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Edie Brickell

interview by Tom Lanham
published in The Sunday Chronicle, San Francisco (U.S.)


Edie Brickell & Steve Martin from WXPN.com

Edie Brickell & Steve Martin
from WXPN.com

“Why are people alive? Just to work, work, work and be miserable? If you're not making yourself happy, what's the point of being alive?”

-- Edie Brickell

Pop newcomer Edie Brickell, 23, was retracing the steps that led to her recent skyrocketing success. Although the Dallas native has sold almost 2 million copies of her debut album, Shooting Rubber Bands At The Stars, and—thanks to her laid-back Texas slant on song writing—also has become an in-demand charmer on the concert circuit, the singer swears she used to feel life was hopeless.

In fact, Brickell was busy "not liking myself very much" in a tiny Dallas bar four years ago when fate intervened. After a shot of whisky, the normally shy and quiet girl suddenly found herself on stage, singing impromptu lyrics with the house band, New Bohemians. Living her wildest fantasy, she said, "made me decide to go for something that was completely out of the ordinary."

"I was waiting tables and going to art school and, frankly, I just didn't want to be bored anymore," Brickell explained by phone. Shortly after her accidental debut, she convinced New Bohemians to try her out as their full-time front woman. Now there are no more boring days for Edie, as these days the young pop singer/ songwriter is on a roll. "One of the year's brightest new song writing talents," the New York Times wrote about Brickell's album and radio smash, What I Am. The unabashed simplicity of such lyrics as, "I'm not aware of too many things/ I know what I know, if you know what I mean" and "Choke me in the shallow water/ Before I get too deep" caught the rock world off guard, as did the artist's wispy-beat poetic vocals, sometimes reminiscent of Rickie Lee Jones.

But Brickell is a different breed of rock star, one who instinctively resists the trappings of fame. Her appearance—long, wavy brown hair, old jeans, loose-fitting tops and not much makeup—doesn't vary from street to stage. In concert, she appears awkward, crossing her legs and leaning shyly into the microphone like a grade-school kid giving her first class presentation. "That locks me into a position so I can just concentrate on singing and not have to wiggle around," Brickell chirped with a slight Texas twang. "But I can't see myself one way or the other," she said, nervously trying to describe her winning persona. She reckons the answer lies deep in her childhood, when she hung out in bowling alleys with her pro-bowler dad or listened to obscure soul music with her mom, Larry.

Larry? "They just had the name picked out, she was born, and there she was," her daughter shrugged. The smoke-filled lanes ("Dad's work") she recalls as a jumble of impressions: "bubble gum machines, pinball, total noise pollution and French fries on the floor everywhere."

At an early age she began to retreat into herself, becoming the "shy kid" at her school. "I guess I was just scared of being a real person instead of someone who sits back and checks everybody out." Now Brickell follows the motto, "The more you talk, the more you experience," but still clams up on several questions pertaining to her career. Her writing, however, brings her out of her shell. "I didn't know much about it," she flatly admitted over one song's subject, art-world bohemian Edie Sedgwick. "I just picked up the book about her, skimmed through it, and put down the impressions I got."

Brickell really gets heated up in her defense of the self-deprecating "What I Am," a sing-song ditty that's already inspiring spoof versions. "I don't like a bombardment of information, that doesn't mean I'm not aware of an adequate number of things. I think everybody tries to impress others to some degree. That's why I included the line 'Choke me...,' because I do it, too, and I want to remain who I am without overreaching."

"I guess everybody is just out to feel comfortable with themselves," she reasoned, thinking back to her first eye-opening night with New Bohemians. Her initial question to the group was, "Do you want to be a party band or do you want to get serious?" A period of self-booking followed, as well as a period of self-doubt, when band members switched and Brickell was given top billing by their label, Geffen Records.

But it was the group's tight jazz/folk fusion that had lured Geffen's A&R whiz Tom Zultaut (Guns N' Roses, Enya) to Dallas one night, contract in hand. Soon, Shooting Rubber Bands At The Stars, Brickell's personal view of how the band came together, was creeping into Billboard's Top 20, as well as giving its author a new sense of herself. But, "I'm still shy sometimes," she revealed. What gets her most flustered is the bevy of fan mail she's been receiving, many letters written by shy, young listeners who identify with Brickell's characters. "I'm so flattered," she said. "They like what I'm doing and they actually took the time out to tell me."

This brings Brickell back to her own "incredibly lucky break" and, of course, how she behaved before it all. "After the many records I've listened to," she said, glad to have support, "I never took the time to write."

  

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