During his years at Hendrix College in Conway in the mid-1990s, singer-songwriter Hayes Carll says, he never played a show in Little Rock. But he thought he knew it well enough to write a song and title his newest CD after it. He started selling “Little Rock” at shows last fall; its official release date was March 8.
Why write a song about longing for Little Rock? “Nobody else is singing about it, so I thought I would,” the Conroe, Texas, singer drawled.
Carll, who’s played Little Rock a few times since gaining renown around the Houston area for his songs, will appear at Sticky Fingerz on Saturday, April 23. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $8.
Carll garnered acclaim in Texas for his mellow country, Townes Van Zandt-like sound, but the new CD is a departure. “I’m kind of in a different place musically and tried to show that a little bit,” Carll said in an interview with the Times. “The first record [“Flowers and Liquor,” released in 2002] I had just been playing solo and compiled those songs living in Arkansas. I thought it was pretty reflective of my life at the time. The last one is more reflective over the life I’ve had the past two years.”
Carll’s family wanted him to go to Baylor University; he also thought about going to the University of Texas. But he really wanted a smaller school in the region. Hendrix, he said, “had a good vibe about it.”
“It was in a dry county in the middle of Arkansas, but it worked out, it changed my life in a lot of positive ways. I don’t know if I would be doing what I’m doing in my life and be successful if I hadn’t gone there.”
After his Hendrix days and a trip to Croatia, Carll began perfecting his singer-songwriter craft while bartending on the blue-collar Bolivar Peninsula near Beaumont, Texas, before he landed gigs with such well-known East Texas stars as Ray Wiley Hubbard and Sisters Morales. His solo act started getting noticed around Houston, and he recorded “Flowers and Liquor.”
Now, Carll uses a band and steps up the tempo with a honky-tonk approach on several songs, including the track “Little Rock.”
“I’m slowly evolving, getting used to playing with a band, electric guitars and drums, and doing less of the singer-songwriter kind of thing, which I still enjoy, but I wanted to be more up-tempo and stretch it out more on this record,” Carll said. “It wasn’t a conscious decision to do that, those were just the songs I was writing.
“It’s been 3 1/2 years since I recorded ‘Flowers and Liquor,’ and I’ve done a lot of traveling and experienced a lot with my music.”
Off the road, the changes in the 29-year-old Carll’s life include getting married and having a son. The time that promoting his CD takes from his young family is difficult. But he says his band keeps him entertained while on the road, which in coming weeks includes Merlefest in North Carolina and shows throughout the Midwest, the Northeast and Canada, and possibly points west in late summer or early fall. His most recent 16-day romp away from Conroe covered 5,000 miles, he said.
“I think a lot of the changes in my songwriting is because I’m more comfortable now playing with a band,” Carll said. “Before, I was a guy playing with a guitar. I didn’t know the possibilities of playing in a band, playing electric guitar. It was a whole new world, stepping into this. I can always sit down and write a song about how lonely I am, but playing by yourself doesn’t have the same oomph as getting out there with a band.”