Hank Williams III Damn Right, Rebel Proud

Hank Williams III Damn Right, Rebel Proud
Following the creative breakthrough of his previous album, Straight To Hell, Hank III comes one step closer towards capturing his ideal sound with this latest effort, another stiff middle finger directed at the Nashville establishment. The tone is set right off the bat with "The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand),” a diatribe against the institution that continues to exploit the memory of his granddaddy, Hank Williams Sr., despite shunning him shortly before his death. Following that though, there are plenty of new good ol’ boy anthems in the family tradition, such as "Wild & Free,” "Me & My Friends” and "Six Pack Of Beer.” However, fans of Straight To Hell’s darkness and experimentation will gravitate toward DR,RP’s second half and tracks like "Candidate For Suicide,” "Long Hauls & Close Calls” and "3 Shades Of Black.” Such an emotional paradox was the foundation that the great Nashville songwriters thrived on but Hank III seems to be the only artist currently based there who remembers that. In this respect, Damn Right, Rebel Proud may be the only honest album to come of Nashville this year, and with it Hank III has firmly earned the right to carry country music’s torch for the next generation.

You made a lot of new fans with your last album. Did you feel any higher expectations making this new record?
Well, definitely. I mean, I’m still not that satisfied with the record compared to Straight To Hell. It’s going to take me quite a while to top that one just because it was so personal, and the way we did the whole production. It’s hard for me to talk a lot better about this record compared to Straight To Hell, but it’s got a couple of moments and a couple of different sounds. I had some problems… Things were just going against me making Damn Right, Rebel Proud. Most of it was behind the scenes. If it wasn’t the guy I was working with recording it then it was personal problems going on with the engineer. Just little things that the average fan wouldn’t think about but actually are a big deal to me when I don’t get to paint the picture that I want to paint with the songs.

I’m kind of surprised to hear you say that because it seems you’ve finally achieved the creative freedom you’ve been after for a long time.
It’s close. I still have 14 more months then I will be free. [Williams has been battling to get out of his contract with Nashville’s Curb Records for the last eight years.] It’s like, I still have to keep things in mind on the legal tip. For instance, on the G.G. Allin song ["Punch Fight Fuck,” dedicated to Allin] my lawyer called me up and said, "Don’t forget: don’t cross that line too much on the screaming and metal. You’ve got to keep it country or you’re gonna fuck up a loophole and they’ll get you.” So, yeah, on this one and my last two records I did a lot of the work on them myself, and the sound has come leaps and bounds from Risin’ Outlaw when I was forced to work with a producer. But as far as being free and officially being able to make a record that contained country and rock and weird music all mixed together, I wouldn’t be able to do that yet.

Is that your long-term goal: to make that kind of record?
Well, I’ve got tons of songs and they’re not all in one style. I do pick up the acoustic guitar and write my country songs and pick up the electric guitar for the metal songs. And then I’ve got this whole other thing that I don’t even know what you’d classify it as — singing in a low voice over ambient noises, almost like a Pink Floyd psychedelic thing. There’s also the new stoner rock band I’ve got [Attention Deficit Domination], so there are all kinds of different projects going on. So, soon, after my time is up with Curb, I’m going to be able to release all those projects on my own. I might sell five copies or 5,000 but at least I won’t have to worry about having someone always telling me, "You can do this but you can’t do that.” I’ll just be able to do what I want to do, which is make music, simple as that.

What’s the plan to promote Damn Right, Rebel Proud? Have you been on tour yet?
Not yet. I’ve been having a problem getting a band together, so this is the longest I’ve ever been off the road. I’ve been auditioning all kinds of people and trying to find the guys that love the country and the hard rock makes it a little harder than normal. Hopefully by January I’ll have everything up and running and we’re just gonna go out there and do what we do: tour for a month, take a couple of weeks off, then tour for a month and do that for the rest of the year. That’s what we’ve always done but I’ve just been kind of stuck in a rut right now trying to get the band as tight as it was before we had to get off the road the last time.

If it’s any consolation, I get a sense that there’s an audience out there hungry for what you’re doing, as far as combining country and metal. Do you feel at all like you’ve become a sort of spokesman for these people in recent years? I definitely think we attract a different audience, from the kids in black to the cowboys and grandmas and the younger kids. I think we attract that crowd because of the Jekyll and Hyde shows. You know, I could have taken the easy way out and played the game by saying, "Yes sir, no sir. I’ll do that and give you a number one hit song and go out there and make $150,000 a night.” But I chose to do it the hard way and do what’s not politically correct. It’s my blessing and my curse to do the harder stuff because as far as my singing goes, it kills my country voice. But that’s the price that I have to pay for doing both. I was told a long time ago that I’d never be able to do both but when I don’t have a voice I just walk out there and think of Johnny Cash on his bad days or G.G. Allin when he didn’t have a voice and still did his thing. The show must go on but that’s what makes us different and people see realness in that. There are a lot of skaters who are into what we do and they respect it so much because they see that it’s hard work and honest. I’ve never had a lighting guy or a backdrop. It’s always been just us and the fans, and people can identify with that. Some older folks even walk up to me and say, "Well, I don’t know what you did for the second hour of your show but I can respect you trying to stand on your own two feet.”

You’re also on a mission to reinstate Hank Sr. into the Grand Ole Opry. That situation was something I’m sure most people didn’t know about. How much progress have you made?
It’s been getting a lot more steam behind it. It first became an issue about five years ago when I was playing at an event marking the 50th anniversary of Hank Williams’ death at the Grand Ole Opry. Sure enough, I said on TV, "Folks, don’t you think it’s about time to reinstate Hank Williams into the Opry?” That was the first time I said anything about it and after that I tried working behind the scenes, tried being politically correct, do it the right way, not talk too much shit. But then when I got in touch with the [Opry] president, he did nothing but give me a bunch of attitude and smart-ass remarks like, "Oh, God, we’ll never reinstate a dead guy. Are you kidding me?” So I was like, "Well, if you want to be like that, I’ll let you hear what the people have to say about it and we’ll just call you out.” We’re talking about a man who was the very first inductee in the Country Music Hall Of Fame; he’s been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame but for some reason, the little secretive society here in Nashville, the Gaylord Entertainment Industry and the Grand Ole Opry, have a problem showing respect where respect is due. A lot of people don’t know that it had been talked about and written about that they were going to reinstate Hank if he got his act together. They were going to give him a couple of months to get well and come back and play but as we all know, he passed away before that came to be. But everyone else that was part of Hank’s career, like the Louisiana Hayride, have always embraced him. All except the Grand Ole Opry, which shoved him out and disrespected him, even though they still use his image and his name as a part of everything they do to promote themselves. Their excuse is that they’ve never reinstated a dead person, to which I say, well who better to start with? And if you’re not going to ever reinstate dead people, you’re almost excluding history. To me, that’s not the best way of thinking. So, my main goal is that through the DVD we’ve made about it, we’re raising the awareness and getting people to sign the petition [www.reinstatehank.org]. Hopefully sometime in 2009 I’m going to get a show on internet radio and invite any musician who wants to come on to show their support for the cause by doing their thing in honour of Hank. That’s sort of the next step.

It’s been well documented how rocky your relationship with Nashville has been. I’m wondering if there’s still some misconceptions you see in the media about yourself that leave you scratching your head?
I guess the biggest misconception would be that while I’ve partied and hung out with some heavy duty rock gods and done my time in that world, I have to really watch my health nowadays just to keep the damn show on the road. A lot of people might think, "Oh, he’s a strung out drug addict that doesn’t give a damn about anything except his buzz,” when that’s totally not the case. Even with Hank Williams, he would have never gotten that much work done in 29 years if he was wasted all the time. So that’s probably the biggest misconception. I mean, I do talk a lot of shit about Nashville but country music’s so clean and pretty nowadays that all the outlaws are just kind of shunned out of the business. That’s just something that’s a shame, in my eyes — the music’s losing its edginess and coolness because everything is so pop-oriented. But with me being the black sheep in the Bible Belt, that’s just the way it always has been. If you march to your own drum, you’re gonna get called out and people won’t understand. That’s fine; I’m the one that has to deal with it. And if someone has a problem with that, they can walk up and talk it out with me. I take the good with the bad; I’ll talk to you either way. (Sidewalk/EMI)