DIARY - 14 JULY 2012 - HAYES CARLL INTERVIEW
CARLL COUNTRY STRONG
around your ankles in the field before the flood/ you're a rough-cut diamond
in the Mississippi mud/ take me away/ well I'm a two-time loser with my
guitar and my gun/ you're a mover and a shaker, and a lover in the sun."
- Take Me Away - Hayes Carll.
Hayes Carll once had a job selling vacuum cleaners - just like septuagenarian
Now, at the ripe old age of 36, he was colourful enough to be the source
of a character in the 2010 Tim McGraw-Gwyneth Paltrow movie Country
was inspiration for singer Beau Hutton played by Garrett Hedlund
- also in the 2004 McGraw film Friday Night Lights.
also played Dean Moriarty in new Jack Kerouac movie On The Road
now screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
He performed two Carll songs - Hard Out Here and Hide Me Babe -
and Hayes sang Take Me Away after being head hunted by Country Strong
music director Randall Poster.
"That was really neat to watch, a better-looking, better-singing
version of myself doing my songs," Carll revealed on the eve
of his debut Australian tour that includes the Gympie Muster in
very surreal and very cool at the same time. It was fun watching someone
else do one of my songs. You're writing and testing stuff all the time,
but sometimes it's hard to get outside of it and really determine if it's
connecting the way you want to."
The wrap party was even better.
"My highlight was when Gwyneth asked me to dance at the wrap party,"
"Garrett sang Hard Out Here. Slow dancing with Gwyneth Paltrow
while Garrett Hedlund sang one of my songs was pretty surreal. It was
more like an awkward sway. I was a little out of my league at that point.
The whole room was like, "Who the fuck is this guy?" I was asking
myself the same question."
Carll also won a prestige 2008 Americana Award for his song She left
Me For Jesus and was nominated in 2010 for Drunken Poet's Dream
- a song he wrote with veteran Oklahoma born outlaw Ray Wylie Hubbard.
It's a far cry from the Bolivar Peninsula beach bum bars that launched
his career on the south coast of Texas - also made famous by fellow Texan
Carll was born in the Woodlands of oil city Houston before decamping to
Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, where he graduated with a history
He also co-hosted a radio show while at university.
"I graduated last in my class with a history degree, Carll recalled.
"So I was totally unemployable. But the real problem was that I still
didn't have anything to write about. I was a suburbanite kid before and
now I was a white kid in a liberal arts school in Arkansas. And time was
burning. Dylan had a publishing deal by 19 and The Freewheelin Bob Dylan
had come out when he was 21 so I was behind the curve."
But instead of pursuing an academic career he headed south to Crystal
Beach on Galveston Bay where he became a singer-songwriter.
It was there Rex aka Wrecks Bell - bassist for the late Townes Van Zandt
and subject of Townes song Rex's Blues - discovered Hayes.
juke box has not played my song in years/ the juke box has not played
my song in years/ on this same old bar stool just backin' my shots with
beers/ and the juke box has not played my song in years." - Barroom
Lament - Hayes Carll.
his 2002 debut disc Flowers And Liquor (Compadre) with tales from
his not so wasted days and nights on the beaches and bars.
That's way down south where a lust highway flows through the Bolivar Peninsula
and vast cast of bandidos and senoritas hang out and raise hell in seasonal
spurts with bucolic beach Babylon bliss.
And where he also discovered a pub with no beer - The Old Quarter Café
- maybe sibling of a Houston club where mentor Van Zandt cut a live disc
"It's the best bar ever except they don't have liquor, food or customers,"
"So in between sets I went across the street to drink whiskey, eat
peanuts and stare at the cigarette machine. During the summer it's kind
of a party place because it's one beach that you can drink on and drive
on and make bonfires. You can do whatever you want to do out there. In
the winter, it's completely desolate. There's nothing to do if you're
not partying in the sun. It gets really, really quiet. It can test your
sanity after a while."
Carll comes from the rich Texas singer-songwriter scene that ignited the
careers of co-writers Clark, Van Zandt and Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Other graduates include Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Willie
Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Steve Earle, Joe Ely, Nanci Griffith, Lucinda
Williams, Adam Carroll, James McMurtry, Slaid Cleaves, Pat Green and Cory
"When I started out, I thought of myself as a folk singer-songwriter,
but I sing with a twang and have a country background," Carll says.
"It's country, but my biggest influence is Dylan. I didn't want to
be in a business of playing traditional country, and I wanted to be more
exciting than folk music. So it's a little bit of a hybrid. I wanted to
push myself musically on this one. It's just kind of a grab bag of whatever
influences I have and what the band brought to it."
Carll is big on hindsight.
"In retrospect, I was an obnoxious teenager from the suburbs that
had no idea what life really was," Carll recalled.
"Back then my heroes were Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac,
guys who I dug not only artistically but for their ethos of getting out
on the road, hanging with the homeless and heroin addicts. Those characters
were not in my universe but I was trying to get at and discover that life."
BLOOMS IN A FLOWERY HAYES
the coast is disappearing as they line up on the beach/ doing all those
little things that Sunday school don't teach/ Jim Beam by the fire, cocaine
in the stash/ baseball bat on the floorboard, shotgun on the dash."
- HWY 87 - Hayes Carll.
has fond memories of the Bolivar Peninsula - it's where he sourced
many songs that helped him carve a deep niche in the crowded Lone
Star singer songwriter circuit.
"In the summer it's a madhouse and in the winter it's a ghost
town," says Carll of a 27-mile spit of land that fuelled his
"Year round it's full of the strangest, funniest, most violent
stand-up kind hearted people I ever met."
A little like the Shipwreck Coast Bible belt capital Warrnambool in
the seventies before the milk of human kindness rescued it in non-drought
in a really isolated place with no TV and no internet and no real kinda
friends of any kind," Carll recalled.
all I'd do then was just sit on the porch every single night and write
and play guitar.
That was all there was to do. After I left the beach, life just got a
lot more hectic. I walked in there the Old Quarter by accident one night,
and there's a Townes shrine on the wall, Blaze Foley's wallet and pictures
of Townes everywhere. A stripper and a lawyer were the two bartenders;
everybody works for free. I walked in sang a couple of songs and Rex and
I hit it off, and I started hanging out there. It was sorta my home, and
I became familiar with a lot of songwriters and saw that people did this
- toured around and played and stuff. One night this guy - I can't remember
his name - came in from Michigan. The bar was about closed, there were
10-12 people in there and he started singing To Live Is To Fly.
And the whole bar sang along, except me. I'm sitting there watching them
and just blown away by, one, how beautiful this song is."
It was in Austin on February 1, 1989 a man named January murdered To
Live Is To Fly writer Foley during Guy Clark's first Australian tour.
The bar also had a boomerang effect on Carll - he reprised one song It's
A Shame on his third album Trouble In Mind.
Carll has a nice narcotic line in wry self-deprecatory humour cloaking
demons in Heaven Above where he sought solace from drudgery in a cameo
role on the 6 o'clock news.
"I found me a lover, she's six foot three/ everyone's says she better
looking than me."
He hides behind his guitar in hedonistic homage Naked Checkers
and Arkansas Blues - inspired by Gillian Welch who confessed she
couldn't write a song about the home state of Clinton, Cash and Campbell.
Hayes poured booze and fantasy into the blender for gymnastic gallops
through the genre in the title track and Lost And Lonely - first
song he finished.
"Whiskey Drunk on a Saturday night/ she caught his eye coming out
of the light/ half way there he had to get into a fight/ back home that's
just the way it goes." - Richey Lee - Hayes Carll.
Carll appears to have learned narrative niceties from Robert Earl Keen,
Tom Pacheco and Charlie Robison, putting stings in the tails of tales
that flicker in Easy Come Easy Go - a song he wrote in college.
Carll said in his liner notes that Richey Lee was about a claustrophobic
alcoholic soul mate whom he killed off in song - but not in real life.
He travelled to the Adriatic coast of Croatia to write ruptured romance
requiem It's A Shame and Billy Joe Shaver's latter day hometown
Waco for Perfect Lover - esoteric echo of a departed lover.
There's an obligatory jail song Live Free Or Die but that outlaw
favourite is the only cover - penned by Bill Morrissey and Trigger Cook.
Carll inhabits the song like his own with hero shooting wife's lover in
a loud jangle of the eternal triangle.
"So if you catch your lover with another man/ it's best to hold off
as long as you can/ then shoot him in a different state/ where they got
a different licence plate."
Carll's accessibility is accentuated by tasty production of Lisa Morales
who joins sister Roberta as back up vocalist.
Studio band - guitarist David Spencer, bassist David Carroll, drummer
Rick Richards are augmented by Michael Ramos on accordion and dobro by
Jeff Plankenhorn who did Texas gigs with Bill Chambers.
Carll may sound like peers - even Kevin Deal vocally on finale Barroom
YOYO & Other American Stories
all these years of runnin' 'round/ all this flyin' high and falling down/
I gotta get back to the way I was/ gonna turn it 'round darlin' just because/
and everybody's talking about the shape I'm in/ they say, boy you ain't
a poet, just a drunk with a pen/ over and over, again and again/ Lord,
they don't know about the places I've been." - Hard Out Here -
lives in Northwest Austin - the city where he once sold vacuum cleaners
- with his wife Jenna and Elijah, their 8-year-old son.
fled to Croatia for six months in 2000, tours here to promote his fourth
album KMAG YOYO & Other American Stories.
My Ass Guys, You're On Your Own is a military acronym, Carll says.
about a young soldier in Afghanistan who has a morphine-induced hallucination
about working for the CIA. He gets hit by an IED and stuff goes through
his head as he's hanging on. I wrote the music first and then needed something
intense to match it, so I thought of blasting through the desert on a
Humvee and riding a spaceship on LSD. I didn't set out to write a war
or protest song but it kind of came together that way.
includes two Country Strong movie songs - Hard Out Here
and Hide Me - and Chances Are.
thinking of calling it Conway Twitty Lying Naked on a Bearskin Rug By
the Fireplace in the Wintertime, Carll said of Chances Are.
song reminded me of classic country when Kristofferson, Haggard, and Twitty
sang songs that were sweet but you also wouldn't want to leave them alone
with your woman. I always admired that. They were being sexual but not
new video Another Like You features the grizzled comedian-actor
Brett Gelman known for HBO shows Funny Or Die Presents, The Life Of
Tim and Eagleheart.
lawyer, actor and former Bill Clinton political strategist James Carville
also appears in the clip with Republican power broker wife Mary Matalin.
Hunger Force co-creator Dave Willis directed it and co-writer Darrell
Scott, Will Kimbrough, Al Perkins and Dan Baird are on the disc.
Bottle In My Hand featuring Canadian rancher Corb Lund - a frequent
Australian tourist - and Oregonian Todd Snider.
R.S. Field produced 2004 album Little Rock on his own Highway 87 label
with then manager Mike Crowley who also guided the careers of fellow Texans
Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock.
The duo played
the famed Port Fairy Folk festival and made a live album in Brunswick
on their tours.
Rivertown for Little Rock with late mentor Townes Van Zandt and
Guy Clark and another song Chickens with Hubbard.
revert to Americana award-winning album Trouble In Mind on Lost
WYLIE HUBBARD AND DREAMS
bottles scattered like last night's clothes/ cigarette papers and dominoes/
she laughs for a minute about the shape I'm in/ says 'you be the sinner,
honey, I'll be the sin.'" - Drunken Poet's Dream - Hayes Carll-Ray
At just 32
he sounded more like co-writer Ray Wylie Hubbard and Billy Joe Shaver
on his third album as he ripped through pages from life on the cutting
edge to fuel a flood of rough-edged bluesy country narratives.
Barn burning bookends - erotica entree Drunken Poet's Dream and
sardonic finale She Left Me For Jesus - are salient signposts to
Carll's amorous adventures.
"I'm such a big fan of Ray as a person and a songwriter," Carll
recalled at the time.
"Sometimes I sit down with the mentality of doing something in his
style. For this one, I just had this line, 'I've got a woman, she's wild
as Rome," and a groove. He came over to the house and we started
writing. We did about half the song and went our separate ways. We each
finished the song on our own and ended up with pretty different versions.
They're probably 60 perfect the same. As he likes to say I ruined it by
putting a bridge in there: "me and Hayes wrote a song together but
his has a bridge. He's just showing off."
LOSES LOVER TO JESUS
left me for Jesus and that just ain't fair/ she says "that's he's
perfect, how could I compare/ she says 'I should find him'/ and I'll know
peace at last/ but if I ever find Jesus I'm kicking his ass." - She
Left Me For Jesus - Hayes Carll-Brian Keane.
the perfect bookend Biblical parable outro as a femme fatale-childhood
sweetheart swaps hedonism for salvation.
So what about the song source?
"Co-writer Brian Keane brought that initially," Carll said after
winning his 2008 Americana award.
"I thought the idea about beating up Jesus - just the idea without
anything behind it was a little heavy handed. So we went about finding
the context of the narrator mistaking his girlfriend's newfound religion
for her having an affair. We came up with some of the mistakes that can
be made when a red-blooded country boy sees a longhaired, sandal wearing,
pacifist Jew walking around. We thought about what his reaction would
be if he thought that guy was sleeping with his girlfriend. I did get
a lot of grief over it. But I was always of the mindset that if people
didn't get what I was trying to say, there wasn't much hope for them and
me anyway. So it didn't bother me too much. It did bother me when people
thought I was anti-Semitic or anti-Christian because of the lyrics. I
thought it was pretty clear that I wasn't poking fun at the religion but
at the redneck who had a problem with these things. I looked at it like
if those listeners didn't get it, I wasn't going to be able to explain
it to them. I thought I did a fairly good job of breaking it down in the
And how did the award ignite his career?
"It was nice to get the Americana award but it's weird," Carll
"You write a bunch of songs and really put your heart into them and
have a really emotional connection to the stuff. Then a tongue-in-cheek
satire you write in an hour and a half is the one you get the most recognition
and notoriety for. It got a second wind when we cut that record, but I
never thought it'd get the life that it did. It was cool, though, because
I was in the UK and listened to the award show online. That was fun. Got
a nice little plaque for it."
The mirthful video for She Left Me For Jesus parodies Houston TV show
Cheaters - once a feature of Australian late night TV
an old lion tamer parked behind the bar/ hundred pounds of weed in a stolen
car/ barefoot shrimper with a pistol up his sleeve/ some will go to heaven,
some will never leave." - I Got A Gig - Hayes Carll.
covered all shades of love in It's A Shame (poor timing), simple
dreams of Girl Downtown, premature death in Don't Let Me
Fall and the barroom home wrecker in A Lover Like You.
You don't have to be in Texas to soak up the characters in the bar
scene in embryonic song I Got A Gig.
Carll proves a master of milking town and street names in unfulfilled
love in Beaumont and rural hell-raising in Faulkner Street and
Wild As A Turkey.
"I come down from Memphis with a broken down Corvette/ suitcase
full of memories and a face you won't forget."
Equally vivid are Knockin' Over Whiskeys and a revamp of Scott
Nolan's Bad Liver And A Broken Heart - both carved from the
same template as I Got A Gig.
Brad Jones ensures Carll's cinematic sagas maximise aural access with
tasty doses of banjo, dobro, pedal and lap steel, violin, harmonica and
CLICK HERE for Tonkgirl's Gig Guide for Carll
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