It’s no secret that MXDWN loves Hank III. The endlessly prolific country/metal singer has been for years the most electric and exciting performer in today’s current musical landscape. His shows are a 3-hour extravaganza of outlaw country, hillbilly punk and pure death metal. Now, free from his longtime label Curb Records, Hank III has released four albums all at once on his own imprint Hank 3 records. We caught up with Hank to discuss in details his motivations, inspirations and tribulations.
I’ve been sitting with the new records for some time now, and one of the first things I notice are Ghost to a Ghost and Guttertown—compared to Straight to Hell and Damn Right, Rebel Proud—they generally seem calmer. They seem a little less rowdy than some of the other material. Are you in general at a calmer place in your life?
To me, it’s just different musicianship. The other records I think have been a bit more what I would consider country. On Ghost to a Ghost and Guttertown, out of all that music, I think there’s only five or six straight-up country songs. But when you look at songs like, “Time to Die,” “Ghost to a Ghost,” “I don’t Want to Go Home,” “The Low Line”—that’s a lot different. That’s not a country sound to me that’s ever been on a Hank III record. That’s my take on it.
The shows are still rowdy, I’m still the same person. I might have had to change a couple of things trying to preserve my voice over the years. I just think it’s different musicianship. If that makes any sense.
Absolutely. I don’t know what you can or can’t say, but I know you recently parted ways with Curb records. Would the changes in this material have been something Curb wouldn’t have been okay with releasing?
Even Rebel Within, Straight to Hell, I would record those and turn them in. And if they had a problem, they would let me know. Pretty much, they put out the record that I always wanted to get out there. It was just all the other behind the scenes stuff. They just didn’t respect me as an artist and all those other things. I kinda got to put it out there how I wanted it, it was just way different than nowadays. As far as the process of it.
When you work with someone that doesn’t respect what you do, that’s everything.
You’re setting up your own label distributed through Megaforce. In terms of the conventional definition of a label, would you ever start releasing other bands material? Or is it mostly just for your output?
No, I’ll never sign other bands because I never wanna do another musician wrong.
I will only release myself. Because I don’t want that guy to feel cheated or that he deserved more. And I straight-up, I think I have enough sounds just to keep up with my own things. It’ll be an outlet strictly for me and all my different sounds more than anything.
Does it feel good to be on your own and not be under any other label now?
Well of course. Just to make music and go through one lawyer opposed to going through five? That’s all the difference in the world. I guess there’s no one to blame but myself now. I do what I do and I put it out there, and we beat the road down.
Now, you made mention a couple of moments ago about some things you had to do with your voice. Has it been tough on your voice? A lot of the different kinds of music that you’ve done? The screaming and the Assjack material.
Of course, just trying to keep up with the country sound is the hardest. Basically I would destroy my voice every night and just put it back together and do the twang. Nowadays, I’ve had to try to sing more through the sets as opposed to screaming it. Just like last week, I went there and completely destroyed it again and I had to sing on a kids’ record on Monday. Oh yeah, that’s why I’m not supposed to do that. I’ve been very fortunate. No surgeries, no polyps, no cysts. The doctors just told me “Well man, if you want to keep your country twang you’re gonna have to put that tobacco down and cut back on those cokes and you might be able to hang in there with it for a while.” So far so good, but in general, since I play 3 hours a night, my country voice is there for about two weeks. And then, it’s a mix of Lemmy, Tom Waits and that G.G. (Allin) gravel sound. And why I’m trying to sing country, it’s a tough one to keep up with day after day.
When you’re finally done with a tour, do you have to sit and rest for a couple of weeks to let it regenerate?
Well, basically. When I’m on the road I can’t talk at all. That’s what the voice doctors tell me. No talking. Talk when you have to, and that’s that. It’s a lot of meditation. It’s a lot of warming up, a lot of exercises just to get it there. That’s always the biggest part of it. When I get home, I just you know, I just play guitar and not speak and let it come back. Especially with the way we’re getting ready to take on everything, a month on, a month off for the next two years.
I’ve been dealing with that for years though. It’s nothing new. The hardest fight on the road is keeping the voice.
From your doctors is the opinion that if you take care of it and give it a break that you’ll be able to keep touring through the rest of your life? Or is there a certain point where it might get even more strained?
I’m sure. Well, you never know, look at Robert Plant. He had that really high voice and it just naturally dropped many octaves. If I’m lucky enough to hold on to my country voice, then I will. But if I ever officially do lose the country twang, at least I’ll have different fans out there that might identify with my rougher, rawer sound.
With or without the voice I’m going to keep trying to use it as much as I can.
Now you mention your fans, and one of the things I’ve always admired about you compared to most musicians I’ve ever met. When you finish a show, the first thing you do is jump off the stage, and you just shake every fans hands, you talk to every person, you sign things, you take pictures with them. Even with some of the most down-to-Earth musicians there’s a little bit of a wall between the performer and the fan. Why have you been so dedicated to that? What makes it so easy for you and so hard for so many other musicians?
Well “a.” it’s not easy. That in itself, is a whole show of it’s own. By the time that people are saying hello to me, I’m in such a weird state from doing that performance. It’s pretty tough. It’s also something that money can’t buy. It’s the old country way. You do your show and you say, “Hello.” That’s one of the best marketing plans for me that’s ever been out there. I’ve always stayed true to that. And in return to that, fans feel connected to my music even more so. And it’s not always “You rock. You’re great. Thanks for what you do.” There’s just as much negative as there is positive that I gotta take in that situation. I think it’s very important for me to do that.
And like you say, you can’t put a price tag on that, for fans to feel like they can come up and say “Hello” to you before they head on down the road.
That’s one of the pluses about being a bar band. If I was playing amphitheatres and stuff like that, that wouldn’t be happening man. I try to keep the shows intimate. We keep it in those bars. That’s just one other aspect of it being cool for me.
And thank goodness I play different sets because most people leave. So I’m not having to deal with the huge, huge masses after every show. A lot of people take off by the time I get to the heavier stuff. The meet and greet… It’s always intense. It can be fifteen minutes or sometimes it can be two hours.
I’ve gotta give you props for the commitment.
It is what it is man. Just glad to have the energy to do it.
Now this time you head out on the road, it’s not going to be Assjack, it’s just going to be Attention Defitict Domination?
Correct. It’s just going to ADD. I had the Cattle Callin’ all learned. A month later after I had it all dialed in. Country, ADD and some Cattle Callin’. That’s the show I’m going for.
So eventually you’ll be doing some of the Cattle Callin’ material on the road? Will you ever be taking an auctioneer out with you?
That’ll be the icing on the cake. I’m looking for that kid that wants to be involved on it. But for right now, I have to play the samples. But we had that whole set learned, and it was ready man and sure enough, was just one of those things happened, had to call it. Now I’m not sure how long it’s going to take to get it up and running.
Some of the personnel weren’t available?
It’s just one of those things with musicians, they come and go. My motto is, if you ain’t happy no more man, just let me know. It was just one of those things. I just had a player that didn’t seem like he was into it as much.
No sense having people stick around if they’re not really enjoying it.
No doubt, it’s hard work man. The kind of show that I do. I don’t care who you are, living on a bus with 12 people. It’s not easy. It’s like a different kind of marriage. Full on man. It takes a certain person to deal with that, and it takes a certain person to balance their drug use. I’m not going to be the one that says, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” If you got the guts to come on the road, as long as you’re not doing shooting heroin or smoking crack, you know man, I’m gonna let you dig your own ditch and I’ll keep my score on pluses and minus and if you’re going to make it through with us.
I wouldn’t know myself, but from every musician I’ve ever talked to, being on the road is not easy.
Not at all man. As Gene Simmons would say, “That road will kick your ass.” If you’re going to be way strung out on the road, it’s even worse. With the kind of energy that I try to project every night, we ain’t getting no younger man, while I got the energy and the balls, that’s why I’m playing as long as I can. I’ve got the rest of my life to just play an acoustic guitar on a trailer bed and keep the audience entertained and I still do that. Not even a year ago… a fundraiser, kind of party, playing in front of 500 people with just me and my guitar. While I got the crew and the bus and able to keep it on the road, yeah man I gotta try to have that big sound as much as possible.
You mention playing just yourself with an acoustic guitar. A lot of people who are diehard Hank III fans, some of their favorite material are the songs woven into the second disc of Straight to Hell. Many of those people have wondered if you’d ever just do a tour on your own, just an acoustic guitar doing those songs or other songs like it?
Maybe, but see those are more depressing, sad, bummed out kinda songs. Everybody’s already bummed out and sad, especially because of this economy and part of my job is get people to forget about their troubles, and to get people to hang on. So the way I’m looking at it right now, I’m trying to get people to have some fun and to enjoy themselves, and take it to the next level just forgetting about their problems. Now, me with an acoustic guitar? That’s going to be kind of a shush, quiet, laid-back show. That’s not my crowd is right now. Most of my crowd is pretty rowdy right now and full on. They’re there to feel some energy. It just goes back to, I’ve got plenty of time to grow older and do that. But I might not have time to do what I’m doing right now.
You mentioned this tour will be the ADD band. Does that mean the Assjack experience is no longer part of the tours that you do?
It’s just a different sound. I’m sure that Assjack in time will come back in play. Attention Deficit Domination is more the doom, sludgy sound that I’ve been into for years. It’s just another voice that I wanted to project out there. It takes a band like The Melvins, Sleep, Buried at Sea, it’s just a slower, heavier thing. I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s just another way of me showing my span as a musician on different kinds of music. ADD is slow, the 3 Bar Ranch is as fast as you can get it. The difference is, it’s a different name, a different feel. In time Assjack might come back around. I’m always going to be trying other things..yeah, I’ll definitely be doing my country show first and foremost. You can look at Les Claypool as kind of an inspiration on, “Well you can’t really tell what kind of show you might get in five years, who knows?”
As far as content is concerned lyrically, you talk about a lot of hard times, you talk about a lot of hard experiences. One of the things that’s resonated so strongly, regardless of what you’re singing about, regardless of the subject matter. I don’t hear “Things are bad.” I hear joy. I hear happiness. I hear that life has a lot of great things to offer. And you seem to be able to find the joy in the dark side of life. How do you balance a dichotomy like that? How do you find the fire through all of that to resonate so strongly?
The biggest payoff you’ll ever get is that fan that walks up to you and says, “Man your music pulled me through some really hard times and you kept me hanging on through that divorce.” Or, “You kept me from killing myself.” And stuff like that, those are the biggest payoffs you can ever get. Music is therapy. It’s been my psychiatrist for many year. A lof the inspiration is from that. A song like “Candidate for Suicide” might be misinterpreted. It’s more of a—that goes through everybody’s mind. I was looking okay, most everybody’s on anti-depressants and pretty miserable. It seems like everybody but could be a candidate for suicide. But I’ve had a lot of people that have come up to me, have heard that song and they say, “Man those feelings aren’t nagging me near as much as they used to. You really did help me get that past that.” With as much rowdiness that I sing about, that’s the big payoff. Giving people hope and getting past your troubled years. I myself, I didn’t think I would be around this long and I’ve at least made it through and still going and thankful to be around. That’s a lot of the inspiration as far as being there for the fans, doing the music. And the biggest payoff you’ll ever get is bringing the smile to somone’s face, making them forget about their problems or knowing you might’ve helped them through a really bad spot in life.
Last question. Is there any chance that you’re going to do a full tour with Arson Anthem anytime soon?
We did one in January. I know in Philip’s been real busy with Down. I think he might have had some other things on the backburner. I know he’s been real busy working on his bands like Warbeast and Harp. It’s kind of hard to say what might happen with that. It’s always fun when we hook up and just jam out, act like we’re young again. Just having, I know Philip loves playing the guitar. I’m going back to my roots, I’m playing drums with that. Keeping it simple and just jamming man. Who knows what will happen with that. So, you never can tell.
All photos by Raymond Flotat