A few months ago, the musician and photographer Faye Webster shot a portrait of Atlanta’s upstart rapper-slash-Nautica creative director Lil Yachty. They had been close in middle school—sharing a best friend as perhaps only pre-teens can do—but had grown apart by the time Webster started getting serious about music in high school.
“I was like, ‘He doesn’t even know I do music,’” she recalled on the phone from her home in Atlanta. “I barely take pictures.”
She’s underselling herself: Webster signed with the Atlanta-based label and music collective Awful Records earlier this year; she counts photographer Eat Humans, Awful’s resident documentarian, among her mentors—“he taught me how to hold a camera"—and her portfolio is filled with shots of Awful’s leading ladies Abra and Lord Narf, as well as Killer Mike and Offset of Migos; not to mention that her self-titled album—her sophomore effort, but her first with Awful—will debut this Friday. Faye Webster is filled with lush bluegrass sounds, featuring plenty of slide guitar and the occasional trill of a fiddle, which Webster’s fragile voice flits through like that of a younger Natalie Prass. “She Won’t Go Away,” the first single off Faye Webster, is an irresistible jam; later, it gives way to one of the record’s most poignant songs, “Alone, Again.”
“It was hard to write, lyrically, for me—to say what I wanted to say without dodging anything,” Webster explained. But that’s precisely what she aimed to do on Faye Webster. Since her debut, 2013’s Run and Tell, Webster has focused on more complex soundscapes and more honest lyrics. On “Alone, Again,” she sings, “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 record is, in many ways, the product of her brief stint studying graphic design at Nashville’s Belmont University, though she had entered as a music student. The youngest of three, Webster grew up in Atlanta with two older brothers; her mother once played both guitar and fiddle, her oldest brother was in a high school rock band, and her grandfather, who lives in Texas, is a bluegrass guitarist. She attended public school throughout her childhood, where she first became acquainted with rap and hip-hop; she met Ethereal, her introduction to Awful Records, during her senior year of high school. Then, set on pursuing music herself, she departed for Belmont—but halfway through her freshman year, she was ready to come home.
“The music scene was so generic there, to me,” she said. “It was not diverse at all.” The pull of Atlanta’s music community tugged at her. She wrote much of the material for her upcoming record during those final months in Nashville; you can hear the longing and nostalgia in her lyrics.
When Webster returned to Atlanta, she fell back in with the Awful Records crew, and, after taking up photography at Belmont, she also began taking portraits of artists—including herself. She art-directed her album cover; she designs her posters, her merch, the look as well as the sound of her musical project. Her images, like the self-portrait she shot for W, catch their subjects in a Where’s Waldo-esque environment, clad in the same textures and colors as their backgrounds.
“The fact I strictly take portraits of musicians is because I care so much,” Webster explained. She still hasn’t entirely shaken the nervous excitement that accompanies an assignment. “My favorite musicians let me take their pictures,” she said. “That’s why I love it, because I love this person and I love doing this.”
Last year, Webster started discussing signing with Awful. Though resistant at first—she’s something of an odd duck in a group populated predominantly by rappers—she came around arlier this year. “It’s just a big group of weirdos,” she explained. “Everyone’s different.”
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