When Queen City Nerve last touched base with Faye for our 2019 Music Issue, the indie-rock trio was busy in the studio recording their debut LP. With plans to put the album out through Tiny Engines, a well-established indie record label based in the Carolinas, Faye’s future looked set in stone.
But that’s the problem with the future: Nothing is guaranteed.
In the fall of that year, Tiny Engines imploded, collapsing under the weight of allegations that management was withholding payments. New York-based artist Adult Mom filed a breach-of-contract suit against the label, which subsequently shut down.
“Tiny Engines kind of, like, fell apart, and so we were like, ‘What are we doing? What’s going on?’” recalls bassist Sarah Blumenthal, who fronts the band alongside guitarist Susan Plante.
With their drummer Thomas Berkau, the two kept at it, continuing to record their first full-length album even if they didn’t know who would put it out. They finished up in late January 2020, then shit hit the fan again.
COVID-19 clamped down on the music scene and Faye was left holding their precious project, one they took a lot of pride in but couldn’t find an outlet for.
“Everyone was just so damaged — bands, labels, venues, all of it — that everyone was just like, ‘We’re strapped, we can’t take on new projects,’” Blumenthal says.
But alas, Blumenthal had one option that hardly any bands have in their back pocket: She co-owns a label, Self Aware Records, with her husband, fellow Charlotte musician Joshua Robbins.
It was a choice she wanted to stay away from, but one that eventually became the only option.
“It’s hard to champion yourself in that capacity,” Blumenthal said of playing a double role as label head and artist. “It’s like, as the person in the band, I’m already doing everything I can to push that forward, and it’s helpful to have another outside force also pushing it forward.
“But ultimately, when it comes down to it, yeah, we can put out our own record. I guess that’s a privileged position,” she continues. “We know how to do it. It’s not like this massive weight to bear to do that. And so at the end of it, I feel good about it. I like my label.”
There’s plenty to feel good about. You’re Better, scheduled to drop on Aug. 12, features 11 tracks of the hardest and most polished rock Faye has released since coming together in 2016.
To be clear, there’s only the band’s self-titled EP from its first year in existence to compare it to, but the growth from that point to now is impressive regardless. Recorded with renowned producer Justin Pizzoferrato, You’re Better showcases a cleaned up sound that trades in distorted dreamscapes for crisp, in-your-face alt rock — more Veruca Salt than Rilo Kiley.
“The EP was honestly kind of tentative, like we weren’t sure who we were as a band or if we knew what we were doing or if we were allowed to do it,” Blumenthal explains. “So there’s a lot more steadier footing on the LP — definitely more confidence, definitely more intention.”
“These are songs that we really crafted,” Plante adds, putting it as promptly as possible.
The two regularly finish each other’s sentences, which is why it makes sense that they also share songwriting duties. While one can usually tell who wrote the song by who sings it, other patterns emerge, as well.
“There is definitely a difference in style,” Blumenthal says, speaking directly to Plante during our interview. “You use a lot more cryptic language and symbolism in there and I’m just like, ‘Pfffft, here it is.’”
Blumenthal does feel especially proud when she can sneak some figurative language into her lyrics here and there, as she does in the album’s first single, “No Vibes.”
“We’ve been on mountaintops, we crossed the ocean once…” Blumenthal sings, referencing a specific trip but also the ups and downs of relationships — “immense high points and vast distances of, like, nothing,” as she explains it.
Many of Plante’s songs address mental health in one way or another, as in the album’s second track, “Teeth,” which expresses an internal struggle with one’s ego, or “Swing State,” a minute-long panic attack of a song that is, in fact, meant to depict a panic attack. “Dream Punches” is about stress dreams.
“Are you noticing a pattern here?” Plante asks, laughing as we run down the tracklist.
There’s one source of stress, at least, that the band can put behind them now. After having to wait another year once they decided to go through Self Aware thanks to issues with supply lines, labor, and the like, the long wait for You’re Better finally comes to an end in August.
But leave it to Plante to overthink things.
“There is a little bit of nerves to it because it’s been such a long time coming that it’s like, do people still care?” Plante says, laughing as she recognizes her own anxiety pushing through. “And also, what if they’re like, ‘Well, if it’s taking them this long, it’s got to be, like, perfect.’ And it’s like, no, there were a lot of factors!”
In the end, though, this debut is worth the wait.
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