“Brutal Honesty Can Be Somewhat Comical:” An Interview With Faye Webster

The Awful Records alum talks about finding inspiration in the little things, her photography beginnings and the role family played in creating her new album 'I Know I'm Funny haha.'
By    September 9, 2021

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Near the halfway point of Faye Webster’s music video for “In a Good Way,” the adventurous singer-songwriter from Atlanta can be seen waltzing alone on a dance floor while an avalanche of yellow Smiley-Face balloons cascade around her in every direction.

She twirls gracefully among the descending physical objects of happiness, possibly in an attempt to cut free and lose herself in the fray, but before she knows it, the balloons slip through her grasp and slowly linger to the ground, trolling her misfortune with each suggestive smirk. Giving up, she takes revenge by gleefully kicking the balloons into orbit, channeling the energy of an unruly child at a birthday party.

The visual offers an evocative snapshot into Webster’s personal aesthetic and playful musical style. Her art is honest and personal, but falls short of reaching truly desolation, due in large part to her natural authenticity and whimsical streak that keeps things light. In one instance, she re-lives the pain of seeing her father breakdown crying in front of her. In the next, she’s lamenting a desire to finish her shower beer in peace. Webster has an informality and purity to her writing, which makes her an easily relatable figure in an era of artificial personalities fishing for online validation and cosigns.

To immerse oneself in Webster’s art is to understand a certain ancestral spirit. Webster comes from a long line of talented musicians who share her namesake; her mother played the violin, her grandfather was a member of a Texas blues band, and her brother’s bedroom guitar experiments during their childhood inspired her to pick up the instrument and join the familial ranks. Being around an atmosphere of open creativity and self expression was undoubtedly instrumental in her own artistic development, but also acted as a source of pride to carry on the family’s free-spirited folk legacy.

When Webster released her first album at 16, Run & Tell, her sound clearly paid homage to the twangy country of her youth. But as she grew more active in the arts scene in Atlanta, moonlighting as a hip-hop photographer (she shot Lil Yachty and Killer Mike among others), her aspirations shifted. After becoming friendly with Awful Records artists online and at shows, Webster signed a record deal with the left-of-center rap label known for their genre-defying vocal styles, sounds and aesthetics. Awful released her tightly-compact, self-titled LP in 2017, a precocious debut for a then-unknown 20-year-old. Shadowing Awful creatives allowed her the opportunity to observe and learn from some of Atlanta’s most experimental acts, including Father and Ethereal, whom Webster credits as major figures in her ascension.

This measured form of musical exploration gleaned from her time at Awful shined through on her 2019 Secretly Canadian debut, the swoon-worthy Atlanta Millionaires Club. The record reimagined the vintage folk of her youth in the form of dreamy, multi-instrumented soundscapes. The hazy, George Harrison-style guitar licks were still a fixture, but melancholic strings (“Jonny”) and somber brass sections (“Kingston”) gave the music more texture and depth.

With I Know I’m Funny haha, her critically-lauded new record from June, Webstain remains as incisive and entrancing as ever. Yet this is more spacious and subdued, both in sound and sentiment. Several songs opt out of traditional hooks and choruses in the form of gorgeous, melodic instrumentation (“I Know I’m Funny haha”, “Both All the Time”). Early album highlight “Sometimes” conjures the kind of wondrous introspection channeled on a late-night, directionless drive by yourself, while the sparsely-produced finale “Half of Me” asks the kind of existential questions that arrive only in the darkness spaces of self-imposed isolation. In short, it’s her best work to date.

As she prepares to tour it, I caught up with Faye to talk about her growing up in a musically-gifted household, working with Awful, and her latest opus. – Ross Olson

You come from a family with deep musical roots, particularly in bluegrass and Americana. What are some of your earliest memories of music?

Faye Webster: I feel like the most influential early memories of music was just hearing my brother play guitar in the house. We had bedrooms that were sharing the same wall so I feel like I always heard him playing and I was like ‘I want to do that.

Your mother played the violin and your grandfather plays guitar as well. What did your family teach you about musicianship when you were getting started?

Faye Webster: I feel like the most influential early memories of music was just hearing my brother play guitar in the house. We had bedrooms that were sharing the same wall so I feel like I always heard him playing and I was like ‘I want to do that.

Your music style seems to carry on that familial folk and country feel to it, but also sounds modern with R&B and indie pop. How did that come about?

Faye Webster: I was always influenced by folk music especially like old country music because that’s what I grew up listening to. Being a young woman living in Atlanta I was slowly being influenced by other things, but I feel like I held on to this strong country root because that’s all I ever known. I think it just developed into my own thing.

Your first album, Run & Tell, dropped when you were 16. How do you think your sound has evolved since then?

Faye Webster: A lot. I really don’t relate to that record anymore. Just like in an artist sense, I feel like everyone grows and changes. I think as I’ve grown I’ve realized who I wanted to be and what I wanted to write about and what was meaningful to me. As a 16 year old I didn’t know any of those things. I think I’ve just spent more time figuring myself out.

What was it like growing up in a Hip-Hop juggernaut of a city like Atlanta?

Faye Webster: It was sick. I wouldn’t have wanted to change any part of my childhood. I think it was so cool to be put on to different shit so early in my life which I’ve really appreciated. I feel like I’ve learned so much sitting back and just watching people. Being around them in general. I have a very passionate love for this city. Everyone’s creative and it’s so diverse.

What was it about that scene that drew you in?

Faye Webster: Everyone was so supportive. I would just go to Open Mic nights once a week to try to play and put my name out there. People were trying to help me and putting me on to stuff they think I should listen to. I was really able to find that anywhere else. I would go to Nashville to try and find the same thing and it was so completely different. It was so creative and supportive is why I’m drawn to it.

How did hip-hop culture affect the way you approached your own music?

Faye Webster: I was more open to experimenting and trying new stuff. I’d always played folk music, all my songs sounded like that since my first record. It wasn’t really until I started spending time every day with other artists. Being around people and watching them make a song. Being around my friends at Awful all the time, but just quietly sit there and watch the sounds they use. It was just trial and error and always experimenting and trying something that makes you happy.

Would you say up until that phase with the country and folk side it was more safe or rigid in terms of musical style?

Faye Webster: For sure and I would record in Athens all the time and I picked up the lowest bit of garage rock. Watching my brother being in rock bands and I was really inspired by that as well. That’s when I started playing the electric guitar and that was when I was like ‘Let me experiment.’ I’ve only played this jumbo acoustic guitar my whole life. It was just being around other people.

How did your taste evolve throughout your adolescence? What were you listening to in middle school, high school, and post high school?

Faye Webster: I was listening to whatever my parents were listening to in the car or playing in the house. They had a good taste in music. Some of my favorite earlier bands were my parents favorite bands that fell down on me as well. It wasn’t until high school that I started playing my own music and wanted to hear other people’s music. I listened to a lot of other indie rock bands or folk bands at the time. Now there’s so much to listen to that sometimes I just don’t listen to music.

Who were some of the first rappers you remember listening to in Atlanta?

Faye Webster: Mostly people in Awful Records. I was a huge Father fan and a huge Ethereal fan. I met them as fans.

Your first record deal was with Awful Records who put out your self-titled album in 2017. How did you first get on their radar?

Faye Webster: I was going to their shows and eventually reached out on social media. It started as ‘let’s make music,’ and like I said I would just sit there quietly and watch all this stuff happen. I was there every day for like a year and just built all these friendships. When I was working on my record, I was just gonna put it out. It felt like the right time, right place kind of thing. ‘You’re with us all the time. You support our music, we support yours. We can just do it here for now.

How did your time there make you approach your music differently?

Faye Webster: Watching my friends perform. I wasn’t doing open mics anymore, but I wasn’t doing my own shows. No one really knows who I am. So it was cool watching my friends who people did know who they were and how they would perform and deal with stuff. I think every day I learned something new and every day was just building stronger friendships with these people.

Did they have a huge impact on your visual aesthetic?

Faye Webster: Photography mostly just because they were letting me take pictures. I was just taking pictures of my friends. I was still so young that I didn’t really know what I wanted when it came to visuals. I don’t think I figured that out until Atlanta Millionaires Club when I started working with my brother on design and stuff. I think that’s when I really figured out my style.

What did you like about those early photoshoots?

Faye Webster: I liked taking photos because it was just my friends in a comfortable environment. There was no pressure or awkward moments. It was like, I have an idea and fortunately whoever I ask would let me make this idea come to life. It never felt like “oh, we’re doing a photoshoot today.’ It was like, I’m hanging out with you anyways, can I do this?

You’ve photographed Offset, Killer Mike, Lil Yachty. Did you enjoy building an artistic chemistry with them?

Faye Webster: Yes. The biggest thing I got out of it is how supportive the city is. It was like a little girl with 300 followers is wanting to take your photo and you’re like ok. I want to help you make your dream come true because I was also once there. I was also meeting people to help me make my vision come true.

One of your mentors from Awful, Father, was featured on “Flowers” from Atlanta Millionaires Club. Do you envision any more collaborations with hip-hop artists down the road?

Faye Webster: In general I love collaborating. I don’t really like writing with other artists, but when it comes to lending my voice for something new, or somebody lending their voice for me, I really enjoy it because it’s really refreshing and challenging as an artist to make yourself fit on somebody else’s song.

Where did the album title I know Im Funny haha come from?

Faye Webster: It was a lyric and I was like ok I’m done. This was all it was meant to be. Then when it came to the time of naming it I was looking through lyrics. I wanted to play off lyrics and was looking for this long extended title that no one would think you would name a record. This one was just the obvious answer no matter how hard I tried to avoid it.

Is this a phrase you’ve set either to yourself or others a lot?

Faye Webster: No never. I feel like when I’m writing songs I’m not thinking about writing a song, I’m just singing my thoughts out loud. I feel like that verse was such a random thing I was thinking about.

I read the song “A Dream With a Baseball Player” was inspired by Ronald Acuna Jr on the Braves. When did your initial infatuation with him start?

Faye Webster: When he joined [the team]. When I wasn’t touring, that’s what I decided to invest 100% of my time into, [baseball]. I spent so much time off tour, that’s just all I was seeing and hearing.

Did you go to games to watch him?

Faye Webster: Yes, it was definitely a physical connection. He was just like the newest, hottest player. But now I really like Panda [Pablo Sandoval] on the Braves. He’ll come up to bat so randomly and do some crazy shit and then leave and you don’t see him for the rest of the game. I like that energy.

I thought it was interesting you turned an innocent crush from afar into a song about longing for someone you don’t know, can’t communicate with, and where it primarily exists in your dreams. What are some other examples of random inspiration for songs?

Faye Webster: I feel like family has been a big thing to me in songwriting. I don’t try to write about my family or people around me, but at the end of the day I can’t write a song without someone around me. It has to be a very personal thing. I find myself singing about my family a lot or my partner. But I think it’s just because you write about experiences and you only experience life with these people.

On “Both All the Time,” you claim that you don’t let your true self come out very often. Then on the following track, “Stranger,” you talk about feeling like someone you don’t recognize. I thought that was a powerful moment on the record. To the rest of the world you seem like someone who takes pride in their individualism, so that was surprising to hear. What triggers these moments when you feel like a stranger to yourself?

Faye Webster: Most of the time when I feel like writing I’m sad, but I think that’s just when I want to express myself. When I’m really happy, I feel like the last thing I want to do is sit inside and play guitar and write a song. A lot of my songs, especially in the past, have been the moments I do find myself feeling this way or in a darker way. I think everyone goes through that at some point. Like you were saying, you felt like it was powerful. Everybody feels that way sometimes which is totally ok.

The way you talk about these poignant topics like loneliness, identity, and heartache is very relatable, but I feel like there’s just the right amount of levity and humor where it never seems too bleak or hopeless. On “Sometimes,” you mention a former partner who ended things by saying there’s other things out there to see in the world, only to leave you for someone who looked just like you. How important is it for you to have that balance in your songs?

Faye Webster: It’s very important. I’m not trying to write songs with comic relief, but I am trying to write songs that say things that normal people would just pass on or think it’s not really worthy of being in a song. I feel like that’s the stuff that really hits the most just because everybody relates to it, everybody understands it, but maybe it’s not pretty enough to be sung or maybe it’s just weird or awkward but I feel like that’s what makes it so impactful. A lot of this record I was just trying to be brutally honest which happened to be somewhat comical.

The album’s closing track, “Half of Me,” sounds like the culminating effects of your isolation. You start asking existential questions like “What am I doing now? What’s the purpose of anything?” What was the thought process like of closing the album out on such a despondent note?

Faye Webster: I didn’t write this song as the closer. I just kept my demo that I made in my bedroom just because the recording we made in the studio we felt didn’t capture the energy in the same way. I feel like because we kept the demo and it was just so raw and untouched, I think it felt like if you were to hear silence after any song I’d rather you hear silence after that. I’d rather that one end everything and it just felt better.

Your song “Better Distractions” made it on President Obama’s Spring Playlist. Was that pretty cool to see?

Faye Webster: Yeah I feel like it was just kind of funny. I remember seeing it and laughing and zooming in and being like ‘there’s no way that’s me.’ It’s such a random thing. It made me think how many other people, it’s not just Obama. One time Kendal Jenner posted one of my songs. This makes me wonder how many random people have heard my music.

You talk often about feeling spiritually and physically alone. What are some things you do to feel more connected with people and the world around you?

Faye Webster: Like I said, family is such an important thing to me. Everytime I’m with friends or family those thoughts kind of go away momentarily which is very helpful. I’m always with my partner or with my family.

On “Both All the Time” you acknowledge the difference between being lonely and experiencing lonesomeness. Are there prevalent feelings of when you’re around people, it doesn’t matter if you feel one within the group, you still feel like you’re on an island spiritually? Is that prevalent for you at times?

Faye Webster: Sometimes. It was more in the past than it is now. I’m healing and every day I try to find something that helps a little more or makes me feel a little better. But I feel like that’s something nobody will ever be able to fully escape.

Hearing fans or other people acknowledge that emotional connection to your music, is that powerful for you?

Faye Webster: Anything in general that makes somebody relate more or makes somebody relatable, that’s the goal. To be heard, or for somebody to feel more understood. That’s what I generally like to get out of my music.

Was there ever a hesitancy to open yourself up that much in your songs?

Faye Webster: For sure. My first two records are so vague. When I listen to it now, it’s hard to relate because I don’t really even know what I was talking about. That’s how vague and dishonest it was.

Was Atlanta Millionaires Club the first personal piece of art you put out?

Faye Webster: I do. I think it always will be. I feel like I’ll have a very special connection to it just because it was the first time I was representing myself to the fullest.

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