Friday, July 30, 2010

Interview Transcript: Charlie Faye

Life on the road wasn't all that for Austin, Texas-based musician Charlie Faye.
The Americana singer/songwriter was weary of the road life, living out of a suitcase in one hotel to the next, barely getting a chance to settle into her surroundings before it was time to shove off for the next gig.
So Faye borrowed an idea from John Steinbeck — tour the entire country and get to know the people and places a little more intimately.
Faye is in the midst of her “Travels With Charlie” tour, a 10-month project where she takes up residence in a different town for each month of the tour.
So far, she has stayed in Tuscon, Ari., Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., Bolder, Colo. and Burlington, Vermont.
She will visit Salinas this week to participate in the 30th annual Steinbeck Festival, Aug 5-8 at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.
Faye talked with “The Beat” about her tour, life on the road and Steinbeck's influence on her work. Below is a transcript.

Q: Where are you at right now?
A: I'm in Burlington, Vermont this month.

Q: When did you touch down there?
A: I got here I think the 30th. My first gig was on the 1st, and I just got here the night before the first gig. I've been here almost a full month now, and I got really attached to it, not really wanting to leave. But that happens when you stay somewhere for a month. That's just the right amount of time to get attached and not want to leave.

Q: Can you run through, real quick, the cities you've been to each month, starting in January.
A: January I was in Tucson, Arizona. February I was in L.A. March I was in Portland, Ore. April I was in Bolder, Colo. May I was in Shreveport, La. And June I took the month off and I went and visited my two original homes of New York and Austin. And then for July, I've been in Burlington. And by the time I get out to California, I'll be living in Milwaukee.

Q: How much longer are you going to be in Burlington?
A: I just have a few more days in Burlington, and then I start driving to Milwaukee.

Q You're driving to each town?
A: I'm driving everywhere, But I won't be driving out to Salinas. I did drive through there once before. It was on my way from my month in L.A. to my month in Portland. I looked at a map and said ‘I'm going to be passing so close to Salinas, maybe I should stop in.’ So I decided to stop in at the Steinbeck Center, and called as I was on my way into town and see if I could get in touch with anybody, and I did. They gave me a tour of the whole place, which was amazing. And then we started talking about me coming to the festival.

Q: Tell me about the Steinbeck influence on the tour and some impressions on the writer himself and whatever impact he's had on your life, work, art, or anything in general?
A: I wanted to do this tour differently, because I feel like the ways most musicians tour, you never really get to see anything or know anyone. And if you talk to any touring musician, we've traveled all throughout the country, and we couldn't give you a real impression of anywhere, because we got there, we played the gig, then we left for the next place.
I had read “Travels with Charley,” and I was already thinking along the lines of how I would like to spend some more time in each place that I go to. and maybe the whole month in each of a few different cities and take time to really get to know the places and some of the people who live there, and get to know this country. instead of just kind of skimming the surface. When I read “Travels with Charley,” Steinbeck was on the same mission. He'd been writing about this country for so long, he felt like he had lost touch with what it was really about.
And the music that I'm making, if you wanted to put it in a genre, you would put it in the Americana genre. Theres' a genre of music called Americana, it's so clearly comes from American roots music, and it has everything to do with living and existing in this country. But still, so many of the people who write this music haven't really experienced this country. So I really wanted to get to do that, and it has been an experience already.

Q: Tell me about mapping out the tour and the towns where you were going to take up residency. Logistically, it seems like it's an incredible undertaking.
A: It is an undertaking...
I think I had the idea for the tour about six months before the tour started. I came up with the idea, and I was looking at a map and said ‘If I'm going to start in January, I'm going to go west first.” I knew I wanted to start by going west.
About two months ahead of time is when I'll try to book the residency, book the gig and the place. I'll have a specific city I want to go to in mind, but sometimes it doesn't work out. Sometimes the venues are booked, it isn't possible to get a residency, or a better situation comes up. So I'm kind of open to whatever comes to me as a positive situation.
That first month, January, I was looking at Santa Fe at first, and then started considering Tucson when I realized there was a venue in Tucson that was really cool. I started seeing there was a great music community there, so I started booking a residency in Tucson at The Club Congress.
They just totally got it. The whole concept of staying for a month and building something. And they were really supportive of me and wanted me to come there, so I ended up coming to Tuscon.
The two months before I move to the city is when I usually do the booking. And then the month before, I start feeling out where I am going to live.
In Tucson, I had e-mailed this woman who owns a yoga studio, and told her that I was curious about the classes there, and I was going to be taking classes while I 'm there. She said “Oh, that's too bad, I'm going to be out town studying yoga in India. ” And I was like “Do you need somebody to sublet your place.” So that's how I ended up finding my place there.
And in L.A., I was subletting with a guy who plays with Iron Maiden, who was out of town doing a recording project for the month.
I ended up with all kinds of housing situations, and it was really cool. Part of experiencing the place is living in a real house somewhere. A lot of the time when you travel, staying in a hotel or whatever, you don't get a real feel for what is it really like to live there.
I wanted to include some smaller towns and some bigger cities on the tour. Tuscon and Boulder kind of being on the smaller end, and Burlington as well. And L.A., Portland definitely on the bigger end. I really wanted to cover it all.
I only have 10 months, and I keep thinking “Oh man, I really should have gone to Alaska! I really should have gone here and there, and I needed more time in the Midwest.”
But I'm spending 10 months exploring the country in depth and integrating myself into 10 different music communities. I feel like it's a pretty amazing experience already.

Q: How have you gone about forming a band in each town?
A: Usually, I'll ask the musicians I already know, friends from Austin and New York, and I say “Does anybody know anybody in Burlington?” Then I may get an e-mail from one person or five people saying “Yeah, I know this one guy, he's not really a musician, he works on guitars, maybe you want to get in touch with him.” It's like following a trail of bread crumbs.
So I'll send that guy an e-mail, “I'm going to be in Burlington, this is what I'm doing, this tour, I want to get involved with the music scene, and I'm putting together a band and who might be a good person to play with?” And then they'll lead me to another person, and eventually I'll find somebody who makes sense for me to work with, even if it's not necessarily someone in the really of what I normally do. I'll fine someone who I can work with, a guitar or a fiddle player, and I'll take from there. See who that person knows, and I'll start going to the little music events around town.
There's this thing in Burlington, every Tuesday night at this bar called “Radio Bean.” There's this honky tonk, and just going to that honky tonk, I've met so many great musicians who are just open to playing and wanting to play and make music, and that, just going to that every week and getting involved with those people, brought me into the musical thing too.
So eventually, I get the players together, and I like to build it throughout the month, since I have a residency in each city, usually a weekly gig. I So the first week, usually I'll play solo. And the second week, I'll add a guitar player. And the third week, I'll add bass and drums. And by the fourth week, I'll invite everyone I've met up on stage and play a show.

Q: What have the resulting relationships been like after getting those bands together and soaking yourself in each music scene? What have been the experiences that stick out for you?
A: I think for a lot of musicians, that's how friendships are forged, through music. And being in the position I am, traveling alone for a year, these bands have been kind of like my little families, my little gang each place I go. That's my solid thing.
And then, I stay in touch with those people after I leave for the month, and I know that if I got back to Tucson, I have those friends and those band members to hang out with and play with. Now I have that and by the end of the year, I'll have those little families in 10 places.

Q: Can you give me a mini-assessment of the music scenes that stick out to you? Or were there any towns or scenes that you were surprised by how thriving it was?
A: Tucson surprised me the most. I didn't know what to expect going to Tucson. It's a great music town. Calexico is there. Wave Blast Studios is where Neko Case records all of her records. And there's a great, thriving music scene there. All kinds of music.
Part of it is that Tucson's still very affordable. I lived in Austin, and from what I hear about Austin in the '70s, I missed it. I wish I could have been in Austin in the '70s, when it was fat, and everybody was hanging out and making music and living cheap. That's what it's like in Tucson now. Tucson is the closest I'll ever get to seeing what Austin was like 30 years ago. It's still small enough and it's yet to be discovered by bookers and hipsters.

Q: Tell me about the musicians that you worked with out there in Tuscon.
A: When I was in Tucson, my band was Winston Watson on drums. He used to play with Bob Dylan for a while. He's an incredible drummer. He lives in Tucson now.
Sergio Mendoza, who co-produced the recording I made that month, he was playing bass with me. He also plays keys with Calexico, and he has the young up-and-coming band in Tucson, Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta. They always win all the Tucson band awards. They're really incredible and they're making their first record now.
And then, there's a few different guitar players, one was Gene Ruley, who I loved, and another was Courtney Robins, who has her own band, Seashell Radio.

No comments: