Gov't Mule and Donavon Frankenreiter at the Wiltern
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The last date listed for Gov't Mule and Donavon Frankenreiter was Thursday October 5, 2006 / 7:30pm.
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About Gov’t Mule
Big riffs, massive grooves, and expansive improvisations are the hallmarks of Gov’t Mule’s legendary live shows. Likewise, their well-crafted songs feature larger-than-life characters bearing life’s heaviest burdens, performed by four musicians—guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes, drummer Matt Abts, keyboard player Danny Louis, and bassist Andy Hess—whose powerful musicianship and chemistry along with their tireless work ethic have earned them the respect of their peers.
With their new ATO Records release High & Mighty produced by Haynes and Gordie Johnson, former leader of Canada’s acclaimed Big Sugar, effectively bridges the gaps between rock and improvisational music. Laced with influences from blues, folk, reggae, soul and jazz, High & Mighty has appeal for everyone, yet stubbornly refuses to be categorized.
Most of all, High & Mighty is big, both in scope and in sound. Built upon the rock solid foundation of 12 original songs and clocking in at well over an hour, the disc boasts an urgent, in-your-face sound reminiscent of the band’s thunderous live concerts.
“Our goal was to capture the chemistry and the spirit of the band, which has progressed into something beyond what it was for the last record,” says Haynes. “The last record was the first with the new lineup, and this being the second one I feel that the chemistry is that much stronger. We took the interplay that happens on stage and utilized it to create something magical in the studio.”
Yes, High & Mighty was recorded the old-fashioned way—four musicians in one room, together—capturing in the studio the band’s uniquely telepathic interplay. It’s a high level of improvisation for a rock band. “Even within the structures of straight ahead rock songs, this band plays with a jazz sensibility,” explains Haynes. “Nobody is just playing a part. It is all about listening and call and response. We are all steeped in jazz and blues, so improvisation is our life’s blood.”
So is rock and roll, as evidenced by the leadoff song that gives the disc its title, “Mr. High and Mighty.” Opening with the irresistible punch of a mammoth riff riding atop a colossal groove, the song is quintessential Gov’t Mule—strong and catchy, with memorable guitar and bass lines and dramatic organ flourishes. The dynamic interplay between band members adds considerable flavor to the song’s melodic structure. In short, a new Gov’t Mule classic, and one that introduces the listener to yet another of Haynes’ flawed character sketches.
“Mr. High and Mighty, standing with your back against the wall—They better jump when you say jump, they better crawl when you say crawl.”
“Most of my characters are composites, and that song was inspired by several people,” the guitarist explains. “My life has been very colorful, and I’ve been around a lot of characters who find their way into my songs.” True to Haynes’ word, High & Mighty’s songs detail the trials and travails of characters encumbered by guilt, pain, and regret, who have obtained their personal golden ring only to find bleakness and darkness undermining their success.
“We’re at a place in history where the bar is at an all time low. We’ve applauded mediocrity till there is no lower we can go”
“There’s a generation coming up now, as far as people pursuing entertainment careers, their only goal is to be famous,” says Haynes in reference to the song “Like Flies.” It’s not about being good at what you do, it’s about doing what will make you famous, even if that means destroying your integrity. I heard someone say that art is less important in today’s society than it has ever been, and I think that’s true in a scary sort of way."
“Fake liberty is just another form of hate. Unring the bell, before it’s too late.”
The values—or lack thereof—in much of our society is explored in “Unring The Bell,” a song that questions our definitions of liberty and equality. The song is buoyed by a strident reggae rhythm that righteously underpins its socially conscious message. Dub-mix sound effects, courtesy of Gordie Johnson, enhance the song with a vibrancy that is new for the band, yet enticingly familiar.
“A million miles from yesterday and a million more to go. Still I search each day, trying to find my way home.”
That decline of values is echoed in “A Million Miles from Yesterday,” a heavy rock ballad featuring a gospel background singers, organ, and an undeniably soulful groove. (“A Million Miles from Yesterday” is the only song not written in the last eighteen months by Haynes.) As he does throughout High & Mighty, Haynes sings with the fervor of a gospel singer and the grit of a blues troubadour. The song’s narrator searches for the principles—real or imagined—of an earlier time that he can never return to. “That song works for me now, but it was actually written ten or fifteen years ago,” recalls Haynes. “When I wrote it, maybe the timing wasn’t right, but I dusted it off recently and suddenly it made sense to me, much more so than when I wrote it.”
Perhaps the song’s newfound poignancy comes, at least in part, from the very real values inherent in Haynes’ songs and in the band’s music. Gov’t Mule is a democracy of four, in which each member inspires the others to greater heights of creativity. “When we are onstage, we pay more attention to ourselves than we do to the audience,” says Haynes. “It’s not that we are ignoring the audience, rather, we are utilizing them as a source of energy. We are listening so deeply to each other in hopes that our interplay will take the music as far into as many directions as it possibly can go.”
That interplay is what Gov’t Mule’s legion of devoted fans crave. Haynes says that Gov’t Mule is “blessed with an amazing fan base. They not only allow us to experiment onstage, they encourage it, to the extent that we can feel that encouragement coming from the crowd. I trust the band implicitly, and I trust our audience, because they want to be a part of the experience. They didn’t come to hear the records, they didn’t come to hear the same show we played last night, they came to be part of a moment in time, and that’s what we are there for. It’s an experience that we all share together. A high percentage of our audience is deeply in tune with our music, and that is the most you can ask for.”
That unique relationship is something Gov’t Mule has cultivated since its formation in 1994 as a power trio offshoot of the Allman Brothers Band. Their self titled debut was released in 1995; in 1997 Haynes and bassist Allen Woody followed their collective muse and Gov’t Mule became a full-time band. After Woody’s death in 2000, Haynes and Abts performed and recorded with over 30 bass players for the celebrated “Deep End” projects. Longtime acquaintance Danny Louis joined the band on keyboards in 2002, and the following year Andy Hess became the band’s permanent bass player.
“Moment by moment, this current band is the most exciting ensemble that I’ve ever worked with,” insists Haynes. “There are constant surprises, and the interplay is borderline telepathic. It’s just one of those unspoken things that happens when you get these four musicians together. Something can be really good, or it can be beyond that, and what we’ve discovered and kindled goes way, way beyond.”
In early 2003, “Sco-Mule,” a funky instrumental track from The Deep End Vol. 1 featuring jazz guitarist John Scofield, was nominated for a Grammy Award. This marked Haynes’ seventh overall Grammy nomination; in 1995 he accepted an award along with the Allman Brothers Band for an incendiary live take on the band’s classic “Jessica.”
In 2004, Gov’t Mule celebrated its 1,000th live show. The past year has seen the band headline venues across the nation that include Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre and multiple nights at New York’s historic Beacon Theatre. In 2005 Warren Haynes was ranked No. 23 in Rolling Stone’s list of all-time top guitarists, elevating him into the prestigious upper echelon of six-string heroes.
And there is plenty more excitement to come. With the release of High & Mighty, Gov’t Mule will once again hit the road, thrilling its devoted fan base while introducing their thunderous sound to even more aficionados of rock and improvisational music. Opening select dates on Gov’t Mule’s tour will be artists such as My Morning Jacket, Wolfmother, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and Michael Franti and Spearhead.
Quite simply, the time for Gov’t Mule is right now, and there is no better place to start than with High & Mighty. So, as the band’s diehard fans would say, get on the Mule train. Have a serious ass-kicking. Get up on a soapbox, and get all High & Mighty about Gov’t Mule.
Because, my friend, this one is going to be very, very big.
About Donavon Frankenreiter
Once upon a time, mentioning surfing and music in the same sentence conjured up sepia-toned images of the early’’60s. But thanks to artists like Donavon Frankenreiter — who, unlike most of the old-school “surf-rockers,” knows his way around a wave as well as he does a fret-board — those images have been updated radically to focus as much on musical adventure as on the spreading of good vibes.
Over the course of the past half-decade, the California-bred Frankenreiter established himself as one of the more original voices on the acoustic-rock scene, through tireless touring and the innate catchiness of songs like “Free” (which became a Triple-A radio staple upon its release two years ago). But, unsatisfied with simply heading further down that path, he opted to shift gears for Move By Yourself, his sophomore outing — and first for Lost Highway.
The brisk 11-track disc is something of a sonic sea change for Frankenreiter. While the sun-kissed openness of his songs is still in full effect, he’s now couching those feelings in a whole new set of sounds, from the keyboard-drenched “Let It Go” (which blends Allmans-styled soulfulness with an undeniable pop sensibility) to the low-slung funk grooves of the smoldering title track.
“I listen to so much music, and I pretty much feel comfortable singing all of it, so I didn’t want to come across as a guy who does nothing else but sit on a beach with an acoustic guitar, playing around a fire,” says Frankenreiter. “The funky stuff, especially, is fun to play — it really lets me tap into a different part of my personality.”
In order to more fully explore different aspects of that personality, the Laguna Beach-based singer-songwriter decided a change of scenery would do him good. After releasing his self-titled debut on Brushfire Recordings — the label run by longtime friend and collaborator Jack Johnson — Frankenreiter chose to link with Lost Highway for the release of Move By Yourself.
“Jack and Mario [Caldato] did a great job on that last record and I had a beautiful time making it. I just felt like I needed to make a change, and there were definitely no hard feelings involved,” he says. “I wanted to succeed or fail on my own merits and I jumped at the opportunity to be part of a roster like Lost Highway’s.”
Frankenreiter has been moving towards being part of that roster for ages. After establishing himself as one of the most acclaimed free surfers in the world — a talent that took him halfway around the world before his 16th birthday — he picked up a guitar in order to master riding a different sort of wave. By his senior year of high school, he was part of a popular live act called Peanut Butter and Jam, in which he learned that taking the stage provided an entirely different sort of pleasure — for him and his audience.
“The reality is that surfing is my first love,” he admits. “For a long time, it was my life — I made a living at it starting when I was 16 years old, and it took me all a round the world. But it’s vastly different than doing music. If I call up a buddy to surf, there can be a moment of clarity, but if I get a wave that’s really incredible and try to convey that feeling to someone else, they may not be able to relate. But my wife — or anyone — can see me on stage playing and really feel what I’m feeling. It’s magical, there’s so much togetherness.”
Exploring that communal feel was one of Frankenreiter’s primary goals when recording Move By Yourself. He’s adamant about crediting his bandmates Matt Grundy (bass), Eric Brigmond (Keyboards) and Craig Barnette (Drums) with helping shape its alternately funky and blissed-out grooves, and equally eager to spread the gospel of the sort of old-fashioned recording process they used in making the disc.
“We recorded at a studio in St. Augustine, and this guy, Jim DiVito, had tons of really old equipment, which was terrific,” recalls Donavon. “He had two inch tape, no click tracks and we had to do things the way stuff had been done before all the modern studio technology was invented. Just seeing the tape roll was fun. That had a lot to do with the way the music sounds.”
Those sounds are undeniably, unabashedly, organic. Acoustic interludes like “Girl Like You (Cali Honey)” exude a back-porch vibe so vivid that it’s easy to imagine the sound of ice swirling around in glasses hoisted by fellow party-goers. And when the volume ramps up to the point where such sounds would be drowned out — as on the fiery “Fool,” which showcases Frankenreiter’s deft, bluesy fretwork — other senses get a workout via the smell of sweat and the feel of heat.
Move By Yourself has no shortage of such sonic mood swings, but there’s a definite evenness of spirit. Sure, the disc has its share of assertive moments, but it’s hard to miss the delight with which Frankenreiter approaches life, whether he’s relating his feelings about his child (as on “These Arms”) or simply waking up to greet the new dawn addressed on “Beautiful Day.” He’s a happy guy, and he’s the first to admit it.
“It’s a totally positive thing for me,” Frankenreiter declares. “I’ve talked to people who’ve asked ‘why don’t you write more depressing songs? Sure, I have bad days like anyone else, but mostly, I feel lucky. When I pick up a guitar, I feel good. It makes me want to open a bottle of wine and have a party, and that’s what I’d like people to feel when they listen to my music.”