Hank3: A rebel barreling out of the box
Shelton Hank Williams, also known as Hank Williams III and Hank3, is an American musician, singer and multi-instrumentalist, including guitar, bass, drums, banjo and vocals. The progeny of country royalty has made his own mark on the music scene, melding country, metal and punk into a gritty kick-ass good time. Graffiti chatted with Williams recently about his latest album “Brothers of the 4×4” and plans for the future.
Graffiti: So, getting into it, let’s talk about the new album “Brothers of the 4×4”. What was your inspiration for this record as a whole?
Hank3: In general, in the winter time is when I usually make records. On that, I try to keep my country records with a ‘country’ sound with a real fiddle, a stand-up steel guitar and a dog house bass. Usually most of the time the lyrics are kind of rowdy, but there’s a little bit of everything for everybody. You’ve got your rowdy songs, you’ve got your slow songs, your mid-tempo songs, and so on. I just write songs man, I don’t really have a big concept. Most of it, I’ve lived it, eaten it, breathed it, and I’ve been through those things. Ninety-percent of my songs are like that. Sometimes I’ll go off into fantasyland and put myself in someone else’s shoes, but that one had a couple of cool moments. I wrote a song for Leroy Troy – he’s an old-school claw-hammer banjo player around Nashville. I’m a fan of his singing and his style of playing, so having him on the record was one of the highlights for me. It came to me pretty smoothly. Sometimes it’ll take a while, but sometimes the songs just appear. So, on that record it didn’t seem like I had to pull too hard.
Graffiti: Well, my next question to you was how much of it you actually experienced, to which you mentioned was about ninety-percent your truth. Could you maybe elaborate on that some?
Hank3: Yeah. I do my best in what I do, man. Writing and reading has always been a little bit of a challenge for me. Sometimes my stories might not get across like I want ’em to. I’ll pick up a guitar and play the hooks off the top of my head, and then I’ll kind of piece them together the best I can. If you’re comparing me to something Hank Williams would write, sometimes he would get a little more in depth. For me, it’s just one of those things, being dyslexic and having ADHD, words jump around and I do my best to hone them in. So, that’s just something I always try to work on and improve. You know, it doesn’t matter if you’re a guitar player, singer, or songwriter, there’s always things to do. Like David Allen Co – he’s one of those people who just has stories and songs flowing right through him, but for me it’s always a little bit of a challenge.
Graffiti: We have this pre-conceived notion of what ‘country’ music is, and we see these pop-country crossover stars playing this version of ‘country’ music, but it’s not what real ‘country’ started out as being, though real ‘country’ music is obviously being made today, in 2014. What do you think of this modern ‘country’ sound?
Hank 3: Well, usually these different sounds come and go. Unfortunately, some of the best music is never heard. Sometimes it happens in heavy metal and sometimes it happens in country. There are people who really try to stay true to what they think is a real ‘country’ sound. In time the pop sound will wear itself out and then the more rootsy country sound might come back. That’s usually how it goes. Who knows what’s around the corner? I, myself, am pretty out of touch with things like the CMT Awards, country music radio, and things like that. I’m just doing my homework on some of the guys I like, or grew up with, listening to, like the old stuff. Here and there I’ll crank up Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock or crank up someone I’ve met out on the road. It all just really goes to show how the business is ‘the business’. It really just is what it is, man.
Graffiti: Do you consider yourself to be a part of that same business, then?
Hank 3: You can look at my whole career. Right now I don’t have management. I’m lucky enough to have a distribution company. I’ve never gone to an awards show. I’ve never done the things that you’re kind of supposed to do to make it in the business. I took advice from Henry Rollins and my heroes and looked at their work ethic and at the end of the day, I’m just doing what I do. Some people don’t really get that. Some people want to hop in and be told what songs to do, and that’s it. They don’t care about writing it, recording it, and being really hands-on. I try to be a good example to people who want to get in to it by writing and creating their own sound and keeping it true to the emotions. There’s a lot of emotion in country music, and you go through that stuff. You feel it. I consider myself an outsider to that scene. In general, I’ll go out and see a band around town, but I’ve never done lunch with someone and all of that stuff. I have friends that sing and are songwriters, but that’s as far as that goes. I really just cross my fingers and hope that people come out to the show and enjoy themselves.
Graffiti: You mentioned that you have no management. Do you have a booking agent and other people that set your schedules up or do you stay hands-on with every aspect of what you do?
Hank 3: I route the tours, I pick out the cities and see where I’m going, then I work with my booking agent. So I just have a booking agent, a lawyer, and a publicist. That’s what a lot of the people that I’ve looked up to have done. Yeah, if I had a manager they’d take me that extra mile and get me on a lot more shows, get me a lot more press and all of that stuff, but I’ve had three or four of ’em and I just never felt right. Maybe it’s my independent streak, or my rebel streak, or me just wanting to keep it true, but that’s part of it. That may change one day, but right now I’m just trying to take it on at all sides. I go to the trailer and help set up the gear, help the hands get it loaded up and do it all again.
Graffiti: You do this with them night after night?
Hank 3: Yeah. On a good run. Like I said, I shut down during the winter time and make records. Then we’ll crank it back up. For the extremely long shows I’ve been doing – I’ll do four hour shows a night – I do four different sounds. There’s the country, hellbilly, doom, and speed metal.
Graffiti: So you’re doing all of that out on the road?
Hank 3: Oh yeah, man! I do a Jekyll and Hyde kind of show. I always try to keep the ticket prices as low as possible. With a full crew of the band and stage hands, I was able to do it for about $7 a ticket. With everything the way it is now, I’m able to keep the prices around $15-$20. I’m always thinking of the fans so they can buy a t-shirt, have some beer, and then have some money left over at the end of the night. I want them to get their money’s worth at the show.
Graffiti: It would be great to have you back through here.
Hank 3: Well, that’s what I’m planning on, man. Around April or May we’ll be back through there. When we roll through Huntington and it says the show starts at 8 p.m., then the show starts at 8 p.m. We don’t have an opening act. It’s just up and the show always starts at the ticket time. By the way, if people are interested in the vinyl copy of the new album, it’s available directly from my site, so check that out.
Graffiti: That’ll be great! So again, thanks so much, Hank, for speaking with me and we’ll look forward to seeing you again. Hopefully sooner than later.
Hank 3: Oh, absolutely man. We’ll see you out there.
Brothers of the 4X4
In a time when “country” music is merely over produced, wannabe disposable pop bullshit, with the smallest taste of a rural twang for good measure, Hank3 offers a huge dose of what the forefathers of the genre probably would have seen the future of their beloved craft becoming as time went on. “Brothers of the 4X4” is the sound of modern country music.
Hank3 has, once again, successfully illustrated why this simple, but poignant, art form is widely regarded as the “white” rural blues. The songs are performed with lyrical eloquence. The words have simple connotations that tell stories with substance, feeling, heart, and emotional honesty – just like they used to. But this comes as no surprise. Given his blood lineage of country music royalty, he was surely predisposed with this ability. It is simply who he is as a performer.
The songs run the gamut of emotions from heartbreak to hell raisin’, hardships to hard living. Tracks like “Hurtin’ For Certin,” “Farthest Away,” “Ain’t Broken Down,” and “Deep Scars,” paint pictures of love, loss, loneliness, aching hearts, hard times, and emotional wounds. They’re delivered with simple, but highly effective takes on introspect and existential pondering with philosophical insight that goes much deeper than would initially meet the eye. On the flipside, there is a healthy measure of positivity, hope, solidarity, brotherhood, and a love for life, which is brilliantly displayed in cuts like “Outdoor Plan,” “Lookey Down Yonder,” “Overdrive,” and “Dreadful Drive”. And it wouldn’t be cool if there weren’t a few rulebreakers and hellraisers thrown in the mix, like “Held Up” and the title track, “Brothers of the 4X4”.
The music and its delivery employ a notable blend of modern and traditional techniques. Their use of technology creates some really cool genre-crossing moments, sonically speaking. The band keeps it basic, for the most part, though there are some surprise moments where the music is accented with distinctions relative to current trends, such as swift stylized guitar licks and catchy double-bass drum rhythms. Other than the occasional modern nuances, the musical attributes are those that are synonymous with real country music, and Hank3: Swinging back beats, howling yodels, twangy guitar runs, great country fiddles, and Hank3’s marked vocal phrasings.
“Brothers of the 4X4” is another shining example of what the grandson of legendary country music pioneer, Hank Williams, is capable of delivering. All of the hallmarks that have been all but abandoned by the industry are included and fully intact. Again, this is probably more like what the old-timers had in mind for the future of their cherished music. And Hank3 has proven that country music still has a heartbeat.