TAM MUSIC: Interview with Hank III

Story and photos by Rose Riot
Shelton Hank Williams, better known as Hank III, is celebrating his creative liberation with the release of four new albums on September 6, 2011. Armed with his own new record label aptly named Hank III Records and a red-hot cattle brand, Hank III is ready to tour, searing three vertical lines into the ears of folks across the land.

The first of the four new Hank III albums I listened to was a new project called Attention Deficit Domination (ADD). ADD is a slowed down, doom metal inspired work filtered through Hank III. Next, I listened to the most unusual of the group, an album called Cattle Callin’.

Unlike anything I’ve ever heard, it is 23 tracks of fast tempo metal with cattle auctioneer samples. It would be fair to call this album manic. You definitely have to hear this to believe it. Hank III dubs this type of music, “Cattle Core.”

Guttertown, the third Hank III installment, and my favorite, is almost a concept album with its Southern-Gothic visual feeling. It painted a picture for me of a sultry, Southern summer night. Guttertown has an ambient vibe and has guest appearances by Tom Waits, Les Claypool, Trooper and Hank’s dog.

The final and most traditional of the new LPs is Ghost to Ghost. It delivers that wonderful meld of rock and country that Hank III fans have come to know and love.

I met Hank III last year when he was playing drums with Arson Anthem. He impressed me with his laid back, approachable demeanor, but I was still nervous about doing a phone interview with such a true artist and downright cool guy.

Not surprisingly, he was just as nice on the phone as in person. I enjoyed talking to him so much that I didn’t follow the questions that I had prepared. I ended up just talking to him like (dare I say) a friend, or, at the very least, a mutual admirer of music.

One of my most exciting discoveries from our conversation was learning that Adam Ant had been the first concert for both of us! This piece of information made me glow with admiration for Shelton…

Rose Riot: Four albums out all out once, can you explain this?

Shelton Hank Williams: Well, I was tryin’ to do something different. I don’t think any other artist(s) has ever done anything like this. The only one that comes to mind is Frank Zappa. He was held back from his vision and could never release everything all at once. He was coming from three different genres. He was a huge inspiration for me with this.

RR: That’s what was really most impressive to me; each of your new albums comes from such a different place. Tell me about that.

HW: Everyone who knows me, knows that I’ve always been interested in different kinds of music. I’ve always played in heavy metal  bands and in country bands too. The country is a natural given. It’s in my blood. It’s what I do. I’ve toured with it for many, many years. Cattle Callin’ came from being raised on a farm. I used to go to auctions with my granddad and I was always fascinated by the speed of the auctioneers.

I’ve worked with cattle, milked cattle… I’ve herded cattle, and I’ve been in that lifestyle. The heavy metal  aspect of that album came liking the speed of the cattle auctioneers mixed with the speed of metal. That album was inspired by bands like Slayer and Pantera.

Attention Deficit Domination came from being a fan of The Melvins, from day one… Black Sabbath and all the really slow, heavy bands. I have a lot of love for that style of music. For years I played fast on the road and I’ve never really gotten to slow down and jam the way I wanted to. I am really excited to add the doom to what we do live. ADD is dedicated to Layne Staley’s singing style.

The whole work of the four albums was a massive challenge. Everyone who knows me, knows that I’m kind of a workaholic and it’s hard for me to sit still on a good day.

RR: ADD, is this the last of Assjack?

HW: ADD is a new thing for now, it’s not the end of Assjack. ADD is just a new style and rhythm. It’s something I wanted to do for a long time.

RR: Out of the four, the album that stuck out the most to me was Guttertown. It is very visual, almost like a painting. Is this what you where going for with Guttertown?

HW: I’ve been a fan of ambient music for years. When I’m on the road and I’m getting ready for a show, I listen to some pretty abstract, ambient stuff. I definitely tried to paint some visuals.

I was trying to make things a little pyschodelic.You’ve got your happy, you’ve got your sad and you’ve got your weird with this one. With these four albums, I was looking at some of my heroes, trying to make them proud. I approached each album as if it could be my last album.

RR: You really defy all labels. I admire that so much and there needs to be more artists like you.

HW: I’m able to be creative now. I was held back for so many years. I was on a label for 14 years and only had five pieces of product. That’s awful! My father had maybe 15 to 20 pieces of product in that amount of time.

The record label was killing me creatively as an artist. If you walk in my house, it’s nothing but gear, posters and musical equipment. It’s a 24/7 lifestyle for me. It’s just me being me.

RR: What creative inspirations do you have aside from music?

HW: Workin’ outside, doin’ chores, being with my dogs and my animals. That’s really about it. I go to live shows every so often but other than that, I’m cutting grass or working on the trails or ridin’ around in my truck.

RR: How many instruments do you play?

HW: I don’t really understand how music theory works. I can write songs and make records. I play drums, guitar, bass, I mess around on the keyboard, I make noise on the cello but I don’t officially know how to play it. I can play banjo and mandolin; I just like to have fun with instruments.

RR: You recorded, mixed and mastered all four of your albums by yourself in a very short period of time. What were those days like?

HW: From January to June, from the moment I woke up ’til I went to bed at night, it was nothing but dedication… full on, no breaks, no nothing. It was a mind-boggling process. I pushed my mind, body and ears to the limits. It was pretty grueling.

RR: What would you be doing if you weren’t a musician?

HW: Chores and workin’ outside come natural to me. I might cut grass or be a farm hand, I might install garage doors or who knows.

RR: The crowd at a Hank III show is unparalleled in energy and diversity. We love you in the South for obvious reasons but do you get the same crowd response in other parts of the country?

HW: It’s always a roller coaster. There are always highs and lows no matter where you are. It depends on how people are feelin’. It may depend on how much the crowd has been drinkin’. I try to deliver the same energy every night no matter what.

No matter where you are sometimes the crowds are super silent and super still. I’ve done shows in Europe where the people go crazy, so it’s not just the South. In Minneapolis, for years the crowd made us feel like we were Slayer on stage.

San Francisco is off the hook, so is San Diego. It’s always a very loyal crowd. Doin’ the show and then saying hello to everyone after the show makes people feel connected. It’s an honor for us to do what we do.

RR: Tell me about your Paul Booth tattoo.

HW: It’s his interpretation of a mule. Funny thing about getting that tattoo- the night before I had done a show and a fan bought me a shot. I’ve always said, ‘If they are nice enough to buy ’em, I’ll be nice enough to drink it’.

That shot was spiked with LSD! I was up all night and got tattooed the next day. It was definitely intense feelin’ the heaviness of that needle on my skin after being up for so many hours. Walkin’ into his place was very personal though. It felt very family-oriented. It wasn’t just like walkin’ into a shop off the street. I felt very connected to Paul.

RR: Do you have plans for more work?

HW: I have a piece by Jeff Clayton on my left ribcage that I need to get outlined in red.
Aside from getting work done from Paul Booth, most of my tattoos were done in really tough periods of my life. Gettin’ tattooed has always been kind of like therapy for me. It’s destruction and a healing process at the same time.

RR: Do you think there are any parallels in the music world and the tattoo world?

HW: For me, a kid in the country, I was lookin’ at Johnny Paycheck and David Allen Coe. I would say, when I grew old, I wanna be like that. For me, it was a rebellious thing.

My mom always told me, “If you get a tattoo, you’re gonna get kicked out of the house!” And of course, that made me go and get one.

(Rose Riot is a photographer in Atlanta and contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine.)

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