Hayes Carll didn’t always insert a lot of himself, his feelings and his opinions into his songs. Now that he’s started to do so, he’s got a particular way of thinking about it.
“I don’t write any of these songs to change anyone’s mind,” Carll said. “I write them to ease my own.”
Fresh off the release of his latest, more introspective album, “What It Is,” Carll, who is set to play JacksonHoleLive on Friday is in some ways back to his old self. On songs like “Wild Pointy Finger” there are moments of upbeat folky wit, which he became known for as he came up on the Americana circuit. But there are also songs like “I Will Stay,” which hews closer to the subject matter Hayes explored on his last album, “Lovers and Leavers,” albeit from a different angle.
“I wanted to write a song about my relationship,” Carll said. “I wanted to write a song for my girl to tell her I’m in it for the long haul.”
Carll married that woman, Allison Moorer, in May. Moorer co-produced “What It Is” and wrote at least one song on it, “Jesus and Elvis,” with Carll. That was a change of pace from “Lovers and Leavers,” which was released in 2016. When he was writing that album, which received mixed reviews (a Pitchfork contributor called it a “fine album ... that almost anyone could make”), Carll was going through a divorce. He’d also taken a long break from recording.
“It was just a heavier time for me,” Carll said. “I was trying to sort out a lot of life and also try to reengage with myself creatively.”
Writing “Lovers and Leavers,” he said, he was a “little burned-out and stuck.” He wanted to take a “different direction artistically,” veering from the usual barroom style of songwriting he’d become known for toward a more personal style. He found that both “rewarding” and “tough” but said it released him to experiment on “What It Is.”
“I did some things on [‘Lovers and Leavers’] that freed me up to not have to worry about the change of direction,” Carll said. “I was just in a more joyful place, and I could take that into the studio and get to work with the woman I was in love with, who was also a badass.”
The album started out as a collection of songs Carll had written over time. But when he started putting material together for the record with Moorer, the two ended up writing a lot of the songs right before recording the album. And while the songwriter said he started from the outside-in on past releases — focusing on “syncopation, rhymes, getting a laugh and creating a vibe” — he started from the inside-out on “What It Is.”
That led to the record having a vibe of its own. On “Wild Pointy Finger,” Carll’s witty barroom style is back but not solely to entertain. Along with two other songs on the album, “Things You Don’t Wanna Know” and “Fragile Men,” Carll explores three men — or types of men — who seem to have the same problem: abdication of responsibility, in one way or another.
Carll said some, but not all, of that was based in reality. “Wild Pointy Finger” is a bit meta.
“It’s easy to get macro on it, but I’m writing that song as my own version of being the wild pointy finger,” Carll said. “I’m pointing it at everybody else.”
The album reads as self-aware. Carll doesn’t seem to have pretense about much.
“I’m not an amazing guitar player, I don’t dance, I don’t have the best voice,” he said. “But what I have that I’m delivering every night, hopefully, is a way with words and a perspective people can connect to and feel some range of emotions.”
Though the past he’s written songs that weren’t part of his life, the new album is deeply personal. So when he takes the stage and sings the title track from “What It Is” he’ll be living that song’s message onstage.
“It’s about being in the moment and not being stuck in the past or future, and every night when I’m singing that I feel that,” Carll said. “Those things happen throughout the show now in a way that they never had before.
“It just adds up to me feeling a whole lot more present and engaged with my work and feeling like it’s not just more reflective of my life, but that I’m there to experience it.” ￼