Several hours later than expected, Faye Webster is here, spinning back and forth nervously in her chair, and half facing the camera.
She’s spent the evening prior to our interview sorting out a new drummer for the coming tour as her regular one can’t make it, hence the rescheduling. Please tell me, I plead to the Atlanta-based slow country soul singer, that the night had been like one of those movie montages where a parade of increasingly inappropriate drummers came through – the metal drummer, the jazzbo, the old guy who plays a snare and high hat on his back, the rich kid whose parents bought him an electronic kit.
“That’s exactly what it was,” she says with a grin. “School Of Rock drum tryouts.”
So who did she go with - the old wedding band guy with the bowtie?
“The chill dude that’s down to take the air mattress on tour. Much-needed.”
Almost as good actually, Webster was out watching this new drummer play at a regular gig in the parking lot of a brewery in Atlanta. Yes, you read that correctly. Who needs a screenwriter to make stuff up when you’ve got that?
A bit like her singing voice, which is quiet, a bit hesitant but nonetheless tells you everything you need, and then starts to take centre stage, Webster in conversation is a slow build. By the time we finish, she’ll have stopped spinning, be looking down the camera more often than not and seem quietly assured, or at the very least relaxed.
Mind you, relaxed doesn’t mean self-glorifying. See for example when I ask what does she look for in a drummer.
“Somebody who can keep me intact, because I consider myself a songwriter more than I consider myself a musician. I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what keys my songs are in, I don’t know if I’m playing the right part, I don’t know if I’m on beat,” Webster says. “So I especially need a drummer and a bassist to help me on stage, so I can just pretend I play guitar well.”
She actually can play well. Writes even better. And what she needs most of all I reckon is a drummer who can underplay, who can guide while letting the song take shape. The evidence of her two most recent albums – 2019’s Atlanta Millionaire’s Club and this year’s I Know I’m Funny Haha - is that the songs work subtly and the rhythms even more so.
“Yeah, I think looking for a drummer for this tour got crazy because everybody in the band was like, your songs are so different because they’re all just feel. You can’t just hire a drummer because it’s a good drummer, your songs are so specific to feel and if they don’t have feel that they can’t do it,” says Webster.
“When I write songs I’m not like, mmm what should I do from here? I’m like, what do I have to say? And then how can I express myself to say it? My band, it’s just like ‘guys I don’t know what I’m playing … can you just follow along by ear?’ I think that’s what gets us so locked together.”
All this does reinforce an impression of Webster as someone drawing from a southern blend of soul and country where getting that groove, that emotion, that moment, rather than perfection, was what mattered most of all. For listeners, the songs always feel right, before there’s any temptation start working out how and why it does.
For listeners with longer memories, it does tap into something else too: the 1960s where, counterintuitively in an overtly racist environment, black and white musicians grew up alongside each other, listening to the same music that in the north was more segregated on radio and in venues – church music, bar music, dance music, sad music. Old school.
Except, this isn’t only retro-vision: the contemporary South can still bring that blend. Webster, having built connections in the Atlanta hip-hop scene as a photographer and fan, tapped into the avowedly indie scene of Athens, Georgia, where her band (and now her parents) is based, and a past of her own with country and soul.
On top of which, you could get a little poetic and imagine the languor of her songs representing the hot humid Georgia summers and late evening get-togethers.
“That sounds like a nice vibe. I’ll take it,” she says. “I think, growing up all I was listening to was Western Swing music. My mum was from Texas so everybody in my family played some kind of music, all country-rooted, and I think it’s very apparent in my music to this day, no matter what I want to do. I think the mix of that and growing up in Atlanta where it’s so diverse and I think I’m just like subconsciously taking inspiration from all these people that I love and that I’m around all the time.
“I like to think that wherever you are you’d be able to hear that country, long day, come home sweaty music.”
And in case it isn’t already clear, that sweatiness could be from play – home play, two-as-one play – as much as work. If you like that sort of thing, of course. But anyway, enough biology, let’s get back to geography.
“I feel like Atlanta has always been the outlier of the South. At the same time, it is southern, but not a crazy southern city where you can’t relate to anybody. It’s futuristic, it’s creative, it’s beautiful. Then you go to Athens and it’s Atlanta but it’s a small town,” says Webster. “That’s why I go back and forth all the time. But mainly, it’s a huge music town and everybody is such a talented musician and I feel like if you stay there long enough that it means that you’ve made it as a musician.”
A musician with a good drummer.
I Know I’m Funny Ha Ha is out now through Secretly Canadian/Inertia.