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Faye Webster
Faye WebsterPhotography Eat Humans

Faye Webster is the alt-country ATLien perfecting the accidental love song

The Atlanta songwriter, photographer, and Awful Records associate tells us about her new album, Atlanta Millionaires Club

Faye Webster doesn’t set out to write sad love songs, they just all seem to turn out that way. Take “Jonny”, a song from her new album Atlanta Millionaires Club, for example. “I’m so bad at not writing about romance,” the Atlanta, Georgia songwriter explains, sort-of-clarifying. “(With that track), I wanted to write a song that was pure, a song that was just about me and nobody else. But then when I finished it I was like ‘Fuck, now it’s about Jonny.’”

The track finds Webster in a deep, dark funk, staring out at white-painted walls till her thoughts turn, as thoughts always do in such moments, to a real-life ex: “Jonny, did you ever love me? Jonny, help me figure it out / Not that I’ve paid attention, but you haven’t said it out loud,” she croons, thought-bubble wisps of sax curling round the edges of her phrasing. Finally, the kicker: “This wasn’t supposed to be a love song... but I guess it is now.

It’s a neat idea for a song that sums up Webster’s appeal perfectly: sad, sweet, funny and sexy, her songs come with a gift-wrapped simplicity that they share in common with all the best country music. “I’d just reached a point where I was like, ‘Fuck it, I don’t care if I hurt anyone’s feelings,’” says the musician before a recent show in London, looking chill in tan leather-weave deck shoes and matching sun-visor hat (it’s about minus five outside). “Like with ‘Jonny’, the guy’s name is literally Jonny, I couldn’t even be bothered to change it to another two-syllable word! I’ve stopped changing words to make them sound nicer or rhyme better. To me that’s what hits people the most in music, it’s honesty. That’s what actually makes people stop and listen.”

Webster only just turned 21 last year, but her country-music roots run deep. Her grandparents play together in a bluegrass band, and Texas swing veterans Asleep at the Wheel, a firm family fave, performed at her parents’ wedding. After self-releasing her debut, Run and Tell, at the age of 16, Webster enrolled at college in Nashville to study music. But she didn’t like tutors telling her what to do with her songs (“I was like, ‘I don’t care if you don’t like it! This is my song’”), and besides, life in Nashville just wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for the young musician. “It’s not diverse, people just do their own thing,” says Webster of the city, for decades the heart of the American country-music establishment. (She’s since returned to Atlanta.) “But there’s no other kind of music or groups or types of people outside of the norm.”

“To me that’s what hits people the most in music, it’s honesty. That’s what actually makes people stop and listen” – Faye Webster

Fortunately, Webster had other ideas about how to perfect her craft: in high school, she’d become friendly with Ethereal, a rapper and producer with Atlanta hip hop misfits Awful Records. Awful, recognising a fellow ATLien when they saw one, brought her into the fold, and Webster quit her freshman year to record a self-titled follow-up to Run and Tell. It was an odd fit, to say the least – this is the label that helped launch the careers of Abra and Playboi Carti, among others – but the record was strong, introducing Webster’s soft southern lilt to a wider audience. What’s more, the deal opened up a whole new sideline profession for the musician, photographing key players on the Atlanta music scene from Awful boss Father (who guests on the new record) to Killer Mike and DRAM. (Another of her subjects, Lil Yachty, is a former schoolmate and occasional gaming partner on Fortnite.) More recently, she brought her flair for bold colour composition to her music videos, with the flamingo-pink fantasias of recent single “Kingston”. “My music wouldn’t be what it is if I hadn’t signed to Awful,” says Webster, explaining the label’s influence on her work. “I learned how to do stuff on the spot through them – like, you don’t have to work on a song for a year, you can write it in a day and put it out the next week. They gave me a real sense of freedom.”

That first-thought-best-thought approach is key to Webster’s art, which finds inventive ways to express ideas that are universal. “I kinda just write things, even if they don’t seem important (at the time),” she explains. “I love people who sing about absolutely nothing! I think (Melbourne indie-rocker) Courtney Barnett does that really well. She’ll be like, ‘Oh, the grass is growing really high, but I’m not gonna cut it ’cos I’m lazy.’ And I’m just like, ‘Wow, that means nothing but I relate so much!’” The trick, of course, lies in the genius eye for detail Barnett brings to her lyrics, and Webster is no slouch on that front, either. On “Kingston”, a soulful country-pop glide and highlight of the new album, she summons the thrill of falling for someone in a single, tossed-out aside: “He said, ‘Baby’ – that’s what he called me – ‘I love you’.

Still, Webster seems happiest when she’s got something to feel sad about. On “Hurts Me Too”, Webster parrots a line from her mum, who’s been on at her to stop writing sad songs, as a cute framing device for yet another sad song. (“She’ll be like, ‘Come on! Write us something we can pump our fists to,’” says Webster, rolling her eyes.) And on new single “Room Temperature”, a song she likens to Spongebob Squarepants for its Hawaiian slide-guitar licks, Webster goes one step further, singing about the sadness that comes with not feeling that sad any more: “Nothing means anything, at least not any more / even my tears have turned room temperature.” If the lyrics are mostly detail-focused, the songwriting is bolder, more expansive than before, blending country and soul as only Georgians can. (Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Cat Power, among others, were all born in the Peach State.) “I definitely tried to do new things I was afraid to do last time this round,” says Webster, citing sultry R&B jam “Pigeon” as a “crazy” example. “But I think people will still listen to (the album) and be like, ‘Oh, this is Faye.’ It’s not like I just did a big country-pop record and now I’m the new Taylor Swift!”

At the time of our chat, Webster says she’s been beefing with her new label, Secretly Canadian, over the Spongebob song, which is her pick for the second single to be released from the album. “They want it to be ‘Come to Atlanta’, which I don’t care about, because it’s the only song on the record that doesn’t have pedal steel on it,” she says, explaining her label’s apparent aversion to the instrument, a country-music staple since the 1950s. “They keep telling me people in the UK don’t relate to pedal steel! Is that true?” I’m not sure, I reply. I didn’t know there was market research on that kind of thing. Webster shrugs, and smiles. “It’s OK, though... I think I’m gonna win that one eventually.” And guess what? She did.

Faye Webster’s new album Atlanta Millionaires Club is out May 24 via Secretly Canadian