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Faye Webster loves the feeling of a first take: writing a song, then heading to the studio with her band to track it live the very next day. When you listen to the 23-year-old Atlanta songwriter’s poised and plainspoken albums, you can hear why: she channels emotions that are so aching, they seem to be coming into existence at that very moment. Webster captures the spark before it has a chance to fade; she inks lyrics before they have a chance to seem fleeting. Her signature sound pairs close, whisper-quiet, home-recorded vocals with the unmistakable sound of musicians together in a room.
I Know I’m Funny haha is Webster’s most realized manifestation yet of this emotional and musical alchemy. Continuing to bloom from her 2019 breakthrough and Secretly Canadian debut Atlanta Millionaires Club, Webster’s sound draws as much from the lap-steel singer-songwriter pop of the 1970s and teardrop country tunes as it does from the audacious personalities of her city’s rap and R&B community, where she first found a home on Awful Records.
In the two years since Atlanta Millionaire Club, Webster’s profile has steadily risen—as she played festivals like Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo and found her way onto none other than Barack Obama’s 2020 year-end list—and she also fell in love. “This record is coming from a less lonely place,” Webster says of I Know I’m Funny haha, which finds her sound fuller, brighter, and more confident. “When I wrote AMC, I was living by myself and on some don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-own-time type shit. But now I’m living with my partner; I’m happy most of the time. I’m in such a different place. These songs aren’t necessarily happier, but it’s a different vibe.”
The album began for Webster with the stirring ballad “In a Good Way,” as in “You make me want to cry in a good way”—an instant-classic Faye Webster one-liner. It’s beguilingly simple (as is her fantastic self-directed video), the kind of melody and arrangement that seem to have existed forever. “I didn’t know that I was capable of being happy right now,” Webster sings, and she says her own writing surprised her, too. “When I wrote that song, I was like Damn, I didn’t know I could write these kinds of songs! I feel like it set the mood for the rest of the album.” A sense of relief charges the neo-psychedelic pop of “Cheers,” where Webster experiments with an overdriven guitar tone. She also collaborated, on “Overslept,” with the Japanese artist Mei Ehara, who she calls the biggest influence on her new music.
“A Dream About a Baseball Player” is Webster’s oldest song on the record, a snapshot of her one-time teenage crush on Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.—who she actually met when she was invited to sing at a Braves game in 2019. The song is no doubt a testament to I Know I’m Funny haha’s brilliantly colloquial title. But more than humor, Webster’s music is full of personality. (This also shines through her work as an accomplished photographer of portraits and still lifes.) Many of her songs contain bits of girl-group-esque talk-singing, which color her atypical story-songs. The title track, for example, reflects on a dinner with her partner and his sisters, one of whom told her she’s funny.
“One of my favorite things about songwriting is taking thoughts that people don’t really think are worthy, or might overlook, and highlighting them,” Webster says. (She also comes alive when describing hobbies like chess and yo-yoing.) “I like saying things that everybody thinks, but nobody’s saying. Sometimes you can’t really sing them, or make them pretty. So I’ll just say it, just talk. I’ve become more purposeful with it.”
Webster started recording I Know I’m Funny haha before the coronavirus pandemic, but with the 2020 shutdowns, she had to switch up her typically spontaneous song-by-song studio approach for most of the album. She tried recording with her band for a COVID-safe two-week studio stretch, but ultimately left, recording vocals at home on Garageband: “I did the rest of the vocals in my bedroom, which is what I’ve done and what I’m used to, and what I prefer,” she says of her intimate singing style. The entirety of the album’s stunning, acoustic closer “Half of Me” was tracked by Webster alone at home. And the uncertainty of life in 2020 also seeped into some of her lyrics, as on the gorgeous “Better Distractions” (which landed on Obama’s playlist), a song about missing a loved one and wondering “What’s next?”
Accepting the challenges, Webster says she’s in a growth mindset, pushing herself to learn more, to be more vulnerable. “Growth is really important to me,” she says. “I hope people will relate to my songs, and not just be like ‘this is a good record’ but ‘this makes me feel something. This is making me think differently, this is making me question things.’ I told myself a few years ago that I was going to be more honest in my songwriting, that honesty is the best route to take with music. If I have a voice and people are listening to me, I’m not going to waste it.”