Meet the Awfully Artistic Faye Webster
Faye Webster and her self-titled sophomore album have raised eyebrows all summer for a couple of valid reasons.
First, she’s a multi-talented creative force – a gifted vocalist and wise wordsmith benefitting from a lifetime around bluegrass, folk, and old-time music. Further, she happens to be a skilled photographer. Those descriptors suited a young Marty Stuart, and here’s a 19-year-old woman applying similar talents to modern folk and roots music.
With songs as good as “She Won’t Go Away” introducing Webster to a wider audience, she could have been a young, hip, bluegrass-leaning chanteuse in the mainstream-friendly mold of Alison Krauss. Or maybe she could have been more of an indie darling in the vein of Neko Case’s more twangy material. Neither are bad career paths considering Americana fans’ constant hunger for the next, comfortably familiar big thing.
What’s really got media outlets abuzz, though, is Webster’s unlikely label home. Awful Records keeps Atlanta and its world-renowned hip-hop scene weird, with label head Father serving as the proverbial dad of a multimedia operation. Webster is part of that family, first as a friend and now as a signee unlike any other act in label history.
“I probably understand it better than other people, but I do understand their confusion over it,” Webster says of the hubbub over her label affiliation.
This seeming duality of Webster’s musical identity isn’t so strange when you consider that she really is from Atlanta. She didn’t move here from the suburbs or mountains, which is how a lot of creative Georgians made it to the city too busy to hate. Instead, she’s always lived in the same midtown house, immersed in the city’s art and music culture throughout her formative years. Add a bluegrass-playing granddad in Texas and a musically-inclined mom to the mix, and you’ve got a well-cultured artist with a genre-defying vision that just comes naturally.
Surprised reactions from new fans are old hat to Webster. “On social media, I get a lot of Awful fans who are like, ‘I never would have ever, ever thought I would have been able to play someone on Awful Records for my parents!’” she says.
Just as parents are hearing an Awful act without having a hemorrhage, Webster’s current situation finds hip-hop heads watching folk music live. A lot of those fans like a little of everything, especially if they dig Awful’s eclectic back catalog. Still, she’s surely catching a few ears that might’ve never heard her music if it was filed away as Americana. “At my shows, I have a lot of Awful fans,” she says. “It’s not just necessarily, ‘Oh, I’m a Slug Christ fan’ or a Father fan. They don’t just like one artist. They are a fan of the label. It’s pretty fun because they’re all different kinds of people.”
Webster reaches the folk crowd with her live sets as well, allowing for a very punk approach of playing wherever and whenever the opportunity arises. “We just did a festival with a lot of Americana artists, but I play shows with Awful all the time. It’s a mix,” she says.
In her mid-teens, Webster had a more typical run in the local roots music scene. There are several videos of YouTube of Webster’s old band performing songs from 2013 debut Run and Tell, including a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” at Eddie’s Attic. Additional footage has her collaborating with blues-oriented singer-songwriter Marshall Ruffin and other locals with a debt of gratitude to area open mic nights. It’d be tempting to speculate that she became comfortable performing live at Eddie’s, if she didn’t come across as such a natural in each video.
Earlier, country-influenced tracks, such as “Lonestar” and “Give Me a Chance,” display much of the undeniable songwriting talent that defines Webster’s more recent work. It’s the sort of roots-informed music that’d be gobbled up in 2017 by Third Man Records, giving Webster a more visible but less headline-grabbing platform. Run and Tell is hardly obscure now, as it’s streaming on Spotify for her 75,000-plus followers.
Her high school years also included a stint in rap outfit PSA, sowing the seeds of her dual identity.
After a stint studying songwriting at Nashville’s Belmont University, Webster’s current situation began taking shape back home. Interest in a sophomore folk album intensified as her friendships with Awful’s inner-circle strengthened. Further, Webster had reached a point creatively where both pedal steel and chill vibes seamlessly fit her songwriting. “The longer I’ve done music, the more open I’ve become to try different stuff,” she says.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but a bulk of Webster’s latest album focuses on long-distance relationships. Whether she’s singing of friends, family, a lover, or a city, the lyrics suit her sudden leap from an out-of-state college student to a hometown success story. A wide palette of feelings beyond just homesickness are conveyed in an artistically rich and deeply relatable way. Listeners feel Webster’s frustration when she sings of being so bored that she ties her shoes for fun on “Alone Again.” That poignant line represents more than millennial frustration, as it would have been just as potent if someone like the late, great John Hartford had imagined it decades earlier. Difference being, Hartford would have come across as sharing the thoughts of an imaginary character, with strengths and weaknesses separate from those of the songwriter and future song interpreters. In this song and others, Webster exorcises real first-person emotions.
Webster has the full support of her local social circle, just as local punks cut from slightly different musical cloths once united under the Die Slaughterhaus and Rob’s House banners. Most of her family is along for the ride, as well. “My mom definitely keeps up with everything I’m doing,” Webster says. “She keeps up with Awful and they’re always at the house. My granddad knows I do music, but I’m sure he has no idea what Awful Records or any of that stuff is.”
Despite recent successes, Webster isn’t so sure that the rap stars she’s photographed at home are aware of her Awful existence. “I introduce myself as a musician, but some people know me more as a photographer,” she says. “With some of the rappers I’ve taken portraits of, when they see me or talk to me I don’t even think they have a clue that I do music.” Webster’s photoshoots blend famous subjects, including Killer Mike and old middle school pal Lil Yachty, in with a solid colored or patterned background. These shoots are one lasting effect of Webster’s time at Belmont, as her interest in photography stems from in-class experiences.
Webster’s ability to play on a wide variety of bills without sticking out like a sore thumb make her as good a person as any to discuss what’s new and what’s next in Atlanta music. “There’s this band called Superbody Pop that are based in Atlanta. What they’re doing is really cool,” she says. “I love Danger Incorporated. They’re also the newbies on Awful and a duo of kids my age. When we’re at the Awful House hanging together, I’m definitely with them the whole time.”
Fresh off a tour with fellow singer-songwriter Sean Rowe, Webster’s next stint on the road will be with genre-bending Australian Julia Jacklin. There’s also new music in the plans. “I plan to release something soon and then maybe release a whole project after that,” she says. “I’m constantly writing.”
Whatever novelty comes with being the folk singer on a label full of hip-hop misfits would wear off fast if Webster didn’t have the talent to match the hype. She’s got talent in spades, represented by the songs on her Awful debut and her lesser-known first album.
That’s not to say that novelty was ever in mind for either Webster or Awful. Their oddball pairing is simply a case of a promising young talent getting backed by a pre-established support group. It’s really no different from a cassette label owner putting out demo tapes for their buddies’ hardcore bands.
Webster didn’t reinvent the proverbial wagon wheel to cross over into the hip-hop world. She was at home there already, accepted for her musical differences in a scenario that might’ve never come to pass outside of Atlanta. Awful wasn’t looking to add dance beats to her music either, allowing one of their youngest cohorts’ art to exist on the artist’s terms. All things considered, that’s an ideal talent/label relationship, however strange it may seem to outsiders.