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Interview: Faye Webster

24 June 2021

Photo by Pooneh Ghana Lores

When Faye Webster released her first album, Run & Tell, in 2015, her sound leaned hard into an alt-country vibe and was punctuated by twangy pedal steel guitar playing. It’s a remarkably well-written and mature debut made even more stunning considering Webster was just 15-years-old when the album was released.

On her sophomore release, the self-titled Faye Webster, the lifelong Atlanta resident (and lifelong Atlanta Braves fan) began incorporating pop, jazz, and R&B grooves into the alt-country sound and it’s been this formula that has continued to work for each subsequent album.

Following on the heels of the critically-acclaimed 2019 release, Atlanta Millionaires Club, her first for the Secretly Canadian label, Webster’s fourth album, I Know I’m Funny haha, finds the 23-year-old songwriter settling into a unique sound unlike most of her peers and it’s this unique sound that has earned Webster slots on major music festival bills and placement on a former President’s playlist (more on that later).

With songwriting sessions taking place both before, and during, the pandemic, I Know I’m Funny haha was a bit of a challenge both lyrically and in recording – recording started in a studio but Webster wound up finishing vocals in her bedroom. She recognizes that the lyrical tone changed over the course of the year and, as she mentioned when we spoke a few weeks ago, listeners may be able to figure out which songs were written pre-pandemic and which ones are part of the newer batch.

Our conversation starts with talking about touring, something Webster’s already got scheduled for the fall.

Artists are finally starting to get back on the road. How do you prepare to go on tour?

FAYE: It’s a lot of mental preparation, just because I’m such a homebody, I feel like. At least 3 or 4 months ahead of time, I’m like, “Okay, I’m about to be gone for a month, I need to mentally prepare myself.” But once I’m gone, I’m so distracted and working so hard. It’s probably the mental preparation that makes it so okay. I’ve gotten more used to touring, I used to not be good at it emotionally but I think I’m stronger now. And, it’s really nice touring with friends. I feel like that helps a lot. It’s nice to be with my bandmates who are also my friends.

When your tour, is it always with the same bandmates or do you take whoever is available to hop in a van for weeks or months at a time?

FAYE: I always take Pistol (Matt Stoessel), my pedal steel player, because he’s so important to my band. We’ve been touring together for 5 years. But everybody else is kind of harder to book because they are in all these other different projects. So, it’s kind of, “Who can go? Here’s the dates. Let me know.” It changes a little bit every time, but I definitely have to have Pistol there.

Your tour dates were among the first to be announced.

FAYE: Everybody is trying to tour at the same time so I think it was kind of competitive, “Get your spot now while you can because every musician ever is going to these cities in the same two months.” I’m really glad we got to book these dates.

You’re playing the Pitchfork Music Festival later this year and you’ve done other festivals in the past. Do you ever get starstruck backstage when you see artists you like?

FAYE: I was in the bathroom one time with Rosalia at ACL (Austin City Limits). I was like, “Oh my God, Rosalia’s in the stall next to me!” But I don’t really talk to anybody because it’s protocol not to.

In addition to being a musician, you’re a photographer. When the tables are turned and you’re the subject of a photograph, are you comfortable and can turn on a smile or do you get nervous?

FAYE: I don’t mind being the subject of photos just because I know what it’s like to be on the other end of the camera. But, the subject of a video is way different to me. Every time I do photo shoots for my albums or press photos, we always shoot on film just because I like the process of having to wait to see the photos. I also like how it looks. I’m a sucker for the hard flash, washed out, point-and-shoot style. I like getting pictures of me taken by my friends specifically. I feel like that’s the fun part of it.

The “Cheers” video is awesome. As a fan, we see the end product so it looks like you had a bunch of fun hanging out with your friends, but I imagine that’s not truly the case. Was it a long day or couple days of shooting with multiple takes?

FAYE: There was a lot going on. I feel like if I didn’t have as big of a team as I did have, it would be so stressful and hectic. I had a lot of pros knowing what they’re doing. They’ve worked with the Real Bike Life here in Atlanta before. It was 3 very long days. There was one day where we waited around for 7 hours just to get that one shot where that guy is going over me. The other two days, we shot day and night. But, it was really fun and I did have fun because we could ride bikes around.

“Cheers” was a staged video. The video for “I Know I’m Funny haha” seems to be just a collage of things you or other people shot and pieced together. Were you getting specific shots knowing you needed them for the video or did you just start pulling video you had already filmed?

FAYE: I just decided that that song is the most raw, storytelling song on the record and I thought it didn’t need a concept video, it should just be me. We just got a camera and my partner filmed it and I live with him so every day for three weeks it was just me doing something and then editing it together. But, it was a really candid video compared to the other ones.

So you didn’t say, “I need to film you playing bass because there’s a line in the song about playing bass”?

FAYE: We did stage that one! (laughs) I was like, “I want you in it. Can you do this real quick?” But, the rest of it wasn’t staged.

You’ve talked about this album being the next chapter in your career and also how you’ve evolved. Can you share what “evolving” means to you?

FAYE: I use the term “evolving” more because everybody does it but they may not know it. Nobody’s staying the same, you’re always listening to something new or being inspired by new things so you’re always subconsciously changing. I definitely think of this as a new chapter or a new era for me.

I don’t always pay attention to lyrics but yours were an exception. They feel very real, very part of every day life. Are most of your lyrics based on true stories and your experiences?

FAYE: For sure. I’ve never been one of those people who can read a book and then write a song about the book. I’ve never been able to do that. Everything I’ve written is very personal.

What do you find inspiration in as a human being. It doesn’t have to be what inspires your lyrics, but what things inspire you in general?

FAYE: Other music. I wouldn’t feel so obliged to wanting to keep making music if I didn’t hear these other great songs that I wish I wrote. Also, just real-life experiences, getting out of the house and something is happening to you, good or bad. Or relationships.

How did the pandemic affect the songwriting for I Know I’m Funny haha_?_

FAYE: It was kind of a struggle with this record because we recorded a lot in the latter half of 2019 and a lot of the other songs are way older. The newer ones that I wrote in 2020 are more hopeful and kind of happier because I think I found myself in a better place. I think you can kind of tell on the record which ones are which.

You’re a big Atlanta Braves fan. Are you a baseball fan in general or just a Braves fan?

FAYE: Mostly Braves. I don’t watch games unless the Braves are playing. But, I used to be really big into going to batting cages before the pandemic started. I’d go twice a week. I had this membership at a place in Atlanta but obviously I couldn’t go and then I lost my fuel for it. But I used to enjoy hitting.

Did you play organized baseball or softball as a kid or did were you just a baseball fan?

FAYE: I think it’s growing up in Atlanta and being brainwashed by the Braves. I don’t think it was a special interest or scouting it out, it’s just around you all of the time. I grew up going to the Braves games all the time so I think it’s always been in me somehow.

Do you have family who are musicians?

FAYE: My brother is in a few rock bands in Athens. I started playing music because I saw him doing it a lot and I was interested in it. He’s a big part of why I started playing music.

Was it a competition with your brother to see if you could be as good as him or did you learn from him? Have you ever collaborated and worked on things together?

FAYE: Yeah, I will take him on tour sometimes. He’s a really great musician. Sometimes it’s been competitive because we do different stuff. But, I will sing on his band’s songs or he’ll come on tour with me or we’ll do stuff together. It’s always been really compatible and a mutual thing.

Did your parents influence the music you liked when you were younger?

FAYE: Oh, for sure. I was listening to whatever they were playing in the car. You don’t really have a choice when you’re younger. My mom’s from Texas so she listened to a lot of Western swing bands and old country music.

Do you remember the first band that you thought was your own and not something you heard through your parents?

FAYE: Avril Lavigne (laughs) I don’t know what my parents thought. I would make fake music videos in my driveway to Avril Lavigne songs.

I heard an interview with Colin Hay from Men at Work where he said that songs that he is writing or recording in the morning take on a different feeling in the evening, they maybe are a little slower, not as much energy. It’s almost as if it’s a different song. Do you find something similar?

FAYE: I don’t really have a specific time that I like to play. I kind of just feel the calling when it happens. Once I do write a song, I literally do not replay it or touch it until we record it because I don’t want it to change. I feel like the way I wrote it is how it’s supposed to sound and I don’t want to alter it by accident. That’s very interesting though to think about, I’ve never heard anyone say that.

The last thing I want to ask you about, and maybe you’re sick of talking about it, but how did Barack Obama hear “Better Distractions”?

FAYE: I like to think it was Sasha because sometimes when I’ve looked at his playlists in the past couple of years, there’s always this weird, indie head going on. I’m like, “That’s got to be Sasha.” He does credit her a lot, he calls her his music guru.

Did you have any head’s up that he was going to put that song on his “Favorite Music of 2020” list?

FAYE: No! I just got tagged it in by random people and I’m like, “What are they tagging me in?”

Did your notifications start blowing up?

FAYE: It was people tagging me and sending it to me and being like, “Oh, shit. Did you know that the President listens to you?” I was like, “No, I didn’t know.” It was also so random because it was over Christmas and I was at my grandparent’s house just sitting around. It was such a weird event in the day to happen.

I have to say, if it was me, I would have been bouncing off the wall and shoving my phone in people’s faces and saying, “Oh, did you see this? You know, just Barack Obama calling one of my songs one of the best of the year. No big deal.”

FAYE: It was very interesting. It’s cool that smaller artists are being supported.

 

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