Austin’s Charlie Faye & The Fayettes are truly the whole shebang
Blending the pop-soul sounds of the 60s with the independence and exploration of the 70s, the trio — made up of lead singer Charlie Faye and the Fayettes, BettySoo and Akina Adderley — infused their latest record, The Whole Shebang, with iconic, retro-pop harmonies, catchy melodies, and just enough groove and attitude to dance the night away.
“I’m still influenced by 60s girl groups, but this time around, other elements came into play, too,” Faye says. “I wanted us to start venturing a little more into the early 70s, as so many of the great girl groups did.”
As the group prepares for their upcoming record premiere, Faye caught up with Rock and Roll Globe to talk heart, soul, and making magic with music.
Can you share a bit of the band’s story? What made the three of you decide to come together and form Charlie Faye and the Fayettes?
Sure! I had been doing more of a solo, singer-songwriter, Americana thing, and I found myself writing songs that were more like 60s soul and pop, and going “I don’t know if this really fits with what I’m doing. Maybe I’m starting to do something else,” so I kinda decided that I would do a project that was more soul and pop influenced songs. At the same time, I was getting kind of tired of being a solo artist, and I had the idea to do a modern day 60s girl group.
BettySoo has been one of my best friends for over a decade now, so she was one of the first people I told about the idea. We’ve always sung in each other’s bands and backed each other up, so she was immediately on board, and was like “Alright, I’m gonna be a Fayette.” Then we started making the record. I was doing the basic tracking for the first record out in LA with the guys — Pete Thomas, Eric Holden, Dave Way — and I put a video up on Facebook from the studio, from the basic tracking sessions, and Akina saw the video.
We were Facebook friends, and we kinda knew each other from the Austin music scene, but we didn’t really know each other. She saw the video and wrote me a message and said, “This project seems really cool, and if you ever need another Fayette, let me know.” So I wrote her back and was like, “In fact, we do!” We invited her over one day to sing with us, and she and Betty just locked in perfectly together. Also, amazingly, we’re also all the same height, which is really short, so it was just perfect in more ways than one. Both of the girls are just amazing to work with. I couldn’t ask for anyone better to be in a band with.
How did your experience as solo artists prepare you for working together as band?
Well, I think since all of us have been front people, and all of us have been side people, we understand both sides of that coin. I think that’s such an asset. It makes things easier for everyone, because I know things like, first of all, they both have their own projects, so when I’m scheduling, I check in with them, because they have their own things going on. I don’t expect them to just be available. We’ll all work around each other’s schedules, and we have an understanding of what it’s like to be an artist.
Also I just make sure to treat my band members the way I want to be treated when I’m a side person, which means like giving them all the information about the gig and paying people on time, stuff like that.
Your sound is so incredibly cool and obviously rooted in that iconic 60s girl group sound. Which groups inspired you the most?
I don’t know that there’s a simple answer. It’s not like we set out to be like the Ronnettes or the Shirelles, or any particular girl group. I think when I came up with the idea to do this kind of project, I had been writing songs in that style because I was listening to the Stax catalogue a ton. It wasn’t even about like a girl group, really; it was just about 60s soul and pop, and me being so deep into that kind of music.
How do you capture that iconic sound and translate it into something that’s sonically unique and modern?
That is a good question! Writing songs in that style is not hard for me; it comes really naturally, because I’ve listened to so much of that music, but what is hard for me is getting comfortable with more modern sounds, because, again, the stuff that I really love to listen to is old. So that’s where working with a producer really comes in handy.
Working with Eric Holden for this record, he was very patient with me, knowing that I might have a negative reaction at first to a more modern sound being added into the record. He would tell me to just take some time with it, you know? Like a synth sound that I might initially be taken aback by because it doesn’t fit into my palette of what I think that 60s sound is, I might listen to it for a few weeks, and then get comfortable with it, and be like, “Actually, this is really cool. It brings something new to that kind of song.” But that has been a challenge for me for sure.
What’s the creative process like?
I write some by myself, and I also co-write. I think after the first record, I had a good idea what I was going for, song-wise, and what I wanted to bring to this next record. A lot of the time, a song will start for me from an idea or a concept, so I’ll be carrying around a concept for a song, like, “I really want to write a song that tells you it’s gonna be okay, even when things are like crazy in the world, it’s gonna be okay.” Because I take comfort in songs that tell me it’s gonna be okay, and I feel like we all could use a little more of that.
So I’ll be carrying around a concept like that for a while, and then maybe I’ll come up with a melody that fits with a line from that concept, or I’ll get together with a co-writer, like Bill DeMain in Nashville, and say, “I have this concept for a song,” and then he’ll play a little tune and I’ll go, “Yeah, we could say that in this spot!” But yeah, usually, it starts from an idea, and then moves forward with like lyrics and music from there.
What’s been the hardest moment for you as a group, and the moment that you’re proudest of?
I think the hardest moments are usually in the studio. It can feel really high pressure, when there’s limited time and money, and you have to figure out what works for each song and get it right pretty quickly.
Our proudest moments are probably when we’re all on stage together, putting on a great show. I remember one particular show we did in LA, when Concord was thinking of signing us, and there were all these label people at the show. I remember getting off stage and saying, “Well, we all just slayed that show. We gave it everything we had, so if they decide they’re not interested, it’s not because we weren’t great.” I felt really proud of myself and the whole band, it was a great feeling. They didn’t sign us though!
You guys are based in one of the coolest musical cities in the country. How has Austin and its music scene inspired and influenced you as a group?
Being a musician in Austin is amazing. I think Austin is the best place to live as a musician, because you’re surrounded by great music. Interestingly, something that has both a positive and negative side is there’s not a lot of industry in Austin. What’s hard about that is a lot of great Austin artists never make it out of Austin, because there’s not that industry here to help them do that. On the positive side, it means the kind of musicians who are attracted to living in Austin are people who are really all about the music, and not primarily about making it. I think people who are more about success than art probably wouldn’t live in Austin, and it create a really amazing sort of music community here, where everyone is really truly supportive of each other.
The city itself has some amazing organizations that support Austin musicians, like the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. They subsidize healthcare for Austin musicians. There’s also an organization called SIMS that provides mental health services — so counseling and addiction services — at very low costs for Austin musicians. It’s amazing.
Austin has a lot of that; there’s an organization called Austin Music Foundation that provides free music business education for Austin musicians. You can tell from all of these things that Austin is a city that really fosters its music community. We’re not just SXSW and ACL. Those things are great for Austin and bring the industry to Austin, but I think what’s really more important is like those day to day support systems that Austin has in place for its musicians, and the real community vibe, where everybody supports each other.
Is there a difference in the creative scene, or your creativity, based on whether you’re working in Austin, LA, or Nashville?
I mean, that’s tough, because I’m choosing the people I’m working with in each place. The people I’m working with are my favorite people in each place. So yeah, not really.
What’s next for Charlie Faye and the Fayettes?
We do have the record coming out February 8th, and we’ll be doing some dates to support the release. Then, I actually just signed a deal with Rough Trade, a publishing deal, so I’m planning on just doing a lot of writing this year. So writing like for Rough Trade, and also starting to write the next record. It feels good. It feels overwhelming and awesome.