Rebel Yell
by Stephen Slaybaugh

If he so desired, Hank3 (a.k.a. Shelton Hank Williams III), could have very easily followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather to country music fame and fortune. In fact, that is probably what Curb Records, his record label for the first 14 years of his career, was banking on. But while both physically and musically he more closely resembled his legendary granddad than his Monday Night Football–hawking father, at the same time, his inherited rebelliousness manifested itself as he continually ventured outside the confines of country, no doubt to Curb’s consternation. He’s dabbled in heavy metal with backing combo Assjack (his live shows usually feature two sets: one country and one metal) and as bass player in Superjoint Ritual with Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo. As that influence began to play a bigger role in the records he made, his relationship with Curb quickly became strained and he was essentially at loggerheads with the label until they finally parted ways last year.

As such, Hank3 is experiencing a creative freedom he’s never known before (the new moniker being symbolic of this new era). He has created his own label and this week is releasing four new albums—none of which can neatly fit within the definition of a country record. There is the dense sludge rock of Attention Deficient Domination, as well as the newly invented “cattle core” (as Hank calls it) of 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin, wherein he combines speed metal and auctioneer chants. The twofer of Ghost to a Ghost and Guttertown is the only new release that could be considered country, but even here Hank rarely plays it straight, adapting a wide array of sounds and styles. It’s an immense amount of music to be sure, and I won’t begin to pretend that it’s all successful. However, one’s got to admire the guy for sticking to his guns, when it would have been far easier to play by Nashville’s rules and watch the money roll in.

I caught up with Hank on the phone to discuss how one ends up making four records and his rebellious nature.

Are these albums things that you’ve had in you for awhile but knew Curb wouldn’t want to release?

Hank3: No, I started writing all these records on January 2.

But were the ideas for the records bumping around in your head before then or was it a flood of creativity that started at the beginning of the year?

Hank3: It was basically a flood of creativity, man. It was kind of the new beginning that I’ve wanted for a long time. Once it started flowing, it was hard to stop it.

And you were working on all four of them at the same time, is that right?

Hank3: Correct. In the daytime, I’d do the country, and when I got sick of being serious, then I would go to having some fun and making some ambient noise or playing drums or playing chunk guitar. So I was always bouncing back and forth, from January to May, from the time I got up to the time I went to sleep.

Did you have a clear separation between the four records in your head while you were doing them or did it overlap?

Hank3: There’s always a little bit of a separation. During the recording process, it was a little bit of everything. During the mixing and mastering process, it was definitely one thing, one song, at a time. We’d focus on the country record and then move on. I definitely bit off a little more than I could chew. It was starting to affect me pretty intensely in the mixing process. The wheels were beginning to spin just a little too hard, but there was a lot of inspiration for me to try to do something new and different. It was an awesome way to start my label. Frank Zappa came close to doing the same kind of idea, but his label held him back from actually letting it all come out at the same time. I took the approach like it was something that hadn’t really been done before, tackling three different genres with this many different sounds. I just wanted to have everything done and get back into road-mode and do what I do, which is play the bars and tour the road.

Yeah, I was curious about how you were planning to tackle these records live. I mean, are you going to do the cattle-calling stuff?

Hank3: We’re working on it. I’ve had a drummer live with me for almost three weeks now, and everyday we’re working on it. I’m trying to deliver the country, the hellbilly, a little A.D.D. and the cattle-calling in the same show. Ideally, I wish I had a kid who could actually auctioneer while we were playing, but more than likely we’re going to have to work around samples. But I am doing everything I can to make it come to life.

Your shows in the past have been pretty long. Do you anticipate these shows being even longer shows then?

Hank3: I doubt it, man. I think we all know that everybody is there for the country show, and the true hellbillys and hellbettys stick around for the whole thing. Physically, I ain’t getting no younger, so I’ll have to cap it at two and a half to three hours. In general, I will always play at least an hour and 15 of country. I want to make sure the majority of people feel like they got their money’s worth. We’re still figuring it out, but we have been playing locally, and the country, hellbilly and A.D.D. has happened. We’re trying to get the cattle-calling in there.

Were you at all concerned about overwhelming your fans with so much material?

Hank3: Nah, man. Even if it is overwhelming, that’s fine because probably never again in my life will I be able to do this. And look at how many years I’ve been held back. I was on a label for almost 14 years and only have five pieces of product to show for it. Now, I start off my own label and right out of the gate I’ve got four records. They were killing me creatively in more ways than one. And people have the choice of only buying the country album or only buying the cattle-calling. I think they know I’m kind of an overwhelming person. The way my mind thinks, it’s all or nothing.

Looking at the finished products now, do you see a relationship between the releases or are they very separate in your mind?

Hank3: I think they’re separate. I mean, yeah, there’s some similarities between Ghost to a Ghost and Guttertown, but 3 Bar Ranch is in a world of its own. It’s real crazy, real manic, real out there anxiety, heavy metal. The A.D.D. is full-on thank god for Melvins, Sleep, Black Sabbath and bands like that. Each record has a different kind of voice in my opinion.

Why the decision to package Ghost to a Ghost and Guttertown together?

Hank3: There’s just so much material. The vinyl is six records. That goes back to one part being done more seriously and the other part of the project done more open, a little more fun, a little more experimental. In my eyes, the country record in reality only has four or five country songs on it. There’s a couple Cajun country songs on Guttertown, but there’s also a lot of sounds that I haven’t done before on a supposedly country record. I really wanted to open it up a little more and try some different things. People have said I’m this or this or they don’t know what kind of genre I am. On this record, it’s a bit more all over the place.

But there’s a loose storyline to Guttertown. How would you explain it?

Hank3: A lot of the Guttertown story comes from the drifting kids that hop trains and follow us, or as they would say, chase us when we are on the road. The Grateful Dead had their huge following that would pack up and follow them to every show. These kids are keeping that spirit alive, just in a different way. The Guttertown aspect is that we may all be living in Guttertown soon because the economy has been really hurting everybody, so I’m singing to the working man a little bit too. The Cajun connection is that my granddad was a huge fan of that style and my dad was born in Louisiana and I work with a lot of New Orleans–based bands.

You mentioned your granddad, and there’s been a rebellious streak that’s run through your family, but do you feel like you’ve also had to rebel from your lineage?

Hank3: I don’t think so. I just had to do things differently. Let’s look at Hank Williams for one second, “Movin’ on Over” (sings melody to the song). That’s the base of it . Well, the first rock & roll song, Bill Haley and the Comets, “We’re gonna rock rock rock around the clock tonight”—it’s the same structure! So Hank Williams was playing rock & roll before rock & roll was going on. He was crossing lines way back then, and I’m crossing lines in just a different way. Yeah, no other Hank Williams has screamed before, or maybe no other Hank Williams has played in a heavy metal band or played drums or done things like that, but I don’t think I’m disrespecting the lineage because he was pretty out there on his own.

I was wondering if there was something specific that initiated the idea for the cattle-calling record?

Hank3: I lived with my (other) grandfather in Missouri, and I used to go to auctioneering barns with him. I was always fascinated with the chants that they’d do. I’ve milked cows; I’ve branded cows; I’ve herded cows; I've dragged the dead ones off to the dying hole. I’ve been around that lifestyle a good bit. I was fascinated with the speed of the auctioneer, and I always thought that that speed and the speed of heavy metal music would be an awesome fit. My mentality was a new way to offer inspiration to auctioneers around the world. I was like, “A: You’re going to hate the music. You’re not going to understand and you’re not going to like it. B: I’m being dead serious. I’m not making fun of y’all. I respect what you do to the fullest. I can offer you a little bit of exposure, even though you don’t want it. I’ll pay you this amount of money to use your chant. I’ll put your website on the record. It’s just a different twist.” I wasn’t able to use some of the big guys I wanted because they would do a little bit of research and decide, “I don’t want to be associated with someone like that. He’s going to make our industry look bad.” So hats off to all the auctioneers who helped me create my vision. There’s not one cuss word on the record because some of those older guys asked if there was going to be any cussing on the record and I said, “Well, if I get to use you, no, there won’t be.” I paid respect where respect was needed. For the second record, I hope to get some of the old-timers that I wasn’t able to use and maybe they’ll understand how serious this project is to me.

Given that you’ve started your own label, do you intend to have other artists on the label or is it just an outlet for yourself?

Hank3: No, I never want to be in a position to do another musician wrong or make them feel cheated or like they didn’t get what they deserve. It’s strictly going to me an outlet for me and it’s hard enough just keeping up with what I do.