AN INTERVIEW WITH HANK WILLIAMS III
By David Iozzia
When Hank Williams III answered interview questions for davesontour.com, he was out on the road in Lincoln, Nebraska, kicking back on the tour bus and waiting for showtime.
Dave: Hey Hank III, thanks for letting me conduct this interview. Best of luck with your new record, "Straight to Hell," and the tour supporting it. With your lineage and your family's country music legacy, nobody is more qualified to make this statement. It's from the lyrics of your song "Thrown Out of the Bar." You state that "country music has lost its soul." How has that happened?
HANK III: The lawyers out-smarted the musicians and took over the business. It's been fucked ever since. There used to be a little half and half going on. Nowadays, it's nothing but "the machine" running it.
Dave: Today's country music is not your country music, and it's not the country music of Hank Williams and the country outlaws that followed in his footsteps. Country music has evolved and changed, for better or worse, over the last 60 years. Why did it change?
HANK III: Things change quick dude, and some people got bored playing just four chords. Others started figuring out how to make slicker sounds and all of that stuff. Then, if we skip over the 70's and 80's, performers like Shania Twain came along. Before she ever did a show in the country world she sold 5 million records. That sets a standard and everybody tries to jump on that bandwagon.
Dave: When did it start changing?
HANK III: Things got different after the 70's. From me listening and watching the business, that's when people in New York City and Los Angeles started getting involved in the country music scene.
Dave: Is it too late, or can you change it back, or change it into something new and improved?
HANK III: I don't consider myself a "purist." Guys like Wayne "The Train" Hancock are the purists in country music. He's the Hank Williams of today and Dale Watson is the Merle Haggard of today. I'm not here to change country music or to save it or whatever the task is. I just do what I do. Some people respect it, some people don't. I'm just one of the rebels out there, talking the shit and keeping it real.
Dave: What does your record "Straight to Hell" do to "put the dick back in Dixie"?
HANK III: It's made our record label start a new division. Instead of Curb Records, they're named Bruc Records. That's a big step in itself. Plus, they added a "parental advisory" to my record. I've had a fight going on for years with my label. I had a "Fuck Curb" campaign ongoing, and they've gotten scared and made some changes. I recorded this album on a $500 machine. I'm showing bands that you don't have to spend $200,000 making a record and then be in debt to your record label forever. I'm out there, laying down a foundation and paying the dues. My audience ranges from 18 to 80, and I get respect from the metal world and the country world. Plus, it's the year of the devil, and everything adds up perfect.
Dave: I'm enjoying listening to your new record. There's enough banjo, fiddle, and steel pedal guitar for me to call it country. Yet your attitude, your lyrics, and the emotions you sing with would fit on a punk rock record. It's such a unique musical vision that you show with this record. Reading and listening between the lines I can hear you stating musically, "Fuck country, pop-country, and alt-country, I'm gonna throw down something new I call punk-country. Is that your intent?
HANK III: I'm just doing what I do, man. I'm not out to set goals, to change things, to break records, create a new sound, or any of that shit. My job is to make records, get them released, and play shows. After that, whatever happens happens. I've seen way too many people set themselves up only to fall down pretty fuckin' hard. I don't expect shit out of what I do. All I expect is to make a couple of grand at the end of the tour, go home for a month to heal up, and then go out and do it again. My mentality is to do that until I'm at least 50.
Dave: Your musical statement is so natural and it never sounds calculated. Neil Young was quoted once talking about Lynyrd Skynyrd and he said, "they play it like they mean it." My quote about you, which I hope a few people read and believe, is "Hank III says it, and he fuckin' means it."
HANK III: I hear you. That's one of the good things, or bad things, about me. I speak the truth in my songs and to whoever asks me questions, whether it hurts me or not. That's just the way it is, and it's one of my biggest problems.
Dave: To me Hank III, that's one of your biggest attributes. Don't change a thing. Let's get back to your new album, "Straight to Hell." You self-produced it, going low-tech and low-budget. Please elaborate on the production of this record and the D-1600 digital recording technology that you used.
HANK III: The Korg D-1600 sells for about $500 on Ebay. They are very musician-friendly and easy to use, a lot more than Pro-Tools. With a couple of moves, you're plugged in, playing, recording, and ready to go. I think every songwriter or band should have one in the rehearsal room. With a couple of decent microphones, you're on your way making music.
Dave: If somebody was only going to add one Hank Williams III song from "Straight to Hell" to their i-Pod, which song do you think tells people what you're all about?
HANK III: Some folks say I'm ill-mannered and that I'll self-destruct, so the song "Dick in Dixie" best explains what I do. We're a dysfunctional family and that's what people say about us all of the time. People say "he's a loose cannon and he ain't gonna make it very long." Well, I've beaten down this road for 12 years. So what if I'm not one of those guys who stepped right into the game, didn't pay any dues at all, and still got embraced by the Country Music Association.
Dave: I read a review of "Straight to Hell" and the writer stated that your "grandfather would be proud," and I'd have to agree. You chose to cover "I Could Never Be Ashamed of You" by Hank Williams on the second disc from "Straight to Hell." With that in mind, are there things that you do that Hank Williams would be ashamed of?
HANK III: The Playgirl interview I did would probably embarrass him. No telling man, because you're talking about a guy that was half the time sober and the other half the time he was really drunk. Back then, he was rolling cars, getting in fights, and carrying guns. The Assjack and metal music has people saying that Hank Williams is rolling around in his grave. Well that's fine too. I chose my path a long time ago, taking the hard way and not the easy way. If I was taking the easy way, I'd be wearing a clean cowboy hat and boots, doing the least amount of shows for the most amount of money. I'm totally opposite of that. Hank Williams might be proud of that to a point, but shit, everybody's gotta be their own person.
Dave: Your father was only a few years old when his father died. Did you learn about Hank Williams through books, or did you have relatives who told you about him firsthand?
HANK III: I learned about him mostly by being a fan of his music. I heard the stories from Roy Acuff, Little Jimmy Dickens, Minnie Pearl, and George Jones. I heard all of the goods and bads firsthand.
Dave: On the title track of the record you sing "I'm going straight to hell, and nothing's slowing me down." Nothing today, but how about tomorrow? Is there anything that might make you look hard at yourself in the mirror and cause you to change and slow down?
HANK III: If I make it to 50, that's when I'll enjoy the other side of life. I'm here to beat down this road as long as I can. When I'm 50, if my ears are still working, I'll take a break from the road. I'll do 20 shows a year instead of 180. I'll do some mixing and producing. Until then it's a rat race, making sure the crew's taken care of, kicking the booking agent's ass, management's ass, and the record label's ass because no one's really working for me. It's a ball of anxiety every day. My job is to play music, but I've been forced to turn it into a business. I have 10 projects sitting there gathering dust for a fuckin' year. It's frustrating because all I'm doing is making music and trying to be creative. All they're doing is sitting on it and acting like I'm gonna be here forever. As far as drugging and drinking and all of that shit goes, I'm gonna be here for a long time. I don't have no fuckin' deathwish. Even though I'm going straight to hell, I'm here to have a long, miserable life.
Dave: Let's change gears and talk about your tour. You recently played at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. That's one musical event that I haven't had the chance to attend. Please talk about SXSW from two perspectives, onstage performing and as a music fan walking around and checking out all of the bands.
HANK III: Being a music fan walking around, it would be real cool. It's a damn good time. That's probably the only good thing about it. It's supposed to be for bands that aren't signed, but I've had to do it two times and hopefully this was my last one. Onstage, I don't consider it a real gig. It's all about the media and that type of stuff. There's only a few real people and fans in the mix. For guys like myself or White Stripes, there's no fuckin' reason for us to be there.
Dave: Your current tour has you playing three different sets each night. Please describe the three sets, and who are the musicians joining you onstage during this tour?
HANK III: My opening set is my country stuff, it's high-energy at times, but we do have some slow stuff. Some days the voice works great, some days it's ragged out as shit, but I'm always fighting for it. Joe Buck is on bass, Andy Gibson is on steel guitar, Adam McOwen is on fiddle, and Munash Sami is on drums. The middle set I call hellbilly, with the same country instruments involved. Gary Lindsay, the frontman from Assjack comes out, and we take it to another level. It's pretty rockin', like a pumped up Reverend Horton Heat, with a little more screaming involved. After a couple of minutes break, it's time for Assjack. It's full-on, it's hardcore, and there's a little bit of punk and metal influences. It's high-energy, with a lot of screaming and loud guitars. Gary's fronting, I'm on electric guitar and vocals, Joe Buck's on bass, and Munash Sami is still up there drumming.
Dave: Are the country music fans leaving early while the hardcore music fans are arriving late?
HANK III: It depends. We usually lose some people when Assjack comes out, but it is a 2 1/2 hour show in total. Sometimes 50 people take off, sometimes 250, and sometimes it's the same. The kids in black show up early and sit there, but you can tell they're waiting for the harder stuff.
Dave: Changing equipment a little between sets is easy, but do you have to change your frame of mind for the different styles of music?
HANK III: No, not at all. The whole frame of mind thing is mid-afternoon, warming up my voice for the country set. That's it. It's what makes me have an awful night or a halfway decent night. If I have no fuckin' voice at all, I hate everything and everybody. That's awful because I'm feeling it for my fans, and I want to put on a good show. When I have no country voice, it sucks. But that's the way it is, I chose my path a long time ago doing all of the screaming stuff. I've been doing the three sets a long time so it's all a blur. Here's part one, here's part two, and here's the third; we're getting close to the end. Then it's time to say hello to everybody.
Dave: Is it a physical challenge to sing three sets every night?
HANK III: Definitely. I do everything I can to wake up my voice. I do so many tricks to keep it going. Getting the voice and keeping it is the never-ending fight.
Dave: Most of the tour dates on your current tour are in the heartland, and you're giving country music fans a dose of metal madness. Do you play on the West coast or in the Northeast to give your rock fans a dose of country?
HANK III: Oh yeah, this is only the first run of the year. I just sent my booking agent 60 more dates, all over Texas, California, and the Northeast. We're just getting back on our feet after one of our guys got hurt in a car wreck. We'll tour all year, four to six weeks at a time, with a month off in-between. That's how I like to handle it, that's all that my voice can handle.
Dave: Speaking of rock music, since you name your country heroes on "Straight to Hell," who are your rock and roll heroes?
HANK III: Buzz Osbourne from the Melvins, Kirk Windstein from Crowbar, Henry Rollins from Black Flag, Phil Anselmo from Pantera, Matt Pike from High on Fire, and bands like Husker Du and early Pentagram.
Dave: The band Superjoint Ritual rocked a club called Starland Ballroom in New Jersey last year. I didn't get a chance to meet you, but I did meet up with drummer Joe Fazzio, who gave me a pair of his sticks for my drumstick collection. What's the current status of Superjoint Ritual?
HANK III: Superjoint is officially in the grave right now, Phil's put it in the ground. He's recording a new Down record and touring with them. My new project with Phil Anselmo is called Arson Anthem. We started it a few weeks ago. It's old school, brutal, and hardcore. Phil's on guitar, I'm drumming, Mike Williams from Eyehategod is on vocals, and a kid named Colin plays bass.
Dave: Superjoint Ritual has also played on the Ozzfest tour, which has become an annual concert event. Please talk about your experiences playing at Ozzfest.
HANK III: As far as the historic aspects, it was an honor to be up there with Slayer, Judas Priest, Black Label Society, and Black Sabbath. For everything Phil preached about Superjoint Ritual, he and I agreed that we should not have been on the main stage. All the kids throw down and all of that kind of music goes down on the side stage.
Dave: Would you care to switch places and ask me a question?
HANK III: Sure Dave. What's the last show you've been to?
Dave: I just saw The Cult at the House of Blues in Atlantic City. I mentioned my drumstick collection to you earlier. At the show, I went headfirst over a metal railing, cut up my shoulder on the way down, and ended up with my first souvenir tambourine after their singer Ian Astbury tossed it into the crowd.
HANK III: Dude, that rules! What a funny story.
Dave: Is there a question you've always hope an interviewer would ask you that's never been asked? If so, what's the question and how would you answer it?
HANK III: It's probably been asked but what got me into music was drums. They created my love of music, especially the metal and hardcore stuff. Drums are my psychiatrist, and they turned me on to a whole new style of music. To this day, they make me feel like I'm 17 years old in an old guy's body.
Dave: Do you have plans to do either a rock or punk solo record someday soon?
HANK III: I was told there may be a chance in the next six months, but saying and doing is two different things. I've been fighting a long time to get that record done.
Dave: Let's have a little bit of fun and pick a rockin' all-star band to join you touring that type of record. Pick a few guys that you've never played with that you'd like to accompany you onstage.
HANK III: Matt Pike from High on Fire on guitar and Pete Sandoval from Morbid Angel on drums. Working with Mike Patton from Faith No More would be awesome. Opening shows for Mastodon, Lamb of God, or Strapping Young Lad would be off the hook.
Dave: Let's have a little bit more fun. You've played on tribute albums to Johnny Cash, ZZ Top, and Bruce Springsteen. Pick a Hank III song that each of them could hypothetically do justice to on a tribute album to you.
HANK III: Johnny Cash could cover "Crazed Country Rebel" and Bruce could do "Cecil Brown." Ol' Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top could do "Down in Houston," but that song's not out yet. Me and Billy are supposed to do that song together someday.
Dave: You clearly express your opinions on country music today and Music Row on your current record "Straight to Hell." What's your opinion on the rock and roll music industry today?
HANK III: I don't know my politics too much on the rock and roll side. I don't watch much TV or listen to the radio so I'm pretty disconnected. In March 2006, Black Sabbath was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and that's about 15 years too late. If it took this long to recognize Black Sabbath, then man, something is definitely beyond fucked up.
Dave: Your song "Not Everybody Likes Us" knocks Kid Rock, stating he "don't come from where I come from." Well he doesn't come from where I come either, and I wish he'd go back to wherever he is from. He's showing up everywhere and I wish he'd crawl under a rock and hide. I can understand a band like Black Sabbath letting Metallica induct them at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. Why in the world would a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd not only let Kid Rock be at the podium to induct them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but also let him perform onstage with them?
HANK III: I lost respect for Kid Rock when dead seriously, in the first minutes of meeting him, he told me that he was the next Elvis. My reason for the song lyrics is my Dad's duet with Kid Rock. He makes his money talking about bitches and whores, and they give me shit about my songs. It's a double standard. Giving me hell for being a southern rebel is completely out of line. Hank Jr. called Kid Rock his rebel southern son in a song so people assume he's my brother. Fuck no! That's why I had to state in a song that it's set in stone, and he ain't from our blood. It's gotta be a payoff or money oriented when a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd lets him up on stage. Somebody from the Allman Brothers or somebody with a history should have inducted Lynyrd Skynyrd, not some coked-up guy from Detroit who's made a little niche. But they've all fallen for his shit: Willie Nelson, George Jones, Billy Gibbons, Hank Jr., and countless rock bands. He must have a helluva management to get him in on all of those schmooze gigs. It is what it is though. It's weird. Same thing with Jerry Lee Lewis: Kid Rock went up on The Killer's fuckin' piano during Jerry Lee's big night. That's disrespecting to the old guys because it's them, not him, that's being inducted.
Dave: If I picked up a dictionary in a bookstore in the state of Tennessee and looked up the word bad-ass, I'd see your picture next to the definition. The same book in a Texas bookstore would have a picture of Dimebag Darrell. How would the word be defined when applied to you and Dime?
HANK III: For me, I'm a road dog doing what I do, out on the road for the sake of music. Eating it, living it, and breathing it. As far as Dime goes, he was bad before he was nine years old. That big head of hair, playing a mean guitar, drinking like a fool, always playing pranks, and always with a smile on his face. There's times he'd be pissed off and throw a ruckus, but you'll never meet a guy with such great vibes around him. He made it look easy. But them guitar players have that damn monkey on their back like Randy Rhoads, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dimebag, and countless others. There's a fucked-up, weird thing that has something out for them guitar players.
Dave: It's been a little more than a year since Dimebag's tragic and senseless death. Too many people are starting to forget, and I want to do all I can do to keep his memory alive. Would you please share a special memory or story about your relationship with the late, great Dimebag Darrell?
HANK III: The last time I saw Dime, we went back to his house after a show. We were recording music and having some fun. We had a misunderstanding with a stripper from his club who was on our bus. A bunch of police came, and after they talked with me, Dime smoothed everything out. Now we had to get back to the interstate after partying all night. He lived in suburbia and he said he'd get us there. He takes out the neighbors mailbox and shrubs driving away from his house, destroying everything in his path, yet we got to the spot to turn the bus left onto the highway. That motherfucker goes straight into the woods at 40 miles per hour and crashes into a tree. He gets out of the car, throws his horns into the air and screams "fuckin' rock and roll, man." We helped him out of the ditch, back into his car, and he swore he'd get back home. That's the last time I saw him, with a big smile on his face, raising the horns, wrecking his car, and having fun.
Dave: The Internet, with personal website forums, e-mail, and websites like Myspace.com, gives musical artists a lot of opportunity to communicate one-on-one with their fans. Video and audio technology these days gives fans a chance to make pretty high-quality tapes of bands at concerts and you have a very liberal taping policy at your shows. In their day, do you think Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr. would have embraced these technologies if they were available?
HANK III: Hank Sr. should have embraced it more because there's only a handful of film reels of him performing. Hank Jr. would probably not embrace it because he was born into the family money and he's more about business. I always looked at it like taping never hurt the Grateful Dead. The record company machine holds us back so taping of shows gets our music out there faster to the fans. By the time you hear them on record, the songs are already old.
Dave: That's all of the questions I have. Is there anything I've neglected to cover that you'd like to promote or do you have any closing comments for your fans and music fans worldwide?
HANK III: Keep a look out for Arson Anthem. Phil Anselmo will have his record company, Housecore, up and going soon. We'll have a shit load of projects coming out. I'll be on the road forever doing my thing, and hit us up on the Internet to see what we're doing.
Full Name: Hank Williams III
Birthday: December 12, 1972
Birthplace: Nashville, Tennessee
Hobbies: Internet gaming, drumming in my basement
Favorite beverage: water
Favorite food: free food
First record you ever bought: something by April Wine
Last CD you bought: Jon Wayne: "Texas Funeral"
Favorite U.S. city to visit: San Francisco
Favorite international city: Kamloops, Canada
Favorite venue to play: any venue that lets people smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol
Favorite film: "Ichi The Killer"