Last week, Daze interviewed keyboardist Danny Louis of Gov’t Mule. Louis has played an important role on redefining the band’s sound, which changed considerably after the passing of bassist Allen Woody in August 2000. Gov’t Mule is playing the State Theater in Ithaca on Wednesday, November 30.
DAZE: I know the band is in the middle of a tour. Are there any plans for an upcoming album in the near future?
Danny Louis: In the early part of this upcoming year, as we speak tunes are being accumulated and arrangements are being thought about.
DAZE: Have any of the new songs made their live debut?
DL:No, but we have been recording as we do every night, and some of the extended jams we have been getting into recently might prove to be fodder for future compositions. It’s a tough walk, to walk that walk, when you have people taping every night. We would never discourage taping, because that’s a cool thing; however we don’t want to release an album and have people have it compiled already.
DAZE: Have you been contributing at all to the songwriting process?
DL: (Guitarist) Warren (Haynes) and I have one in progress right now. Warren has a bunch of his own stuff. As we’re gearing towards the first of the year, we are starting to compare notes. The process is not written in stone, it changes with each song. More often than not, in the experiences I’ve had with Warren, it’ll start with a guitar idea. It’ll start form me screwing around on the guitar and he’ll pick it up right there – guitars, grooves and things like that. Warren is pretty much the lyricist in the band. I would never presume to write from his heart, because it’s his heart.
DAZE: Have you been turned on to any new music since joining Mule?
DL: Well sure. The audience we play for is helping me become aware of the other artists. It’s pretty vibrant right now – people like to call it the jamband scene, but for me, it’s a rejection of mass-produced crap and collection of originality – a mix of acid jazz, harder rock and New Orleans style music.
DAZE: Over the years, Mule has invited a slue of musicians to collaborate onstage and in the studio. Are there any artists with whom you have especially enjoyed working?
DL: No, it’s all good. There have been highlights for sure. Part of that was before we were a solid band; we had a lot of guests. Those experiences were always great even though we were longing for a stable lineup. We got to play with a lot of legends. When people sit in with us they get that there’s something pretty cool and pretty different. I especially enjoy it when other keyboardists sit in – Bernie Worrell, John Medeski, Rob Barracco, Ivan Neville, Chuck Leavell, Gregg Allman, Johnny Neel. For me that’s just as big a kick as anything, even more so because we play on the same rig at the same time – we’re so close to each other we really get to see what’s going on.
DAZE: The band has been recording its concerts every night and releasing them for sale over the Internet. Has this been a success?
DL: It’s going really well. It’s great to see that people are downloading the shows and the awareness that that’s happening pushes us to excel. You don’t want to play the same show every night; you don’t want to play the same solo every night, because you are being documented-not that I would normally be lazy about that. It helps us to keep adding songs to the setlists.
DAZE: Warren has toured non-stop with several different bands. He no longer tours with Phil and Friends. Does he intend for Mule to be his only project from now on?
DL: I hope that we become bigger and do more stuff. Knowing Warren as well as I do, he’s always going to be breaking new ground and testing out new musical waters. I would never expect him to just be in one thing full time. I think he’s worked very hard to become as masterful a musician as he is in order to try different things. If Mule becomes more the focal point, Warren would welcome the very pleasant dilemma of having Mule demand even more.
DAZE: Do you currently have any other musical projects?
DL: I try to keep busy. When we’re not working I do a tremendous amount of writing and production, as well as keyboard session playing. On our last break, I played on the Coheed and Cambria album. That’s totally different than Mule – more synths than the organic stuff I do with Mule. I’ve been working on some original music – not exactly Mule material, nor a Danny solo record. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with it. Some of it is as simple as songs, although it gets as complicated as symphonies.
DAZE: Do you find it hard to mix up your setlists on a nightly basis?
DL: No, I think it’s exciting actually. We continue to learn new tunes, and that’s healthy, learning is a good thing. It’s catalytic. It keeps things moving.
DAZE: I noticed you’ve been doing a variety of new covers lately, including David Gray’s “My, Oh My.” Has that been fun?
DL: David Gray is a label mate of ours and a great songwriter. Originally, ATO Records wanted us to do release an EP (released as Mo’ Voodoo). They suggested doing a tune by someone on the label; if it wasn’t used for the EP, it was going to be used for a compilation disc they were doing. Everyone liked “My, Oh My” so much. Songs like that are departures, but the band is capable of doing a variety of things. Warren’s voice is versatile and he’s also not a mono-dimensional musician in any way. The same goes for (drummer) Matt (Abts) and (bassist) Andy (Hess). Mule defines itself by no intellectual process, we just know what it is. We just know if it’s going to work or if its not and we can tell pretty quickly.
DAZE: Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
DL: I started as a rock and roll fan. Guitar players had a stronger influence on me than anything, Hendrix, Jeff Beck. Anyone who was playing lead guitar in the 60s was an influence. I wasn’t necessarily influenced by keybaordists-with the exception of Steve Winwood, although I thought of him more of a composer/singer/bandleader than a keyboardist. I was into a lot of horn players and a lot of hard rock. Not a lot of keyboard playing in hard rock that I love. People like Nikki Hopkins, Chuck Leavell-these are the keyboard players that I listened to, but more because I was a fan of the guitarists in their bands.
DAZE: Given your influences, would fans be surprised at the music you listening to?
DL: Probably. Most of my listening, even when I was a kid, was outside of the pop world. There was enough pop music in all of our lives that I didn’t need to focus on it to listen to it. I used to go out and see other stuff, whether it was from other cultures, like Africa, or classical music. These days I’m listening to a lot of atonal music. I love the rhythms outside of the American pop scene. Basically I trust the fact that I’ll come up with rock in my music because that’s what’s I grew up on. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Thelonious Monk. With listening, the idea is to deliberately expose yourself to stuff you wouldn’t normally come across.
Archived article by Scott Eisman
Sun Staff Writer