Edie Brickell - Edie Brickell

Busy Edie Brickell. In a "feast or famine" kind of way, the former frontperson for early 90's breakout band The New Bohemians (and the "what I am is what I am" hit) is back with not just one but TWO new projects (her stint with The Gaddabouts, due January 25). The beautifully crafted January 11 solo album Edie Brickell  is the singer/songwriter's first full-length recording since the 2006 NB reunion album Stranger Things (not counting the excellent Heavy Circles '08 collaboration with stepson Harper Simon) and has been a few years in the making. Produced by Austin guitar marvel and ace producer Charlie Sexton, who handled Brickell's '03 Volcano, Edie Brickell is in many respects a continuation of that earlier album's jammy pop/rock vibe, but with a brighter tone.

"I had noticed during (Volcano's) recording that I didn’t have a lot of up-tempo songs," Brickell reflects, "but that was actually a very buoyant and happy period in my life, so I was able to write songs like that while we were in rehearsals for tour...we decided to go in and record them immediately in order to capture that energy." Then --- the songs sat on the shelf as Brickell moved on to the reunion project and then reeled from the death of friend and band member Carter Albrecht in 2007. Finally completed this year, the new project is classic Brickell: jazzy folk/pop with a deep and wide groove, sweetly sassy vocals delivered with expert phrasing. Beguiling, Beatle-ish and blessed with gorgeous melodies, "Bad Way", "Been So Good" and album opener "Give It Another Day" (with a divine solo from Sexton) are smart, timeless and brilliantly played. Welcome back, Ms. Brickell.

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Edie Brickell - "Give It Another Day" (from the album Edie Brickell)

Q & A : Edie Brickell

You have two new albums due out in January 2011: a self-titled solo record and the debut by a new band called the Gaddabouts. How did you decide which songs were for which project?
Whichever band is around me at the time I have a new song is the band I show it to. Then I say, “Let’s play this.” If they play it and it sounds good, I’m happy. I don’t really think in advance about who would be the perfect band for a particular song—I don’t have the patience. But the band brings its personality in there. I trust that things happen for a reason, you know? People get excited about some songs and not about others because they have the right chemistry.

Some of the tunes date back quite a few years.

A lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m home all the time; I’m living a quiet family life right now, not booking a lot of work time. But I’m constantly writing and practicing to become a better musician. Right now I’m learning how to fingerpick, and I practice by writing songs, which I record into a little machine. In 2000 I ran into Steve Gadd; he asked to hear some of what I’d been demoing and I sent him everything. He picked out his favorites, and that’s how the Gaddabouts began.

'Edie Brickell' you made with Charlie Sexton producing.

Charlie manned the helm on my album Volcano, and while that record was coming out, I was still writing songs. I had noticed during recording that I didn’t have a lot of up-tempo songs, but that was actually a very buoyant and happy period in my life, so I was able to write songs like that while we were in rehearsals for tour. Then I didn’t have the patience to wait until the next album to record them, so I’d just throw them out—like, “Hey, wanna play these?” We had a day off on that tour, so we decided to go in and record them immediately in order to capture that energy.

Those early recordings sat around for a while.

I put the solo record on hold for a long time. I wanted every song to be up-tempo and to be good, with no doubts about it. I was taking my time, as opposed to, “Here are 12 songs—let’s go!” I wanted to wait and listen and see if I still liked the song…if it stood the test of time. Then when we were just about ready for one last session, our dear friend and keyboard player, Carter Albrecht, was killed. I didn’t wanna hear those up-tempo songs anymore, so I put that project on the shelf. Steve had called to check in on me and I realized what a powerful friend and true supporter he was and I was drawn to finish our Gaddabouts record.

Some of the Gaddabouts songs—“Good Day” and “Remind Me”—were written on the day they were recorded.

There’s something so powerful about recording a song when it’s new—it’s like a real experience as opposed to a memory. Once I learned that, I didn’t want to go back to the old style of recording where you spend days in preproduction on a song, playing it over and over until you kill the spirit of it. I wanted to show it to the band when I felt it, start recording and let them play what they feel. The Gaddabouts guys are such excellent musicians that they often nail a song in one take. I wanted to show them something new all the time because they made the recording process fun and easy and I couldn’t wait to hear what they’d play. “Remind Me” was inspired by a funny comment Steve made in the studio one evening and I brought it to the band the next morning. “Good Day” was written in a surge of endorphins on a sunny morning on the train on my way to the studio. I was so happy to be recording with those guys, so pleased with how things were going, I wanted to express that feeling of well being in a song. We all puzzled it out that morning and recorded it as the joy that inspired the idea still percolated in my system.

That requires a huge amount of trust in your collaborators.

I’ve never been the type of songwriter to tell somebody what to play. I think that’s kind of rude. I came from a band beginning; I know how sensitive people are. So I like to surround myself with people who’re excited about the project and then just tell them, “Do your thing—play what you think is gonna be cool.” Luckily, I was working with world- class musicians so I was blown away by everything they did. I think it’s important to hear what the musicians want to play and learn from them.

What sticks out in particular?

With “My Heart” on the Gaddabouts record, the demo of that is me playing a single guitar line, but Steve heard it as a tango and he put the accordion in there. That threw me for a loop; I didn’t hear that. Or “Never So Far Away,” the guitar sound in the solo—that was something Pino and Andy came up with and executed after I left the studio. “Good for Me” has that really neat bass-sounding guitar; Pino created that kind of bone structure that gives the song a thousand times more personality. That’s what I love about working with a band: I give them a landscape and they create a gorgeous scene and make you feel the weather.

How about on the solo disc?

“Waitin’ for Me” was written as straight-ahead chords, then Charlie hears it and plays this gorgeous classic picking pattern over it and just transforms it. And “Always” was written on the guitar but when Carter started playing that out of control saloon piano, It was all him! I bring them an acorn and it becomes this fabulous, shady oak tree.

Some of the lyrics are your sharpest—and funniest—in years.

I love lyrics, and I put a lot of thought into them. I’m a little bummed out by how few people listen to lyrics. I’ve been in bands for years, and there’ll be times where somebody says, “Let’s play such-and-such, and they call it some funny lyric that’s not even in the song!”

Where did “Pill,” from the solo record, come from?

Just wanting to explore this strange new medicated culture we live in, and to poke some fun at it while also revealing the darker aspects. It was like a puzzle to put together: What can the side effects be?

Did you find that any of the words were affected by which group of musicians you were working with?

“On the Avenue” and “Bad Way,” those came out of improvs we did during rehearsals for Volcano. I started singing myself a little melody and walked back in and said, “Hey, ya’ll, does anyone have a song that goes like this?” Carter said, “Nope, I think that’s yours.” So I was like, “Let’s play it!” And the lyric just poured out from that oddball groove.

“Give It Another Day” and “Been So Good” are perhaps the most reflective songs here.

I think it’s difficult to express joy and gratitude without being corny, and I wanted to try. “Give It Another Day,” that one says, “Hang on a minute—let it evolve.” And “Been So Good” is a big thanks to someone, it’s recognizing when someone’s good to you. I think we can get into sad, emotional habits in our culture. There’s such a confessional nature to what people wanna bring to the table—quite often it’s, “My parents did this and look what happened to me.” I’ve heard so much of that. So I wanted to turn that rock back over and offer that there are these other truths that exist. The mission was: How can I express them in a way that touches the heart as much as sorrow?