When one of the sponsors of your tour is the eminent online voice of humor/sarcasm The Onion, it shouldn’t surprise too many people that you have an award-winning song about a guy who wants to extract some revenge on Jesus for stealing his girlfriend.
That’s part of the story behind Hayes Carll, another singer-songwriter from Texas and the latest to affirm that state’s legend as the largest exporter of music literati.
Carll grew up in Texas but went to college in Arkansas. After college, he honed his songwriting skills in the bars and honky-tonks of Crystal Beach, Texas, a place, he likes to say, where the bug repellent “Off!” is considered cologne: “They put it on the table next to the ketchup at all the restaurants.”
In September, Carll’s song “She Left Me for Jesus” won the Americana Music Association award for song of the year. He beat Tift Merritt, James McMurtry, Levon Helm and the new country duo of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. He was also a nominee in the album of the year category for “Trouble in Mind” but lost that one to Krauss and Plant’s “Raising Sand.”
“Jesus” is off Carll’s latest album, “Trouble in Mind,” which came out this year on Lost Highway Records, home to Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and, most famously, the “O, Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack.
Friday night he and his band return to Lawrence for a show at the Bottleneck (they did an early-Sunday show at Wakarusa in June). While rolling up the West Coast toward Oregon recently, he spoke to The Star about making some headway in the cutthroat world of music and singing/songwriting.
How did you persuade The Onionto sponsor this tour?
After we came up with the idea for the video for “She Left Me for Jesus,” we thought it might appeal to them. So we reached out to them and asked if they’d be interested in getting behind a touring singer-songwriter. We figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.
The video is funny. Who came up with the idea?
We shot it in Austin. A guy named Dano Johnson wrote the script and directed it. Another guy, Troy Campbell, helped produce it. We were watching the show “Cheaters” one night and came up with the idea: “What if we put the concept of the song to an episode of a really bad reality-TV show?” It got away from the song lyrics a little bit, but it let us poke fun at reality TV and the people who watch it.
It’s slightly sacrilegious. Has it gotten much airtime?
Mostly on the Internet and mostly on YouTube.
There is a pretty deep Texas flair in your songwriting. Talk about how that developed and the people who inspired it.
When I got out of school I headed to Crystal Beach. It’s a 25-mile strip of peninsula about a half-mile wide, and it has about 15 bars up and down the beach. At the time I was kind of the only guy who could play guitar and sing at the same time.
I was never much of a guitar player; one reason I got into songwriting was because of other songwriters. I learned the whole Dylan catalog, and some Willie, Jimmy Buffett, Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett — all that stuff. So I could do four hours a night and cover a bunch of songs between country and folk or whatever I could play without getting something thrown at me.
But no originals?
Oh, no. Those people wanted to hear what they already knew. They weren’t there to discover some local songwriter.
When did you start performing your own songs?
Across the bay in Galveston, the Old Quarter (Acoustic Café) was a home to songwriters and a touring stop for working musicians. So I’d go down there and play some of my own stuff. It became a way to practice.
Your first big break?
I released “Flowers and Liquor” on Compadre Records. They were new. They picked it up and released it. I’d been gigging and songwriting for years. That was my first industry break. It showed me things about touring contracts and how to market a record.
How did you jump to Lost Highway?
Not really sure. We did a second record, “Little Rock,” and released it independently and had a little more luck with that one. I started to broaden my touring and got a little radio presence. I did a show in Nashville a couple of years ago, and the label’s A&R rep, a woman named Kim Buie, was at the show. She liked what she heard, and we talked after the show. Eventually they made an offer.
Who do people say you sound like?
I get a lot of Steve Earle, especially vocally. I’m a big Steve Earle fan, but I’m not sure that’s a compliment. I’ve heard John Prine a few times. Mostly it’s the guys I emulate — the “three chords and a broken-down voice” type.
Hayes Carll performs Friday night with Corb Lund at the Bottleneck
Doors open at 8 p.m.
It’s an all-ages show.
Tickets cost $8 and $9.