An interview by Steffie Nelson (with photos by Braden King) that appeared in the December 1998 issue of Raygun magazine…
The Ice Queen Melteth
With a hand from Royal Trux, Edith Frost comes in colors
Edith Frost is boy crazy. And she makes no attempt to hide it. "Oh my god!" she groans over the phone from Chicago. "It’s bad! It’s so awful! I’m soooo on the prowl! I’m desperate!" Check out her online diary (edithfrost.com) and the recent entry which stands out most is the one that reads, "Wow, a whole day without getting a crush on somebody."
Ah, love — or lust — is a many-splendored thing. "It’s the main thing I think about," Edith readily admits. "It’s the main currency in my life . . . That’s what’s in my head. I sometimes get sick of myself; I wish I could talk about brainier topics." But it just wouldn’t be the same if Edith were to entwine her airy, high lonesome croon around, for example, a political debate. Like Patsy Cline, a singer with whom she is often compared, Edith turns every song into a love song.
Contrary to what you might expect for a Texas gal, young Edith grew up with Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Ella Fitzgerald, and later, new wave and punk rock. Country music was "just not the cool thing to be into. I had to get over being from Texas. Once I moved to New York and people thought it was cool that I was from Texas then I started playing that up, I’m sure." She also relinquished a blue mohawk that had grown so long she could sit on it1, Crystal Gayle-style (an impressive fashion statement that came with its own set of problems, like getting her lovely locks slammed in car doors or having it flop onto her guitar strings and mute them while she was playing). It currently falls around her shoulders.
Living in Brooklyn in the early ’90s, Edith began to perform and collect country music, and at one point was in three bands simultaneously: a country swing band, a rockabilly band, and a duo called the Holler Sisters in which she played guitar and her partner played ukelele and accordion. Those groups have all since disbanded but Edith still plays old country songs when she practices. "It’s a good way to exercise my pipes," she says. "Old rockabilly stuff really works your voice. Blows the snot out, ya know?" Eventually she began playing her own songs out at open mikes. "I was always really shy about the stuff I was doing… but I was thinking, ‘Well, I am writing tunes and I like ‘em, but I can’t really peg ‘em. They’re not rock, they’re not folk, they’re not really country enough to be country.’" After a friend turned her on to the Palace Brothers and other Drag City bands about whom you could say the same thing, Edith decided to send the label a demo cassette. "I felt like I would regret it if I never even tried," she recalls. She included a letter that was "more like a fan letter to the Palace Brothers" and nine months later she got a phone call. Edith Frost’s self-titled debut EP came out in 1996 on Drag City. And they still have that letter on file. "They keep threatening to show it to me," she laughs.
Calling Over Time, Edith’s 1997 LP, was recorded with David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke of Gastr del Sol as well as Drag City’s Rian Murphy. The songs are like lullabies for an ice princess, at once soothing and chilling. Agrees Edith, "They were playing so gently around me, and it came out really creepy sounding. It was very sparse, so there was a lot of room for the ghosts to speak, I guess."
Her new album, Telescopic, is much warmer and earthier. Edith relays, "Rian Murphy said something like, Calling Over Time is in different shades of blue and this one is in all colors." Produced by "Adam & Eve" (a.k.a. Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux) the record is almost psychedelic in its layers and unexpected playful elements. "It’s so full of life," enthuses Edith. "It’s got all these textures and curlicues all over it. It’s amazing."
Although it remains something of a mystery how this odd collaboration actually came about ("It’s really impossible to understand [Neil's] motivations for doing anything," muses Edith, adding, "Obviously it was not going to sound like the Trux.") it was immediately apparent that Hagerty had a vision which Edith was more than happy to defer to.2 When she showed up to record at "Adam & Eve’s" personal Garden of Eden in rural Virginia, she was shown pages of notes on every song. "I was like, ‘Oh my god, he’s all over this shit!’ I think he just heard something in there that he could do something with and he wanted to try it. I’m just really glad he did."
Wasting no time on the premise, Telescopic‘s very opening song, "Walk On The Fire," is dense and loopy, featuring cello and bowed upright bass in addition to a variety of synths, guitars and muffled oom-pah drums. In such a setting three drawled words like "damn this jealousy" become monumental. And "Bluish Bells," a tune written via some backwards-tape listening, "Twin Peaks"-like experiment which has essentially no meaning ("I wish I could play the demo for you, where you could hear like ‘waaaa,’ –that’s how I wrote those words"), sounds straight from the heart.
"The Very Earth" is Telescopic‘s sweetest, most shining moment. With its dreamy steel guitar coos and angelic call-and-response vocals ("got to learn to forgive you (for bein’ so cold)") it conjures up a girl group shuffling across a dust bowl.
A slew of talented musicians contributed to Telescopic, including Edith’s ex-, bassist Ryan Hembrey ("What am I gonna do? He’s the best bass player I’ve ever played with!"), cellist Amy Domingues from Tsunami, violinist Jean Cook, as well as Murphy and an uncredited Hagerty. Yet Edith, who has no problem saying she’s "not that great a guitarist" still got her moment of rock’n'roll glory in the song "My Capture."
"It’s the last instrumental break in the tune," she giggles, "there’s this wretched guitar solo, and that’s me. They put me on a Marshall stack, it was really awesome….I was just practicing and [engineer Christian Quick] was recording it the whole time. So we decided to let Neil hear it and he was like, ‘Yeahhhh.’ It made me feel good, like even my own sorry little solo can make it on a record." She drops into a girlie, spoiled-brat voice. "’Cause it’s my record."
Notes from Edith:
1 Actually the mohawk I had was pretty short, that was around ’88 when I still lived in Texas. I didn’t start growing my hair long until years later… it was at its longest point in the spring or summer of ’97 when I cut off about three feet of it. …uh, I mean ten inches… I’m always exaggerating!!
2 Well, it’s never exactly that easy for me to "defer" to anyone. Neil had a lot of arrangement ideas and some were a little hard for me to accept at first. But I ended up really digging everything we’d created.