Hayes Carll’s Australian Vacation
Hayes Carll is a Texan singer-songwriter cut from the same cloth as acclaimed troubadours Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt and Lyle Lovett. His publicity describes him as an odd mix. Wildly literate, utterly slackerly, impossibly romantic, absolutely a slave to the music, completely committed to the truth and unafraid to skewer pomposity, hypocrisy and small-minded thinking. Hayes is touring Australia this month and spoke with Unpaved Music in advance of his brief but very welcome visit.
Well, Hayes, this will be your first tour down here in the deep, deep south and we are really looking forward to it. Are you touring solo, or bringing a band with you?
Thanks. I’m looking forward to it as well. I’ll be bringing two players with me who will be playing primarily electric guitar, dobro and mandolin. We’ll probably also throw some harmonica and a porchboard in the mix.
It’s a short tour and the main gig is The Gympie Muster which is an extraordinary event in many ways. Some years ago Fred Eaglesmith famously described Gympie as “his kinda festival.” He suggested (with great affection) that it was like “wadin’ in the shallow end of the gene pool.’ Has anyone told you what to expect?
My friends who are familiar with it just told me it’s gonna be a party. Thousands of folks drinking all day in a field under the sun listening to music. I’ve seen this movie before and I know how it ends. It’s gonna be a blast.
Kenny Rogers is top of the bill at Gympie and your pal Corb Lund is also playing. What are the chances of seeing Hayes Carll and Corb Lund up on stage singing the classic backing vocals on The Gambler? That would be huge.
Ha! That’s up to Kenny. I saw Corb cover that the other day in Montana. Kenny Rogers greatest hits was the first tape that I ever owned and it had a huge impact on me. I used to sit under the stairwell and get really caught up in the story songs. My uncle claims that he used to play in garage bands with Kenny growing up in Houston. I’d be all for it. We’ve just gotta get an OK from the big guy.
You have carved out quite a reputation as a songwriter and won several awards including the Americana Music Association Song of the Year for She Left Me For Jesus. The previous year that award went to James McMurtry for We Can’t Make It Here. I was there in Nashville both times and was hugely encouraged that a Nashville based organization had on one hand embraced a ferociously political statement with James’ song and an irreverent romp in the case of yours. How important to you are accolades like that, and how important is it to you to maintain recording and publishing arrangements that allow you to get songs like that out there?
Well it’s always nice to be recognized by your peers. I don’t get too wrapped up in awards, but I’m always happy to accept them. As far as maintaining creative independence, well that’s really the only way I know how to do it. I figure that the only shot I have at doing original work that has any lasting value is to make my own path. I’ve never had a desire to do what other people wanted from me or to shoot for fame for the sake of being famous. I’ve also been fortunate that no one has ever asked me to.
Your latest record KMAG YOYO is sub-titled & Other American Stories and the cover art (including the sweater) is very “stars and stripes,” There seems to be a strong theme emerging with yourself and many of your contemporaries that involves creating a patriotism where it is OK to criticise, to show dissent and even to poke fun without being branded as “Un-American” or worse. Is that what you are getting at?
In some ways, yes. I’ve never understood the idea that it’s unpatriotic to point out flaws or criticize your government. I love my country and question my government. That seems a lot more patriotic than just saying hoorah while things go to shit.
Darrell Scott has said, “I think there is zero difference between the writing of great poetry or great short stories and the writing of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt or Leonard Cohen.” Do you think it is legitimate that great songwriting be regarded as “literature”? That Dylan’s work can stand comfortably beside that of (say) Cormac McCarthy?
As important as the lyric is to the song, I still consider songwriting and literature to be different mediums. As songwriters we have tools like voice and music to help set a mood or create an emotional landscape. There is also the matter of length. A really detailed story driven song is still only one page of a novel. While I would say that most of my favorite “writers” are lyricists, I would consider us a lot closer to poets than authors on the artistic family tree.
Chances Are is my absolute favourite song on the latest record. There is something irresistibly endearing about the way the bittersweet tenderness and vulnerability at the heart of such songs contrasts with the swaggering, incorrigible persona we find elsewhere. Is it difficult to switch between the two?
Not really. I feel like if the song holds up on it’s own then I can find ways to make it work for me live or on record. I like to mix it up in the shows and give the audience a lot of different styles, as well as keep it interesting for myself. If they’ve got you pegged as a guy who only does one thing it could get boring pretty quickly.
Haven’t heard anything much about your other band The Ego Brothers* for a while. How’s that going? So far as I know the Ego Brothers catalogue still stands at one song. Will there be more, or is it a case of quality prevailing over quantity?
Ha! We definitely think quality over quantity. We’ve added Corb Lund as a third member, Elton Ego, and he’s come up with a second tune, so we now have enough material to do an opening set for someone. Not that the Ego Brothers would ever consider opening a show. How could someone follow us?
* In live performances Hayes often talks about The Ego Brothers, himself and fellow Texan John Evans. He says that their method is to sit around writing about how cool they are. The one song we know of is called There Ain’t Enough Of Me To Go Around. We at Unpaved can hardly wait to hear the new addition to their discography.
Hayes Carll & band play the Gympie Muster on 23 & 24 August, The Northcote Social Club (Melbourne) on 25 August and The Factory Theatre (Sydney) on 26 August.
This interview was first published at Unpaved Music. www.unpaved.com.au