At some point along the way, most artists take a moment or two to look back after all the struggle, the sacrifice and the endless shows in seedy bars and ask themselves, what am I doing this all for? It’s a question Hayes Carll answers easily on “For the Sake of the Song,” a track off of his forthcoming fifth record, streaming exclusively below. On the LP, Lovers and Leavers, Carll analyzes love and relationships from all angles — in the building and dissolution of marriage, in friendships, in familial blood. And, naturally, in his real Till Death Do They Part companion: the craft (and, sometimes, curse) of songwriting itself.
“It’s about the experiences, unique or shared, of anyone who hears the call of music,” Carll tells Rolling Stone Country of the track written with Darrell Scott. “Not everyone is equal in ability or desire but, whether it’s slogging through open mics, a life of endless touring, or selling your soul to the devil, we all pay some kind of price to take the trip.”
The song, which sounds like something inspired by the drippy piano of Tom Waits’ vision of New Orleans and is slinkier and bluesier than many of his acoustically poetic slower works, calls out songwriters from the marquee names to the coffeehouse ghosts, from the living to the dead, from those who struggle to form a rhyme to those who have far too many. “So if you’re nobody’s business or you’re front page news/folk rock, country or delta blues,” he sings to ominous, shadowy percussion with unexpected spikes of strings, keys and organ offered up like little glimpses of all the artists’ tools, “tell your truth however your choose, and do it all for the sake of the song.”
Of course, there’s also the not-so-subtle allusion to Townes Van Zandt, who released his own “For the Sake of the Song” in 1968 on an album of the same name. It’s a bold move — Carll has been compared to fellow Texan Van Zandt for the most of his adult career, sometimes embracing it and sometimes running full-speed in the other direction. So it’s a maturation, in a way, facing head-on something that’s endlessly plagued him, perhaps positing that maybe the most important common denominator between him and Van Zandt is simply at the tip of a pen.
“We borrowed the title from Townes,” Carll says, “and I know in some circles that will be considered sacrilege and I will never be forgiven. I’d like to think Townes didn’t hang out in those circles.”
Lovers and Leavers is set for release on April 8th via Thirty Tigers.