Houston Magazine: Carll's Going Coastal
Singer-songwriter Hayes Carll took an unusual road to success. Born in the suburbs of Houston, he moved to the Galveston area, of all places, to jump-start his career as a musician in his twenties. And it actually worked; Carll is finally enjoying the dividends of years spent picking his guitar in weathered Gulf Coast dives. His anticipated third album, Trouble in Mind, drops April 8 on his new label, Lost Highway Records. He recently toured through Canada, and this month he’ll reconnect with the beach town that put him on the map at the Stingaree Music Festival (April 18-20), which he founded last year as a showcase of local songwriters.
The married 32-year-old Carll is in good company at Lost Highway, as the legendary label also reps Lyle Lovett and Willie Nelson. And the close association with the pair of Texas greats is not limited to sharing a label; like them, Carll has been heralded as one of the best songwriters in the Lone Star state. His self-released second album, 2005’s Little Rock, was the first Texas country-folk album to grab the top spot on the Americana Music Chart, and critical acclaim stretched far and wide. “Hayes clearly has it in him to climb to the top of the Americana tree,“ read The Sun newspaper in London, “on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Yet before he garnered international attention, Carll spent nearly five years after college playing six nights a week in small smoke-filled venues near the salty beaches around Galveston—a far cry from the comfy confines of the Woodlands where he grew up. “It’s a different world, that’s part of why I moved there,” says Carll. “I wanted to experience everything I could in life where other people lived.” It was that life which inspired the bluesy “I Got a Gig” track on his new album.
Though he currently lives on the road, Carll still performs around Houston, and considers it somewhat of a home base. “Houston has a rich history of songwriters, probably one of the best in the world in its heyday. I saw it as supportive and a good place to get the ball rolling.”
Trouble In Mind is a unique blend of old-fashioned country licks and twang intermixed with Carll’s rugged voice—a worthy canvas for the insightful lyrics found throughout the LP. His tunes have been compared to songwriting legends Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. He cites those artists as heavy influences, and with the help of his new label, Carll successfully demonstrates not only what he’s learned from the masters, but also his own hip, modern style of Texas music.
Carll couldn’t be happier with the way his success is panning out, especially considering his unorthodox beginnings. He prefers to keep everything simple and in perspective, much like the Gulf Coast way of life. “My goal has always been to be able to make a living doing this, and have people come out to hear me making the music I wanted to make,”he says. “So far I’ve been able to that.”