Written by Matt Matthews
Apr 12, 2011 at 06:59 PM
The Woodlands, TX native Hayes Carll first registered as a blip on the Houston independent music radar in June of 2002 when Compadre Records released his critically lauded debut album FLOWERS & LIQUOR. Since then the Houston Press named him the best folk act and best new artist in 2002. Then he turned down a recording deal from Sugar Hill, and instead put out the album LITTLE ROCK on his own HWY 87 label and it became the first self-released album to ever reach number one on the Americana music charts. In 2008 Hayes and Brian Keane picked up the Americana Music Association’s Song of the Year award for SHE LEFT ME FOR JESUS, and five years after first being nominated, Carll just received the Emerging Artist Award from the AMA in Sept. 2010. Fresh off recent appearances on Imus in the Morning, Austin City Limits, and The Tonight Show, Hayes Carll is the hottest Americana folk act touring today. And he was cool enough to spend a little time shooting the breeze with Houston Music Review just prior to a gig for some hometown folk at Dosey Doe’s in The Woodlands.



HMR: Welcome back to Houston. You recently re-located to Austin after spending most of your musical career here. How would you compare the music scene here to the one in Austin? Is it merely a more diverse audience versus “the college crowd”?


HC: I wouldn’t say it was that broad a difference. From my point of view, from living sorta in both of them, Austin is more of a compact area with more venues per capita and it seems like just about everybody is a musician there. And Houston is just a little bit more spread out. I think Houston has had to work harder to kinda get that underground scene going because the stuff doesn’t seem to be in place to sorta bring folks together so the musicians have overcome that in some ways and made the scene their own which I think is pretty cool because it is such a great city. But I don’t know if the difference is the crowds. The same types of crowds, for me anyway, come out. We get older professionals and the younger kids and everything in between as far as the fan base goes. But as for the musicians, I don’t know what the difference would be.


HMR: When you are on stage can you detect a difference in the personality or “feel” of the crowd between the two cities?


HC: Well, it’s really more club to club. Like with this venue or when I play the Mucky Duck on Tuesday night it’s gonna be completely different than when I play The Firehouse on Saturday night. Same city, miles apart for clubs. But the vibe in that room is gonna be different just as it is if I play Antone’s as opposed to the Cactus Café. So it’s more what type of venue you are playing than the city so much. Although, I mean, as you go across the country there are certainly differences sometimes in places but a lot of times it has more to do with the room and the type of vibe it sets up. Some places are conducive to being a listening room and some you get drunk and holler at each other and they are both fun.


HMR: And the expectations from the band would be different?


HC: Yeah, and we certainly adjust to that. There are some crowds, some clubs where you just aren’t going to do a lot of talking, a lot of storytelling and there some places where that is a good bulk of my show connecting to the crowd in that way. So it varies from night to night whether we are a full-on electric rock band or a solo acoustic act. Some clubs lend themselves more to one than the other and I find it best not to fight it too much.


HMR: Are your best audiences still in Texas?


HC: Yeah for the most part. I think it is a combination of being close to home and playing it so often. I probably get the biggest numbers in Texas. But the last couple years there has been a good growth in the crowd. All across Canada the crowds are really good., West coast and East coast have gotten good, but still Austin, Houston, Dallas-Ft Worth are my biggest markets but Little Rock, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Calgary, Winnipeg… those cities are starting to catch up.


HMR: So Little Rock has gotten over your song?


HC: (Laughs) Oh, they embraced it!


HMR: Where are you seeing new emerging music scenes?


HC: I’m not really sure where the cool stuff is coming out of. I don’t hang around too long to check ‘em out. I know Winnipeg-Manitoba, a lot of my personal favorite bands come outta there. In the U.S., I’m not really sure where the hippest stuff is coming from.


HMR: I suppose it would have a lot to do with what you were in to.


HC: Yeah, and I don’t have a lot of time to hang out in any particular scene to find out what is going on.


HMR: How did you and John Evans meet and how did your early collaborations come about?


HC: I met John Evans at a Christmas benefit show. And I used to go out and watch him and I just thought it was the coolest band in town. They would catch stuff on fire and they were tattooed and dangerous looking and always had pretty girls hanging out in the crowd and an entourage and it all just seemed very rock and roll to me. AND I just loved music. I thought it was an incredible show, great songwriter, great singer. And so we started hanging out and became friends and kind of written here and there over the years. We wrote one song on my Little Rock record and one more as a joke (Ain’t Enough of Me to Go Around) that we kinda kept around. He has turned into one of my best friends we are neighbors now he lives a mile and a half away from me in Austin.


HMR: Do you still write together?


HC: Yeah he has been really busy lately but we definitely have our share of beers now and then and try to get together. He helped me write a couple songs on this current record (KMAG YOYO) so when I get stumped I call him up for good ideas.


HMR:   When did they ask you to be in HONKY-TONK BLOOD?


HC: They didn’t actually! I had just went out one night to see John play I don’t even remember the name of the bar, and we were hanging around and he has this trick he does where he flips a cigarette and catches it in his mouth. I was trying to learn that and I guess they were filming it and that’s how I wound up in the movie.


HMR: Let’s talk about the new record. How did KMAG YOYO come about?


HC: Scott had this guitar riff and I made up and idea of the song and then we brought John over and three of us sat down and John’s job in the process was to read through the military dictionary and try to find acronyms and stuff. He shouted out KMAG YOYO. It rhymed; it said what we wanted it to say. So, we just stuck it in the song, ended up naming the song that and ended up naming the record partially that.


HMR: When you say KMAG (kiss my ass guys), who are you talking to?


HC: Well… in the song it’s a guy who’s being shot into outer space on LSD so, I mean, he’s basically saying goodbye to everybody. And I just thought the acronym, ya know, a lot of the songs on this record are about people having a hard time economically, kinda checking out socially and the economy and the war and stuff and I just thought maybe it was kinda appropriate for the vibe of the record kinda commenting on people who are ready to check out and are tired of all this.


HMR: We solicited readers of Houston Music Review to submit a few questions for us to ask? Have you ever really played Naked Checkers?


HC: (Laughs) I have. I recommend it. A lot more fun than naked chess.


HMR: Is your Stingaree Music Festival ever coming back to Crystal Beach?


HC: I hope so. I hope so. It’s something that I really want to do, that I loved doing and was really proud of what we accomplished but with the storm (Hurricane Ike), it took away a lot of the lodging for the area and what was kinda special about the festival was having a weekend festival where people could just come stay be on the beach listen to great music. And if you were having to drive in an hour from somewhere and wait in a ferry line it was gonna affect the appeal. So that was one of the issues we ran into. But we had two really great years and the third year was a benefit for the peninsula and that turned out great too. Houston and Beaumont and everybody really stepped up and helped their neighbors out. So I really want to make it happen again I’m just trying to figure it out. I’m just a novice festival promoter. But I’ve been really proud of the all music that we brought down. Personally, most of them have been some of my favorite acts and to get them whether it was Terry Allen or Ray Wylie Hubbard or Corb Lund or Stone Coyotes, I mean the list just went on and I was just really proud to get all those people down to this place that I love and kind of combine the two and we had people from all over the world come down for that festival and it was a lot of fun. I hope we can get it going in some form.


HMR: Thanks, Hayes for taking the time and good luck with the new record.


HC: Thanks, I think, I hope, it’s a timely record and that it’s, ya know, a good part of it is sort of about what’s going on these days like I said with politics and the war and the economy but without being heavy handed about it. And I think it is a fun record to listen to and a funny record at times. But kinda addresses a lot of the things that are going on. Buy it. It’ll make ya happier. Or smarter. Or better in bed.