Hank 3, the polarizing son of Hank Williams Jr. and grandson of Hank Sr., has always had a rebellious way of bucking the system. Now that a major label recording contract, primarily focused on his country music, has come to an end, he is flooding his fans with three new albums.
“I was on a label for 15 years and only have five records to show,” he says. “And now I’ll finally get to do what I want to do.”
If you’re familiar with Hank 3 at all, then you’ll know what he means by that. It’s metal time.
Although his country music draws interest from a wide range of people (he likes to say from ages “14-80”), his first love is heavy metal. As such, all of his concerts are a three-hour affair. One set is for fans that love his swaggering, punk-influenced honky-tonk, and another is for the “true hellbillies” that await mosh pits, growling vocals and chugging electric guitars.
His three-album release gives loyal fans what they’ve come to expect, but goes even farther. Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown is a double album of country tunes and invigorating Cajun music. Cattle Callin’ may be the first-ever pairing of auctioneers with heavy metal experimentation. And Attention Deficit Domination slows Hank’s speed metal down to a crawling sludge.
The fiercely-independent singer-songwriter recently stopped by CMT’s offices to explain a little more about himself — how he got interested in heavy metal, why he feels for the misfits and what it’s like being the black sheep of the Williams family.
People will definitely recognize your name, but there’s much more to your music than your legacy. Can you explain what you’re passionate about?
I’m mainly just passionate about playing. A lot of people will say, “He’s just riding the coattails of the Hank Williams name.” But I think if you look at my history, I’ve taken the long way and the musician way, as opposed to the one-hit wonder way. I’m still just as passionate about music as I was the very first time I heard it. When I’m feeling awful, music is the only thing that releases the pressure. It’s been the best psychiatrist I’ve ever had.
How did you get that way? It would’ve been easy for a guy like you to have cashed in.
I just found the farthest thing from country when I was a kid, and I fell in love with it. I think it was just a natural thing. That was my way of rebelling. I’m the reason Suicidal Tendencies and Fishbone and all these bands were in Hank Jr.’s video. He was making fun of me back in the day with “Our hair is not orange, we don’t wear chains or spikes” [a lyric from “Young Country”], and I was just being me.
So I’ve always had that streak. Some would say it’s a dark streak, I guess. I wasn’t thinking about it back then, but my granddad sang about the light, so I thought I was supposed to do some things different and sing about the dark.
There are some really big names on The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams project, but some people are surprised that you weren’t involved.
I never get asked about any of that stuff. In reality, I never even got to have a Hank Williams instrument. I got a tie, a fishing lure and a check. And thanks to Marty Stuart, I got to put on his clothes a couple of times, but people don’t involve me in things like that. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s just that they think, “Well, he needs to stand on his own two feet,” or maybe they just don’t want “bad blood” on their record or whatever. It’s hard to say what they’re thinking, whoever’s really in charge of it.
Have you always had to deal with people wanting you to be something different?
Absolutely. That’s why it’s been so hard for managers to work with me. I guess I’m not the best businessman, because the way I approach it is halfway trying to give it away. It was all about longevity to me, as far as the music goes. I lived a lot of my life completely trying to kill myself in a million different ways, and now it’s all about trying to preserve every ounce of energy for that stage or that performance.
You’ve said that a lot of your music right now is geared toward misfit kids. Why do you feel so connected with them?
Well, I’ve always felt connected to the outsider. When I was raised around [Nashville], I used to hang around the weird people — if it was the nerd or it was the punks or it was the metal-heads. I’ve been walking down that street and I’ve had the good ol’ boys scowl at me, and I guess I just identified with it. Plus, there are a lot of kids that don’t really have anything but are able to drift and follow us around the tour, and I’ve stood up for them. [Bouncers] are not going to let someone in because of the way they look or because of the way they smell? In a bar? I mean, come on. And I’ll be like, “Yeah, he’s on our guest list.”
On the album, Guttertown, where does the Cajun influence come from?
Hank Williams was fascinated with the sound and the style and the food, and Hank Jr. was born in Louisiana. When I was young, I used to have a couple of friends that would take us down to Mardi Gras or take us way back in the swamps. And I’d get this kind of eerie fascination because you’re so far out in the country, and if you get dropped off, who knows what’s gonna happen? Over the years, Cajun music has always calmed me down, or if I’m feeling real sick or feeling real unsettled, I can put that music on and try to get focused again.
Where did you get the idea for Cattle Callin’? Hearing auctioneers over heavy metal, it’s almost like they were the original rappers, and nobody knew it.
When I was younger, I used to go to the auction barns with my [maternal] grandfather, and I was always fascinated with the speed that they would sell. I’ve also always been into metal with the intensity of the kick drums and the heaviness of Slayer and Pantera and all that, and I was just like, “Man, that seems like a good fit.” I just wanted to have a different kind of light on some heavy metal. And that’s working with some of these auctioneers and building the songs around their chants. I wasn’t able to use most of the guys that I really wanted, because they were a little intimidated about what I do or my “rebel” image. So it’s not always, “Oh, you sound great. You kick ass.” I hear just as much negative as I do positive.