Hear Hayes Carll’s Introspective New Album ‘Lovers and Leavers’
The songs that started coming for Lovers and Leavers, however, weren’t funny — some of them are even painful to listen to. He tried to write those “hoots and hollers,” but it didn’t feel authentic and the work became more personal, emotional and confessional. He had other things on his mind than “than drinking and rambling and loneliness and playing dive bars and women.” Namely, love: the loss of it; the gain of it; the immense, burning love you feel for your child, so innately different from romantic love in that it’s guaranteed to be everlasting.
“I was writing songs and I had a lot of stuff, but it wasn’t necessarily reflective of where I was in my life,” he says. “My life changed, I was changing. And I didn’t want to have to go out every night and sing something I didn’t feel connected to.”
Instead, Carll started writing something called “The Magic Kid,” a song that brought him to tears when he listened back to it on his iPhone. Inspired by Eli and his love for those card tricks, it became the centerpiece of Lovers and Leavers. So while, yes, much of the album’s material is written in the wake of a divorce, it’s actually born of eternal, parental love. Written with Darrell Scott, “The Magic Kid” is beautifully, heartbreakingly pure: his son is so free of fears that he’s able to do what he loves without shame, while his father receives his own kind of magic from it all.
“At this point, my son is a very, very big part of my life, and trying to figure out how to be a parent is a very big part of it, too,” Carll says. “I don’t know how to separate these things. I guess I could, but I don’t want to. It’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to me, and it’s something that most people go through on some level. I don’t want to hide that. If anything, that’s more relatable than singing about booze.”
“I just didn’t want to be an artist who was singing about some reality that wasn’t mine”
“The Magic Kid” became the litmus test for the rest of the record — every song that came after had to match it in emotional heft. Produced by Joe Henry, Lovers and Leavers is a roadmap to love: from the uncomfortable last gasps of a marriage in “The Love That We Need,” to “Sake of the Song,” an ode to the muse of songwriting, to “Good While it Lasted,” a nearly matter-of-fact resignation that romance is sometimes as ephemeral as it is exhilarating. There’s still that stunning attention to detail, but no song is a barnburner (like KMAG YOYO‘s title track) or a drinking anthem. Nor are there any references to intoxicated threesomes — just a stark look at the sober reality of two people, twisting the same Rubik’s Cube but never getting it quite back to where it started.
“Maybe I had visions of people scratching their heads when they put the record on,” Carll admits of its low-key nature. “‘When’s he going to ramp it up?’ I just didn’t necessarily want to be an artist who was singing about some escapism, and some reality that wasn’t mine. It didn’t feel believable or honest. There is always the fear that someone will look at you and say, ‘Oh, he just writes songs about his kid.’ Or people who have been rocking out with you, are they going to stop and say, ‘Huh?’ They may not be with you the whole ride. Helpfully I’ll pick up the people who are.”
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