When faced with the bleak prospect of a grueling tour in support of her 2009 album, Wilson St., Austin, Texas, singer-songwriter Charlie Faye had an idea. Instead of 100 shows in 200 days, why not experiment? How about 10 one-month residencies in 10 towns across America?
The goal was to replace the cold anonymity of the road with meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging. She managed to turn that crazy idea into reality, and in the first residency in Tuscon, Ariz., she decided to push her premise a step further: Form 10 bands — one in each stop on the tour — record 10 songs and make an album. It was an ambitious goal, and the result of that experiment is her latest album, Travels With Charlie, an album with tracks as stylistically different as the towns in which they were recorded.
Faye’s tour took her to Tuscon, Ariz.; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Vashon Island, Wash.; Shreveport, La.; Nashville, Tenn.; Milwaukee; Asheville, N.C.; New York; Burlington, Vt. and Boulder.
For Faye, each song conjures up memories of the towns she stayed in and the musicians she corralled into the studio, often at the very last minute. The uptempo, poppy track “Obvious to Me,” recorded in Milwaukee, is miles away from the horn-laden country tune “Broken-Heart Maker,” recorded in Tuscon. The slow honky-tonk shuffle “Two-timer” reminds Faye of the Nashville musicians whose experience gave the song an authentic, old-timey country sound.
“Those guys know how to play that stuff,” Faye says. “Other people can fake it, but it’s really in there.”
The way she’s touring to support Travels With Charlie — slyly named after John Steinbeck’s travelogue, Travels With Charley: In Search of America — is far more conventional than how she recorded the album. She has only three months to visit the towns she lived in for 10 months, but now that she has roots in so many places, she sees the tour stops as homecomings.
Living somewhere for a month is just enough time to start developing meaningful connections, Faye says, and one of the more challenging parts of the tour was saying goodbye at the end of each month. She’s no longer afraid of moving someplace new, she says. “I never thought of myself as a super outgoing or super social person, but, being on the road by yourself, you get to the point where after you’ve gone a couple days without really talking to anybody, you’ll talk to anybody,” Faye says. “We are social animals. We need to interact, so when you don’t have the comfort of your friends who you’ve known for years, or your boyfriend or girlfriend who you can stay home with every night, you will go out and meet people and talk to people, because you need that to survive.”
Faye spent April 2010 in Boulder, living in an apartment downtown and playing shows at the Laughing Goat and the No-Name Bar on the Hill. She worked part-time for Two Moms in the Raw and hung out with former members of Navarro, a popular local band in the ’70s that ended up as the backing band for one of Faye’s musical heroes, Carole King.
The recording session for the Boulder song, “Shadow To Eclipse,” didn’t happen until the last day Faye was in Boulder. Former Navarro drummer Michael Wooten now makes his living as a truck driver, meaning that he is out of town more often than not, and he was only available to record during a short a.m. window before Faye had to hit the road for her next destination. Wooten was able to make it to Coupe Studios on hardly any sleep, and he joined fellow Navarro alum Rob Galloway (bass), as well as and Jeb Bows (fiddle), Todd Ayers (guitar) and Deb Rosencrantz (accordion).
“I had to get on the road early in the afternoon, so we scheduled the session for early [morning], and Michael was coming in. He had been driving the truck the night before,” Faye says. “He got in at 4 in the morning and got up at 9 to come into the studio. So it was like the one time everybody could convene for this recording session. I think it turned out really cool.”
Faye’s brand of Texas-shaded Americana has always been hard to categorize, and the singer admits that she has never really felt comfortable giving her music labels. But she knows what genre Travels With Charlie falls under.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what Americana music is,” Faye says. “People define all sorts of stuff as Americana. But what I did on this tour, I went all over America and recorded music with the roots-based musicians in each city. And if that’s not Americana, I don’t know what is.”
Correction: The print version of this article incorrectly identified the former members of Navarro. The online version has been changed to correct this. Boulder Weekly regrets the error.