THE HIGH-OCTANE ALCHEMY OF HANK3
Most people would think releasing three records on the same day is crazy. But Hank3, who dropped the hard Country double album Brothers of the 4×4 and the hardcore punk A Fiendish Threat on Oct. 1, laughed at the thought: “That’s nothing, compared to when we released four records on the same day!”
Hank3, or more formally Hank Williams III, has spent the past decade forging a DIY career path from epic live shows, a schizophrenic musical foundation of thrash punk and raw-boned Country and an intense creative fire.
“I had to file bankruptcy 10 years ago and had to keep it on the road,” he explained flatly. “I went out and toured – and toured. I have a very loyal fan base. They know what to expect.”
What to expect is a night of fiddle-and-steel-drenched Country, followed by hillbilly punk and then topped off with some serious heavy metal. “We aren’t the biggest little show out there,” he noted. “We’re the longest show for the cheapest price. I’ve had people come up after, saying, ‘Man, I feel like we short-changed you! That’s $15 for this show? We sure got a lot more than we paid for.’
“The audience is 18 to 80, and they come knowing what to expect,” Hank3 continued, with a jackhammer cadence; he speaks with an intensity that matches his music and reinforces the upstart genetics that populate his DNA. “Some are there just for the Country, because they know I pay respect to those roots. But then you’ll get a 65-year-old guy who stayed for the whole show, the metal and the mosh pit. Because the crowd gets a little wild, the energy can get a little high with certain mosh pits. That’s what it’s about.”
Recognizing the similarities between the rebel spark that ignited his grandfather’s Country and the frustrations that detonated early punk, Hank3’s modus operandi isn’t as radical as it seems.
“Hiram was playing rock ‘n’ roll before there was such a thing,” said Hank3, referencing the original Hank’s birth name of Hiram King Williams. “Hank (Jr.) was playing Southern rock and blues. So for me to gravitate to heavy metal and punk growing up was the most natural thing.”
He signed originally with Curb Records, in large part because of the label’s relationship with his father. “Mike (Curb, Founder and Chairman, Curb Records) has worked with my dad since Whiskey Bent And Hell Bound (in 1979), and I’d met him at the (car) races,” he recalled. Their relationship grew contentious, even litigious, yet nothing could blunt Hank3’s creativity. Though 1999’s Risin’ Outlaw found critical favor and a small but loyal following, his insurrectionist attitude and blistering music taught two prior generations of Hank Williams enthusiasts that he’s better off doing it his way.
Mojo Nixon, a cowpunk refugee from the ’80s and now a marquee host on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country channel, laughed when asked about Hank3. “People tell him, ‘If you could just be your dad, just turn it down a little bit, you could have a career.’ But at his heart, he’s a skate punk who loves hillbilly music.
“The thing about skate punk bands, they’re a group who don’t care,” Nixon elaborated. “They’re outlaws and total outsiders. That’s OK by Shelton (Hank3, born Shelton Hank Williams). I mean, he comes by it honest! He comes from a long line of crazy hillbillies.”
Crazy like foxes: Hank3 came to realize it wasn’t the fans who minded his excessive output or pummeling musical attack. “Some of the guys from old-school Nashville, the ones in their 80s and 90s, who saw me get into the business and didn’t get it, they’re now saying, ‘It might be totally out there and different, but you’re keeping it Country.’ They know.”
Indeed, “Outdoor Plan,” from his Oct. 1 Country album Brothers of the 4×4, is a grin-inducing version of “A Country Boy Can Survive.” For all the pseudo bad boys populating the format, few could hold their own with Pantera’s Phil Anselmo in a band called Superjoint Ritual or record with former Old Time Banjo National Champion Leroy Troy.
“He’s smart,” Nixon observed. “He starts out with that hard Country, and they keep pushing it and pushing it up a notch and another notch. That ‘hellbilly’ is two-thirds of the way through (the set) – and it keeps building.”
“When a room is over 120 degrees, people get tired after an hour and a half,” Hank3 said. “I explain to security exactly what’s gonna happen, because there’s a difference between a mosh pit and someone trying to hurt people. Our crew has always been one that takes care of themselves. They pick up the ones who fall down. They’re just there to feed the energy.”
That energy flows both ways. “Having the time to set up correctly, right through jumping down to say hello to the fans after the show, loading out or loading in with the crews, that taps into the working-man place and lets us feel connected,” he insisted.
As a writer, Hank3 begins with guitar when writing a rock or hardcore song, and then adds the drums and finally the vocals. For Country, he starts with a hook and sings into a tape recorder. “That’s the way I am,” he admitted. “Pen and paper get in the way. Country, especially, I’m trying to get a little deep. It’s sometimes super-sad or super-lonely. That’s what those kinds of records are for.”
“Duke Ellington was right,” Nixon concurred. “This isn’t about kinds of music, it’s good or bad. The most punk-rock person on the planet isn’t Sid Vicious or Johnny Rotten; nobody’s as crazy as the Outlaws! The attitudes of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmie Rodgers, Charlie Rich? Come on!”
“I’m a no-hit wonder,” Hank3 admits. “The money comes, the money goes. There’s a lot of highs and a lot of lows, a lot of stress. I eat it, live it, breathe it. I’m full on and for right now, that’s what I’m gonna do. I can’t do it forever, because as much as you put into it, it takes that much out of you. Look at Fugazi: Ian MacKaye doesn’t tour that much anymore. I have to rebuild after I get back from a tour. But I like how we do it: It’s the beauty of the bar.”
photos: courtesy of Hank3