Faye Webster lounges on snake-print fabric, wearing a snakeskin dress and matching snakeskin boots. An actual snake winds its way up her torso, then rests on her shoulder. The lighting is a hazy purple in these opening moments of Webster’s debut music video, for her new single “She Won’t Go Away.” Her voice is laid-back, the music folksy and electric, with strains of R&B woven in. “I think I have lost/so much time/over the course/of calling you mine, “she sings, and then she’s riding a high handlebar bike in the next scene, swerving slowly, wearing a wide-legged jumpsuit that looks as comfortable as pajamas. The song fixates on a “she” who’s in the way—maybe another girl, competing for a love interest. There’s no anger in the lyrics and rhythms, though, just cautious hope: “So maybe next year/things will go/just as I planned.”
Webster made the video with director Joshua Shoemaker, who started his career filming the Alabama Shakes. The South is his terrain. “We fed off of each other,” Webster says about working with Shoemaker, someone she admired before she met him. She’s speaking by phone during a visit to Nashville, where she spent a homesick year trying to be a student at Belmont College before returning to her native Atlanta.
“I would be like, OK, I want to do this for this scene, but I had no idea how to film it,” she explains. She did already have certain scenarios—like the snakeskin fantasia and the bike riding—in mind. She takes photographs, lushly staged portraits of friends and muses, and she had meant to use these ideas in photo shoots once she found the right subject. “I decided to use them for myself,” she says. “It ended up exactly how I wanted it.”
The 19-year-old musician and photographer grew up listening to folk. Her grandfather taught her to play guitar and her mother loved Asleep at the Wheel, the twangy Texas band that’s been championing Americana since 1969. “But then also, living in Atlanta, being exposed to the whole hip-hop scene there, I feel like things just mixed together,” Webster says. She actually formed a rap group called PSA in high school, around the same time she was writing the traditional folk tunes that made up Run and Tell, the album she released at 16. That album conjures all the standard female folk icons: Emmylou, Loretta. Her self-titled new album, out this year, has less of an allegiance to the genre. Her voice stays in a mercurial, thoughtfully whimsical register as she explores caring too much, loving too much, getting too close or not close enough, while drifting through conflicting feelings that crown young adulthood. “I tried too hard, too hard,” she sings in “What’s the Point,” about an affair that never really takes shape. It’s not an angsty album, though. It’s cool and unhurried, and released by Atlanta’s hippest label, a collective called Awful Records, primarily known for supporting hip-hop and rap artists.
She met Ethereal, one of Awful’s first members, online at first. “I had reached out to him, or maybe he had reached out to me because he’d heard me on one of the local radio stations,” she says. She went away to college soon after meeting him but would hang out with him and his friends when she visited, and they became her community when she left school for good. She would photograph them too: the duo Earth Gang in front of a crimson curtain, while bling-covered hands reach out and grab them from behind; Father, Awful’s founder, on a bike surrounded by endless pink grass.
From May 2015 until January 2016, Webster drove from Atlanta to Athens, Georgia, weekly to meet with her drummer, Matt Martin, who had agreed to produce her new album. This project was for her the accumulation of three years of work and the debut of a sound that felt like her own. She wanted to release it right away, but then Father asked her to sign on with Awful. She hesitated for a little while and then agreed. “That’s a big decision, being signed,” she says, “but I don’t regret anything.”
During the first few months of 2017 she’s been able to play live, until her album’s release. She and Ethereal write together, and her band has learned his songs. “It’s nice to just do something different now and then, something I don’t have control over,” she says. “My fans, they don’t listen to rap or whatever, so when I go out and play with Ethereal, they’re like, ‘What was that?’”
Webster is also featured in the music video for Ethereal’s “Rollin’,” released by Awful in late March. The camera moves through dark tunnels, scans pixelated surveillance video and shows Ethereal in his wheelchair in an empty lot. “I’m gonna keep on rolling/I’m gonna keep it moving,” Ethereal raps like it’s a mantra. Then two minutes in, Webster appears on a couch wearing her glasses. “I’m gonna keep it real/I’m gonna keep it true,” she sings, her voice adding a sweetness to the song’s heavy mood.
At the end of April, she heads out on tour with a different kind of artist, Sean Rowe, an old-school singer-songwriter whom Webster calls “as folk as it gets.” Awful’s promoters arranged the gig for her. “How did Awful get me this tour?” she laughs.
“I think I’ve found a good spot for myself,” she adds, “because I can do a little bit of everything.”
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