Search The Line of Best Fit
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Faye webster

Faye Webster is devoted to more than just music

29 June 2021, 08:00

“I think I’ve just been in a better state mentally.” Faye Webster tells me, reflecting on the conditions that led to I Know I’m Funny haha. “I’ve gotten way more comfortable and confident with my songwriting as a result.” 2019’s Atlanta Millionaires Club, betrayed a relatable lovelorn vulnerability - she was still just 21, going through heartbreak like the rest of us - but, as Webster notes, a lot has changed for the better since then.

Two years later, Webster has now found a semblance of domestic bliss, moving in with her boyfriend, Boothlord from the Atlanta-based rap duo Danger Incorporated, during quarantine. It was a drastic change for the normally isolated Webster, who had grown accustomed to the solitude of being alone. I ask if living with another musician during the long months of lockdown was a help or a hindrance: “It was very fun, it was such a good fit. What we do musically is so different but at the same time we know each other’s projects so well. So every time we wanted to work together, it worked out well. Plus I got to use all of his nice equipment which I didn’t have!”

I Know I’m Funny haha, then, is being released on the back of a fortunate year for Webster personally. The clearest harbinger of her growth comes in the lead single “Cheers”, placed purposefully in the middle of the record (“When Side B begins, I wanted that song to be there. It’s like a new start”). The rugged rhythm of the song is noticeably heavier than anything she’s ever released before, her tracks usually progressing at such a languorous pace. “It’s an outlier and I like that because it’s new, but at the same time it’s like, ‘oh yeah, that’s Faye’. If that song had been on Atlanta Millionaires Club, it wouldn’t have worked. It would have been too fast of an evolution.”

Her previous album made Webster synonymous with Atlanta but I Know I’m Funny haha shows that her understanding of her own city is still rapidly changing. The gritty video for “Cheers” features the Real Life Bike Only Riders, Atlanta’s notorious crew of dirt bike riders. “Matt Swinsky, who shot the videos for “Cheers” and “Better Distractions” is really good friends with them. He’s done a documentary for them before, he follows them around to different states filming them. We’re friends now for sure! SIG who runs the crew is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, I hit this man up all the time. It was just so nice to meet a new group in Atlanta and be put onto something new.” Webster grows frustrated when discussing the city’s fractious relationship with the Riders. “That’s the thing that’s annoying because they’re seen as disruptive. They’re always being chased down, the mayor is always saying they’re on the run. They’re just so cool though, they’re very underrated.”

It’s no surprise that Webster came very close to buying a bike herself Much was made during the time of Atlanta Millionaires Club release of Webster not fitting the expected mould of an artist from that place: how could this young white woman come to know and represent the city of Southern Rap and R&B? That she was all too happy to look beyond the casual stereotypes of the maligned Real Life Bike Only Riders and embrace their culture with fervour and curiosity, you feel, is a pertinent example of why she’s been embraced by Atlanta. It’s why when Webster was the sonic outlier on the city’s Awful Records alongside the likes of Father and Playboi Carti, she was never made to feel like an outsider: “I felt like I was just surrounded by my friends,” she recalls. “Everybody was really supportive and open to helping other creatives learn”. There are very few musicians who would feel equally at home at both Awful Records and Secretly Canadian, where she now shares a roster with artists such as ANOHNI, Jens Lekman, and Yoko Ono.

While Atlanta Millionaires Club was always going to be the name of her previous album, finding a title for her new record presented more trouble. “I was struggling a bit. I was going through lyrics, trying to play around with lines, and I think I was trying too hard. It was my brother who turned to me and said that I Know I’m Funny haha was the obvious answer. The album title also lends its name to one of the tracks, in which Webster discusses the awkwardness of when she met her boyfriend’s sisters: “Got drunk and they forgot they met me,” she sings, “I made her laugh one time at dinner / She said I’m funny and then I thanked her / But I know I’m funny haha.” The line is delivered with that world-weary assertion of the slyly humorous, forever frustrated that the rest of the world forgets that they are, indeed, genuinely funny. I tell her that I think I’ve both sent and received the line while using Tinder, to which she just laughs bemusedly.

Webster’s new boyfriend is never far from her thoughts in I Know I’m Funny haha. The titular track relays the unfortunate incident that happened just before she and Booth decided to move in together. “Talk about neighbors on our front porch / I wonder if they know we’re moving / Hope they don’t know my landlord personally...But fuck him, he kept my money,” she sings. “I lived in this really old one bedroom house and it just wasn’t big enough for both of our things,” Webster remembers. “I hit up my landlord and was like ‘COVID’s hitting me really hard’. I thought that a good landlord would understand but of course he didn’t because landlords suck. So I just moved out and he didn’t give me my money back which is tragic. Now he’s exposed!”

One of the standout sections of lyrics sees Webster expressing anxiety about her dad’s thoughts about Booth’s music. “Sometimes I’m scared to show my dad / ‘Cause you’re always cussing,” she deadpans in “Cheers”. It turns out that it’s only a half-truth though. “My dad is so supportive, he loves Danger Incorporated,” she laughs. “He wears Danger merch and he went to all their shows in Atlanta when it was possible! But sometimes there’s just some lyrics where I’m like, ‘ugh, I don’t need my dad to hear this’. She displays other insecurities in that song too, fretting whether they’ll “get married before my brothers.”

The most romantic song on the record ironically isn’t even about her actual partner, “A Dream With A Baseball Player” recounting Webster’s adoration of Ronald Acuña Jr., the Venezuelan outfielder for the Atlanta Braves (“How did I fall in love with someone I don’t know,” she croons, as a lonely saxophone slyly pipes out some delicate notes). “They let me sing at a Braves game once because I used to talk about the team a lot in the press,” Webster remembers, talking excitedly. “They contacted me and were like ‘why don’t you come sing? If you do, you can meet Ronald Acuña Jr.’ because they knew I talked about him a lot and loved him. When I met him, there was a translator - it was when he wasn’t that fluent in English yet - and he said ‘thank you for the music’. And I was just like ‘what did y’all tell him?!’ I think they basically told him ‘hey, she wrote a song about you’, which is weird and I wish they didn’t tell him that. I don’t know if he heard it but I guess he knows at least. I’m sure he totally forgot about me!”

Although it’s not to be seen during our interview, Webster used to wear a Braves jersey frequently and going to see her beloved team was one of the things she missed most during quarantine. “Not going to the games was really weird and honestly it took a lot of the interest out for me,” she says. “It’s just such a classic pastime, to sit in a shitty plastic chair in the sun and watch baseball.”

"I can’t work unless it’s with this very specific group of people... Without them, there’s just no chemistry... It took a while to find the perfect people for my project but I feel we’re locked in now."

There’s another constant in Webster’s life and that’s her band: she’s surrounded by a consistently reliable cast of talent with whom she always records. “I can’t work unless it’s with this very specific group of people,” she insists. “It’s really important. Without them, there’s just no chemistry, there’s no bouncing ideas off each other in the same way. It took a while to find the perfect people for my project but I feel we’re locked in now.” Chief among them is Matt “Pistol” Stoessel, contributor of the pedal steel guitar that weaves so wonderfully through Webster’s songs. “For a long time, it was just me and him. Everyone else was replaceable (laughs). We’ve been playing for around seven years now so he was playing with me when I was writing shitty songs! He’s one of the best pedal steel players I’ve ever seen though so I’m very thankful.”

Her collective has never sounded this polished either. I Know I’m Funny haha sounds like the work of a supreme lounge band, the mainstay of some hip little bar, whose understanding is second nature by now. Webster agrees: “Ever since we started live tracking on Atlanta Millionaires Club, all together in one room, I feel that’s unlocked a really special vibe that I think you’re talking about. It’s just chilled having us all together recording live.” Despite this, Webster still recorded the vocals at her home rather than in the studio, another reflection of her DIY ethos. “I have to record vocals at home! I grew up in my parent’s house using GarageBand and singing into a shitty mic so it’s just what I’m used to doing. So after every recording, I came home and did my vocals.”

One song they recorded even got a Presidential seal of approval. Barack Obama included “Better Distractions” on his list of the best songs of 2020, alongside names like Megan Thee Stallion, Bruce Springsteen, and Bad Bunny. Webster was understandably elated (“I found out because my notifications were blowing up with people tagging me in his post and when I clicked on it I was like ‘what the fuck, that’s crazy!”) but she thinks the source of her inclusion lies elsewhere. “I think it was Sasha who put me in there,” she says. “Obama has said that Sasha is a big part of those playlists. There’s a big indie portion to his list and I think that comes from Sasha.”

Webster cites two clear influences on I Know I’m Funny haha. “I was listening to Hannah Cohen a lot,” she says. “She put out a record a while ago called Welcome Home and it’s become one of my favourite records of all time.” After discovering the Japanese artist Mei Ehara after trawling the related artists on Spotify for the first time, Webster became obsessed with her. “After listening to her for just 30 seconds I was like, ‘is this me?’ I even played her to my band in the tour van to make sure! I just fell in love with her instantly. (I listened to Ehara after the interview and she and Webster are indeed rather similar, their music both being built upon pillowy melodies and dulcet singing).” Ehara features on “Overslept” and the origins of the collaboration were endearingly innocent. “I followed her and then she followed me back,” Webster explains, visibly overjoyed by the memory. “We started messaging, emailing, basically being penpals. I decided to ask her to be on the record because she was so influential and she said yes right away.”

This is the thing: in the past it’s been almost comical to watch critics try and harang Webster into one genre. She’s been called an alt-country artist; she’s been noted as making R&B for homebodies; she’s even been lumped into hip-hop, presumably solely because Father was featured on Atlanta Millionaires Club. Her sound is really a distillation of all of these things and more, an artist both of Atlanta and not, who truly belongs after the obsolescence of strict genre categories. It’s impossible to restrict an album that contains the lithe pop flair of Ehara, the hip-hop influence of her Atlantan friends, and the swishing flourishes of country that come from a youth spent listening to her parents play country constantly in the house and car - her mum is from Texas and her dad is a bluegrass guitar player.

Talk inevitably turns to Atlanta again: Webster can be furtive in our conversation, shy when it comes to discussing herself, but she opens up whenever her hometown is brought up. I ask what makes it stand out from other American cities and Webster has an example ready. After randomly picking up photography as an elective when she realised that she was going to drop out of college, within just a couple of years she ended up shooting campaigns for Offset and Killer Mike. It seems like a remarkable development for someone in the infancy of their photography career but Webster puts it down to the spirit of Atlanta. “People there are so supportive,” she enthuses. “All I did was message Killer Mike on Instagram, sent him a couple of my photos, and he was like ‘hell yeah!’ I remember after it, I hadn’t spoken to him since I took the photos, and he randomly texted me ‘100, you’re one of the greatest artists’. I like to believe that if I was anywhere else but Atlanta, that wouldn’t have happened.”

It was this connection with her hometown that ensured her sojourn to Nashville for college was a short one. “I just knew that I wasn’t going to get booked for shows because I have a songwriting degree,” she laments. “I was wasting my time and money. Their whole perspective was ‘let’s teach you how to write a hit commercial song to sell to somebody’ and I really didn’t want to do that.” Such a decision took a lot of self-belief but she still had to assure her nervous father. “We made a deal that I could go back and live with my parents for a year and if I wasn’t successful I had to go back to college. It was a lot of pressure but it made me work really hard and it’s obviously paid off.” It’s difficult to imagine Webster belonging to any other place, such is her connection to Atlanta. What would she have sounded like as a Nashville musician? “I feel like I would’ve just played boring indie folk,” she rues. “I would’ve missed my band so much.”

As this is a Faye Webster record, solitude is never fully gone. “There’s a difference between lonely and lonesome / But I’m both all the time,” she sighs in “Both All The Time”. Coming from the girl who told herself repeatedly “I should get out more” in Atlanta Millionaires Club’s “Room Temperature”, it feels like the timid acknowledgement that, perhaps, Webster will always be trapped within her introverted shell. What’s the difference between lonely and lonesome? “I think that ‘lonely’ is like, ‘dang, I don’t want to be alone right now, I want to be with somebody’, but ‘lonesome’ is when you just have no option. ‘Lonesome’ is when you feel alone forever and you can’t change it.” Indeed for the homebody Webster, nothing really changed during quarantine. “I feel like last year was easy for me, thankfully, because that’s what I’m like when I’m not touring anyway. I’m usually here (laughs while gesturing behind her). I guess I just enjoy being home and being in a safe space.”

It’s why one of her most passionate hobbies is the solo pastime of yo-yoing. She whiled away the empty hours of quarantine with her newfound love of yo-yoing, which started when she received a yo-yo in her Christmas stocking a couple of years ago. “I took the yo-yo on tour and went on social media looking for other yo-yo players and found the craziest community I’ve ever seen,” she says. “From there, I would link up with players on tour as we travelled to different cities. The more competitions I went to, the more people I met, I thought it was so sick. The community is so cool.” She might have had plenty of time for practice last year but it didn’t lead to any improvement. “It got pretty hard because my yo-yo friends would send me private YouTube links with videos of them trying to teach me something but it just wasn’t the same as being there with them! I need to see a yo-yo friend asap.”

“There’s a small evolution between Atlanta Millionaires Club and this album,” she notes. “It’s just a new chapter for me and my music. I can’t pinpoint exactly what has changed, I just know that there’s an overall evolution.”

I Know I'm Funny haha is out now via Secretly Canadian and Awful Records.
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