LOS ANGELES, January 25, 2014 — Hank Williams III has a famous father and grandfather. While some may got lost in these two shadows, Hank3 has created his own niche from where a new shadow is cast. Hank3’s live show, which is one of the best you will see, is a 4 ½ journey through outlaw country, doom, metal, and punk rock music. Wells On Music spoke with Hank3 back in October while he was on tour.
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Kevin Wells: When did you first get into punk music?
Hank3: Well, I would say drums. Playing drums really got me into it. You know, the first records I ever had in life was a KISS record and a Walt Disney Horror Movie Record. Energetic Elvis Presley and that kind of music got me into playing drums, and Queen, but when I moved to Atlanta when I was like 11 or 13, there was a radio station called 88.5 and it was a college independent radio station that could play anything they wanted to. I would just record the shows and it was the first time I got to hear Sex Pistols or Dead Kennedys or 7 Seconds, and there are still bands I don’t know who they are to this day. I’m still trying to figure out who they are. I still have those tapes. I played it for people that’s been around the music business for a long time. Living in Atlanta and listening to that radio station is really what introduced me to it.
KW: Which bands would you list as influences?
H3: I basically learned how to play music listening to bands like Misfits or Black Flag, Melvins. Any bands with a lot of heavy power chords in it or intense drum beat or straight up drum beats. A guy that used to babysit me was a drummer and he would show me how to play drums and Queen’s We Will Rock You or Billy Squier’s The Stroke, the simple beats just got me going. It was just a natural progression. As time went on, the music got heavier. I got to get into more extreme bands in the metal world, punk world, country world, and it just kinda came together.
KW: When you listen to music, do you prefer punk over country?
H3: It really kind of depends what kind of mood I am in. What I’m really into right now that’s covering multi-genres, but it’s basically old punk rock is a compilation called, Killed By Death. It is old 70s punk rock all the way up to current bands, but each song is a different band and it’s worldwide. It’s not just American punk rock. They say there’s a thousand of these out there. I only got about 45 of the records, but that’s really sparking my interest because it’s introducing me to people I never have had the chance [to hear]. There’s so much out there, it’s hard to keep up with. The Killed By Death compilations are really cool, man. You can find ‘em on Ebay and stuff. You should be able to buy one for $25, but some people try to get a hundred out of ‘em.
KW: Do you have a preference on playing punk versus country?
H3: No, to me, the performance is all one performance. I put just as much hard work into every aspect of it as possible. So, if I’m doing country then I’m doing everything in my power to put on a good country show. When we’re doing the rock stuff, I’m just totally focusing on that. When I am recording drum tracks, when I am making records or doing stuff like that, yeah, I might get into a couple of weeks where I’m just listening to, you know, if it’s Immortal or if it’s just way high energy music just to help me get locked in. I’ll go through phases, but all in all, you know, it’s not just one thing. I love rockin’ out. I love classic rock. I’m in to the outlaws. It just kind of depends on the day. Musically, it just depends on the voice, the band, the audience, so many factors go into it. Henry Rollins once said, “A great performance is when you just take that one deep breath and it takes you through the whole show.” That’s kind of where I come from.
KW: Let’s talk about your new records. What was the recording process like?
H3: Well, it went by pretty fast, man. I didn’t pick up a pen until the end of January for both records and started writing all the songs in February and started tracking in late February. Basically, I was kind of doing both of ‘em at the same time. I always start with acoustics first. Get the acoustic tracks out of the way to the click track on the country records, just to get the foundation solid and tight. The punk rock was the first time in a while I actually played the acoustic and sang at the same time. So that made it quite a bit of a challenge because I don’t have another engineer there with me or anything. I have to do it all in one take. To get that one take can sometimes take 75 to 100 times to make sure it’s in time and rhythm and I’m happy with the vocal performance. All in all it went smooth.
Towards the end of it, around April, I was getting pretty burnt out. It was starting to take a toll on me. It’s just like anything, it’s a create destroy process and I’m always trying to do the best I can do; writing it, recording it, mixing it, engineering it, playing the acoustic, did the drums on both the records, recorded all the players all within four months and having it turned in. So, after I got done with it, yeah, I was down for almost two months. I have been noticing that in 2011 when I put out four records, it took a lot out of me. I knew that one would, but the way this one took me down, I was like freakin’ out for a little while.
I guess I gotta change up our recording process a little bit and not do ‘em so fast. You know, those were pretty deep records. The country had a lot of highs and lows on it and a lot of depression off in there. The punk rock record is basically like imagine a skateboarder that had a really bad wreck that’s trying to pick himself off the floor and put himself back together. That was a lot of the motivation on that record.
KW: Do you normally do everything on your records like this?
H3: I’ve done that for the last seven, eight years. I’ve always been really involved with it. A lot of the times I’ve at least had someone to help out, but this time the guy that I usually have to help out wasn’t around. So this time I had to just do it. I’m glad over the years I’ve hung out with enough engineers and sound people to know at least how to do that stuff. It’s a very hands on project. Just the whole package is very hands on. Even the way I do my live performances, not the best sound, not the worst sound, but it’s a little more my sound, a little more different. One them is produced a little bigger, like a song like Held Up on the country record compared to a song like Different From the Rest on the punk record is two different worlds. One’s raw and one’s not.
KW: What made you do the vocals the way you did?
H3: There are a lot of influences on that record. I am the first to say I think it’s a throwback record. Aside from the obvious vocal influences you here, which are the Misfits kind of depth, you’ve got the Minor Threat – Ian MacKaye influence in there. Every now and again you’ve got the Perry Farrell Jane’s Addiction influence in there. I didn’t notice the Ramones until I started playing it live. When I was doing it live, I was starting to feel some of that coming around. It was just a little more of a rounder voice for me. A lot of people that have known me throughout the years would say, “If you didn’t tell me that was you, I wouldn’t think that was you.” They’re so used to me singing in a high, nasally, clangy voice most of the time or the older stuff I used to full-on scream as much as I could. Now, someone most people have never heard of as far as the vocal influence goes, it comes from the girl named Tia Sprocket. I got to work with her one time. She was in Luscious Jackson for a while. She’s someone I always looked up to as a singer ‘cause she’s so powerful and so big and I’m just jealous of her voice. It’s like Freddie Mercury from Queen, he’s one of those guys that just had an amazing voice or Layne Staley from Alice In Chains. [Tia Sprockett] brought a lot of influence to the table as well. The song 5 Mile Way is full-on a 7 Seconds song. It’s basically such a 7 Seconds song that I got in touch with him and said, “Dude, I can’t record this unless I have y’alls blessing. It’s basically coming from your inspiration.” And that goes all the way back to that radio show when I was a kid recording those tapes and finally figuring out who that was. There are a lot of influences on the record.
KW: Is A Fiendish Threat a nod to the Misfits and Minor Threat?
H3: Well, it’s kind of a nod and also I wanted to make sure that people, when they heard this, I wanted to be compared more to Misfits and Minor Threat more so to this other person that some people might compare it to. That was my main goal with it. I didn’t want to be compared to the other person, I wanted to be compared to Misfits and Minor Threat and having the combination of A Fiendish Threat blends them both in there for me.
KW: Feel the Sting is probably my favorite song on A Fiendish Threat. That fiddle is insane. Do you have a favorite track?
H3: Just doing the singing style and approaching all that stuff with acoustic instruments was a whole experience for me, man. It’s really hard to say. Different From the Rest had some moments I was definitely proud of. It just kind of depends, I get goose bumps when the voice is right and I’m singing it the way it needs to be sang on a lot of different tracks. [Tuesday] was the very first night, we’ve been playing this stuff over the last two and a half months on the road, but last night was the first time we tried 5 Mile Way and stuff like that.
That fiddle player, Billy Contreras, had the guts to stand up and try something different. This kid is just a naturally amazing young talent. He’s more of a country, jazz fiddle player, but he at least gives me a shot like, “Hey, man, can we put some distortion on your fiddle and try some different stuff. He was cool enough to do that. You’d be surprised how many guys that can play that well won’t go there. Billy really took it to the next level, even on the breakdown on Broke Jaw. That was the very first track that he played on and, man, when I put a little distortion on his fiddle and you listen to that solo he did for his first one, he was just rippin’ it on fire, man. It’s cool to see a kid who’s willing to experiment and try other things when they’re classically trained.
KW: Your tour started yesterday, are you doing separate sets?
H3: I get to let my hair down and I don’t make as much eye contact towards the end of the set. The first two hours I’m doing the country, trying to make the eye contact, trying to make the fans feel connected. Then during the second and third part of the show, it’s a little more doomy and weird and dark with the movie and I am having to focus a little more on my guitar playing. You can see a little bit of a difference up there. It’s been very important for me to make sure people got their money’s worth on the show and they’re not getting d**ked around. It’s always important for me. I always do at least an hour and a half of country no matter what. Then I say, “Thanks for coming out. We’re gonna off and do the other stuff.” Then we do the punk rock stuff, the hellbilly for a minute, then we do the doom, and then we do 3Bar Ranch. That kind of works the best. Sometimes the people stick around, sometimes they don’t. To me, that kind of makes it more punk rock because it’s not for the masses, it’s not for everybody. It’s for the select few that wanna hang and rock out. At the end of the night, you know, it’s a little easier for me to the shake the hands or say hello to whoever wants to come up and say thanks or we hate what you do or whatever, you know? It’s the meet and greet after the show. That whole scenario, over the years, has worked very well and a lot of people recognize it and will sometimes come up to me and say, “That’s the best $15 I’ve ever spent for that much music.” [It is] almost 60 songs, you know, that’s how we do it.
KW: What is the worst thing about having your dad and late grandfather being so famous?
H3: Well, it doesn’t really matter if it’s me or Dweezel Zappa or Dale Earnhardt Jr. or whoever, it’s always just something you gotta deal with. I think I am lucky enough that over the years people have finally accepted me for me. They get the facts on what I do. It’s my show. Some people get it, some people don’t. The other night I had a couple good ol’ boys say, “Man, I don’t understand the rock music, but I see that you’re jammin’ and I get that.” The hardest thing really is finding your own niche. Some people don’t, you know, some people have to really hold on to their fathers or grandfathers and just say they might not have stayed true to themselves or something. I think I’ve been lucky enough over the years and fought hard enough with all the different styles of music and being a drummer and all these things over time that I’ve been able to stand on my own two feet and find my niche and get the respect of some of the people out there in the music that know I could have been a one hit wonder, that know I could have been a pop country singer or whatnot. That wasn’t for me, you know? I’ve always known my sound. I’ve always been driven. It’s been a natural progression with all the Hank Williams. Hank Williams Sr. was playing rock n roll before rock n roll. Move It On Over is basically the same song as Rock Around the Clock, there’s no difference. Hank Jr. leaned more towards southern rock. That was his way of rebelling. When I was growing up, man, the punk rock and the heavier stuff was for me. Then the outlaw country really fell into my niche. It’s always a challenge, man. Sometimes you just gotta work extra hard to find what it is that’s gonna separate you.
KW: Is there anything else you would like people to know?
H3: Well, no. The thing I introduced him to was Van Halen and I got them to make a video and basically said, “Hey, man, do you know one of the biggest rock bands in the world play your music before they go on stage?” He goes, “Oh, no. Who’s that?” I said, “Well, it’s a band called Van Halen and sure enough, they all met and they did a video together. My dad was kind of making fun of me in this one video or song. He’s like, “Our hair is not orange. We don’t wear chains and spikes.” I got Suicidal Tendencies and Fishbone, a couple of clips of them into one of his videos when I was younger. That was a real big deal for me because of skateboarding and Venice Beach and all that stuff, you know, the Thrasher Magazines back then. That was a huge deal. That’s the closest, really. Me and my dad never really talked about music. It’s such a different thing for him. For me, I got into it because I wanted to. I never had anybody pushing me into it. I was always just doing it. For him, he was thrown out on stage when he was eight years old being told, “Hey, get out there and sound like your dad.” So, where his passion for guns and stuff like that might shine through a little more, my passion for gear and music and guitars and all that is a little more just natural, a natural conversation for me. For him, he’s done it for so long, it’s probably the last thing he wants to talk about.
KW: Is there anything else you want people to know about you or things you’re working on?
H3: If anyone ever comes to see us at a live show, man, we always tell ‘em to come out early because we usually start on time, we play long. If it says eight o’clock show, there’s no opening bands, so try to be there at eight o’clock. If people want to buy the vinyl, www.hank3.com is the best place to get the vinyls. Hopefully, [we will be] touring for the next couple years. Support the live music as much as you can and everyone keep their heads up during the tough times.
Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News and also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music, and food. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball