Shelton Hank Williams has been relatively prolific of late. At mega-label Curb Records, he made only six albums in 15 years. But in the year since leaving Curb and recording under Hank3 Records, the country renegade has launched four albums — all simultaneously, in September 2011. “We don’t believe anyone has done such a thing before — or even thought of doing it, for that matter,” he says. “It’s too damn crazy.”
Hank3 — who ditched the III for the 3 when he started anew — remains a rare bird, prone to achieving peculiar firsts. His pioneering 2006 double album Straight to Hell, which prominently featured both sides of the Hank country-punk coin, was the first “country” record to get slapped with a Parental Advisory label. He’s one of a handful of country musicians, if not the only one, to cite Florida death metal as a defining moment in the development of his musical tastes. And he’s certainly the first of his country brethren to book an entire tour around seeing the bone-rattling doom of stoner metal trio Sleep.
In fact, when he comes to Culture Room Wednesday, he’ll be channeling his punky tonk through the same system Sleep used to record.
“The gear you’ll see on this tour was used to record Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker,” he says, revealing his deference for two of the heaviest metal albums of the 1990s. “[Sleep guitarist] Matt Pike has always been a great friend to me. And the gear you hear on [my 2011 release] Attention Deficit Domination was also used for those two albums.”
Cooped up in his “haunted” Nashville ranch on a recent Thursday afternoon, Hank talks video games, death metal, and his 20-year-old son, who “almost has as many tattoos” as he does. His phone manner is infectious and jarringly polite. He peppers conversation with a series of laconic “Yea, mans,” his nasally twang as pronounced in his speech as it is in his singing.
He’s so polite, in fact, that it’s hard to detect any hint of his punk outlaw persona. Speaking about his regret over not being well-versed in music theory and how it applies to his instrument, he can even be described as earnest.
“I don’t really know how to play guitar,” he says at one such moment.
That’s humble, but it’s demonstrably false, as evidenced by his chops on this pitch-perfect Sleep cover. Still it’s this easy air and absence of self-importance that mitigates the klutzy interactions he has with fans an hour later, during a live video chat on website Yowie. Unlike musical peers Brendan Small from Dethklok or Cannibal Corpse’s Alex Webster, Hank3 doesn’t bring a moderator to keep fans in check, which gives the small, short-lived coterie an anarchic touch.
This isn’t to say he enjoys it any less; he obviously does it for a reason. After all, who wouldn’t like blabbing about hunting, canines, and heavy metal with his or her most fervent admirers? This becomes especially true when many of said admirers clearly connect with the work and ask thoughtful questions about song particulars and subject inspiration.
Even when interactions are plagued by technical difficulties, Hank’s good nature and enthusiasm shine through. For instance, after a fan implores him to come to Brazil, he waits patiently for technology to catch up and sync the parties, and finally exclaims, “All my heroes have gotten to play there!
“But I’ve never been able to be there,” he says. “I hope to make it, Sepultura style. That would be awesome.” He throws up devilhorns and moves on to the next piece of chatter.
Thus, it’s easy to see how he maintains a fanbase so rabid and loyal. (In another particularly touching moment, a wheelchair-bound fan asks Hank to play a benefit show. He agrees on the spot.)
Yet, there are also the not-so-happy endings. When one fan brazenly asks Hank to come play a party after the concert and the singer politely declines, the chat disintegrates abruptly. Did the fan really expect a different answer?
In another cringe-worthy exchange, a woman takes off her shirt and adjusts the web camera at chest level. As she climbs through the mechanical ranks, edging closer to her time with Hank, she fidgets endlessly with her hair, combing it over and over against her right eye for all who dare not look away.
Hank, though, seems undaunted, unlike the rest of us watching this little tragedy unfold. He averts his eyes and graciously answers her questions about his dog. Everyone else looks on horrified, but also torn. Horrified because she’s one of only three women asking questions, and torn because, while fans identify with the humiliation of talking to an idol — everyone makes missteps — she’s also one of them, a representative of the few dedicated enough to know about this free-for-all chat.
Somehow, Hank’s refined country manners don’t detract from his punk-metal leanings. “Ridin the Wave,” part of the recently released Ghost to a Ghost, is dedicated to surfing pals and draws upon Hank’s skateboarding roots. (He’s sponsored by Sector 9 Longboard Skateboards.) “Troopers Hollar” mashes a death metal rumble with a banjo and features guest vocals from Hank’s dog. And the title track, “Ghost to a Ghost,” evokes that famous tango number “Por Una Cabeza,” except with some double bass drum fills and hardcore screaming.
These songs, only a small part of the four releases, portend great things from this liberated edition of Hank, who turns 40 this year and still refuses to wear earplugs. He’s not sure he’ll be able to maintain his pace past 50; Hank’s shows routinely require Springsteen-level feats of endurance as they consist of three- to four-hour sets broken up in three parts: one traditional-country set, another comprising a mix Hank calls Hellbilly, and finally Assjack, his punk-metal band.
However, Hank’s changing it up a bit this time around. The Hellbilly playlist will be heavily compressed, and the Assjack set will be replaced by two of his latest: the doom of Attention Deficit Domination and the auctioneer metal of 3 Bar Ranch.
“Things in life have been a little easier for me since I’ve been 30 or 35,” he says. “Forty will be just another day. But as far as the music, I hope I can keep doing it until I’m 50.”
Hank3 plays 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 7 at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Admission is $20. Call 954-564-1074, or visit cultureroom.net.