Hayes Carll is a native of the Houston area (he grew up in The Woodlands), so of course he’s played many venues in and around the area throughout the course of his career. And while he’s played Heights venues like Fitzgerald’s over the years, he has yet to truly play in the heart of the Historic Heights District, the area in and around West 19th Street. That will change on Wednesday when he plays a Thanksgiving Eve gig at the refurbished Heights Theater on 19th Street.
“It’s always nice to play a new venue,” Carll says of the Heights Theater, which he is scheduled to christen and has numerous gigs booked throughout the remainder of 2016. “I’ve played a bunch of places in Houston over the years, and I’ve certainly seen some familiar faces.”
"Having local favorite Hayes Carll re-open the venue just before Thanksgiving is poetic," adds Heights owner Edwin Cabaniss.
Such is life for one of Houston’s most prolific singer-songwriters, one whose career has taken off since the Houston Press named him Best New Act in 2002. His tunes have been featured in Hollywood productions like Country Strong, the Grammys have recognized his work with nominations and music publications such as Rolling Stone and Spin have lauded his catalog. Carll is currently touring in support of his latest – Lovers and Leavers – which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Folk chart upon its release in April.
Carll is in a far different (i.e., better) place this time around, when compared to his previous release — 2011’s KMAG YOYO (a military-derived acronym for Kiss My Ass Guys, You’re on Your Own). Having gone through a divorce in the time between albums (he’s currently in a new relationship), and generally having become road-weary after years of incessantly playing honky-tonks and other music venues, Carll admitted life was becoming somewhat monotonous.
“When I put out the last record, I went out and toured and felt a little like a hamster on a wheel, just this cycle of get in the van and play and hope you had more people than the show before,” Carll admits. “It takes its toll on you. For me, with my personal life and creatively, mentally and physically – just every which way – when I was looking at it, that’s how I felt.
"The drinking and everything that went with it, I was just dealing with a disconnection from my audience, and that really bothered me," he continues. "The thing I love most about playing is feeling a connection, walking offstage feeling recharged instead of drained. So when I started working on the new record, and having taken some time off, I was able to get back to that.”
Carll, known for his dry, sarcastic sense of humor, is also the reflective type. Comes with the territory, particularly considering he turned 40 early this year. If anything, age and maturity made Carll realize that if his life was going to find some balance and stability, he would have to be the catalyst for that change.
“I realized in the last few years when I was trying to figure out where I was at in my life and my career, that it wasn’t going to figure itself out,” he says. “I was heading down a path that wasn’t making me happy, so I took a step back to assess and figure out where I was going. I couldn’t just close my eyes and hope I’d wake up and end up where I wanted to be.”
Carll admits his age played a role in that admission.
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“There’s something psychologically significant about being 40,” he says via a phone call from New York City recently. “I was thinking about that when I woke up today, thinking about the things I wanted to accomplish. I figured that if I’m lucky and play my cards right and catch a few breaks, I still have half my life left to live. That makes certain things feel possible; I can still learn to accomplish and do things. It feels like I’ve done some living, but I’ve still got a lot left to do.”
Carll is the first to admit he “sounds like a Hallmark card,” but there’s a genuine way to his words. He sounds like a man at peace with his past, but one who learned lessons from both its peaks and valleys. He doesn’t think he’s changed so much, as evolved. And with (hopefully) half his life still left to lead, he’s optimistic about the future. He’s also more conscious of his role in ensuring that future is a bright one.
“I spend more time these days thinking about what I want my life to be and what I have to do to see those results,” Carll says. “If I want a healthy relationship, how do I do that? If I want to not hurt in the morning, what do I have to do to make that happen? If I want to create art or have my career go in a certain direction, what do I need to do to get there? For each of those things happen, it’s about being conscious and not checking out; it takes work and awareness. I wasn’t necessarily as aware or engaged before as I probably needed to be, but I certainly am now.”
Hayes Carll and special guest John Evans perform Wednesday, November 23 at the Heights Theater, 339 West 19th Street. Doors open at 7 p.m.