By larry may
Americans are fanatic about going to a small bar or pub to see a talented singer songwriter that embodies all they love about their local scene: cheap beer, greasy cuisine, and an earnest musician that helps them to forget their lives for a couple of hours while being transported by lyrics soaked in imagery, guitars that look like roadkill, and a weathered voice to power it all. Unfortunately, when the beer is gone, and the road crews start breaking down, the artist can be forgotten by the spent crowd. Let’s hope this is not the case for Texas wordsmith Hayes Carll. He fills all the aforementioned criteria, but his music deserves to be heard after all the hangovers are tempered.
Hayes Carll played in Birmingham recently, and we caught up afterward. It sounded exactly like this….
Can you tell me a little about getting started in Texas? This record just sounds like Texas.
I grew up about 20 miles from Houston. I got my first guitar when I was fifteen. I started learning to play it while also writing poetry and short stories. While doing that, I also started writing songs.
After listening to your record, repeatedly, I think you are a superb storyteller. Does this come from reading a good bit?
I used to read a lot more. When I was younger, we didn’t have a TV. My mom was an English teacher, so books were my diversion while growing up. I went to the library a lot.
It helped to develop my imagination. As I got older, I shied away from it, but I’ve recently started again.
What was that like, having an English teacher for a mom?
I was a good student until the fourth grade. I got by on natural ability for a while, but at a point, coasting isn’t good enough, so I became a bad student. It’s not that I wasn’t bright, but I had a hard time retaining certain things or just getting them done. Once I got out of high school, I got into a good college. But after that, it became noticeable that I didn’t have the best study habits or academia.
Why did you choose Lost Highway as a label?
I had released my last album independently, and was ready to release this one. I shopped it around, but wanted the right people to have it. I did turn some labels down. I didn’t want to be on a label just for the sake of being on a label, because they usually get more than they deserve. A lot of them were offering things I could do on my own, so what was the point? I had a short list of labels I wanted to be on, and on the top of that list was Lost Highway. I liked their roster, and the foundation they had in place.
Let’s talk about the new record. How about Drunken Poet’s Dream?
It was more about the idea of a perfect woman. There are elements of my wife in it, but it started with the line, “I’ve got a woman she’s wild as Rome,” and started to build a song with my friend Ray Wylie Hubbard. That line popped into my head while I was on an airplane, and that could apply to my wife. We started with that line, and Ray and I began to trade lines back and forth. But no, the song is not about anybody specific.
How about “It’s A Shame”?
That one is from my first record that came out in 2002. That first album only sold about 3,000 copies, and I wanted people to hear that song. I didn’t want to give up on it, and thought it deserved to be heard.
What about “Girl Downtown”?
Everyday you walk around, and you see that has a small effect on you. Sometimes, with closer friends, you see that maybe if you tried harder, maybe it could have been something special. But that’s life. You can’t be in love with everybody. That song is very “what could have been”. That person is not necessarily unattainable, but could have been someone very special under different circumstances.
My favorite song on the record is “Beaumont”.
I used to live in east Texas, in a refinery town, and I envisioned a guy who came to Houston and found a girl and found a girl, but the relationship didn’t work out. I was driving down the road one night listening to the beat of the windshield wipers, and thinking about this guy driving back and forth for nothing.
You mentioned some collaboration on this record. Do you have plans for more?
Yeah, I did a song with Mary Gauthier that was on her last record. I’ve got a few friends I write with, and you never know what might turn up.
Have you ever thought about writing a book?
I might, but right now I have a hard enough time writing songs. Someday when I’m not so worried about that, I’d like to write some short stories or some screenplays. But I don’t
think about it very much right now.
How does being a father affect you?
I’m scared that I’m gone so much of the time. I worry about being a good dad, but when I’m home, I’m home of you know what I mean. I hope it all balances out.
That being said, what excites you?
Being a dad and a family man. And trying to grow up, on some level. I’m also excited about my career, I think it’s going in the right direction. I’m having a great time, musically, professionally, and personally, It ‘s just really good right now.