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Hayes Carll: walking a long road on path to success 

Though people are still slowly learning the name Hayes Carll, the singer-songwriter isn't new to the music business. He's been performing for the last 12 years or so and recording albums for the last 10. They say that slow and steady wins the race, so Carll must be on the right path. His fourth album, 2011's KMAG YOYO, is the first of his to register on the country charts — at No. 12. His fan base is consistently growing and there's nothing else he'd rather do.

"It's always felt like it's been going at the right pace for me," Carll says by phone while on the road traveling between Iowa and Minnesota recently. "There's times where I wish I wasn't as broke and had more people coming out to shows, but with every record, it's been a good progression. I probably wasn't ready for success early in my career and now it makes everything feel earned."

Before music, Carll had a string of odd jobs, from the typical waiter and bartending positions to census taker, vacuum cleaner salesman and medical test patient, acting out various diseases to help medical students learn better bedside manners.

"More than anything, they were character builders," Carll says. "They were good for stories — like most good stories, they weren't a lot of fun when they were happening, but down the road you look back and laugh about the times you had. It makes me appreciate more that I'm able to do this full time."

Carll's music finds itself in an Americana category that infuses a little of everything — rock, rockabilly, folk and country. His newest album is the first he recorded with his band, enabling him to write more with the music than to try and find music to fit his words.

He's found heavy influence from Dylan and sees himself more as a writer than a musician. His latest album mixes the personal style of writing that he's become known for with smatterings of current events.

"Most of my stuff in the past has been pretty directly tied up in my own issues, hang-ups and quirks," Carll says. "On this one, I got out of the box a little bit more and wrote more about what I've been seeing traveling around the last few years. It was kind of hard to avoid the state of the economy or the wars or political discourse. I tried not to be too heavy-handed about it, but I felt like I was drawn to writing about that more on this record."

Carll says he didn't have hesitations about getting political on the album, but didn't want to "berate anybody or force them to think anything." He says his views are constantly changing, so he pays attention to his lyrics in that he doesn't want to write something he might not himself agree with in two years. Instead, he focused on basic underlying ideas that he's comfortable sharing, knowing he'll probably believe them for the rest of his life.

"There's a great quote that says, 'I'm not out here trying to change anybody's mind, I'm out here to ease my own,'" Carll says. "I'm not writing this to make anybody vote differently, and I'm not sure anything I write would have that effect, regardless, but it's just writing about what I see more than anything."

There's a lot of Dylan influence on the new album, and the title track — military slang for "Kiss My Ass Guys, You're On Your Own" — is often compared to "Subterranean Homesick Blues," though that's not what Carll was aiming for.

"On Stomp and Holler, I was chasing a Dylan thing," he says. "On the last record, I wrote an outright plagiarism of him in general on 'A Lover Like You.' I readily admit that I'm influenced by and occasionally borrow from him. On that track though, I was thinking more about Chuck Berry than Bob Dylan."

For his next album, Carll isn't sure if he'll stick with the band or strip things down to the way it used to be.

"That's one of the ideas that I'm thinking about is a stripped-down, more mellow singer-songwriter album," he says. "That's what I did for a long time live and what I still do a lot. It was the first thing that I thought that I was good at. I enjoy and love what we're doing right now, but there's a part of me that wants to get back to just me and a guitar. I think that record's somewhere down the line, I just don't know if it's the next one or further off."

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