BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians first burst onto the music scene with their breakthrough hit “What I Am” 30 years ago, but had only released three studio albums prior to last week. Their latest, the lively and infectious “Rocket,” their first since 2006, dropped last Friday just ahead of their show at The Fillmore on Monday, October 22nd. If the internet can be trusted, it will be the bands first performance in San Francisco since 1990.
Brickell was kind enough to spend some time with us on Wednesday to talk about the album, recording again with the band she loves, and life.
How does it feel to be back on the road with the New Bohemians ?
It’s so much fun. They’re like family. It’s fun to be around them. We have our own funny way of communicating on and off the stage and it’s very comfortable.
I assume this current tour will just compromise material from your collaborations with New Bohemians as opposed to your solo work or anything from the Gadabouts ?
Just New Bohemians. We have enough music in those guys. We enjoy playing what they’ve created. It’s got their spirit in it and I think that’s what we set out to do, to honor the band.
When you were doing occasional solo dates, aside from your collaborations with Steve ( Brickell has also released a pair of studio albums and a live album with Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers ) did you have any reluctance to play material from the New Bohemians ?
Never. I love it. No reluctance at all. I wouldn’t mind playing some of my solo stuff but it doesn’t really make sense because we have such great material together. I tried to play with them every chance I got. When Kenny (New Bohemians guitarist and frequent songwriting partner Kenny Withrow) came up to the New York area he would stay a few days and we would jam and always try to get something going.
Sometimes the band came to see me in Montauk and they’d stay out there for a couple weeks and we made a little demo disc that we just adored. We’ve always been working but it was just too hard. I was not going to leave my family to go pursue that, and they needed regular work. Lucky for me they were available so we could plug back into this sound and this band and they didn’t get too carried away in some other effort.
It’s been 30 Years since you first broke through with “What I Am” from “Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars,” how would you say that you’ve evolved as an artist ?
I was 18 and 19 when those songs were written, so if you can look back at anything you wrote when you were 18 or 19 and say “Oh heck ya, that’s me,” you know what I mean ? At the time you’re so excited by it, and then later you don’t want to cringe at yourself but you just have different sensibilities, and to try to define them even now, I’m sure in five years I might look back on something on this record and think ”Really ?” It’s just a matter of changing perspectives all the time. Hopefully a deepening of a sense of love for life and love for other people as opposed to it going the other way.
Your new album “Rocket” has a great flow from beginning to end with 13 playful and highly enjoyable songs. I’m sensing that you might be closing the Grammy gap on someone you’ve been known to spend time with (Brickell has been married to sixteen time Grammy winner Paul Simon since 1992).
I would be surprised if our record got any notice. I’m happy if it brings any type of enjoyment to anybody.
The opening track “What Makes You Happy” is so highly infectious with a great groove. After listening to the new album just a couple times it was stuck in my head the whole weekend. Do songs like that just come naturally, or do you still have to deal with record company pressures to write hit singles ?
That came out of the blue. I did this experiment with myself a few years back called “Song of the Day.” (Starting in April of 2012, Brickell decided to write and record a short song into her iPhone and post it on her website every day for at least a year.) I wanted to use this new technology of a website that was new to me. I thought I’ll record a song every day. My son showed me the voice notes on an iPhone and said “Mom, this is going to be your new best friend.” Because he knew I was always making up songs. I loved the sound that you get, the way it records, the sound you get from an iPhone demo. So I worked with a musical idea every day.
“What Makes You Happy” was one of those. I went out in the yard with my mom and my friend and I made them sing it with me. You can hear my mom laughing at the end. When we were recording “Rocket” our producer Kyle Crusham, who I think is an absolute genius, really recorded the band in a way that brought our spirit to life on tape. He said “we need something we can dance to, we need something with a little boogie in it.” That wasn’t really coming naturally to the band in the studio, so I played him my song of the day and he said “that’s it, let’s go for it.”
Kyle with his forethought and imagination had a Moog synthesizer in the control room and our bassist Brad (Houser) started to play on that and I started singing on a microphone and it just came to life and we recorded it immediately. We needed a bridge, and luckily with the work I’d done on “song of the day” I got skilled enough to write on the piano. I went over to the piano and the bridge flowed right out, just like magic. It was just a gift. The energy of that song is very fresh and alive because of its spontaneous nature with which it flowed that day in the studio. I believe, especially with our band, if you can catch the song in a day or two when it’s written, or first or second take, the energy is palpable. I think that’s what brings records their joy.
It’s been 12 years since your last album with New Bohemians. When did you first start collaborating with the band on the new album, and how long was the process of completing the 13 songs that you released ?
Here’s the funny thing. I was all set to release a solo record that I made with Charlie Sexton in 2012. It had been sitting on the back-burner while all that was happening with Steve Martin. The record I made with Charlie wasn’t mixed yet, and Steve started sending me his banjo tunes and then that just took off. Within six months Steve had a producer and we recorded that record and it was out. It was a really fun process working with Steve, and when the musical was finished I returned and revisited the Charlie record.
We got a record deal with Verve and that was a couple months from being released and Kenny asked me if I’d come play a benefit down in Texas in 2016. I said “Yeah, you bet.” I flew down there and in rehearsals with New Bohemians we started jamming and all these new songs came together. I had a brand new song that I wanted to slide onto my solo record and Charlie was on tour with Dylan, so I asked Charlie if he wouldn’t mind if I recorded it with Kyle Crusham, who was our engineer on that record, and he said “do it, Kyle will be ready.” So I asked Kenny Withrow from New Bohemians if he would play the guitar solo on my independent song “I Don’t Need A Man.”
When I saw Kenny in the studio with Kyle, I realized Kyle would be the perfect producer for New Bohemians because Kenny was so at ease. He had never really been very comfortable in the recording studio before. There was always a sense of I love to play with New Bohemians but a frustration when it came to making records because it was never really a fun process. While we got the music across on those records, the feel of the spirit I felt was never captured and I thought maybe that was something that was always going to elude us. I asked Kyle if he would be interested in a week long experimentation to produce New Bohemians to see if what I was seeing happening between him and Kenny could happen with the whole band and he said yes.
So I went back down to Austin for a week that summer. We all recorded with Kyle and he was the magic missing piece. He captured the energy and joy of our band. This is really the most exciting record. Then I went back to Verve after listening to my solo record, and listening to the Bohemians record, and I was so attracted to the energy of the New Bohemians record that I asked them if they would swap the deal and put out the New Bohemians record. They had fallen in love with the solo record and those songs and were encouraging me to put those out, but those were so old in my ears that they didn’t have the energy for me anymore. They were very supportive, which was astonishing to me to have that kind of support from a record company.
I not sure how much you mix it up from show to show, but is there any chance that “Superhero” might be finding it’s way into your setlist at some point ? It’s another song that has such a great tempo and showcases your beautiful vocals.
That song makes us happy. That’ll be there. We just had some technical difficulties these past two shows. We left the acoustic guitar stand in Texas.
“Singing in the Shower,” true story or just a catchy song ?
Heck ya. It’s a true story.
Who were some of your biggest musical influences and inspirations when you got started, and same question here in 2018 ?
When I got started I had just discovered Bob Marley. When I was a kid it was my mom’s records. Aretha Franklin. And Otis Redding and Tammy Wynette. BB King. The high school influences were The Police. I was crazy for “Message in a Bottle.” And XTC. When I was raising my kids I discovered Bjork. I thought she was the greatest thing that I heard. That record “Post” is just astonishingly brilliant. I think “Hyper-Ballad” is one of my All-Time favorite songs.
What are your kids listening to and has any of their music provided any inspiration to you ?
My kids are really musical people. They introduce me to a lot. My son likes Kanye. He introduced me to a singer named Jeremiah. They love D’Angelo, Frank Ocean. My daughter introduced me to Charlie XCX.
Tell me about the dog on the cover of “Rocket” ? Is the cover art and and photo with the band a tribute to your pup ? It takes me back to “Ghost of a Dog” and the cover of your self-titled solo album.
We do love dogs. Love and loyalty. I think the cosmic dog on the cover of “Rocket” represents love, loyalty and a cosmic connection to our band. There’s a true magnetism and infinite flexibility in music and inspiration that’s always there for us.
What was it like being on the stage at Madison Square Garden and Flushing Meadows a few weeks ago with Handsome Paul on the final nights of his Farewell Tour ? (The credits on the new album include “With Loving Thanks to Handsome Paul.” Simon just turned 77.)
It was both very electric and very intimate all at the same time. Just looking over and seeing his beautiful smile. And feeling the energy of the crowd and all that love for him. It was very pleasing. I was very happy for him. And very proud of him. And grateful to his audience for recognizing how special he is. Getting to actually feel that, it’s a rare feeling. Caught in the current of love for your husband (laughter). And the heaven’s were working in concert with his performance that night. There was a giant moon floating right behind him.
Thanks for your time Edie. And thanks for continuing to provide such great music.
Tickets for the Edie Brickell & New Bohemians show at The Fillmore on Monday September 22nd are available at: https://www1.ticketmaster.com/event/1C005526C3DDD364?f_PPL=true&ab=efeat5787v1