Charlie Faye’s music is colored with images of New York and the Brill Building in the early 1960s. Yet, the Big Apple doesn’t feel like a warm and fuzzy place to the retro singer who now calls Austin her home.
“I grew up in New York, right above the East Village near Union Square,” says Faye, whose album Charlie Faye & the Fayettes was released to critical acclaim in June. “I was one of those rare New Yorkers who didn’t love living in New York. I was always itching to get out of town and be somewhere with trees and grass and animals. I suppose that sense of being out of place and longing for something else probably did contribute to who I was as an artist.”
Without the move to Austin, there would have been no linkup with Fayettes BettySoo and Akina Adderley. The three would fit right in with the Ronettes and other ’60s girl groups, but they take the music further with some Southern funk and power pop.
“I met BettySoo soon after I moved to Austin, and we’ve been close friends ever since,” Faye says. “We’ve toured together and sung in each other’s bands for years. So, when I told her about my idea to do a ’60s girl group kind of thing, she was on board immediately. Then, as word started getting around about the project, Akina reached out to me and said, ‘If you ever need another Fayette …’ BettySoo and I had heard great things about Akina, but we hadn’t sung with her. So we invited her over to try it out, and it was a perfect fit. Pure magic.”
The three women also have a lot in common, Faye says.
“We’re all grownups, all professionals. We communicate well, we’re understanding of each other and we all try to bring our best to the table every time. I think we have pretty high standards. Oh, and we’re all the same height.”
Faye says the vibe of the Charlie Faye & the Fayettes album started to take shape as she wrote songs for it.
“I realized that a lot of the songs I was writing had this ’60s soul-pop feel to them. So, at a certain point, I made a conscious decision to do a whole album in that vein.”
Carole King and Gerry Goffin were one of several pairs of prolific Brill Building songwriters, and Faye cities King as her biggest influence.
“She was my favorite artist when I was a kid. I had Tapestry in my Walkman nonstop, and I knew — and still know — every word of that album by heart. From listening to Carole, I learned a lot about songwriting and that a singer-songwriter could also be a writer of pop music. Carole King wrote for the Shirelles, the Cookies, and other big pop groups of the day. I think that showed me that, in reality, pop music wasn’t that different from the whole singer-songwriter genre.”
Faye says that a Carole King concert at New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall was the most influential concert she ever attended.
“My parents took me to see her at Radio City Music Hall when I was a kid — sometime in the late ’80s. She was absolutely my idol. I was obsessed, and I wanted to be just like her.”
Faye has a few other favorite singers.
“I could listen to Otis Redding all day long. On the newer side, I’ve been really enjoying Chris Isaak and David Mead.”
Redding injected Memphis-based soul into Faye’s life, and she got an unforgettable dose of Motown soul last year at a Stevie Wonder concert at the University of Texas’s Erwin Center in Austin.
“That might be the best show I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Faye says. “Stevie is a force of nature, a shining positive energy and an undeniable singer and musician. His whole band was amazing, and that room was just brimming with good vibes.”