Having been born and raised in a predominantly rural area, I'll be the first to admit that, for better or for worse, I've always harbored a guilty pleasure appreciation for well-executed Country music. Although it's various bastardized offspring and siblings (most notably the current 'bro' and and not-so-current 'new' trends) are often justifiably viewed in a less-than-flattering light given their blatant Electronica and Hip-Hop influences, my personal tastes have never been defined by a specific genre, thus allowing my worship of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest to continue largely unabated. Needless to say, you can only imagine our excitement when presented with the opportunity to speak with genre-defying stalwart Hank 3--i.e. the son and grandson of Country music legends Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr.--regarding his often turbulent career trajectories...
Todd: For those unfamiliar with the various aspects of your career, how difficult was it for you to make the transition from traditional Country artist to respected member of the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal communities?
Hank 3: “Honestly, it was a very natural progression. Every Hank Williams has been into Rock 'n' Roll. It's just been a little different. Hank Sr. was playing Rock 'n' Roll before Rock 'n' Roll was Rock 'n' Roll. (The song) 'Move It On Over' is basically (the Bill Haley And The Comets classic) 'Rock Around The Clock.' He was ahead of his time. And his side project Luke The Drifter was a type of Doom music before the genre existed. With Luke The Drifter, songs were really sad and depressing. In high school, Hank Williams, Jr. was known as Rockin' Randall Hank Williams, Jr. and he leaned more towards Southern Rock like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, which was his way of being heavy. For me, it was a natural progression to like Rock 'n' Roll. I grew up listening to Charlie Daniels, Merle Haggard, Waylon (Jennings) and Willie (Nelson) along with Ted Nugent, Elvis Presley and ZZ Top. Then, I heard a Punk Rock radio station. ...I've always had a very good ear for that style of music. It's taught me how to be play guitar differently and how to be a better drummer. I identified with some of the heavier music. It's a natural progression that all the Hank Williams have gone through whether they know it or not. ...I was a drummer back then and Punk piqued my interests as a drummer.”
Todd: Taking into consideration your lineage, has it been difficult for you to establish a career for yourself? I would imagine the impact of what you father and grandfather have accomplished could be a serious hindrance...
Hank 3: “It doesn't matter. ...Most people would say it works against you in its own way like it does with (NASCAR driver) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or Dweezil Zappa. For me personally, not only do I have a famous father, but I also have a famous grandfather that basically covered Country music as well as it can be covered, so how do I come up with my own niche, find my own voice and stand on my own two feet? I think I've done a pretty good job of doing that throughout the years by staying true to my vision and the different styles of music that I'm into. Most people have the assumption that it was all handed to me. I was very against the three Hanks record when they put that out. I was like 'If you wait ten or fifteen years, maybe I'll respect the fact of getting to sing with Hank Jr. and Hank Sr. on a record'. I think the first release (Three Hanks: Men With Broken Hearts) was a very disrespectful and shady move. If you look at the picture, everyone knows that me and Hank Jr. have never been that close. I've always had to do things my way. I've always been involved with my own sound, writing my own songs and I've always known my own sound. I never needed a Producer to Produce me. There have been a lot of complications in the music business with the way that I do things. Some people really respect it and some people really don't. It just depends how you look at it. Most of the time being born into a famous family can be a very tough card to be dealt. ...Sometimes, it works for you and sometimes it works against you.”
Todd: A lot has been made of your touring habits. What is preventing you from embracing the 'fly-in' mentality?
Hank 3: It's one of those things I might do it when I get older. But at this point, it's a habit I really don't want to get into. Honestly, the typical Nashville way is you charge as much money as possible for your performance. A lot of people will make a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for two shows. They'll fly in for those two shows and then fly home. Throughout my career, I have only done whole tours. I do it all with a crew of thirteen people on a bus with a trailer. That's how I've always done it. I'm a true gearhead, so I like playing with my own gear. I don't like playing on a rented back line. I like putting on the biggest little show that I can in a small bar, ya know? It defeats what I stand for at this point in my career. That's the main reason why I don't like fly dates.”
Todd: Taking into consideration the multitude of different genres you have been involved with, what type of set list are you working with? Are you designating time to each individual style of music? That must be exhausting.
Hank 3: “At this point, I'm doing a very extreme show. I'm playing for four hours. The first two hours is the Country part of the show, then I do thirty minutes of Hellbilly and Punk Rock, an hour of Doom Metal or Sludge Rock and then an hour of Power Metal. I'm taking it overboard with the psychic energy and the focus that goes into every show. LEFT after I get done playing, I hop down and shake every hand and say hello to whoever wants to say hello. I'm very hands-on with our load in and load outs, being the stage manager and setting up the gear. ...I'm doing as much of it while I can because some day I may not be able to be as involved. ...We load in at one p.m. and sometimes our soundcheck can take four to six hours. We barely make doors, but in reality, we're doing a soundcheck for four different bands. There are four different styles of music that we have to go through. There are four different vocal levels and four different drum kit sounds, so there are a lot of different aspects to it. Even if I wanted an opening band, there's not much time for it and it kind of messes everything up as far as the lines being run and the way we do our show for now. Someday, I won't be pulling this much gear around and it won't be as intense as it has been, but LEFT now, it's an evening with Hank 3 and it's a long show. The attention span of most people lasts about an hour, so to have a four hour show is a feat within itself. We play long enough to make the bar happy, but I also have to go the extra mile to make sure I pay my respects for the Country portion of the show. Then I go the extra mile to do all my Hard Rock material.”
Todd: Within a live setting, are you able to transition from each new genre without making a significant change?
Hank 3: “We have it all set up. There's a lot of different changes throughout the show. ...I go through probably six to seven different amps. The only time I have to change guitars is if I break a string or I'm going to a lower tuning. With each genre, I usually a different amp. If you watch us, there will be some moving around depending on the size of the stage. The stand up bass will disappear and then we have to make room to set up the keyboard and the fiddle player will switch over to the stand up steel for a little while. Then we'll break down the stand up steel and moves over to the sub-bass. Then, when we get to the '3 Bar Ranch' part of the show, the keys disappear and move back to guitar. We do a lot of shifting up there. I've got three drummers on this tour. Matt Foley is the country drummer, Joey Gonzales is the Punk Rock drummer and the Doom Metal drummer is Phil Cancilla (ex-Aegaeon, Disfiguring The Goddess). What we're doing involves a lot of very different efforts”
Todd: Does utilizing that much equipment restrict your stage movement? Are you stuck in a corner of the stage?
Hank 3: “I'm basically strapped into holding a guitar and standing in one area. Every now and then I get to do a little bit of head banging, but it's not like I'm David Lee Roth with a bunch of incredible Rock star moves. Since it's a four hour show, I wanted to add a different feel to it. For the first two and a half hours of the show, the lights are clear so we can have a lot of eye contact. During the Doom part of the show, the lights go down, the mini par cans come on and then the movie starts. It fits very well with the transition. The Doom Metal part has a Psychedelic sound and 3 Bar Ranch part is what it is. It gives the audience a different feel. A lot of people that have been coming out to the shows are saying 'It's not really a Hank 3 show, it's more like the Hank 3 experience if you make it through the whole thing and feel all the different kind of moods throughout the show.”
Todd: Vocally, how do you prepare yourself for a show? Are there a lot of warm-up and warm-down exercises that you need to work through to keep your voice 'in shape' for the stresses of singing multiple genres per night?
Hank 3: “Yes. Honestly, there are those singers that don't have to do anything. They just take the stage. (Vocalist) Buzz (Osbourne) from The Melvins is one of those guys. He'll say 'Oh, yeah, I don't need to warm up. Are you kidding? That's just ridiculous'. But, for a guy like me, I have to do a bunch of exercises. I constantly have to fight for the voice because I'm using it so much and I'm taking it past the normal level of it being used. There is a lot of breathing steam, a lot of stretching and I'm also drinking tons and tons of fluids throughout the days. If I'm lucky, I'm able to do a whole performance without taking a sip of anything. Some of the clubs that we play at average one hundred and twenty-five to one hundred and thirty degrees. It can get really hot in there. It's a never ending battle. I'm always trying to deliver at least three different sounds from my voice. You've got the Country sound that on a good day is twangy, nasally and a higher pitch. With the Punk Rock voice, I'm not screaming like I used to scream. It's more of a rounder delivery. It has a bit of a Ramones/older Misfits sound. With the 3 Bar Ranch, it is what it is. It's just a little different. ...I've gotten a lot of inspiration from Layne Staley from Alice In Chains on that vocal style. It is what it is, man. It's always a really bad feeling if the voice isn't one hundred percent. After a week of doing shows, it gets weak. I know just about every trick in the book to do shows with Strep throat and what I have to do when I have no voice at all. ...It takes a lot of maintenance.”
Todd: Musically, aside from you grandfather and father, who are your main influences? Who do you look up to?
Hank 3: “If you look back at when I was younger, I was a bass player in the Whipping Post and I was a drummer in the band Shroud. I was a guitar player in Salida, I was a front man in Bedwetter and I was a guitar player in The Gravedigger. I was already fulfilling just about every role that you can as far as being in a band. For me to work with one of my heavy metal heroes was an honor. (Former Pantera/Superjoint Ritual frontman) Philip Anselmo and (Down/Eyehategod alumni) Jimmy Bower are both guys I've always known, looked up to and respected. Philip Anselmo and Henry Rollins were two very big inspirations for me when I was growing up. To have the opportunity to work with Phillip and Jimmy onstage in Superjoint and give it my all for a while was great. Those are memories I will never forget. I got to meet some real Rock 'n' Roll legends through those gigs.”
Todd: Having the opportunity to work with artists you hold in such high esteem must have been truly amazing...
Hank 3: “There's a lot of history there. Some of the bands we were touring with were definitely some of the biggest legends like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. It was nice to see. Back when Slipknot was first starting out and Lamb of God was climbing up the ladder, they were friends of mine. I've made a lot of great friends from that circuit that are still very close to me to this day. It goes back to Hank Sr. playing Rock 'n' Roll before Rock 'n' Roll was Rock 'n' Roll. There are a lot of people out there that love Pantera and Slayer that also love Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. You'd be surprised how many musicians and fans out there like those two different styles of music. There's a certain camaraderie there. ...I can't tell you how many people have told me 'I never would've listened to Country music if it wasn't for you' or 'I would've never listened to Heavy Metal if it wasn't for you'. It's about keeping both sides of the spectrum open. That's one of the really great things about the diversity of my audience. My crowd is aged eighteen to eighty. We cater to a lot of different people with music.”
Todd: When you were a member of Superjoint Ritual, you obviously used a pseudonym. Was the inspiration behind the name as obvious as it seems? Did you use the pseudonym to avoid further issues with Curb Records?
Hank 3: “Basically, I earned the nickname around town from a lot of the different street musicians here in Nashville. They've always just called me 3. For Superjoint (Ritual), I straight up had to be known as '3 Bars' or '3'. There was a lot of lawyer stuff within that. It was what it was. I always had to pay a lot of lawyer bills when I was working with Curb. Unfortunately, they didn't respect me as an artist and what I had to bring to the table. Even folks that make Curb billions and billions of dollars like Tim McGraw and LeAnn Rimes have the same problems with Curb. They have the same exact issues as I have had. (the label alleged that McGraw released his 2012 album Emotional Traffic too early, citing an obscure contract clause) There's just something with that company. It's a little hard to work with them. ...If you really read Tim McGraw's arguments towards them, and you look at how much money he made them, you'll see that I was being very reasonable in my arguments. I was giving them something totally different, something fresh that offered them a different way to change up some things on their label. That sums it up. ...It's the same if it's on an independent scale or a large commercial scale.”
Todd: You've obviously experienced a great deal of line-up changes throughout the years. Has there been a common denominator regarding why players are asked to or choose to leave? Is it all just too stressful for them?
Hank 3: It's always tough. Unfortunately, players come and players go because it's Hank 3 And The Damn Band. It's just, unfortunately, how it is. My motto with the players is as long as you're having fun, let me know, and when you get burned out on the gig, just say 'I've had enough and it's time for me to go'. I always try to keep a good hard working crew together, a drama free crew. I've got a reputation in the clubs and throughout the music industry for always having a very level headed crew that does a really good job. The longest I've ever had a player next to me is about ten years. I always have an open door policy. On this last tour, my steel guitar player, who was with me in 1995, came up to me and was like 'There are a couple of guys in the crew I can't get along with and I'm throwing in the towel, but down the road please give me a call'. Sure enough, about fifteen years later, I called him up and he was good to go. He's back in the band. I'm a pretty reasonable boss to work for. A lot of people might think it's one big party, but in reality, it's a lot of hard work. ...There is a lot of gear that needs to be set up and broke down every night. It's not for everybody. There are a few misconceptions out there, which is fine. A lot of people come up to me and say 'I feel like I owe you more money for the kind of show that you put on for us'. I always try to keep our ticket prices as low as possible for the working men and women out there. If it's an eight o'clock show, then there is no opening bands. We'll be onstage at eight o'clock.”
Todd: With the group covering such a diverse number of genres, does a lot of your audience always leave early?
Hank 3: “It depends. Most of the time, there's a good bit of folks that leave. But sometimes, they stick around. A lot of it depends on if it's a Friday night versus a work night. It's in the States that I've noticed the difference. In Europe, where I'm only given one hour to play, I'll go up there, play as many Country songs as I can within forty minutes and then try to squeeze in a couple of the Doom songs or the Hellbilly or the 3 Bar songs.. Even at festivals, they'll sometimes walk away. It goes back to it not being for everybody. That's what makes it Punk Rock and that's what makes it independent and for the few. ...Like I said, with the first part of the show, there's a lot of eye contact and I'm doing everything I can to put on the best show for everyone. Then, for the second part of the show, there's a little bit of the Rock 'n' Roll attitude. I go off into my own zone, so the focus is a little different. After standing for over two hours, some people are already tired. There's a lot of different ways to look at it. Every night is so different. I will say that. No matter what, they do always get the same show, though”
Todd: In 2013, you released two separate records (A Fiendish Threat and Brothers Of The 4X4) with very different and contrasting sounds. Did you work on each one simultaneously? That had to have very exhausting...
Hank 3: “Yes. I did both of the records within a five month period. That's creating the songs, writing the songs and singing the songs. I Engineered the records, Mixed them and then Mastered them. I'm very hands on. The players did a great job. The way that I record is much more old school. I don't have the option to copy and paste solos together. When you come and play on my record, you've got to do your best to play your instrument because I don't want to be one of those Producers that's doing a hundred and fifty hours worth of editing but only working on actual music for two hours. I would rather have the musicians show their musicianship and go for the whole track. I don't have the best sound and I don't have the worst sound, but it's definitely unique. That's a different approach and that's the only thing I can hope that stands out. I go out of my way to make sure that the roots of Country music are in my records with the acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, stand up steel, stand up bass and drums. Most Country records now are basically guitar Pop Rock. ...I do my best to keep the roots involved. In the daytime, I would work on the Country record and in the evening, I would work on the Punk Rock record. I go through phases where I'll just work on the drums for two weeks straight so I have my rhythm where it needs to be. Then I'll just work on the vocals and the guitars for another two weeks because I have to track the singing and the guitar playing at the same time to a click before I get to go back and lay down my drums. That in itself can take me over a hundred and fifty takes just to get one that's really dialed in. It's the way I do it without another Engineer to help me. One day I'll get to work with some other Engineers and it won't be as intense, but if I feel like I need to do it LEFT now, I can't wait for them to show up. ...It's how I execute ideas.”
A Fiendish Threat (2013)
Bothers Of The 4X4 (2013)
Attention Deficit Domination (2011)
3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin' (2011)
Ghost To A Ghost/Gutter Town (2011)
Rebel Within (2010)
Damn LEFT, Rebel Proud (2008)
Straight To Hell (2006)
Lovesick, Broke And Driftin' (2002)
Risin' Outlaw (1999)
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