Hank III is the coolest metal cowboy out there.
Yep, I said it. I pretty much mean it too. I know, I say about a million things and may only mean a couple of them, but this time, I’m absolutely sure I’m right. You can even forget the fact that Hank III is a direct descendant of country legend Hank Williams, because that alone wouldn’t insure anything. Nope, here is a musician who very easily could have been content to cash in on his family name and continue to sing the countrified tripe that has been manufactured in Nashville and passed off as authentic rural expression for decades. It would have been the most expedient course of action, to be sure. In fact, when Hank III first found out that he was going to be a father, he did start making country music because he needed the money. Although one might think that the grandson of a singer who created a catalogue that continues to sell large amounts even today would have no need for a regular job, the reality is that Hank’s father, Hank Jr., was never really a force in his life and their contact has consistently been minimal. In short, any type of substantial financial support just hasn’t been a part of his reality.
Hank III’s first album, Risin’ Outlaw, was released to mixed reviews, but Hank soon realized that performing other people’s material while playing the traditional fame game wasn’t something he aspired to in any context. His disenchantment with what he considers the restraints placed on his music has manifested itself in a long running feud with Curve Records. Eventually, he was able to release a follow up--Broke, Lovesick and Driftin’--which Williams feels is more exemplary of who he is as a country artist. When he isn’t recording, he’s touring the nation playing about two hundred dates a year as the focal point of a unique show--the likes of which just aren’t normally seen. What Hank III treats his audience to is a guttercountry extravaganza that only ends when he tells the crowd, “We’re gonna go and take about a fifteen minute break and then we’ll be back with Assjack.” What that means is that Hank III is going back to the bus to let his hair down and get ready to perform some straight ahead death, punk metal that would send the typical Garth Brooks/Toby Keith audience running for the nearest church. It is a strange dichotomy that somehow works. The audiences are disparate and the ages can range anywhere from the younger bar-goers of twenty-one to older patrons of sixty who remember the days of Hank’s grandpa.
As for what awaits this eclectic performer in the near future, Hank III will soon be joining Ozzfest along with the rest of Superjoint Ritual this summer. What Hank III’s career will ultimately become primarily depends on his inner compass and where his gut tells him to go. This remains true even though it’s possible that Hank could have more of an impact on country music than he could ever have playing bass for Superjoint. That isn’t to say that he has to necessarily choose one genre or the other—it would just be an absolute travesty if Hank III blows out his voice screaming metal hammers for Assjack and can’t continue his work in country because if there is any genre that needs a complete overhaul, it would be the Hollywood/Nashville sound. The fact is that Hank could revolutionize country if he were supported by people with a like-minded vision and a committment to take that form of music back to the dirty, desperate root from whence it came. That’s the best part about Hank III, he may not be pretty, and he may not be clean, but at least he’s real—that’s a rare commodity in life or music these days.
KNAC.COM: How cool was it to be in a band and not have everyone know who are and who you’re related to?
HANK III: Well, mostly it’s nice to be in a band and not be the boss. I mean, as far as if like, I want to be a coke addict, I don’t have to worry about singing. I could just go out and do all the coke I want and just freak out. As long as I don’t know my notes, I’m good. It was nice to take a break from the regular show and do Superjoint because I worked this thing for over two hundred days a year for awhile, and I’ve known them guys for a long time—since 1990. Jimmy Bower is who I met first and then Phillip in ’92 when he as recording Far Beyond Driven. I was playing the drums in a band at the time. Phil would come and hang out and watch the local bands because he was fucking bored. We always knew the New Orleans crowd, and it was just the right place and the right time. It’s been fucking a lot of fun, you know. We’re getting ready to tear it up again. Hopefully, they’re working on the new Superjoint record as we speak.
KNAC.COM: Phil has said that Superjoint is his top priority—are you also willing to make it yours?
HANK III: When I signed on with Superjoint, he was like, “What if we go on the fucking road for two years?” I was like, “Well, I know you won’t go out that long without a month or two break. When you do, I’ll go and bust my ass.” I mean, I signed on to that band to give it all I got. I do give it all I’ve got every fucking show. He’s got something to prove, and now is the time to do it. It’s fucking now. It’s time for war! I know me and a few of us understand that, and we’ll see what’s going to happen. This summer will be very interesting. We’re supposed to be on Ozzfest. I hope Damageplan gets on there, too. I think that would fuckin’ rule.
KNAC.COM: Mmm, maybe a little metal on Ozzfest this year then?
HANK III: Oh, we’ll kill. The band will make money, sell records and get paid to destroy. It’d be fuckin’ true underground. We’d fuckin’ blast plastic bands and sludgy bands--maybe have an official dark festival. Holy shit, Ozzfest is the darkest thing we’ve got now. There’s a few death metal bands there, but not like a big one that tours that everyone knows about. It happens in Europe, and it’s just a sea of black.
KNAC.COM: Do you think it’s weird that Metallica is still considered metal now that they go around touring with bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park?
HANK III: Not really when you look at what they did. They opened the door for bands like Pantera. They carved themselves a niche in metal history. They can be the biggest jackoffs they want to be now because of the niche they carved.
KNAC.COM: So that can’t be taken away?
HANK III: Right. Some bands, their first four albums are lethal, and then they suck the rest of their years. Some don’t though. Unfortunately, Metallica got… whenever you get off and get happy and you’re a rock star and fuckin’ want it all and have it all, you’re gonna lose your angst. That’s what happened to them. Basically that’s what it seems like. I went out and bought the new record because I heard it was supposed to be fuckin’ heavy--when I heard Lars’ trashcan do-ing, do-ing, do-ing.
KNAC.COM: The infamous trashcan beating.
HANK III: That and fucking Hetfield trying to sing. It’s not him, man. It’s not the way he would go for it like he used to do. I know all about the vocals and how it hurts to scream and what he’s trying to do, but I was disappointed man. Name one good guitar solo on the new Metallica album.
KNAC.COM: You can’t. Seems like a waste of Kirk, doesn’t it?
HANK III: What the fuck, man? They’ve lost their vision, man. That’s what I think.
KNAC.COM: Can you remember a time when you weren’t pissed off or frustrated? Do you think that just comes with the territory?
HANK III: Yeah, I’ve just always been attracted to the other things or the darker things—whatever that kind of music or that style is. I got my first drum kit when I was ten years old. I also got my first set of KISS albums by then, too. I was just livin’ in Atlanta then where the college radio stations were playing the fuckin’ Misfits, Slayer and death metal and on to the harder, worst, sickest kinds of music. I was always just into it. That’s always been me.
KNAC.COM: And that was just it?
HANK III: Yep, pretty much. That’s why I know all these people from the New Orleans crew to the Melvins to Lamb of God, you know.
KNAC.COM: What is it about the New Orleans scene that’s different?
HANK III: It’s just a way of life, man. The New Orleans scene… you’ve got 24/7 drinking. That’s just to start things off. You got traffic jams all the time. It’s predominately racist. New Orleans is black. I’m not being racist—that’s just the way it is. There’s a fucking attitude you have to have in you. You’re either “whoa man” laid back or you’re fuckin’ full on—you can’t be stopped. All that is just something that’s in the New Orleans blood. I’ve been on the road with those guys and been down there in that scene.
KNAC.COM: So you can just feel something different? Something you can’t put your finger on?
"...if you look like a tourist and you walk down the wrong street and you’re white, you’re fucking dead. That’s the way I feel about New Orleans."
HANK III: Yeah, I feel like I’ve got to watch my back. That’s the way I feel. I feel that if you look like a tourist and you walk down the wrong street and you’re white, you’re fucking dead. That’s the way I feel about New Orleans. There’s just a certain kind of angst. You’ve got the graves and all that shit that’s cool. You’ve got history and Anne Rice or whatever. There’s just a lot of darkness there—some goodness too, but… Phillip is getting ready to move back to the city. We’ll see what happens. He’s been out in the country for a while. If he moves back into the city, shit’s going to hit the fan. It’s gonna be crazy.
KNAC.COM: Is it weird being in a band with Phil specifically?
HANK III: Well, Phillip is the same guy you see on the stage. He’ll tell you that himself. I’m sorry or whatever, but he’s just that way. When you love to hate, it just takes a toll on you. That’s just what he’s about. I’m totally down with that, too. I’ve been down with that for a long time. My two favorite screamers were Anselmo and Henry Rollins when I was growing up. I’m just hooked up with the crew and rockin’ as hard as I can and wanting to see us give it all every fucking show. There’s just a presence when Phil walks onstage that nobody else has.
KNAC.COM: You mentioned Henry Rollins--was he one of the major reasons you supported the cause of the West Memphis 3?
HANK III: Yeah, that and I’ve always used the three black bars as my sign. When I was twelve or so and mama would yell at me, and I would yell back. Then, I’d just go and put on my Black Flag, and that’s how I’d get it all out. When Henry called and asked, “Do you wanna do it?” I was like, “Fuck, yeah!” I was just honored. That’s all it was—it was just a phone call. It’s a privilege to be a part of that association.
KNAC.COM: How hard do you have to work to stay interested in playing country music considering all the problems you’ve had with Curve Records?
HANK III: I’ll always be doing country as long as I have a country voice. If I’m 45 years old, and there’s no country voice and I sound like Tom Waits, I’ll hang it up—simple as that. I don’t know what the fuck I’d do though if that happened. I guess I’ll just play drums or bass or whatever. You’re on this road with a circle of friends, and that’s what keeps you forever going.
KNAC.COM: Is there any way you could see Assjack becoming a larger project in your life?
HANK III: The only way Assjack would ever tour on its own would be if we were opening up for somebody. I just had too many fans from both styles of music, so that’s why we do the show the way we do now. Now, that’s just our niche. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde—you get two complete shows.
KNAC.COM: Do you know anyone else who has done this?
HANK III: I’ve known people like myself who have played four hours a night in a bar just to get paid, but as far as going from country to the verge of whatever style Assjack is, there’s not many people who has done that, man. I’m out there bitchin’ that we aren’t going to charge thirty bucks for a ticket. Unfortunately, the lowest we can go is between twelve and fifteen just to keep this fuckin’ thing going, you know. I wanted about a nine dollar ticket, but to the machine, that’s almost impossible nowadays. At least it is unless I wanna quit my dope and all that shit. If I did, I’d go back to the van in a heartbeat. It’s just once I got into country… if I’d have stayed in the van, I would have already been in jail because I would have been busted so many times—I need a bus. Once I got into country, I saw the vision. It fuckin’ came together for me.
KNAC.COM: Do you remember the first conversation you had where you had to say that you weren’t going to go along with image and marketing they expected of you?
HANK III: They kinda always knew—it just took them awhile to swallow it. Like the Risin’ Outlaw album took them two years to put out because they kept rejecting my songs. I kept sayin’ “If you put this album out there like this, all I’m gonna do is say how much it fuckin’ sucks and don’t fuckin’ buy it,” and that’s what I did. I had to file bankruptcy last year in order just to be able to sit down and talk to that motherfucker. He still can’t get the image that I’m not Hank Williams out of his head. He wants me to be Hank Williams, and he’s said it so many fucking times. I’m just like, “Sorry dude. You’re fucked.” Even me going on and doing that Black Flag thing, I was taking the chance of getting sued—they didn’t want to support murderers or whatever. I put my ass on the line for the music financially. I could have taken the easy way and just be all country. Instead, I chose the hard path. I chose the path of destruction. That’s where I’m goin’ down. If you look at today’s country acts and how it works and all that stuff, I could do it the easy way and play forty-five minutes of country and say, “See y’all.”
KNAC.COM: And sing other people’s songs as long as they’re catchy.
HANK III: Well, in country music, that’s something that just happens. You know, from Waylon Jennings to Merle Haggard to George Jones to Johnny Cash to Hank Williams Jr. You sing other people’s songs. It kind of makes it a family. I built my career on saying, “We pay respects to David Allan Coe, Johnny Cash and a kid named Wayne ‘the Train’ Hancock.” The rest of them are just kind of horseshit.
KNAC.COM: You’ve toured with The Reverend Horton Heat before, would you also consider him one of your contemporaries?
HANK III: He wants to be country. He’s trying to be Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. That’s what the Reverend is wanting to be these days, unfortunately. He’s not breathing fire anymore. He’s becoming a wise old granddad. Whenever we were doing that tour, he was taking guitar lessons. You could tell the style and kinda the way his songs were that… you only have that rawness for so long and then you lose it. He’s just chilling out a little bit and wanting to make it swing or wanting to paint a picture with his lyrics or whatever.
KNAC.COM: Have you ever had to be in a position where you had to be up close and personal with the cleaner, shinier figures in music?
HANK III: Yeah. Hey, I live in the heart of it. I’ve only been to one awards show though.
KNAC.COM: How was that?
HANK III: It was weird. You pay about $100 to get a seat. I don’t know if it’s acid or what, but I just see things a little different, man. Let’s say I had the number one song and I won an award... I wouldn’t even want to go fuckin’ get it, man. I mean, I’m just so ashamed that that’s the way it works. It just feels so weird. Yeah, okay, “I got y’all’s recognition.” Well, Eyehategod or any other band doesn’t need the recognition—you just do it for yourself. Whatever happens, happens. If you’re expecting to write a song and make a million dollars, you’ll end up blowing your fucking head off because that ain’t the way the music business works. You might as well sell drugs to make money.
KNAC.COM: You see a lot of people getting used by the record companies, selling a million records and then are gone in a year.
"If you’re expecting to write a song and make a million dollars, you’ll end up blowing your fucking head off because that ain’t the way the music business works."
HANK III: You know, like Evanescence, they’ll be gone in five years. Look at Vanilla Ice and shit like that.
KNAC.COM: What is your relationship like with some of your older fans? Was it weird at first when they started coming out?
HANK III: Well, yeah. I went to the oldest place you could go to get used to it—Branson, Missouri. They went straight from rockin’ to people literally sitting down and falling asleep.
KNAC.COM: Eating at the buffet will make you drowsy.
HANK III: So will playing two shows a day. I was just learning how to sing, play a chord and sing a melody. I wasn’t just making noises anymore. It was a different thing. I just didn’t want to go straight to the bars. If they would have put me straight in the bars to play, I would’ve gotten chewed up and spit out. Bars aren’t gonna take just anybody in the motherfuckin’ room. If you go to bars, you gotta know your shit man—especially in Texas. You gotta be able to back it up a little bit.
KNAC.COM: Was it that much harder for you considering who you are?
HANK III: Damn right. Hell yeah. Especially doin’ the shit we were trying to do. There were people wanting me to be Junior or others who wanted southern rock or for me to be my grandpa. Today, you got old people who will sit there and sit through the whole rock show, and they will say, “I don’t know what’s goin’ on, but I know you’re being yourself.” That’s what it is because my rock shit is not for the older generation to understand. It’s for me to understand. Even our country stuff—some people get it and some people don’t. I can be as up-tempo and energetic as I want, but I can also be slow and depressing too.
KNAC.COM: Do you think one of the reasons you don’t fit the Nashville mold is because your lyrics don’t discuss the breakage of household appliances or taking your kids to soccer practice?
HANK III: The drinking, the smoking pot and working hard and not getting much out of life are all things my heroes dealt with, too. I just go through times and moods, man. There’s tons of notebooks full of shit. At times, they get out, but my best shit hasn’t come out yet. As far as the outlaw shit goes, whenever I have my parental advisory on my country record, that’s when my career will be a little better.
KNAC.COM: You think you can see a time when that will happen?
HANK III: If I’m off Curve Records. I just sat down and had a big two-hour discussion with them and told them my views.
KNAC.COM: Did it do any good at all?
HANK III: I got my rock career back. Nothings happened other than that. Since the meeting, all I know is lawyers are getting into negotiations trying to get one more album and see you later. He’s never let anyone go though, and he thinks he’s here to protect me. He’s here to be my father. Man, we’re dealing with a fucking nutcase here. It’s all about spite. I’ve had a “Fuck Curve” campaign going on for four years. He wants to keep his thumb on me, and it’s not that hard to do. He has the Mike Curve Entertainment College in Nashville that he built, too. When you tell the machine to go fuck itself, it can say, “Fuck you too.” So we’ll see.
KNAC.COM: Do you find there’s a lot of people there who would be surprised that you actually live the type of lifestyle depicted in your lyrics? Don’t people just assume that you’ve got a ton of money?
HANK III: Well, look at my fuckin’ daddy. He was on Monday Night Football all the time, and his dad was successful before him. They wrote songs that still stick around to this day. If people think I’m rich, whatever, but hell, my parents divorced when I was two. I’ve seen that motherfucker once or twice a year my whole life. It’s like, “Okay, wow--cool, it’s fantasy land.” Everything is clean and big. You’ve got your huge tour buses and there’s 50,000 people out there and all that shit. It was fantasyland. Then I would go back to the real world. The true Hank III fans do their homework and research and check it out. That’s just the way it is.
KNAC.COM: What is the common link with Hank III fans?
HANK III: They’re a weird breed. We’ve got a wide variety. Our drummer used to play with Nile and Hate Eternal, and this is the first time he’s been out like this. He would tell me, “Man, you’ve got some weird fuckin’ fans.” He was meaning like the older people and the younger ones. I’ve watched those type of people get along though, and I’ve watched them not get along sometimes. Sometimes they’re even giving me shit. Look at the position I’m putting myself in—I’ve got the punk fans or the metalheads who may show up and go, “What the fuck is this?” Some people know about it, and some people don’t—some will just come there to fuck with ya.
KNAC.COM: That’s pretty rare that someone directs their frustration towards the stage though, isn’t it?
HANK III: I deal with a dickhead in the crowd once every six days. Everything from someone trying to take out the stage to hecklin’ or whatever.
KNAC.COM: How long does it take you to figure out who that is?
HANK III: It depends on if he’s swingin’ or not. I don’t know. I’m always watching the crowd. I’m basically always just watchin’ for a bottle—that’s the main thing. Unless I’m gonna do it myself—
KNAC.COM: You don’t want to get bashed in the head by someone else.
HANK III: I’m always watchin’ though and trying to have a thousand yard stare. That just comes from living in a bar for eight years though. If you live in a bar and you are around violence, you’re gonna be close to trouble.
KNAC.COM: Do you think trouble just finds you?
HANK III: ….Nnnaaah. I do see though kinda that if you are promoting some of the darker things in life how karma kind comes around and kinda bites you a little bit. Every time I drive down to New Orleans an Interstate gets blocked, there’s a wreck or there are lights goin’ out when we’re on tour. Little things add up.
KNAC.COM: Was school pretty horrible for you? Did you hate it?
HANK III: Yeah, totally man. I was thanking the Lord when they stuck me in public school. They tried to do the private thing with me. When I was in eighth grade, they finally gave up. When I got to public school, I was just happy to see all the varieties of people there. You got metalheads, black people, you’ve got your Hispanics—there’s just a lot of cliques and the jocks and all that shit. That was wonderful. I’ve always suffered from fuckin’ A.D.D. and dyslexia from when I was tested as a kid. I’ve just always had problems with it. I still can’t spell—whatever. To this day, man, school wasn’t never somethin’ much for me. I never went to prom. I never walked the line. I did get voted “Most Individualistic” my senior year though.
KNAC.COM: Of course you got that, right?
HANK III: Oh yeah. Most of my friends had already graduated, and I supposedly had a job. I was getting out of school at 10 A.M. and jammin’ out and smokin’ pot all day with my friends. Of course I was always wearing the black shirts and crankin’ the death metal. It’s just the way it was, man.
KNAC.COM: Was the switch over to country pretty natural even considering the other types of music you were interested in?
HANK III: Yeah, I guess so. I’ve just been doin’ it so long. It’s there. There’s some aspects of it that’s definitely there. The hardest thing now is just memorization. Memorizing two pages when you’ve done as much damage to my brain as I have, you’ve got to blow the dust off every now and then.