Americana Highways caught up with Charlie Faye of Charlie Faye & the Fayettes the other day, and had a nice chat about their upcoming album, The Whole Shebang, due to be released Feb 8th.
AH: Your album is called the The Whole Shebang, how did you choose that title?
CF: It’s a fun title of one of the songs, and it’s really descriptive of the whole album. This album IS “the whole shebang”!
AH: Your music clearly connects back to an earlier era; what is your ‘ideal’ time and place, historically?
CF: Summer in the Catskills in the ‘60s! When I was a kid I was obsessed with the movie Dirty Dancing. It takes place in the Catskills; I believe Baby says “it was the summer of 1963.” And it’s interesting because I’ve been watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel now, and we’re at a point in the show that shows her with her family in the Catskills — in 1959. I love that show too!
In that era, Jewish families from New York would go up to these resorts in the Catskills and have these family summer vacations. There’s something so idyllic and innocent about that time and place.
And at the same time, so much of my favorite music came out of that era too. You see a lot of that in Dirty Dancing!
AH: In 2010, you did a performance road trip, the “Travels With Charlie” tour, where you would go from city to city performing for a month in each place, for ten months. Was this another exploration of places?
CF: Yes, it really was. On that tour, I lived in a new town each month, and put together a band of local musicians and then I wrote and recorded a new song in each place. The first stop was Tucson, where I recorded with a couple of guys from Calexico, at Wavelab. The next month I was in LA, then Portland, Boulder, Shreveport, Burlington, Milwaukee, Nashville, Asheville, and New York! I met and played with great musicians in every city.
Touring musicians so often just pass through places only getting to stay one night somewhere. Traveling that way, you really only get a surface impression of a place and you don’t really get a chance to get to know it and understand the culture and the style there. But in doing this tour I really did get that chance, I spent a full month getting to know each of these ten cities.
AH: On The Whole Shebang, your song “You Gotta Give It Up” has such unique energy, with a mix of ‘60s surf guitar and some Elvis Costello rhythmic style, which is so catchy and fun; and yet there are these almost sly vocal lyrics with deadpan delivery: “we’ve got to wake up/ we’ve got to get wise /we’ve got to speak up / we’ve got to organize.” Tell us more about this duality between lighthearted music and perhaps sometimes serious messaging.
CF: Well, I feel like we do need to do all the things we sing about in that chorus… All of those messages are era-appropriate to the 60’s and timely again now. I’ve always had some social themes running through the songs that I write, but I am not interested in hitting people over the head with the way I talk about them. I want the music to feel fun and draw people in, and then remind them of what’s important.
On our last record we had a song called “Eastside” which was basically about the gentrification of the Eastside — but I never said the word “gentrification” — I just wrote about the way I see what’s happening there.
I want to make music that makes people feel good, but I think you can do that and still talk about things that are still important and relevant. That includes both political things and more personal topics, too.
AH: There is the same sort of style in other songs acknowledging the complexity of personal relationships. On the one hand you have direct love songs like “1-2-3-4” but then on the album cover BettySoo’s hand is out, as if to say ‘stop.’ And you have songs like “I Don’t Need No Baby” and “That’s What New Love is For,” with a little more of a wry twist about the downsides of relationships.
CF: And the reality is both sides of that are real. There are times in life when you do feel like love is sweet and simple and welcome, and other times when it’s not something you’re interested in at all.
AH: To what extent is music performative, for you?
CF: When you come to see us live, it’s a real show. You’re going to get more than you would get just listening to the album, because you are there seeing us live in person. We dance, we move, we dress up, and we put on a show for you. There’s so much we can do to entertain the audience, and that’s our goal.
AH: On your album, there’s a range of song styles, for example on “Night People” there are a lot of instruments, strings, horns etc.
CF: That is influenced by more of that ‘70s soul; a little bit of Marvin Gaye, and little bit of Al Green. It’s that kind of sexy, 70’s soul vibe.
AH: This album is extending from the 60’s into some of the 70s styles?
CF: For sure.
AH: Bill Kirchen plays on the song “Stone Cold Fox.” What was it like working with him?
CF: Oh, he’s the best. I’ve known Bill for a long time, and he brings such a great energy to everything he does. It was super fun having him in the studio playing guitar. He killed it.
AH: What was it like working with everyone else on the album?
CF: Eric Holden produced the album, and he really gives everything 150%. He’s a high-level session musician, and you can see that in the way he works. He’s not going to let something go at “good enough,” it has to be great. So he’ll really take the time to get every single song to where it should be. I think it’s important to collaborate when it comes to making records. I like to work with someone; I like to have someone to bounce things off of and someone to introduce new perspectives and ideas into the mix. For example, sometimes I would think something was finished, and Eric would say, no, this needs more work. Other times I would think we should do a twentieth vocal take, and Eric would say, “No, this is good.” It’s great to have someone to work with on that level.
Marcus Watkins has been our guitar player in LA for a few years now, and I was really excited to have him on this record with us. This record is so much more guitar based than the last one just because Marcus played so many incredible things we wanted to feature them! He has such a great vibe and a great sense of what the songs need.
Pete Thomas played on this record, but he also played on our debut record; he’s my favorite drummer in the world. He such a joy to work with. He knows that ‘60s soul and pop stuff so well that he has this inherent understanding of what I’m going for, and that’s really nice.
When Chris Joyner came into the studio it was the first time I’d met him, but he came highly recommended; Eric and Marcus had both worked with him before and he was fantastic. He also brought so much to the record.
And of course BettySoo and Akina Adderley are amazing! They did so much of the vocal arranging for the record, and they even coached me through some of my vocal sessions!
AH: What’s coming up for you next?
CF: We’ve got a big record release show at the Continental Club in Austin on Feb 8th. And of course I’m already thinking about the next record!