Faye Webster breaks the mold

Awful Records first folk act wields awkward control

Balladry, 19 years old, with a syrupy voice. On the surface, Faye Webster appears to simply be another little lady with a big guitar, yet the Atlanta singer-songwriter is breaking this mold by influencing her musical philosophy with something a little different: hip-hop. As the first folk artist signed to Awful Records, rapper Father's independent label currently ruling Atlanta's underground hip-hop scene, Webster specializes in the abnormal.

"She just looked so comfortable and yet so awkward at the same time," Matt Arnett, Webster's mentor and owner of Atlanta's intimate listening room Grocery On Home, says of the first time he saw the then 14-year-old perform.

Barely substantial enough to hold her "big ass" bodied guitar, with the majority of her face hidden behind bangs and glasses, the juxtaposition of Webster's petite frame and arresting sound jarred Arnett to his senses at an Eddie's Attic open mic. night.

"When she started singing, there was both a power, and a control and a frailty in her voice that was magical," Arnett says. "And every time since then that I've seen Faye play, I've had that same sense of discovery. Those are rare qualities for artists in general, but certainly for somebody so young."

Though admittedly amateur to begin with, Webster started writing music around the age of 15, when her guitar lessons gradually morphed into songwriting lessons. However, the decision to professionally pursue music didn't come to fruition until Webster graduated from high school. Trying her hand at academia, she set out to study music at Nashville's Belmont University, yet exited as a graphic design student by the end of her first year. Uninspired and homesick, she returned home to her musical roots in Atlanta.

"Nashville definitely shaped my perspective the most, only because it was my first time living anywhere else," Webster says. "I mean, Atlanta shaped my music, just overall, but I think going to Nashville and being very uncomfortable for a whole year changed my writing."

This persistent discomfort shows through in Webster's self-titled sophomore release, most of which was written during her Nashville stint. Faye Webster tackles mature themes of isolation and vulnerability, exhibited on tracks like "Alone Again," as Webster poignantly croons, "My mind's empty as the room I'm sleeping in; I covered my windows now my plants are dead, so they know how I feel alone, again."

The 10-track album highlights Webster's ability to craft profound statements through the use of minimal lyrics. Such skillful brevity is scarce among young songwriters, but unconventionality is the norm for Webster.

A label which describes its aesthetic as "running the gamut from woozy psychedelic trap to synthy romantic R&B; to trunk-rattling Southern bounce" seems an unlikely fit for a twangy storyteller, but it's here where Webster settled in to record the follow-up to her self-released album Run and Tell (2013). Joining the ranks of a roster boasting artists like cloud rapper Ethereal and powerhouse Lord Narf, Webster was quickly adopted into the Awful Records family, ultimately revolutionizing her sound by exposing her to hip-hop collaborations.

"It has also affected the music that inspires me now," Webster says, "because a lot of rap inspires me too. Lyrically, I think that some rappers are geniuses."

As a genre centered around blunt storytelling, Webster's time spent with Awful has shifted her songwriting focus to lyrics. Fortified by a newfound fondness for electric guitar, as showcased in opener "She Won't Go Away," Faye Webster arrives as a coming-of-age project. The album catalogs the augmentation of a naive 16-year-old to a weathered artist ruminating on expired relationships, in tracks such as "Remember When" and "Say It Now." With "It Doesn't Work Like That," she laments the trading of a beloved Braves pitcher. Though the exact methods remain hidden in her subconscious, Webster strives to differentiate herself from the cliche of a young girl with a guitar. "I'm not sure how," Webster says. "I definitely try to avoid it though. I like to think of myself as more than just a folk artist."