Music

Inside the Heathen Mind of Hank III

An interview with country music's self-exiled prince

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Hank Williams III is just a regular 34-year-old guy from Nashville. He just happens to be the grandson of one of the most recognizable icons of modern country music ... the long-gone, but never-forgotten Hank Williams himself. And he's the son of Hank Williams, Jr., who was one of country's biggest stars in the '80s.

So of course, Hank III does everything he can to tear down and blow smoke up the nose of mainstream country music. His own country songs are proudly irreverent, crude and raw as road rash. He mixes them in live performances with straight-ahead hardcore punk rock (with his band Assjack) and what he calls "hellbilly," influenced by his years as a backing player in the working class rock world. He's signed with Curb Records, home to Tim McGraw and LeAnn Rimes, but has famously denounced the label for stifling his creativity.

The latest Hank III release, 2006's Straight to Hell, is a raw, home-recorded, two-disc tear through the artist's hard-partying, acid trippin', outlaw lifestyle. Published by Bruc, a Curb imprint, it holds a grubbier-than-ever middle finger up for the industry. Hank I would be proud. Williams talked to us by phone from the road, somewhere in California.

The Source Weekly: What are your major gripes with modern country music?

Hank III: Well, I mean the Hank Williams of today is Wayne "the Train" Hancock, and the Merle Haggard of today is Dale Watson, for starters, neither one of them hosts the Grand Ole Opry a lot. And pop country is about how good you look, how clean you are, and how perfect everything is. It's not real, it's fake. It's plastic. They're singing songs that somebody else has written, and they don't identify with it at all. It's just ... you know, it's a scam, basically. People like Shania Twain have only done, what, maybe two shows, and sold 50 million records or whatever. So it's nothin' but who you know, and a power play, and kissin' somebody's ass and workin' with them and stuff like that, you know? The outlaws and rebels and all that stuff is definitely missed. The Loretta Lynns are missed. Hopefully one day, everything might get a little bit more real. I'm born and raised [in Nashville], man, so... I carry the flag of ... you know, burn that town to the ground, pretty much. At least a few streets of it. Not all of it, just the business side of it, pretty much.

Speaking of the business side, how are things going for you with Curb Records nowadays?

They're so-so. They don't respect us, they don't understand us. No videos have been made for the new record, no push, really. You know, if it was Tim McGraw, it'd be completely different. They're all talk, no walk, and you know ... I'm doin' time in jail. Here soon I'll be done with 'em, man ... and [then we'll] work with people that understand us, and know what's up.

So you've got a contract coming to an end?

Yeah, I gotta do two more records, man, then I'll be free.

What kind of directions do you think you'll take things in then?

Hopefully start up my own record label, keep doin' what I've always been doin'. Makin' it to 50, then callin' the road quits, at least. I'm in tons of projects, I'm in the metal world, I'm in the fuckin' country world, and the stoner world. I've got tons of stuff goin' on. We just gotta get a good base behind us to keep us goin, man.

Would you say that you personally struggle with drugs and alcohol these days?

I've never been an alcoholic. I only drink when I'm onstage or somebody gives me a shot, man, you know? I've never been a drinker. I've always been a drugger. You know, I don't think it's a struggle, it's just the way I choose to live my life.

As far as musicians who are working nowadays, what kind of artists do you like to listen to?

All kinds ... from Doom to Agnostic Front to Celtic Frost, to High on Fire, to Sunno, to Extreme Noise Terror, to Jimmy Martin, Ernest Tubb, the Louvin Brothers. On and on. I got 600 CDs with me, so I'm always listenin' to stuff, man. All the shit I get from the road, too. I'm always listenin' to that.

What's your latest tattoo?

Uh, I got Jeff Clayton and Unknown Hinson. [Clayton is] the singer from Antiseen, and [Unkown Hinson is] the Vampire Western Troubadour of country music. He is slowly rising. He's been out there over 10 years. I can guarantee you'll be seein' him soon. He does videos and music, and he's the walking dead.

Speaking of that, what's your spiritual outlook on life? Are you a religious man?

I believe in good and bad, and I base it on all the friends that I know that have been dead and made it back. If you wanna get all trapped in a bunch of hypocritical shit, go ahead. But I was raised by a neo-Nazi Christian mother that burned my records and forced me to go to church Monday, Wednesday, Sunday morning and Sunday night, and I've had enough of that crap in my life, man. That's all I can say, man, is I've got over 10 people I've talked to that's been to the other side, and it's just kinda fuckin' nothin' there. So enjoy it while you got it. Live to the fullest, whatever that may be, good or bad. It goes back to your conscience. And I think about the people in the jungle that don't even know about a goddamn Bible, you know? It goes back to your conscience, man. I guess I would have to ... as far as Christian versus Satanism, I would have to lean more towards the Satanism, because it's more about self-fulfillment and stuff like that. There are some religions that say Jesus Christ isn't this god that is so forgiving and all this stuff. I don't know. I hate politics and I hate fuckin' religion, you know. But I do know my granddad sang about the light, and I sing about the dark, and I can leave it at that.

Is there anything else you want to mention?

It's like a Jeckyl and Hyde show, so everybody knows what they're gettin'. We try to cater to the country fans and the kids in black. So that's it, dude.

September 4, 7:30 p.m., $15, The Big Easy.

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