In 1997, Warren Haynes and Allen Woody left The Allman Brothers Band, the legendary Southern-rock group they helped rejuvenate in the early ’90s. Along with drummer Matt Abts, they wanted to bring the improvisational power trio back to rock ’n’ roll. The resulting band, Gov’t Mule, recorded three studio and two live albums, reviving the ghosts of bands like Cream, Deep Purple and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
“Leaving an institution like the Allman Brothers is a scary thing to do,” Haynes admits. “At that point in time, we were both very excited about the future of the Mule. The band was hittin’ on all cylinders. It wasn’t so much the case in the Allman Brothers. There was a lot of dissension, not a lot of creativity. The band wasn’t rehearsing, there was no plans for a new record … It felt like we were going through the motions. Unless we made that move, people were always going to view Gov’t Mule as a side project.”
Woody’s unexpected death in 2000 put the band’s future in doubt. Instead of selecting a permanent replacement, Haynes and Abts recorded two albums and a live DVD featuring some of Woody’s favorite bass players, and toured with various musicians who worked on the project, which was called The Deep End.
“Our decision to record with all these different bass players and not jump into choosing someone right away was really what kept Gov’t Mule together and allowed us to continue to grow and maintain momentum without having to cross into territory we were uncertain about,” Haynes says. “Going in every day with a different bass player standing where Woody used to stand, and in most cases his heroes—you know, walking in one day and it’s John Entwhistle, and the next day it’s Jack Bruce and the day after is Larry Graham. That was amazing.”
Former Black Crowe Andy Hess was eventually named the band’s permanent bass player and Danny Louis was added on organ and keyboards, transforming the trio into a quartet. The band went into the studio to record a new album with longtime producer Michael Barbiero (Bottle Rockets, Blues Traveler) and found the new Mule sounded different.
“Every bass player and every special guest we recorded or toured with brought something fresh and exciting to the table,” says Haynes, “and we tapped into it and learned from it. I think it has a lot to do with the new direction that Gov’t Mule is exploring on the new record.”
Deja Voodoo reflects the depth of the Deep End years’ influence on the band, resulting in a new Mule with a fuller, funkier sound compared to the raw, stripped-down power trio. Haynes repeatedly points to the bond forged by Abts and Hess as a key ingredient of the new band’s sound.
“The chemistry that Matt and Andy have together is totally different than the chemistry that Matt and Woody had, but it’s equally impressive,” Haynes says. “The first time I heard Matt and Woody play together, I heard this instant lock. The same thing with Andy and Matt. That’s something you can’t force. You can’t coerce it; it either happens or it doesn’t.”
Despite having never road-tested the songs before recording them, a few tracks on Deja Voodoo are first takes, including “My Separate Reality” and “Slackjaw Jezebel.”
“We set up for that song and got the sounds we wanted for it, and some Cuban food arrived that we ordered for dinner,” Haynes says. “So the food wouldn’t get cold, I said, ‘Let’s just run it down once as a sketch rehearsal and then we’ll go eat, come back and record it.’ We played the tune thinking it was just a rehearsal, but Michael obviously recorded it. We got our food and went into the control room to listen to the playback, and we were all just dancing around going, ‘That sounds like it to me.’ It had some loose ends, but that’s what the song called for. At the end of the recording, you can actually hear someone go, ‘Let’s eat.’”
As much as the band has evolved since Woody’s death, Haynes believes the new Mule sound is an extension of the band’s last studio album with the late bass player.
“If you go back to Life Before Insanity, you can see a lot of the new directions being hinted at on that record—we utilized a lot of overdubs and added keyboards, so you can see where it might have grown from that point, had we not halted the progress with Allen’s passing,” Haynes says. “We’ve graduated past the trio thing, because most trios did if you look back on history. Almost every band that started as a trio wound up making their statement as a trio and then forging ahead. So if you look at it as an extension of Life Before Insanity, Deja Voodoo is the logical next step.”