WEB EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: HANK III, ON MIXING METAL AND COUNTRY
Boozing, fighting, fucking—at least, in terms of subject matter, the line that separates a metal song from a country song is often pretty thin. This duality is what defines Shelton Hank Williams, III, the grandson of country legend Hank Williams (and son of country-rock belter Hank Williams, Jr. of Monday Night Football fame). But you can call him Hank.
Having played in prominent metal bands and sat atop of the country charts, Hank III is the new “Man in Black,” walking a line more dangerous than Johnny Cash could conceive, considering how pure each genre’s fans want their music. Hank’s fourth full-length, Damn Right Rebel Proud! (Sidewalk) presents the best of both worlds, though, from a distinctly country perspective. Amidst chicken-pickin’ solos and acoustic strumming, Hank sings about raisin’ hell, drinking beer, and beating a tough upbringing. There’s even a song on there about gross-out punk legend G.G. Allin, “P.F.F.” which contains some metal screams.
Hank’s concerts are divided into two parts: The first half consists of traditional country music, the second is invariably a performance by what Hank calls his “hellbilly” band, Assjack, which is a sort of metal-rockabilly hybrid. Although Hank has always wanted to fuse metal, psychedelia, and country even more explicitly, his contract with Curb Records has prevented him from releasing anything other than country music. This has led to a very public battle, which Hank can’t legally speak about in interviews anymore.
Nevertheless, Hank has been able to get his metal fix by performing with other bands. Hank’s first foray into heavier music was a vitriolic rendition of Black Flag’s “No Values” on the compilation Rise Above. (Incidentally, Hank III has designed the “III” in his name to resemble Black Flag’s famous “bars” in some album packaging.) More metal, though, are Hank III’s collaborations with former Pantera members. Having guested on the Rebel Meets Rebel album, which paired Pantera sans Phil Anselmo with outlaw-country legend David Allen Coe, Hank went on to become the bass player for Anselmo’s Superjoint Ritual when their original bassist quit. He’s currently working with the ex-Pantera singer in the Southern hardcore-punk group Arson Anthem, which also features Mike Williams of Eyehategod. In this interview, Hank makes a great case for why metal and country aren’t so different in the end.
REVOLVER You separate your concerts between your traditional country music and Assjack. Do many people stick around for the second half?
Hank III There’s definitely a divide there. I’ve seen 500 people turn up, turn around, and leave while 40, 50 kids stick around for Assjack, and then sometimes they’ll stay for the whole show. But most people’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. It’s a long fucking show, and there are definitely the kids in black who come only to see Assjack, and then there’re those who stay for the whole show, so it’s never-ending. Last night, where I played at was a full-on redneck bar, and we still have our hillbilly crowd that shows up and sticks around the see the other part. And then there’s those middle-aged people who’re sitting there saying, “What the fuck is this? It definitely changed on us.” It never ends, seeing that look on some people’s face.
Well, the thing that struck me about the new one, Damn Right, Rebel Proud!, is that it’s the first record you’ve done that really incorporates metal with country in a way.
A little bit. From a legal aspect, I still can’t really mix the two full on. I have to be cautious about that, there’s some loopholes I have to watch. But there’s a couple of screams, and payin’ respect to GG with “P.F.F.,” and then “Long Hauls and Close Calls,” which is definitely a bit of a crossover song. But for the true metal fans, I still talk about Straight to Hell. That’s the album that shoulda got talked about in Revolver but never did. I’ll keep bringin’ that one up, man, just because it crosses so many boundaries, and that one really struck real deep with no push, no radio, no video, or any of that stuff.
Hank III – “Long Hauls and Close Calls”
On your MySpace page, you say, “And I’ll tell it to you the way it is, Damn Right Rebel Proud! ain’t shit compared to Straight to Hell.” Do you still think that?
Oh, definitely. Even if you just compared the mixes, on Damn Right, I had nothing but people fighting with me the whole time, on simple stuff. If you listen to Straight to Hell, they add these echoes and just paint more of a psychedelic picture, which is what I like to do. On this new record, the guy I was working with wasn’t into it.
What do you mean?
Whoever’s running Pro-Tools should be giving you whatever the fuck you want. If you’re working with me, you should know the way my fuckin’ mind works, and what I want to hear. If I hum something to you, you should be able to create it and bring it back to me. Every time we tried to get into a creative aspect on it, things weren’t right. It says in the album, “Recorded by a bitch.”
What’s one song you would’ve done differently?
Well, let’s go with “Candidate for Suicide.” There should’ve been samples and echoes… “P.F.F.,” “H8 Line,” and “Stoned and Alone,” had a couple, but even those, it was like pullin’ teeth just getting those on there. It’s like, Damn, dude, you should be able to whip that out in two minutes, not 50.
Did it ever come to blows with this guy?
Not officially, not with the kid who recorded it. I did have to call him out, like, four times and say, “If we need to pull the plug right fuckin’ now, what the fuck? I’m willing to do it.” One day, I’ll just be able to figure out how to run ProTools myself and make it all trippy.
You say you can’t legally mix metal and country, but there’re definitely some screams in there. Was there anything you had to really hold back on, on this album?
I mean, I had my lawyer let me know, “You might want to keep this in mind, Shelton, that if you start crossing into the rock world, we’re gonna have this problem.” I’ve got only 14 months to go now, and these people have had me for 11 years now. So I’m kinda biting my lip, doing the same old, same old, but knowing soon, all the other stuff will finally be able to come out as far as the hellbilly stuff and mixing the two in there.
What do you think about some people’s aversion to country—especially metalheads’?
Dude, I can totally respect that, I know where they’re coming from. You can’t force it down people’s throats. If you hate it, you hate it. As time has gone on, there’s that bunch of people out there that loves Pantera, loves David Allen Coe; there’s those kids out there who can relate to both. And then you got your diehards who’ll never want to relate to country. Playing in Superjoint Ritual definitely sparked a whole new interest out there in my solo music and got me into a whole new fan base. I call ’em the “kids in black.” I definitely get a lot of respect from them for workin’ with [Phil] Anselmo and doing that thing, so there’s definitely been a huge difference on getting that crowd.
How’d you first meet up with those guys?
Well, when I was growing up here in the Bible Belt, we never had Slayer! They’d never come to Nashville! [Laughs] But we had Eyehategod and Pantera playing here pretty damn consistently. I’ve seen Pantera…shit, maybe 10 times? And never saw ’em once in an arena. I only saw them in a 500 to 1,000-seat club. It was fucking insane, man!
Well, I was a drummer in a band called Buzzkill. Phil was in town doing vocals because Dimebag and Vinnie’s dad had a recording studio here. So, when he wasn’t doing nothing, he would go out and check out the local bands, and one night after a gig he said, “Well, you guys’re pretty cool. What’s up? I’m Phillip.” I was, like, 16, 17, and that was the first time I got to shake his hand. And then when Eyehategod started coming through town, I was a fan. And I knew that big Jimmy Bower [Eyehategod’s drummer] always used to wear this “Bocephus” hat that Hank Jr. had made for him. And I asked, “What the fuck’re you doing wearing that?” And he’s like, “Aw, man, I love old country and all that stuff.” Then we went and jammed a little bit. That’s really how the foundation started. We always stayed in touch, and then at the right time, Michael Haaga wasn’t messin’ with Superjoint anymore. They were about ready to go on tour, and they said, “Come on up, and show us what you got. See what you can do out on the road.” So we made it happen, man!
You’re playing with Anselmo in Arson Anthem now—are you guys planning something new?
We have a few new songs recorded. There might be a full-length comin’ out soon, but it’s still pretty damn raw. I talked to Phillip two days ago; he said half of it was spot-on, badass, and on the other half, there’s a couple of things we gotta change, so we’ll have to see.
You’re working on some other metal stuff, too, aren’t you?
Something I’ve been trying to get the right players on is this one project, ADD, standing for for Attention Deficit Domination. Some of it’s slower, that sludge/stoner stuff, and then the other half of it is just some super-intense, old-school really fast downpickin’ stuff, and those projects keep me pretty busy. It’s long, y’know, 15-minute songs, shit like that. It’s hard to find the right guys who can get into a slow song for that long.
You have a song on the album, “P.F.F.,” about G.G. Allin. Did he ever come through Nashville?
Yes, he did. He came through, and sure enough, right before the show is supposed to go on, they got cancelled. Police showed up, shut everything down. So he went to someone’s house to party, and he got in the bathtub, and all the girls would piss on him and shit. That was the big talk of G.G. coming through Nashville. Then he went up to Memphis, and the show lasted, I want to say, maybe, 10 minutes. They had the nerve to come through, do their thing.
When they came through, they were seeing all the sites, going to the graveyards. I have pictures of G.G. at the Country Music Hall of Fame, standing next to my dad’s bus back in the day. And at the Hank Williams parade where G.G. gave Johnny Cash a T-shirt. They were fuckin’ dead serious for their love for music. They were pretty open-minded, and a lot of people don’t think that. When they think of G.G. Allin, they think of, you know, the shock. But I always respected the Jekyll and Hyde thing about him, ’cause that’s something we’ve always dealt with, and they take it to the extreme.
Hank III – “P.F.F.” (live)
What do people misunderstand most about you?
Well, I guess on the country side, people would misunderstand what I talk about, what I preach. Singin’ about sex, drugs, rock and roll, all that stuff. That just doesn’t sit right with a total purist. From the metal side, maybe they think I’m stuck in one niche of music, ’cause the reality is I’ve been playing rock for a long time, but I don’t have an official rock release. I’ve been held back, and not all of the other sounds have come out, and one day I might get leveled out once I get it out there.
The thing that gives your music a universal feel is that the subject matters you sing about are time-worn in both metal and country.
Well, I try to paint more of a picture in my country stuff, and the rock stuff is a little reality but with a little fantasy mixed in, too, to show the darker side sometimes. But I’m getting a little wiser, and my lyrics are getting a little better as I’m getting older, man. I’m working on it.
Interview by Kory Grow