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Split Personality: Hank3 Remains an Unrepentant Punk Rocker and Country Outlaw 

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Country singer Hank3's career has been characterized by a series of highs and lows. He was once signed to one of country's most prestigious labels but had such a huge falling out that he's no longer on speaking terms with its owner. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that his experiences performing in Cleveland have been both good and bad.

"I've had great shows there and I've had grim shows there," he says via phone from his Nashville home. "That goes with basically everywhere I ever played. Some nights it ends up on a Monday night and some nights it ends up on a Friday night. I will say the very last time I played Cleveland, unfortunately we had trailer issues and we were stranded by the side of the road for a while."

He arrived at the venue late but still managed to take the stage on time.

"I always try to brief the security," he says. "Sometimes we have a pretty rowdy crowd. They usually take care of themselves. If you can let them have as much fun as you can that would be great and I think that really happened the last time I was there. It just seemed like a lot of people had a good time, so it was an intense show. It was intense getting there, but at the end of the night, it was awesome."

That story pretty much sums up Hank3's career to date. It's been tough getting there, but once he gets there, it's awesome. Last year, he issued two albums. In typical Hank3 fashion, they were wildly different from one another. A Fiendish Threat is pure punk rock. And Brothers of the 4X4 is pure country. For Hank3, that approach isn't anything unusual. While he grew up in Nashville, he gravitated first toward punk and metal.

"The dude who was my babysitter was a huge rock 'n' roll fan and artist," he says. "So, I looked up to him as a big brother. He inspired me a lot to become a rock drummer. When I was 10 years old, I was backing up Hank Jr. on 'Family Tradition' on stage. When I was 14 years old, then 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 and 16 and 17, I was in local bands."

He toured the country with a punk band and then gravitated toward a hardcore group that played what he calls "the Chicago sound."

"I was in four or five different bands as a guitar player, as a screamer, as a bass player," he says. "When I was at home, I would play more acoustic and work on singing. I was just a normal punk rock, rock, blues musician making 50 bucks every two weeks."

Issued in 1999, Risin' Outlaw was the first country record that Hank3 issued, though Curb Records paired him with his father Hank Williams Jr. and his grandfather Hank Williams Sr. on a previous release to make it seem as if Hank3 was singing alongside the country legends. That was the beginning of a bad relationship.

"I was really upset about that," Hank3 says of the initial release. "I mean it's always been known that I was more of a mama'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. I was like, 'Just let me be an artist for 10 years and then do that.' But you know the way they came out of the gate, that kind of rubbed me real wrong."

In fact, things went so sour that Hank3 once printed up T-shirts that read, "Fuck Curb."

"It literally became illegal where I could not say certain things unless it was a straight-up fact," he says. "So, it was what it was and there was a lot of people at the label that understood I was offering them a bunch of different things to do for their label and then there was that side of it that didn't want to budge and just had no appreciation and doing what they're still doing to this day, releasing recycled records, riding the name and it doesn't matter if you're dealing with the independent rebel like myself or if it's someone like LeAnn Rimes or Tim McGraw. Those problems have always kind of been there with that company. It is what it is."

But then longtime friend Henry Rollins suggested Hank3 put out his own damn albums and Hank3 hasn't looked back.

"I've followed his advice," says Hank3. "I've been without a manager probably close to seven or eight years now. It is what it is. I'm sure there's a lot of things that I'm missing out by not having a manager, but you know their natural instinct is to make me money and to do their job and I'm always trying to hold it back. 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. I've had that mentality and it's kind of taken me for now. 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 [Nelson] has done or Kris Kristofferson. I have been a bar band and pretty much have kept it in a bar my whole career, so 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 keeping it in an intimate and intense club."

 His live show generally consists of two sets — a country set and a death metal set.

"The country is what it is," he says. "I've been doing the hellbelly mixed in with the fiendish threat sound and then there's just a little break on switching things over. The lights go down and the movie comes up and there's some of the doom sound for a little bit. I'm hoping to keep it going on the rest of this year too. What we do live is definitely different than what's happening on the record, but every tour we're trying to make something special happen."

hank3 8 p.m., Tuesday, June 10. House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $20.50 ADV, $23 DOS, hob.com.

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