An interview by Jordan Weeks that appeared in the Pittsburgh City Paper in the issue of September 19-26, 2001…
Speaking on the phone with singer and songwriter Edith Frost is a life-affirming experience. Her voice has an infectious, inherent enthusiasm, an irrepressible energy, and her conversation is punctuated with both quiet little asides to herself and deep, rapid bursts of laughter that betray a joy, a literal giddiness, about her work.
"I’ve lived in a lot of places," Frost says from her current Chicago residence. "Well, not more than I can count on my fingers, but still a lot. I grew up in Texas, and I spent part of my childhood in Mexico — Guadalajara — then I was back in Austin, San Antonio, and Austin again. …I moved to New York after college for a while, for, like, seven years."
Since her auspicious musical beginnings, Frost has explored a variety of musical styles in a variety of groups, including the Holler Sisters (with whom she covered Carter Family tunes), the Western-ized Marfa Lights, and Edith & Her Roadhouse Romeos, a bare-knuckles rockabilly outfit that Edith says really kept her voice in shape.
On her third (and just-released) full-length album, Wonder Wonder (Drag City), Frost’s voice is most definitely in shape. And, as with her earlier releases — 1997′s Calling Over Time and 1998′s Telescopic (both on Drag City) — she covers quite a bit of stylistic and tonal ground. From slow-core Americana ("Honey Please"), quick-strolling country ("Further"), and swingy player-piano-colored numbers ("Easy To Love," "The Fear") to wide-open torch songs ("True"), Elephant 6-ish horn and woodwind arrangements ("Wonder Wonder"), and bare folk-country ("Hear My Heart"), each song is bouyed by Frost’s direct, graceful voice and warm melodic sense, and delivered with Patsy Cline-like aplomb.
"It’s pretty smooth, considering how many people were involved, and how crazy it could have been," Frost says of the album, which, at times, featured upward of 10 people recording simultaneously. Wonder was recorded with Steve Albini in his Electrical studio in Chicago, a process that, Frost enthuses, "was a gas… because I had all these people around me, and I was in a big circle — and I felt like a real mini-rock-orchestra leader. It was really neat."
Wonder Wonder also marks a return of sorts to a more immediate, candid tone, especially where vocals are concerned. "The first record was really, in-your-face, really intimate," says Frost. "On Telescopic, they let me go crazy with the vocals, and add all these layers. [So] I wanted to do one [album] that was more, you know, back toward the intimacy in the vocals. And I did have a lot of overlapping, a lot of action in the vocals on this record, but I still think it’s more… up front."
And what about the songwriting and selection process for her albums? "I don’t plan in advance," says Frost. "If I have a song, I’m happy that I have a song, period, whether it falls into the category I need it to or not. For every album we just go through and pick, like, 25, and then narrow it down to 15 that we really, really wanna do for this record, or whatever. But the sound, the feel of the record doesn’t really emerge until it’s recorded, and it’s ’cause there’s all that room to let new things happen in the studio, which is wonderful."
But, Edith says, just because a song doesn’t make it onto an album immediately, that doesn’t mean it won’t pop up later. "There [are] always sleepers… songs that it’s like, ‘Damn — I still haven’t recorded that!’ You know? And I think it’s good. And [Wonder producer] Rian Murphy has his favorites, ’cause he has everything I’ve ever done — he’s like the keeper of the tapes — and he’s always like, ‘You gotta do that one!’ And I’m like, ‘No! Eww! Gross!’"
Edith Frost and Boxstep play at 8 p.m. Wed., Sept. 26, at Millvale Industrial Theater, Millvale. 412-422-8864.