While tinkering with WNXP’s weekend programming a few months ago, we opted to create our own hour-long show of chill jams called Slowdown Sundays, featuring “down-tempo songs you love, plus new music that lowers your blood pressure and winds down your weekend.” The sonic vibe we had in mind for beating back the persistent, workweek-warrior mental health threat known as the “Sunday Scaries” was, well, pretty much what you’ll find on Faye Webster’s newest record, I Know I’m Funny haha.
Released June 25, which is also the Atlanta-based artist’s 24th birthday, this third full-length is chock-a-block with soothing sounds, including pedal steel guitar, a Webster trademark. But her sterling vocals, which remain out front, never to be outshone by the overall instrumentation, are the key factor in reducing stress and strain.
Even the edgy verses of “Cheers” give way to a shimmering chorus that toasts the subject of most of these songs on haha: her romantic partner and then-new cohabitant, also an Atlanta-based musician.
“You make me wanna cry in a good way” is the syrupy but oh-so authentic sentiment (during “In a Good Way”) that launched the writing of this record. Paired with a tender melody and string arrangement paced just right, this is just as suited to a cafe, elevator or lounge as it is a bedroom.
That’s not to say that I Know I’m Funny haha, an overall testament to resting comfortably in love, is sans sass. On the contrary, the songs strike best when they combine sultriness with deadpan humor, as in the title track:
I think your sisters are so pretty“I Know I’m Funny haha”
Got drunk and they forgot they met me
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
When I interviewed her after her solo WNXP Sonic Cathedral performance on the day of her sold-out Mercy Lounge show, there was one other longtime love affair that also put a twinkle in Webster’s eye: the one she has with her longtime home base of Atlanta. Having spent many months in Nashville a few years back, attending Belmont University, Webster returned to the ATL and developed a new appreciation for her home city’s creative community. It was there that she was first signed to hip-hop/R&B label Awful Records and released her self-titled album in 2017.
Even then, when she was lazily pegged “indie folk” or “alternative singer-songwriter,” it was clear that the public school kid with a musical family, wide influences and a patchwork of talented peers and mentors could not be relegated to a single section of the record store. Atlanta Millionaire’s Club, her 2019 follow-up and first release on storied indie label Secretly Canadian, cemented her as talent unafraid to dabble. Webster found even more grounding pre-pandemic when writing I Know I’m Funny haha mostly at home, then recording it in Athens, Georgia, where her family lives.
With I Know I’m Funny haha‘s first track “Better Expectations” appearing on a certain 44th American President’s 2020 year-end playlist, it seems Webster’s confidence and composure yield the kind of tunes that not only calm the lot of us ordinary anxious folk, but also exceed expectations.
On the Record: A Q&A With Faye Webster
Celia Gregory: It’s Celia here in our Sonic Cathedral at 91.One WNXP with live and in-person Faye Webster, who’s coming through town on her tour. Faye, thanks for joining us.
Faye Webster: Yeah, of course. Thank you for having me.
CG: And not just performing songs, but performing them in such a stripped-down, beautiful way. Just you and your guitar. So I’m going to start there about your sound that you’ve honed over time, it really allows your voice to shine as an instrument. Is that something that as you’re composing songs, you always keep in the back of your mind? Like, let’s not out-compete my vocal so that the lyrics shine through?
FW: Yeah, I definitely feel like that. Songwriting to me is mostly just things that I have to say. And it just happens that I chose the guitar to help, because I don’t really know a better way for me to express myself. Vocals have always been really important, just being up front, because I feel like that’s kind of the main purpose of it is for me to relay a message. And the guitar is just my emotional support pet.
CG: You spent time in Nashville, but then pretty swiftly left. So can you tell me about going back to Atlanta and maybe how your hometown community has nurtured you as an artist? Maybe even pushed you?
FW: I obviously wouldn’t be the artist or person that I am if I didn’t grow up in Atlanta. And I think kind of just briefly coming to Nashville made me realize that I wanted to stay in Atlanta, that I didn’t want to be anywhere else. But yeah, it’s such a supportive community of so many creatives, not necessarily musicians, but just so many artistic people. I really like being around that energy — it makes me happy. That’s why I’m still there.
CG: Is there anybody in particular — besides the [MLB Atlanta] Braves, of course — that you’re really rooting for right now, that you’ve either worked with or just from the side?
FW: Danger Incorporated is with us on tour right now as the support act, they’re so sick, one of my favorite bands in Atlanta. Oh my god, I could literally do this forever. There’s one of my favorite people in Atlanta. Her name is Monique Wheeler. She’s just like a really sick entrepreneur, runs a really hot comedy show in Atlanta. It’s so random how you can connect with people and they are so supportive and will help you in your path when they’re not even musicians.
CG: The size and the diversity of Atlanta, I think I’ve read you say, that that was sort of the difference to you from Nashville, right?
FW: Yeah, for sure. It’s definitely a different vibe.
CG: We’re glad that you’re back for this sold-out show. I mean, you have a hometown show also sold out. You played Governor’s Ball on tour. So how does it feel with these songs that clearly you wrote a while ago — they were really peering into your new relationship or cohabitating, is how it felt as a listener. Now that you’re in a different stage of that relationship and also a different way of performing live music in this pandemic, how’s it feeling with these songs at this place in time?
FW: It feels nice to just be able to get these songs off my chest. I feel like that was kind of the whole purpose of touring for me is to just check it off mentally, like, “OK, I can actually play these songs that I that I wrote.” And I’m not just sitting on it. When it comes to songwriting, I haven’t been able to write because I don’t feel like this record is even off my mind. So this tour has helped a lot, because now, finally, I can have a fresh mindset and get into something else.
CG: Is it something to do with being able to watch the songs resonating with the people that are listening to them versus just releasing the album and hearing good things about how people are feeling about it?
FW: Definitely, because over the past year, I’ve just been doing mostly live streams and stuff, and it’s obviously not the same feeling or satisfaction out of it. Seeing people like actually waiting to hear these songs and being able to play them is really nice.
CG: Is there anything about I Know I’m Funny haha that you’d like to share about the creation of this? Your tone goes from really tender then sarcastic, and you said your writing is speaking your mind. Is that the through-line there?
FW: Yeah. A lot of the record was just written in my home by myself, which is kind of my safe space, which I feel like allows me to be honest and have all these different moods. And then I recorded in Athens, Georgia, which is like my second home. My family’s there, and I’ve just recorded all my records there. So it’s also a very comforting space for me. The more comfortable I am recording and writing, I feel like it comes through in the record.