Interview: Hayes Carll on “What It Is,” Reading More and a Sense of Humor


Americana Highways made a pit stop to chat with Hayes Carll about his upcoming new album What It Is, which was co-produced by Allison Moorer and Brad Jones and will be available via Dualtone Records on February 15th.  Along the way Carll had some lively things to say about the more poppy style of this album, the musicians on the album, and the significance of a sense humor and reading.

AH: To what extent would you say a sense of humor is important in songwriting, the music business, (and life)?

HC: I think some people can write a good song or be successful in the business without having much of a sense of humor. They can be a drag to be around but humor is not a necessity to succeed in either. But I’ve yet to come across someone without a sense of humor who was doing life well. Personally I love humor in songs. It can be in large doses or just a dash, but when done well it paints the whole picture of a character and can help access the whole range of emotions.

AH: Many songs on What It Is, like “Times Like These” and “American Dream” deliver thoughtful, serious commentary, but over the most catchy, driving music. Is there something about this combination that is particularly effective in reaching people?

HC: If you have a lyrical message combined with music that gets peoples attention and makes them feel something, well that’s a pretty great combo. I don’t know if I’ve achieved that or not but it’s something I’m definitely going for on a lot of the songs I record.

AH: For those of us who don’t have this kind of experience – what is it like having a viable co-writer and musician living with you (referring to spouse Allison Moorer)?

HC: I can only speak for myself but I think it’s pretty great thing. She takes art seriously and I appreciate her intentionality in her own work as well as her conviction and discipline to the process. It’s inspiring to me in my own work. She’s always throwing out ideas that get my imagination working and It’s nice to be able to bounce my own ideas off of her and get immediate feedback. She also understands the process, how important it is, and what it requires to nurture, access, and channel your creativity.

AH: What it Is is musically very complex and upbeat – with quality “pop” feel at times. How much did Brad Jones contribute to this more upbeat sound (as opposed to your sometimes darker earlier albums)? What was it like working with him, and Allison Moorer co-producing?

HC: Well, Brad produced two of my previous records Trouble In Mind and KMAG YOYO so we had a pretty good history of working in the studio together. I felt like taking some creative chances on this record and stepping out a bit and I gave them license to push me. I think both Brad and Allison have some pop sensibilities and are comfortable in that arena I trust them both implicitly so it was easier to move in some new directions than it might have been with people I wasn’t as comfortable with.

AH: How did the other musicians you gathered together for the album (like Fats Kaplin and Will Kimbrough) contribute to the vibe?

HC: Brad and Allison chose the musicians they thought would be best for the record and they picked not only super talented and capable players but ones who brought a lot of their own personality and energy to their parts.

AH: Have you found yourself taking up any new hobbies lately? Or reconnecting with old ones?

HC: I’m reading more these days than I have in awhile. It started becoming clearer to me that what you put in affects what comes out.

Check to see where Hayes Carll is playing next here: and preorder his album, which will be available on Friday, Feb 15th.

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