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Exclusive Interview: Hank3
The career of Shelton Hank Williams III (aka Hank3) has doubled as a sort of crusade in which he breaks all the rules of country music while somehow managing to honor its traditions at the same time. As he put it back in ’06, “Everybody calls themselves outlaws and all that stuff, but that’s what’s missing in country music. Everything’s so clean and pretty and perfect, and you need a couple of people in there that aren’t perfect and that don’t sound the best. That’s the way some of the best guys were, man.”
Since the third-generation rebel’s most recent LP, 2010’s aptly titled Rebel Within, he’s gotten off Curb Records and launched his own label, the Megaforce-distributed Hank3 Records (the new moniker to distinguish a representation of his post-Curb career). He’s also been busy, to say the least, writing and recording four albums at once—Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown, a double LP of refracted country music, the literally unprecedented 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin’ and the sludgy Attention Deficit Domination – and they’re all hitting on the very same day, Sept. 6. We don’t believe anyone has done such a thing before—or even thought of doing it, for that matter. It’s too damn crazy.
“It’s been intense, man,” says Hank3 of the undertaking. “Havin’ my own label hasn’t cut into my creativity so far, and that was the main thing I was worried about. Since I did all four records at once, there was a lot to organize and a lot to deal with in general. I do it all on my end as far as the layouts and the art and all that shit, and then send it to ’em. Megaforce has stepped up and helped me create my vision, cuz no one else would be into puttin’ all that product out at once. That was huge for me, man, to approach it like that. I wanted to come out of the gate full-on, and so far, so good.”
Looking back on his latest achievement and down the road at the same time, Hank3 philosophizes, “The way I approach records nowadays is it could be my very last one. So that’s the big inspiration for it, and just gettin’ by each day and tryin’ to make it through another tour – that’s the deal. I’m not tryin’ to get no big payoff or anything. Will I ever be able to do this again in my career? Probably not. This’ll be the only time I’ll be able to pop out that much energy at once. But all in all, it’s just kinda bein’ like the Melvins or the Reverend Horton Heat. I’m a bar band, that’s what I am, so I’ll be beatin’ down the road as long as we can, doin’ the show and sayin’ hello, man.”
I’ve gotta start this thing off by talking about your record label. It has to feel so good to be doing things on your own terms now.
It does. It’s like a new beginning. I was held back for so many years on so many different levels. It’s no fun working for someone that doesn’t respect the artist and what you do. My job is to go out there and make music and do my thing. Having that taken from you time after time gets really hard. There’s gonna be a lot of exciting things happening and now I only have to go through my lawyer and put my vision out there. There’s nobody to blame but me now! I’m just trying to play my music and do what I do. This is the first time ever that a release is coming out and we’re starting our tour. I’ve never done that. I’ve just toured to tour. The next two years are going to be full-on for me. As long as it doesn’t cut into my creative process I’m all good.
The music industry has changed so much over the years. Artists need to realize you have to do things a little differently these days to stay relevant – and that doesn’t always mean being signed to a major label.
That’s kinda how it was in the beginning. With all the outlets out there now it gives the musician a whole new way to get out their vision. You and I both know that some of the best music out there doesn’t make a dime. People play it because they love it. Hard work pays off. If you take away the family name and all that stuff associated with me, people see we’re not trying to take their money. We’re trying to put on the longest show for the cheapest ticket price and making sure we shake that hand and the end of the night and say “hello”. I like to make people feel connected and make them forget about their problems for a little bit and have a little bit of fun. That mentality plus letting people film and bootleg our shows and really being a part of it has been some of the best marketing that money can’t buy. We have a very loyal fan base that identifies with what we do out there. That’s one of the advantages of being a bar band. That’s what helps make it so special.
Now let’s talk about these albums. Four albums released at the same time is a huge feat for anybody! Did your newly found freedom inspire you to pull off something like this or did you just have that much material ready to go?
A lot of it did. I wanted to try and do something different and I wanted to come out of the gate really strong. The only person that might have come close to the “doing something different” was Frank Zappa. He didn’t get to put out his vision because the label held him back from releasing certain records all at once. It’s a time to give. I want to flood the market. I might never have the energy or focus to accomplish this again so let’s put it out there, man. I’ve refused to sell Curb’s product at my merch table for 14 years. I’ve never got to sell music at my own show because of my own pride. Giving my fans that option and having my music at the merch stand is a big deal to me.
Working on this definitely took it’s toll. I was getting a little schizted out and the wheels were turning a bit too fast but it was very special to me. From January until June 1 – every day from 8AM until I crashed out was dedicated to finishing these projects.
With such different styles on each album, how did you break up your day as far as songwriting went?
During the daytime it was always a country focus. From 8AM until 5 or 6PM things were a little more serious. From 8PM until midnight I didn’t have to worry about it as much. The first three months was definitely about getting the country stuff outta the way. I tried to do it the right way. It was a little bit of everything, man. All at once. If I felt like drumming I’d nail that. If I was having a good singing day I’d try to hammer out all ten songs at once.
You’re that one unique guy who can musically take on anything you want to do and your fans embrace it all. What makes you so privileged to be able to do that and get away with it?
I pay a lot of respects to them at first. I give them their money’s worth for the first hour and a half and then after that they may go “OK! That’s enough for us. He’s gonna be weird and do his other thing now.” If I wouldn’t have stayed true on at least delivering a full-on country show for that first hour and a half, I don’t think it would be like that. At the end of the night – still to this day – there may be 1,000 people there for a show, but at the end of the night there may be 100 people left. I guess that’s what makes it special. To me personally, that’s my way of not selling out. That makes it special to that rock kid who knows me for my country songs – but he’s here for my metal stuff. It all goes back to paying respects where respects are due. If I would have dicked off my country fans with a bunch of heavy metal at the start of my show…I don’t know. I don’t think they would stay that loyal. I still shake that hand and say “hello” at the end of the show. It’s one other aspect in trying to keep it real.
I’m sure you’ve turned a country fan onto some metal and there has to be a doom rock guy out there who started listening to country because of you.
I’ve heard that a lot. Let’s talk about Hank Williams for a second. “Move It On Over” and Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” – it’s the same damn thing. Hank back in the day was combining country and rock. It went from Hank Jr. to Johnny Cash to Lynryd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. Then it went to David Allan Coe and Pantera being hand in hand. There’s a lot of kids that wear those black t-shirts that love country music. Some don’t get in until they see the live show and feel the energy we’re putting off.
What about dedication from female fans? Is it “sex, drugs and hellbilly rock ‘n roll” at a Hank3 show?
If I was just a country act – yeah. By the end of the night when I’m done playing, all those pretty girls and fast movin’ people are gone. Let’s just say I played an hour and that was that. You’d definitely have your massive big parties and a lot more ladies lined up in front of the tour bus. But – that’s not the case! At the end of the night I’m playing more to the brothers out there. There’s only a select few that stick around for the whole show. People’s attention spans are only about five minutes these days and I’m draining them for a three hour show. But don’t get me wrong – there are still parties goin’ on.
You always hear stories and never know how much is truth and how much is exaggerated. Is it hype or is there really a conflict between you and your dad?
It’s just a personal thing. If you look throughout the years, I’ve never been invited to or have taken part in many things. That’s all on his end. Look at that big show they did paying respects to him that was on a TV network. I never got an invitation. I hold on to my work ethic and do things a little differently than he does. I try to worry about my son now. He’s got other kids. I don’t quite know what it is. Maybe my mom just really pissed him off. Who knows, man? I’ve paved my own way. I’ve never seen a dollar from the Hank Williams estate. Curb projected the idea that he paved the way for me with that Three Hanks record. Yeah, ok. That’s not how it is. People can see that 15 years later. I hope my work ethic sticks out a lot more than that other stuff. He didn’t have that choice. I did. My mother didn’t push me. My father didn’t push me. I got into it because I love playing drums, man. To this day I’m playing drums on all my records. In the end I’m just a drummer. I wasn’t forced into it. It’s just what I wanted to do.
Hank, I appreciate you taking time out for this man. What would you like to say to wrap things up?
If you’re interested in the records you can get ‘em off Hank3.com. We’ll be out playing to you in your city before you know it!
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