Yet if Trouble is a departure from the Texas troubadour's earlier work, it's mostly in the sense that Kyle Busch driving his Toyota at Daytona is a departure from him driving your grandma's Buick LeSabre down I-55. Which is to say what while one performance is significantly more polished than the other, he kicks your ass either way. B-Sides spoke with Carll last month in Austin, to which he'd just returned after a month-long tour of Europe and the United Kingdom — during which time a sizable chunk of his old East Texas stomping ground was pulverized by Hurricane Ike. For an extended interview, go to blogs.riverfronttimes.com/atoz.
B-Sides: Your newest record — I don't want to say it's all over the map, but it covers a lot of territory. Was that a conscious thing?
Hayes Carll: I ended up cutting, I don't know, 25 songs or something, and when I went through and picked the ones that I liked the best, I realized there wasn't necessarily a coherent musical theme to it, but that that was OK. So rather than just declare, "I'm gonna make a country record," or a "rock record," I just did what I do and hoped that worked out.
But so many record companies just tell you to go fuck yourself if you're not going to fit into the mold they want you to fit into.
I haven't had that problem at all with Lost Highway. They just said, "Do what you do." They didn't sign me because I was so incredibly good-looking or my voice was so amazing. When I turned in the stuff, they had suggestions. But at the end of the day, they let the decision be mine.
Were there any suggestions they made that you used that stand out in retrospect?
"She Left Me for Jesus" was not something I was even planning on putting on a record in any form. But I was kinda short on demos when the first batch was due, and so I just laid it down in the studio, thinking, "At least that'll make them think I'm not wasting their time." And then they said, "Oh, yeah, we actually really liked that song." I thought they were joking at first. And you know, the dust hasn't totally settled, so I don't know if that will be the bane of my existence or something that lives on in a good way...
Or maybe both.
Yeah, quite possibly. But for the life of this record so far, it's certainly helped sell records and brought some new fans into it.
— Tom Finkel
9 p.m. Thursday, November 6. Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, 6504 Delmar Boulevard, University City. $10. 314-727-4444.
When it comes to acoustic emo, there's emotionally raw — and then there's Rachael Yamagata. The songwriter first drew notice with her 2004 RCA debut Happenstance, a few TV and film cuts, and guest spots on albums by Bright Eyes and Ryan Adams. Now 31, she's released a curious, brutally introspective album in two parts called Elephants...Teeth Sinking Into Heart. Half Cat Power-esque string and piano spookiness, half ragged and enraged rock, the record has a violent undertow and a seething honesty made believable by Yamagata's unyielding voice. B-Sides caught up with her as she made her way back to the woods of Woodstock, New York, the secluded setting behind a torrent of recent songs.
B-Sides: For the new album, you spent nine months writing in Woodstock. How many songs did you finish?
Rachael Yamagata: About 160, I think. I filled up an entire hard drive on a twelve-track recorder.
That sound is me knocking on wood to ward off a crash.
I already had one. I lost everything for seven years. I have backups but it was a monthly process to reorganize it.
As if you don't have enough to be depressed about.
Just add that on.
So you wrote a song every other day?
You have to remember that in Woodstock, I didn't have any interaction with anyone. In the woods, I was a complete hermit crab for months — as opposed to this past year, where I hadn't written one song in a year. It's gone in extremes.
Did you discover anything about inspiration when you were secluded?
Just that you can't judge yourself or edit yourself in the moment. There's plenty of time to do that later. I found myself able to be more poetic, take more risks musically, because I was more isolated. And the rug fell out from under me on a business level, so the restrictions were removed. I was able to write songs like "Elephants" or "Don't," songs that wouldn't have come out of me six years ago.
The rug fell out?
Nothing went as planned. There was a label switching. I wondered if I should write a new record — because obviously [the previous record] was having a hard time at RCA — or do I do this record independently? There were some gut instincts. I'd gotten dropped from RCA, and in a way they were looking out for me. I was going to have a hard time at the higher levels of that company. They were great about getting me the rights to my record back.
How do you know when a song is finished and it's time to move on to another one?
I don't know. With me, I don't rework things tremendously. It's either there for me or it isn't. A song like "Elephants," I wrote a cappella first, the lyrics came in ten minutes. But it took six months to know what kind of music to put behind it. With most songs, I'm done when I've demoed it, added all the instruments, and it feels great. Then I leave it. If I can go back weeks later, and feel something in it, then I know that it's in play to be put out there.
There's a lot of physically violent imagery on this album. There's more blood than in the last Tarantino film.
Somebody else said that to me the other day. I hadn't even thought of it. There were some dark times. I had my first experience with death, someone very close to me died. I also had some relationships with people who were like vampires. I felt like the blood was getting sucked out of me on some level. I also had these random injuries over the last couple of years. I broke my wrist or my chin was bleeding, pieces of my face hanging off. There were a lot of strange things that involved literal and metaphorical blood.
— Roy Kasten
9 p.m. Saturday, November 8. Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, 6504 Delmar Boulevard, University City. $20. 314-727-4444.