Posted June 2, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Q+A with Hank3: Never by the book

Hank III
Hank III

Last year, redneck rocker Hank3 issued two albums. A Fiendish Threat is pure punk rock and Brothers of the 4X4 is pure country. For Hank3, that approach isn’t anything unusual. His live show generally consists of two sets — one country and the other death metal. He recently phoned from his Nashville home to talk about his unique approach and brag about the mighty 4X4 that graces the cover of Brothers of the 4X4.

You grew up in Nashville but I think from the beginning you played punk rock. Why didn’t you play country at first, or do I have that wrong?
The dude who was my babysitter was a huge rock ‘n’ roll fan and artist. I looked up to him as a big brother. He inspired me to become a rock drummer. When I was 10 years old, I was already on stage backing up Hank Jr. on “Family Tradition.” By the time I was 14 I was able to back up Hank Jr. and Lynyrd Skynyrd at the same time for a couple of songs. When I got to 15, 16 and 17, I was in local bands. I was touring the tri-state area as a drummer with a band called Buzzkill. Then, after that broke up I ended up in a band that was more like Unsane. So, I was in four or five opening different bands as a guitar player, as a screamer and as a bass player, touring the tri-state area. When I was at home, I would play more acoustic and work on singing. I was trying to do lessons. Some people got that, “Okay, this kid is never going to understand guitar theory, but I can show him some cool tricks that might help him out.” When I was 21, that’s when things had to get a little more serious. Unfortunately, I had a pretty intense situation coming my way where police served me papers on stage. I had a one-night stand that waited three years to tell me that I had a kid. They took me to court and the judge ruled in their favor that I owed them $160,000 back pay. I was just a normal punk rock, rock, blues musician making 50 bucks every two weeks and I had a judge tell me playing music was no real job. That’s all I needed to prove them wrong. It all worked out for the best. I had to do the family affair circuit for a couple years just to get some things situated, but I always had the intention of trying to get back into the rock clubs and just play in an environment where everybody could have a good time and where they wouldn’t freak out if I said “fuck” or “damn” or something like that.

Risin’ Outlaw, that was like the first real country record that you put out right?
Well, for me yeah. They pulled that thing…they put Three Hanks: Men with Broken Hearts before it. That was all Curb Records and I was really upset about that. I mean it’s always been known that I was more of a momma’s boy. I never really hung out that much with Hank Jr. and then all of a sudden, they’re gonna pave the way for my whole country career. Man, I was like just let me be an artist for ten years and then do that. The way they came out of the gate kind of rubbed me real wrong.

So when did you form your own label and what has it been like to put out records?
Basically, I had to do my time. I did my stretch until they couldn’t hold onto me anymore. Henry Rollins, he had watched me over the years, he said, “Hank, you got your fan base. You got your songs. You know what you want. You just need a good distribution company.” And that’s kind of what I’ve followed his advice on. I’ve been without a manager for probably close to seven or eight years now. I’m sure there are some things I’m missing out on by not having a manager, but you know their natural instinct is to do their job. They want to make me money and I’m always trying to hold it back. I want to keep [a show] to a 17 to 25 dollar ticket price. I started on the road in 1991 for seven bucks and a bus and a crew and all that, now I’m just trying to keep it affordable. Diesel ain’t getting no cheaper. It is what it is, but that’s kind of worked. If I ever make it to 50 and get that ticket back a little bit, yeah I might just do kind of what Willie has done or Kris Kristofferson and enjoy some other areas. I have been a bar band and pretty much have kept it in a bar my whole career.

Who knows what will happen as time keeps going, but in my head, for now, I still want to do the long shows and the energetic shows and keep it in an intimate and intense club.

Talk about Brothers of the 4X4 a little bit. What was the sound that you were going for? What was your approach on that record?
Usually, anytime I’m making a record, if I’m going for a country roots, I always look at it from a roots angle. So, I always have to have fiddle. I got to have steel. I got to have banjo and a stand-up bass. It was probably only 15 to 20 minutes of editing. So many guys nowadays are just doing more editing and copying and pasting than anything else. I have never given myself an option to do that. If I’m going to be editing something, I have to hire someone to come here. It might be a couple of sour notes and we’re just going to do that. I wanted a couple of songs to be straight up, slow, depressing and, in my eyes, true old school country. And then I wanted a couple of songs to have a little bit of the bluegrass drive to them because my guitar style has been known to have a little more of a gallop feel to it. It’s not necessarily full country. I think it’s got a little bit of everything on it.

There’s a lot of stuff that they do that’s by the book nowadays and since I’m not doing it by the book, all I can do is cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Is that your vehicle on the cover of the album?
Yeah, man. I’ve driven big trucks my whole life. I was raised on a farm and Franklin, Tennessee was an old Civil War town. Kids just had big pickup trucks with big tires on them. I’ve had a cop say, “Is that yours?” I’m like, “Yes, sir.” He’s like, “Do you have ten minutes, so I can call my backup to see this thing?” I’m like, “Alright.” So, I never had a vehicle that started so many conversations with people that probably wouldn’t normally say hello to me. That’s been pretty cool man. I’ve been riding around town and a lot of people know it’s me. It’s interesting to see the energy that it creates when people pull up next to me on the road and just go, “Woo!”

It looks like a van. Is that thing really four-wheel drive?
Yeah, it’s official. It’s got the leaf springs up front. It’s got 10 to 12 inches of lift . . . official four-wheel drive. It’s got the 6.0 diesel in it. I’ve tried hard for almost five years to get in four-wheeler magazine and it finally went into to the edition that’s on the stands now. As a daily driver, it’s not like a show van or nothing, but there’s a lot of different angles that have been put into it.

Tell me a little bit about A Fiendish Threat, too. It’s really raw sounding.
I wanted that record to straight up be a throwback and, if you’re going to compare it to someone, I want you to compare it to the Misfits and to Minor Threat. It didn’t want people to compare it to some of the really big rock stars that are happening right now. For me, that record was a record to pay respect to the bands that taught me how to play and gave me so much inspiration: 7 Seconds, GBH, the Ramones, Janes’s Addiction . . . all kind of stuff. What makes it just a little bit more interesting is doing the fuzz and the distortion on the acoustic guitar and then having the stand-up bass rocking out. I think that is really what gave it a little bit of the different sound. It does sound raw. A lot of it is some pretty high gain stuff but a lot of my favorite records had that kind of sound. I was specifically going for that in its own little way.

I think it turned out really well.
I’m proud of it. We do our best. It was a good project for me. It was a good feeling and hats off to 7 Seconds for letting me do one of their sing-a-long songs. Basically “Fight my Way” is their song. They gave me, “Go for it man.” Big respects to them, too.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates
Cleveland, OH – House of Blues
Rochester, NY – Montage Music Hall
Buffalo, NY – Town Ballroom
Syracuse, NY – Lost Horizon
Burlington, VT – Higher Ground
New York, NY – Gramercy
Philadelphia, PA – The Trocadero
Baltimore, MD – Rams Head
Norfolk, VA – NorVA
Raleigh, NC – Lincoln Theatre


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected]