Hayes Carll Reflects on Lovers and Leavers

Texan Sorts Through Life's Changes With New Album

Hayes Carll’s understated album Lovers and Leavers backs typically sharp songwriting (“Drive”) with elegant finesse (“The Love That We Need”). CMT.com recently spoke with the longtime Austin resident about the highly anticipated and largely acoustic followup to his breakthrough KMAG YOYO (2011).

“I’ve been writing since the last record came out and working at it pretty regularly,” says Carll, who wrote Lee Ann Womack’s recently Grammy-nominated “Chances Are.”

“I was going through a lot of changes and trying to figure everything out. The music I was writing didn’t seem to fit where I was.”

CMT: Describe how the new album took shape.

Carll: The starting point for this record came from this song called “The Magic Kid” that I wrote (about Carll’s son Elijah) with my friend Darrell Scott. We wrote that, and it became the litmus test for everything else that went on the record. It’s the song that really represents everything that I’m really proud of and is really personal. Anything else that went on it needed to fit beside it. I started going in that direction.

Explain the album title.

I didn’t name the title until after I recorded it. There’s a song called “Love Don’t Let Me Down” with a lyric that’s, “There are lovers and leavers and moments forgotten and dreams that don’t ever come true.” I had just gone through a divorce and had fallen in love, and I was looking at the songs on there. Whether they’re personal and autobiographical or about other characters or point of view, they had this thing in common, some kind of searching for love, searching for life, trying to figure things out. I just went back to that song and saw that lyric and thought it encompassed a lot of people on this record.

Tell the story behind writing the opening track, “Drive.”

I wrote that with Jim Lauderdale one day when we got together in Nashville. He had just finished a record with (Grateful Dead lyricist) Robert Hunter and he was talking about a book he had just read about Neal Cassady, this famous underground character who was Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. He was also himself in (Tom Wolfe’s) Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a legendary character known for his stamina and ability to drive better than anybody and travel and consume drugs and live life to the fullest. We both had a real connection to him. Now when I play it, I think about how it relates to my own life.

Explain how these songs represent your evolution as a songwriter.

Well, I co-wrote every song on this record, which is a first for me. I started off not co-writing at all and then dipping my toe in it with Ray Wylie Hubbard and Guy Clark. For me, that was a way to learn from the masters, a songwriting school. Then I got into it because I started liking the results I was getting. The whole experience was not only educational, but I ended up with work I would never get on my own because other writers have different points of view and different sensibilities.

Explain what was most challenging about co-writing these new songs.

On this record, I was searching for songs that were honest, and I was trying to let go of the cleverness and couching what I was trying to say and just be open. That was challenging for me. I wrote three songs with Darrell Scott, who’s one of my favorite songwriters and human beings. He really helps me with just saying what needs to be said. I kept getting exactly what I wanted out of those sessions with Darrell and I tried to incorporate that in my writing in general in a way I hadn’t before.

Tell the story behind writing “The Love That We Need.”

I was trying to make sense of my divorce in some ways and trying to understand and put some closure to it. Writing is a good way to do that, whether it’s in songs or a journal or going to a therapist. You articulate something and say it out loud and, for me, it helps make sense of things. That song was an attempt to do that.

You wrote that with (Carll’s partner) Allison (Moorer) and Jack (Ingram), right?

Yeah, I started out with Jack. He and I started writing that in a hotel room in Nashville a while back and then I kept toying with it and took it to Allison and she helped me finish it up. I like writing with Allison a lot. We’ve written a handful of songs together. We just got one cut by Kenny Chesney. She and I did one with Matraca Berg, and Chesney put it on his next record. Being creative is fun and having a creative partner is fun. We don’t end up in fights about what lyric goes where because we have different sensibilities in some ways. I think that adds to the strength of the song.