Gov’t Mule Frontman Warren Haynes Encourages Aspiring Songwriters to Broaden Their Influences

performs onstage at One More For The Fans! - Celebrating the Songs & Music of Lynyrd Skynyrd at The Fox Theatre on November 12, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Besides founding the beloved band Gov’t Mule in 1994, singer/guitarist Warren Haynes was also a member of the legendary Allman Brothers Band for over 20 years (1989-1997, 2001-2014), making him one of the most renowned players in the Southern rock/jam band scene. So far, Gov’t Mule have released eleven studio albums. They’ve also put out numerous live albums (most recently in November, with Live at the Beacon Theatre and December with Live At The Angel Orensanz Center).

Calling from his home just north of New York City, Haynes has words of wisdom for artists who are trying to figure out their own distinctive sound. “It’s a matter of choosing your influences—the ones that mean the most to you tend to rise to the surface,” he says. “If you widen your scope and broaden your horizons as much as possible, then there’s a better chance that you’re going to find your own voice, I think. If you limit the music that you listen to, or the genres of music that you listen to, then you’re limiting your own growth.”

And it’s not just Haynes who thinks this way: “I read an interview with B.B. King, and he said that every great musician has at least one influence that you would never expect. The interviewer asked him, ‘So, what’s yours?’ And he said [Belgian jazz guitarist] Django Reinhardt. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s so cool that B.B. King listens to Django Reinhardt.’”

When asked for an example of an artist that he likes that might surprise people, Haynes says, “The other day I heard a Crowded House song and realized how much I really like that music. It’s much more poppy than my own music, and it’s much more pristinely produced than my own music, but the songs are great.”

Besides broadening the stylistic scope of your listening habits, Haynes also suggests widening your timeframe: “I think it’s important for any musician or songwriter to discover as much music as possible and definitely not only be influenced by the past ten or twenty or thirty years,” he says. “Sometimes you have to go back even further and see where it all comes from. My first love was soul music. Before I really got into rock and roll music, I was listening to James Brown and Motown. And then when I heard Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, it changed everything.

“That is a valuable lesson, I think, for any writer: seek out the best in each genre, and don’t be scared to listen to music that you think you won’t like,” Haynes continues. “I listen to a lot of different types of music. I don’t just listen to the obvious stuff that influences my music. And in some cases, I gravitate in the opposite direction. Songwriters definitely have to appreciate a great song, regardless of whether it’s your cup of tea.”

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