Edie Brickell

Edie Brickell
There’s a long time between albums and then there’s a really long time. For Edie Brickell, she hasn’t recorded an album with the New Bohemians since 1990’s Ghost of a Dog. In the intervening 17 years, she’s put out two solo albums, married Paul Simon (whom she met on Saturday Night Live), and had kids. Now she’s back with Stranger Things, a confident and fun album that reunites her with the New Bohemians and has her touring again, including three July dates in Canada. Read on to find out her connection with Exclaim!, her crush on Bob Wiseman and her lack of love for record companies.

How are you?
I’m good, thanks. How are you?

I’m good. It’s hot and muggy but I’m in an air-conditioned place so its okay.
I love hot and muggy. I lived in Connecticut too long and I’m originally from Texas so I’ve been playing the perspective game for years and years and years.

I guess the first question is how did the whole gang get back together? Was it a conscious decision or did it just happen?
We’d always play together every time I’d go back to Texas to visit. Before my kids started school I went back to Texas every three months and to escape the winter I could hang out down there for about a month because, like I said, I wasn’t really used to this 30 degree and below weather. I would just hang out and eat Mexican food and play with the babies in the yard and then go and jam. Through the course of the years we’d collected these songs and we’d try to record them ourselves and we did sell a record on the internet ourselves featuring a few of the songs because we like these songs a lot. Then we met Bryce Goggin [producer]. We weren’t going to do it again unless we did it our way: simply and without any pressure. Because there was so much pressure in the beginning that it nearly tore us apart. We remembered how much fun it was to jam so we always just got together and played. But it wasn’t until I met Bryce Goggin in Brooklyn that it dawned on me that it was time for us to make another record our way. Bryce understands a band like the New Bohemians and he’s a really laid-back guy and his soundboard is in the same room as the musicians and it was just a big funky mess of room that reminded me of the garages and all the funky houses that we played in and stayed in down in Texas. So, it was very comfortable and it wasn’t some slick studio with some record company’s producer at our backs. It was basically just having fun like we always have. We really made the record we always wanted to make. It’s live, basically, and, you know, some overdubs, but that’s a really live feel. There’s a joyful energy to it that I think we didn’t necessarily capture before.

Have these songs been fermenting over this time or were they figured out when you got back together with them?
We’d always played. They never really had time to sit because we’d always play. We’d jam and write more and to add to a big body of songs and when it came time to make the record we just picked our favourites through the years. So, they didn’t really get old and we would play them live. We’d book little gigs down in Texas but then we’d play our old clubs where we got started, so, nothing was old, nothing was rusty, it was just a matter of picking up and we had the luxury of time obviously.

Is this a reconnection back to the late ‘80s, early ‘90s when you got started with the New Bohemians?
It’s a reconnection only in the sense that Brandon [Aly], our original drummer, is touring with us or is doing all this with us, so that’s really fun. Because when we got involved with the record company later, Brandon slipped in and out of the scene and Matt Chamberlain, who was also our friend, went on tour with us, so that always felt a little funny. One friend in, one friend out. And we missed Brandon so much because he’s just a great guy and he adds a lot texture and beats, like on "Oh My Soul.” That’s so Brandon, you know. He’s just such an original, fun guy. We wanted everything to sort of come full circle as we played in the clubs with Brandon and we wrote all those songs with Brandon but when we went on tour Brandon wasn’t with us. It was Matt, who, like I said, was our friend because we knew him from another band in Dallas. And then when I went back to Dallas after I’d already moved out to New York and started to have a family, we got together and started to play with Brandon again. I suppose it is a reconnection in that sense, but it’s a connection that never really went away because we always would get together and jam at every opportunity. In fact, they would come up to New York a couple of years in a row just so we could all play. We wanted to do it our way and be very gentle with ourselves, without pressure. Because that pressure, in the beginning, to live up to record company’s expectation was overwhelming and now it was what we wanted to do.

Has that freedom been gained with the time between albums?
Yeah, definitely. Because time gives you perspective. But, we just got together quietly and did what we wanted to do and there’s a funny bonding that happens when you jam with somebody because there’s a lot of goofiness and goofy laughter. You do things that you wouldn’t do in normal company. You know, you go into some heavy metal jam or some goofy country jam and you’re all just laughing. It’s how musicians play on a playground. It’s really fun and then to take that into a public arena, well, it’s funny because you have your connections, like your private jokes, and you have to go out and be a band that everybody expects you to be and you know who you really are.

This album’s seems more muscular, or more louder and rockier than the last ones. Is this where the songs went when jamming it out or was it a decision?
That’s the way the band has always been and it’s with the nudging of record company’s production to take that eclectic sensibility or rock-ier sensibility and mould it into a poppier format. That made sense for them and this makes sense for us. Basically, it was our goal to show another side of the band that we knew that we loved. Whether anybody else did or not…[laughs].

In that sense, is this a kind of a reclaiming of the identity of Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians?
Yeah, it is. That’s very well put.

What’s the difference between working with the New Bohemians and doing the solo stuff like your last album, Volcano? Is it just as fun or an entirely different beast?
It’s really different because, for Volcano, people looked to me to see am I happy, satisfied, does it sound good? I’m not used to that. I’ve always worked with the New Bohemians and they’re loudmouths with their opinions [laughs]. I’m just sitting there and if something hits me the really wrong way I’ll say "Nah” but for the most part I feel like people know what it is they want to express and you should respect what that is and join up. You plug in where you need to plug in and you do your part and they do their part and you have a really cool sound. Unless they’re doing something that’s been grating on your nerves, you leave it because they know their instrument best and they know their part. When I was a soloist, people would play something for me and look at me and say, "Was that all right? Is that what you wanted?” and I wasn’t really accustomed to that. I would always say "Yeah, that sounds great.” When they look to me for direction, when the song is right there, I always think, "Well, the song speaks for itself.” You play what you feel based on the song, the framework, the body. Being a producer, in that sense, was hard for me and a little bit uncomfortable because, as I said, I’m used to everybody knowing exactly what they wanted to play. And doing it.

I have a trivia question for you.
Okay.

Do you remember the last time you played in Toronto?
Yeah, I do. I remember the club and being there but I don’t remember the exact date. Why do you ask?

It was in March 1992, I believe, at the Opera House.
Oh, that. No, no. I played again for the Volcano tour. Ha, ha, ha.

Well, you played in 1992 at the Opera House…
Bob Wiseman.

With Bob Wiseman at the launch of a magazine called Exclaim!, which is the magazine I’m doing this interview for.
How funny is that? That was a really fun night. I played with Bob and Don Kerr. I’m crazy about Bob Wiseman. I had a super-crush on Bob Wiseman. Way back in the day. It was, alas, not reciprocated. [laughs]

You were in Toronto at the time, weren’t you? Working with Bob Wiseman?
Yeah. Before I was married. We met on the Blue Rodeo tour and I just thought he was absolutely adorable and I couldn’t believe what a magical musician he is and all those instruments he could play and that energy. I really did have a crush on him. I thought he was phenomenal. But not seriously, not away from the real desire of my life. As a musician, I had a major crush on him. It’s unbelievable what can do. I really respect his musicianship a lot.

Those sessions you were working on with him. What ever happened to them?
The record company didn’t like ‘em. It’s funny, I wanted to work with him but I hadn’t written very many songs and it was like hunt and peck. I guess I didn’t have enough songs or hadn’t written enough songs and my heart wasn’t really in it anymore. I was just more interested in going back home to New York to start my family and be there and be away from music and the music business and what I’d gone through with the New Bohemians and touring made me weary and embarrassed a little bit. I wasn’t just ready to keep going and I didn’t live enough to write well. And to slow down and stop because I was at a go! go! go! pace. It’s funny because musicians can keep going because they’re constantly playing but I think as a songwriter, for me anyways, it’s wise to step back and live a little bit and then write and then look at the songs you’ve written and say, "Are these good?” instead of recording every single song that you write and assuming that it’s quality [laughs], which is basically what I was doing. I look back and I think "Oh my god, that’s good but really embarrassing.” So I didn’t give myself time to grow, basically. And, another point is, that, if I’d been a guy, there’s no way there would have been any break in time recording, touring, playing with New Bohemians or anybody else. But, because I wanted to have kids very early in life, because, certainly in my family, all the women had kids really young, and my clock was just ticking. I was ready and I just wanted to have my family and settle down and enjoy kids. I love kids. And my heart was hurting that I wasn’t doing that yet. And that’s basically what happened. I feel for the [New Bohemians], though, I know if I could have told them when I was 18, when I joined the band, look, I going to want to have kids and stop doing this then maybe they would have found somebody to play with, but it didn’t work out that way. When I stopped, it kind of stopped them a little bit. They went on because they’re great musicians. They didn’t really get a fair shake and it was because my interest waned really immediately because there was too much attention and it was too embarrassing and after I met my husband that’s all I could think about. That’s a really long answer, I think. [laughs].