: Another thing I wanted to ask you was about a new album that’s coming out in October I believe. It’s a project Bob Dylan and Jack White put together and it’s like some of your grandfather’s lyric sheets and stuff that they’ve fleshed out and turned into songs. I think your sister is doing one of the tracks on there and I saw where your dad was promoting it through his website, but what are your thoughts on that album? And were you asked to be involved in it?
H3: No, I wasn’t asked and the only thing that rubs me wrong is I hear that certain people might be completing unfinished songs and that just doesn’t seem that right to me. You know, that’s the only thing I have to say about it. I have nothing against Bob Dylan, nothing against Jack White, any of those kind of people. It just seems strange for somebody to be given that opportunity to say they’ve co-written a song with Hank Williams 50 years later of whatever. You know, that thing’s been in the works for a long time…
AS: Yeah, I remember hearing about it a couple of years ago.
H3: Yeah, me too. But I’ve never been asked. Who knows why? Maybe they think, ‘well, he’s been out there doin’ his own thing so much…’
AS: My initial thoughts on it were that if anybody should be completing the songs it should be you, your dad, your sister, maybe a few of the older country singers like George Jones or Merle Haggard. But, you know, whatever they want to do, I guess.
H3: Yeah, who knows, man? When you’re dealin’ with all that business and the Bible belt and the ways certain people think, man, it gets pretty complicated. I don’t know. It’s not like some normal tribute record. There’s a lot of weird elements to this thing and it keeps comin’ up in interviews I’ve been doin’. I don’t know. I’ll just say the same thing: it seems a little strange for somebody to finish a half-finished Hank Williams song.
AS: How’s Reinstate Hank going right now?
H3: You know, all we can do is keep talkin’ about it and hope for a ceremony to bring him back into the circle or a statue or something sayin’ “The Grand Ole Opry is proud to reinstate Hank Williams.” Somethin’ to pay the respects. Some simple thank you so much for all your music, we’re glad to have you back. Some simple ceremony like that if they’re goin’ to keep usin’ the image and name. It’s part of history. Why would you not want to preserve that kind of history at the Mother Church of country music?
AS: To play devil’s advocate here on this one, there are a lot of guys who aren’t Opry members: Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, a lot of those guys. Waylon wasn’t. Do you think Hank would rather be on the outside with those guys or on the inside with people like Blake Shelton?
H3: No, there’s an interview out there of him talkin’ about how heartbroke he was about that topic and as long as people still talk about it and keep that memory alive, there’s still hope. And he can still be an outlaw and be respected in that circle, but that history. If you talk to someone like Little Jimmy Dickens, deep down in his heart he would say, ‘Yeah, Hank needs to be in here.’
AS: Yeah, I agree. The point I was trying to get across is that there are a lot of other people that need to be put in there too and now they’re putting these new pop country artists in there…
H3: It’s a symbolism thing, man. If you go around in parts of Memphis, there’s a lot of Elvis. And there’s just so much around Broadway and down there associated with Hank Williams, it’s kinda hard to ignore it. If all of that wasn’t down there, it might be a little easier to swallow. But, you know, that’s an important part of history right there.
AS: Hey, I know you’ve gotta get off here, you got another interview and stuff coming up, but I appreciate you talking to me. You know, good luck with the albums and tour and all that. I’ve been a fan of your music for a long time. Thanks.
H3: Alright, man. Have a good one out there. I’ll see you around.
Photo #1 by Donnie Knutson. Photo #2 by Cindy Knoener.