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Though the 28-year old hails from an affluent area of Houston, one can see him easily fitting in among the regulars at just about any hidden honky tonk or roadside dive from Calabasas to Kalamazoo. His stoic manner and scruffy looks call to mind a gunslinger of the Old West, while his way with a song calls to mind the hardscrabble style of Lone Star troubadours like Ray Wylie Hubbard and Guy Clark. Growing up the child of attorneys, Hayes found a passion for both theater and music in high school, but after college set out to find some inspiration for his songs. His wanderlust led him to Iowa to pick corn for a summer, Croatia to visit a friend from college, and even a stint in Austin before hibernating in the tiny town of Crystal Beach, TX, where there was nothing to do but write, and perform, and write some more.

“I thought about Nashville, but I didn’t have any knowledge of it or the process of it at all - I lived in a very far away world from that,” explains Carll. “So I went to Crystal Beach. I loved living by the beach…there’s just something about living by the ocean, and where I lived it was completely isolated, and the people that did live out there were nuts and there was not a lot of culture or much happening at all out there. But being by the water made up for a lot of that, not being around books or TV or any of that stuff…it was a tradeoff, you know. You just hop on a ferry from Galveston and it’s 40 minutes to Bolivar off in the middle of nowhere. It focused me being out there. I’m kind of all over the place, and have a hard time making myself do certain things. There I didn’t have a choice, there literally was nothing to do. I didn’t have a TV, so I could read a book, write, or sleep. So I did a lot of all three. I’d work, but any time off I had it was sitting and writing.”

A gig at Galveston’s Old Quarter Acoustic Café’ gave him a place to try out his new material, and the characters of Crystal Beach provided plenty of inspiration. Soon, Hayes was playing regularly at the Café’ and honing his skills opening for everyone who came through. Lisa Morales of the Sisters Morales, who often played the club, volunteered to produce some of Hayes’ material on a CD, which was later titled Flowers And Liquor and was released by Compadre Records. While the album didn’t set the world on fire, it did help establish Hayes as an up-and-coming Texas talent to watch and helped him expand beyond the Galveston music scene. It also caught the attention of a major indie label, which offered to sign him to a five-record deal and give him some security in the fickle, frighteningly unsteady music world. In true Texan form, he chose to release the record completely on his own instead, with R.S. Field in the producer’s seat.

“I never envisioned certain things – I didn’t have the rock star fantasies, or anything like that. I just wanted to be able to play a club and have people show up and have a certain number of people dig what I do. So that first album was a step in the right direction. It didn’t do well, but it advanced my career a lot. And when I got the second offer, it was just really a matter of career control and how important this was to me. I put a lot of money and a lot of time and my life was riding on it… how this record does was going to affect the rest of my life and my career. A lot of labels kind of put out a record and push it four months, and if it doesn’t take off well, move on to the next one, you know. And I didn’t have that luxury if it didn’t work, to move on to the next one…it’s what I’ve got, you know.”

What he’s got, with Little Rock, his latest record, is a collection of tunes that is by turns hilarious, delirious, and downright stirring, from the wry opener “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long,” to the greasy blues ode to “Chickens” penned with his buddy/mentor Ray Wylie Hubbard. It’s easy to see how the Americana genre would claim him, with his varied styles and hard-to-peg yet undeniably fresh and sardonic sound. And that’s just fine by him, as long as he gets to play his music to people who want to listen. / Issue 56 - September 2018
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