Edith Frost collects novelty records. Some of them are weird, like her set of music that’s badly sung, purposefully or not. She keeps playlists of songs that contain an extraordinary amount of laughing. She also has one for tunes purportedly sung by ventriloquist dummies.
The Texas native and current Chicago denizen also has a beefy bag of jazz, old-timey, rockabilly and rock, but that’s just not as fun.
Her quirky-ass record collection gives important context to Frost’s quirky-ass music, a compelling mix of earnest lyrical quantity and bouncy musical playfulness complemented graciously by her smooth vocal delivery — an easy comparison is pre-major Liz Phair.
Frost’s latest record, It’s a Game, departs from the overall bent of her previous material, more weighted in experimentation. Here she leans toward a traditional songwriting approach, and her charming Southern wistfulness lends immediate gratification to the songs.
She took some time a couple weeks ago, on the eve of her departure for a U.S. tour that leads into a performance at All Tomorrow’s Parties, a European tour and some dates opening for the legendary Silver Jews, to chat with LEO.
LEO: OK, let’s talk about songs. Love songs, in particular. Or songs about love, maybe not love songs particularly. There seem to be pretty limited variations to that theme, but it’s a constant in a lot of music, including yours. Are you conscious of that?
EF: It tends to be easier for me to write about, not love so much, but just relationships in general. Not even necessarily my exact experience, but that’s stuff that’s easy for me to chew on in my head. It’s just easier for me to write about that stuff than making up some story that has details and plots and things. I really like sad, old love songs and sad, old heartbreak-y kind of music. It’s a form I’m really, really familiar with.
LEO: If you had to name your favorite sad, old love song of all time, what would it be?
EF: (Hesitates 10 seconds)
LEO: Am I putting you on the spot?
EF: Yeah, kinda. I have so many. There’s this song called “Bread and Gravy” by Ethel Waters. It’s an old-timey, really lush, slow; it’s more talking about how she’s got everything she needs including a man, and she’s so — but that’s not too sad.
LEO: We’ll pick it up later.
LEO: So this record sounds a little barer than the others.
EF: Wonder, Wonder came out really lush sounding — we had 12 people playing (live). We rehearsed the hell out of it. We were able to do most of the basic tracks live. So that came out really thick, and it was really beautiful. We also had to pay a lot of people for that. We were thinking, “You know what? Let’s pare it down this time.” Every one’s a reaction to the one that came before in a way, even though it’s not that crass.
LEO: One of the things I really like is the dynamic between the delicacy and playfulness of the songs musically, and how that sort of betrays the lyrical content. Would you agree with that?
EF: I like to just bring together (musicians in the studio) and let them do what they’re good at. It comes out really fresh-sounding. This record we didn’t rehearse. I gave the tapes out — all these people had heard the demos. But beyond that — they’re all just fucking really good players. We just went in and did it, and after a take or two it was done. That’s where you hear the playfulness and freshness of it, which I just really love to do.
LEO: So what about that sad love song?
EF: I can’t pick yet.
LEO: Maybe you can tell me when you’re here. I’ll ask you at the show.
EF: Do you know “Smoke Rings” by Les Paul and Mary Ford? That’s a great one. I don’t know if that’s a love song, though.
LEO: I’ll leave you alone about it.
EF: Yeah, get off my back! (laughs) It’s OK.
The Pine Club is breaking up. So is Reading. Why? Simple: People are moving away. Brad White, Pine Club’s drummer, is moving to the Cleveland area with Lisa Wilson, Reading’s keyboard player, also a woman of whom he is fond in a relationship sorta way. They’re both Debauchery Records bands, and they’re playing a joint last show Friday at the Rud. With your $5 door charge you’ll also get a very limited Pine Club EP called Last Frame. This is the only time it will be publicly available. (Check the band’s Web site for a tidbit sure to warm the heart of consumers. It’s www.thepineclub.net).