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"Broken Bottles, Hard Luck and Duct Tape" Kerby’s Exclusive Interview With Hank III

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Saturday, September 1, 2007 @ 9:40 PM

"Sometimes I don’t give a fuck

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Most of the time when interviewing a musician, the subject being spoken to generally falls within the range of shameless megalomaniac to hopelessly boring, calculated guru of self promotion. Of all the people I’ve ever interviewed, Hank III is probably the one musician who comes the closest to giving the audience the most accurate idea of who he actually is. This is mostly attributable to the startling lack of pretension that exists when Hank speaks which belies a willingness to express his views with little regard to testifying to anything other than what he believes to be true—having one’s road-worn boots duct taped together doesn’t hurt the believability factor either--he’s live it.

Grandson of the original country icon Hank Williams, Hank III has also found himself living the same type of troubled life that has traditionally given birth to music saturated with hard luck, bad breaks and booze. Whether the genre in question is his hellbilly brand of electrified country or the pummeling punk-metal fusion of Assjack, Hank refuses to conform to the expectations that Curb Records--or anyone else in the industry--sets for him. Although he’s busy with the many facets of his solo career, Hank III continues to leave the door open to the idea of working with metal enigma, Phil Anselmo, again. Whether any of these future collaborations involve Superjoint Ritual or instead are simply another side project of Anselmo’s remains anybody’s guess, but the reality is that Hank III will be busy, touring and working hard regardless of what happens with that segment of his career. For anyone who has ever had the good fortune to either listen to one of Hank’s discs or experience his heartfelt live show, the knowledge that he plans on continuing doing what he is doing well into the future is welcome news indeed.

KNAC.COM: I’m sure the first music you were exposed to had to be country, but which came first between the punk and the metal?

HANK III: What ruined me in my mom’s eyes was that when I was about nine or ten, for Christmas, my aunt bought me Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top and a Kiss record. That is basically what put me into that style--that and having a drum kit. From there, it just progressed into a harder and harder more anti-social style of music and bands. That’s what fueled my love for it, man. So, yeah, the rock came first for me.

KNAC.COM: Do you think the fact that you started by listening to rock with hooks and choruses was especially important to your development as a songwriter?

HANK III: At the time, I don’t know if I was as aware of that as I was just the energy. I was pretty young at the time. Hearing Ted Nugent scream and seeing Kiss just scared me. It scared me…but I liked it.

KNAC.COM: “It scared me, but I liked it.” That happens a lot with kids, doesn’t it?

HANK III: Yeah, I have never really incorporated that too much into my own show though. I mean, shit, we don’t even have a backdrop or a lighting guy. We have never really taken that side of the stage show on the road with us, but it was always just the energy of the rock is what got to me. Then, when I lived in Atlanta, it was punk rock radio stations that changed my life. 88.5 used to play anything from COC to the Dead Kennedy’s and The Misfits and The Sex Pistols--all the standards. Then, there were a shitload of local, pissed off bands out there. It was like, “Warning, there might be cussing on this show.” Back then, they could get away with, “fuck, shit and goddamn.” I just used to record the punk rock radio stations and then jam the tapes all the time. That really got me into the really, really harder stuff.

KNAC.COM: Did that pose any kind of conflict in you at the time given who you are? How much of who you are were you even aware of at that time?

HANK III: I definitely knew that my granddad was a very important person who wasn’t with us anymore. That knowledge was always around. Willie, Waylon and Johnny Cash were standard vinyl--and Elvis records were always laying around the house. They were played constantly. Aside from that, it was a pretty normal upbringing. My mom was by herself--it wasn’t like I was raised on the road. I might have been out there maybe once a week with Hank Williams Jr. Aside from there, it was pretty normal, man. Sometimes we’d go out to the Grand Ole Opry and have special seats and shit like that. At that point, I knew that there was definitely some important history. I didn’t realize how totally massive it was though until I was like 15 or 16 and how intense it really was.

KNAC.COM: Did that mostly come from other people bringing that to you?

HANK III: Nah, I think that mostly came from when I started wanting to be a musician and begin writing songs myself--hitting record on the tape decks and trying to record shit, man. That’s when I started doing my homework, and I was like, “goddamn, this mutherfucker was only around twenty-nine years and had at least 1500 songs on tape. “ It was pretty mind-blowing…even to this day.

KNAC.COM: Did that realization make it harder for you to write? I mean, some kids can just go and throw shit down because maybe they are too dumb to know better. You, on the other hand, had to know that whatever you did was going to be judged differently. It had to be different for you.

HANK III: Definitely, and with my learning disabilities--the A.D.D. and the Dyslexia--they have played a little role in the writing or the process too. You know, Hank Williams and David Allan Coe can write--they are almost like hillbilly Shakespeares in their own way. I have to fight for it a little more in order to be able to tell the story. With the rock stuff, it can be a little more drifty, but definitely in the country stuff, I really have to fight for the focus and be able to write a song that outsiders can relate to, man. Sometimes I don’t give a fuck though, and there is a song on the new record where I wrote it for fun and decided that I wasn’t going to stress about it. It’s just not one of those tear jerking, gut- wrenching songs. There are a few on there that come from real life situations, but I always like to have fun here and there with a couple.

KNAC.COM: When you do write a tear jerking song about someone lost, does that have to come from a specific relationship or place in your mind in order for it to be authentic?

HANK III: It just helps, man. There are some situations though, like even Johnny Cash sang many a song that he didn’t write that a lot of people could feel. It does help though to be able to practice what you preach and all that stuff.

KNAC.COM: It’s kind of disturbing though when a person turns on contemporary country music only to find songs about minivans, Myspace pages and broken washing machines. Then, it’s followed up with another tune about how you still love your wife at night because you said a special prayer in the morning.

HANK III: I hear ya. It’s gonna be hard for me to top Straight To Hell for the next couple of years. A lot of good times and effort went into that record. I think people could feel the realness of it.

KNAC.COM: Don’t you think there are still plenty of people out there who don’t have the two-story house and the car payment and botoxed wife? I mean, there are still people who live on the edge, don’t you think? Day to day with a lot of obstacles who just do what they do to get by?

HANK III: Yep. Right. The lawyers outsmarted all the musicians in Nashville, and that’s when it totally changed. We just do what we do. I’m going through the same fuckin’ bullshit on the new record that I just turned in. “There’s no country song for radio on here.” Well, it’s not my fuckin’ fault that I’m too country for radio or that my topics aren’t pristine or picture perfect. I just stick to my guns. “This is my record. These are my songs. If it’s not good enough for radio, that’s your problem—not mine. Our fans will still be here and we’ll still be doin’ what we’re doin’ with or without you, man.

KNAC.COM: This will be your fourth record though. At this point why would they expect that you had changed at all? I mean, you aren’t Rascal Flatts.

HANK III: I guess it’s just like the same reason Creative Artist Agency let me go eight months ago. They were like, “Are you gonna take the next step and go to the next level?” I’m like, “I’m gonna keep playing the bars—they’ve been supporting me since day one. If you have a couple of big shows, I’ll open for a band if the situation is right, but I’m not gonna say “Fuck y’all, see ya later!” to the bars that have kept us alive.” They fired me. I guess it’s the same mentality at the record label that I have to deal with now. Maybe they figure, “Hank’s getting older now—maybe he’s got this rebellious bullshit out of his system and do it our way.” Thank God that I’ve got a good manager and a good lawyer who believes in what I do.

KNAC.COM: Where does that resolve come from though? I mean, I’m sure you would have plenty of enablers if you decided to just sing whatever material they put in front of you and perpetuate a more Nashville style image. How do you keep from just giving in to that?

HANK III: I had that opportunity from the beginning and still do to this day. There’s always people when I start turning up and doing my rock shit who are like “aw man, this shit sucks.” They wonder why I would go out and strain my voice and tear it up---well, that’s what makes us different, and that’s what I love. That’s my way of taking the hard road and not taking the easy road and carving our own niche. People identify with that. That was a decision I made early on that I would be more real and more DIY and not just sitting back in luxury. This is as good as it gets—having a bus, having a crew and having a soundman. That’s like riding high for us.

KNAC.COM: Why is that enough for you? Why don’t you wanna chase the swimming pools and the LA coke?

HANK III: I just think that maybe you can identify with people a little bit better? I don’t know, and maybe that’s just something that I got from Hank Williams a bit. People could just identify with him and talk to him and be on the same level. Even though I might be weird or quirky with a lot of nervous energy, people still feel that same thing. I say “hello” to everyone after the show, and the way we do what we do just forces me to keep my feet grounded because I was raised around my dad who was the king of jets, money and huge shows. Maybe that has just turned me off, seeing that and the way I was treated during that time. It has maybe just made me want to keep my feet to the ground more.

KNAC.COM: That is an important point to make because many artists have to decide whether or not they want to make their art or commercial viability their main concern. Why does one sell out their convictions for the lure of money while another decides that their music is more important?

HANK III: A true artist will do it, in my eyes, because they love it. For instance, I know there’s a million bad things you can say about him, but David Allan Coe has had all of his biggest hits stolen from him, and he’s been ripped off by the lawyers, but still to this day he gets up there because he’s doing what he loves—playing his fucking guitar and singing his songs. Whereas, if someone shows up to an office with five other songwriters and doesn’t really tour or anything, it’s gonna sound more plastic and less real. Willie Nelson, David Allan Coe, the Melvins are full on troopers. Look how long they’ve been doing it. Look how long they’re gonna keep doing it—probably til’ they can’t do it no more. Those guys are heroes of mine. Someone, I’m not dissin’ him, but that might be off the track a little bit is Henry Rollins. He might have got just a little bored with screamin’ and has found other creative ways out like with his writing or spoken word stuff. It’s weird, you do get older and go through a change—sure the drugs and alcohol will take a bit of a toll too if you go down that road, but the troopers are in it for the long haul, and they always have music in their blood and won’t let it go as long it’s comin’ from the heart whether it’s rock, punk rock, country or blue grass—that’s what’s important.

KNAC.COM: Are you enjoying this part of your career where you are the solo artist who gets to do the country and punk versus the function you served with Phil where he was the guy calling the shots?

HANK III: Well, those guys are my friends and my heroes. I was raised on that shit. Eyehategod, Pantera and Black Flag were my heroes. As far as the anxiety goes now, it’s a little easier because I’m the boss.

KNAC.COM: Is that because you don’t have to be the one trying to predict how everyone else is feeling, and instead, they can be trying to guess what kind of mood you’re in?

HANK III: When you’re up on that stage around their crowd and fans, there is a feeling and rush that you’ll never get anywhere else. We’ll still be doing shows together here and there—now whether it’s a full time touring job…Phil knows that he could call me say, “I need ya,” and I’d be there for as long as I could until I had to go back and do this.

KNAC.COM: So, at the end of the day, this is priority one?

HANK III: It’s a priority, but…like Phil would say, “you know, we’re connected at the hip.” It goes back to when I was like fourteen and would listen to him. What those guys have done, Phil, Jimmy, Mike and I have done has definitely opened me up to a whole new group of kids who would have never known that this Hank Williams is into heavy shit or screamin’ shit or whatever. I owe them that. That is the way I feel. We still have fun, and I could just go down there tomorrow, and we could rock out with no bullshit. I can always do my thing, but if I ever get a chance to go and work with them, I do it. It’s that important to me.

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