Spotlight: Faye Webster
It’s not uncommon for a songwriter to reference another artist’s music when explaining how they would like their own band to perform a new number in the studio, pointing to certain arrangements in order to illustrate what may be an amorphous goal for the composition. But it’s a rarer occurrence for that songwriter to play their band a track and tell them to avoid that sound completely. That was part of Faye Webster’s strategy when creating her third LP, Atlanta Millionaires Club.
“I remember when we started recording the songs with the string arrangements, I would play Andy Shauf and I’d be like, ‘Do not make it sound like this,’” the singer-songwriter explains with a laugh. “And I love Andy Shauf, but I didn’t want a quirky string arrangement. I wanted it to be an orchestra playing this heartfelt piece.”
Instrumentation and vibe are of the utmost importance on Webster’s new record, which dropped back in May. Building off her budding folk- and country-tinged Americana career—which already includes two full-length albums despite her having just turned 22—Webster shows promising growth with Atlanta Millionaires Club. She stays true to her aesthetic of intimate, light vocals lilting over a tight band centered around shimmering pedal-steel guitar, while finally making good on the R&B influences that critics have attributed to her music for a couple of years now.
“If people want to think my 2017 record is an R&B record, go ahead—it’s not, but OK,” Webster says, calling in from her home base in Atlanta. “I just let people think whatever they want to think, you know?”
The erroneous genre label drew strength from Webster’s close affiliation with ATL collective Awful Records, with whom she began hanging out when she was a high-school senior and eventually signed with for her self-titled sophomore effort in 2017. Ironically, Atlanta Millionaires Club’s R&B leanings—maybe most noticeable in the stone-cold, rhythm-section groove that kicks off album standout “Come to Atlanta”—arrive just as Webster begins her relationship with a new label, the Bloomington, Ind.-based Secretly Canadian. But she’s just as loyal to her hometown collaborators as ever, as evidenced on the track “Flowers,” which features a verse from rapper and Awful Records head, Father.
“Awful has a thousand percent of my respect, 24/7,” Webster says. “They were kids when they started, just making music out of their bedroom—which is what I do still. It was just crazy that people believed in me and what I was doing. I felt very at home with Awful. When I moved to Secretly, I was like, ‘Oh, shit, this is a record label.’ But both have been so insanely inviting to me.”
Staying true to her roots, Webster continued to enlist the help of a crack team of collaborators from nearby Athens, Ga., for Atlanta Millionaires Club, including the man behind the record’s wide-ranging pedal-steel sounds, Matt “Pistol” Stoessel. Webster calls him her “day-one/wouldn’t-even-record-if-he-couldn’t-be-there” guy and credits his instrument with providing many of the LP’s tracks with their signature sheen—whether it’s the Hawaiian flavor of opener “Room Temperature” or the country-twang waltz of “What Used to Be Mine.”
One thing that has changed with Webster’s latest compositions, however, is a new dose of unbridled honesty. Throughout the album, she not only sings unabashedly of loneliness, melancholy and her dog, but also of the trials of love and of real people in her life, be they ex-lovers or her own family members—specific references that Webster would have never considered on her earlier work. She points to “Jonny,” a heart-wrenching ode punctuated by sighing horns, as one of the most obvious instances of self-baring.
“I would have never even written that song a year or two ago,” Webster notes. “And there’s a lot of lyrics about my mom, or my family—not offensive, but just like a sad thought that the family doesn’t think about—and I remember I changed them at some point. I would talk to my brothers about it, and they would be like, ‘No, Faye, this is how you wrote it. This is how it should be, regardless of how it makes mom feel.’”
She echoes that sentiment in “Hurts Me Too,” singing, “I am done changing words/ Just so my songs sound prettier/ I just don’t care if it hurts/ ‘Cause it hurts me too.”
“I think, in my 2017 record, I was just saying stuff and it was very generic—I just wanted to write a good song. But now I am definitely more honest,” she adds. “I just had enough courage, I guess, but also… I feel like I’m wasting an opportunity with all these eyes and ears on me if I’m not saying anything. I don’t even care if people think it’s a good song or a bad song. I’m now in the mindset where I just want to make them feel something—like what I felt.”
This article originally appears in the September 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.