Something Else! Interview: Singer-songwriter Edie Brickell

Most famous for her breakout late-1980s hit “What I Am” with the New Bohemians, Edie Brickell always had an uneasy relationship with fame — and eventually she would leave music behind entirely.

The New Bohemians issued a 1990 follow up, then split. By the mid-1990s, Brickell was out of the business and in the midst of raising a brood that would grow to include three kids. In stepped Steve Gadd, a legendary drummer who boasted past associations with Eric Clapton, Steely Dan and Paul Simon — the last of whom just happens to be Brickell’s husband of 20 years. She got together with Gadd briefly before reuniting in the mid-2000s with the New Bohemians. Not until 2010 did the musical partnership with Gadd coalesce into the current edition of Gaddabouts, which also includes guitarist Andy Fairweather Low and bassist Pino Palladino.

They’ve just released a terrific double-album of new original material called Look Out Now!, hard on the heels of 2011′s self-titled debut. Such is the creative spark that there are already plans to return to the studio yet again in early 2013.

Seems as if Brickell has finally found her musical home. She talks about the Gaddabouts, and her time with the New Bohemians in this new SER Sitdown …

NICK DERISO: What was it like in that whirlwind of attention initially surrounding the New Bohemians? You went from being knock-around Dallas bar band trying to make it to appearing on SNL and David Letterman, almost overnight.
EDIE BRICKELL: The funny thing about it was, I had these dreams as a younger girl. When you are young, you have the naive idea that having a big hit will change your life. All your problems will go away and everyone will live happily ever after. I looked at it like that; I believed it. I thought: “I will take care of my mother and my grandmother.” They struggled for so long trying to raise their kids by themselves. I thought: “I’m going to do this.” And that was my main goal. I used the one gift that I felt I had, that I was able to sing and people seemed to like it. But I made the mistake of putting that goal first over writing. I didn’t have the sense that music should come first.

NICK DERISO: How do you mean?
EDIE BRICKELL: I wrote without a sense of conscience, that it would always be out there — that you could make something of real quality. It was really about fame and fortune for my family. I made stuff up and thought: “This is good and I like it,” but I wasn’t focusing on being a real professional. You are just young, and all through school all I was thinking about was how I am going to change my family’s life — and that was first. Once I achieved that, then I really looked at the music, and I thought: “This could be better.” I looked at the way we were marketed and I thought: “This is not the way I am” — which was ironic, because that was our song. (Laughs.) I started thinking: “Now, my mom is taken care of, and now it’s time to start thinking about myself — about making something true.” Slowly but surely, I started getting there.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Do-anything drummer Steve Gadd talks about his newest project, the roots-rocking all-star Gaddabouts, as well as his life-long interest in jazz.]

NICK DERISO: In that way, it’s easy for me to understand why you called a halt to everything, made a family and just took it easy for a while. There must have been a real need to take stock.
EDIE BRICKELL: There really was. Thanks for understanding. You’re the first person to say that. I had done it, and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. It felt a little too crazy all at once. I thought: “I gotta get out of here. I gotta leave this.” But then, while I was raising my kids, I realized how much I loved music, how much I loved making music. I wanted to get back to making music — but also to figure out a way to avoid that first thing that happened. I wanted to have some sort of awareness about the music I was making, without it getting too crazy. Luckily, that’s when Steve Gadd come along, and he says: “What are you doing? You ought to be making records again.” He’s sort of my knight in shining armor. I told him, “Look, things got so strange.” He said: “Nothing has to be like that. You can just make music. Get together with people that you like, and record.” He just makes it all seem so easy and laid back — and, with him, it is.

NICK DERISO: There’s a cool sense of in-the-moment looseness about this Gaddabouts project. It does remind me, in a way, of the earliest days of the New Bohemians — before the record label got involved. It seems like you have always been comfortable in that kind of informal, jam-based atmosphere.
EDIE BRICKELL: It’s what I love the best, because I think it’s really important to be authentic and in the present moment, as much as you can. When you are improvising and playing music, it gives you that — and it’s the huge gift of music: It makes everything else go away. Your past, your hangups, your fears, your painful desires. You’re just right there, in a wave of music, and it releases you from everything. If you in turn release yourself back into that, then you can just be amazed at what comes out. That stream of consciousness, of joyful or sad expressions, whatever it is, it’s just so real. From that mysterious place, in our consciousness, there is some things you might not even be focused on that are running through your system, and they touch your heart and soul. Music helps you to express them.

NICK DERISO: This is your second album with the Gaddabouts. What was different this time around? Do you get the sense that it’s evolving?
EDIE BRICKELL: Yes, indeed. And that’s something that we were all conscious of, that we all felt. You can hear a real group dynamic, which is something I’ve always adored. I want to be a part of something that’s really special, and not just have people focus on what I do. That aspect of music, it just kind of embarrasses me. I experienced it once already, and I was not comfortable that way. But at the same time, I don’t want to give up on music. So, being a part of a group with musicians who are so much better than me (laughs uproariously), it makes me feel more relaxed. They are shining even brighter. The dynamic is really cool.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: The Gaddabouts are more than the sum of their parts, maybe because 'Look Out Now!' is not so much about meeting some expectation, but rather about a shared sense of fun.]

NICK DERISO: You mentioned Steve Gadd’s role in your return to music. He seems to have the same calming effect on every sessions he plays, doing only what’s needed, always right in the pocket. It’s easy to see, I bet, why he’s such an in-demand sideman.
EDIE BRICKELL: There’s nobody like him. You can work with people who have amazing skill, but they are not always fun to work with. He just has it all.

NICK DERISO: Did the tragic death of the New Bohemians keyboardist Carter Albrecht some five years ago essentially put an end to future projects for the band?
EDIE BRICKELL: He offered the sparkle of promise that brought that band to a whole new level. He was excellent, sort of a special bridge for us all. He understood where they were coming from, and were I was coming from. Carter was the glue for everybody. He just helped us all, brought that sense of professionalism. I think we needed that. I liked playing with those guys; it was like going back to family. The New Bos were really good guys. They had that thing where they really loved music. In some ways, they had a clearer vision: They were happy just playing the club scene. I had an ambition to be somebody, and take care of my mom. I always felt like the real world was outside of Dallas. Of course, eventually you realize that it’s all an illusion. I’ve had the privilege since of looking at life.

NICK DERISO: Endings have a way of becoming the beginnings of something else, though, right? All of sudden, you’re in a new band.
EDIE BRICKELL: I had put Steve on the back burner. I first recorded with him in 2000, and I thought: “I can’t just leave my Bohemian guys and do this.” We still had a bunch of songs still that we hadn’t recorded. It was almost that thing of loyalty, like with family. I just wanted to be a part of things and have them workout. But when Carter died, maybe it was just a sign. Maybe it’s time to keep growing.

Click here to purchase …

Look Out NowUltimate CollectionThe GaddaboutsEdie Brickell

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.