She was just 14 years old when the very first issues of the Dallas Observer showed up in the lobby of her favorite movie theater. Back then, Edie Brickell was still a couple of years away from enrolling at the Booker T. Washington School for Performing and Visual Arts, where she had planned to study painting and drawing. At the time, her circle of friends was relatively small. "I was too shy to interact with people at the time, and visual art was really the best way for me to express myself," she explains.
Her teenage years were spent delivering pizza ("Gosh, what was that place at Mockingbird and Greenville around the corner from Campisi's? I can't even remember the name of it now."), working the box office at the Granada Theater (where she returned to headline a solo show last year) and waiting tables at the Dixie House in Lakewood. She erupts in laughter as she remembers that the latter proved to be the most dangerous. "I had to quit 'cause I was gettin' a big ol' butt from standin' around on break eatin' all those delicious dinner rolls."
At the time, Brickell had no idea that popular music would become her profession. She developed a distinctive style of painting at a young age; close friends would anxiously await her delicately drawn personalized birthday cards every year, and her funky sense of aesthetic would later drive the art direction for the New Bohemians album cover artwork.
By now, most have heard the story of how she downed a shot of Jack Daniel's at the old 500 Café and then climbed onstage with a bunch of schoolmates for an improvised jam session. She had never been behind a microphone, had never been onstage, never even held aspirations of being a professional musician. But there she was, in front of an outdoor patio filled with her closest friends, stepping into a storybook future that would eventually find her opening for Bob Dylan, appearing in Oliver Stone's film Born on the Fourth of July, collaborating musically with artists such as Jerry Garcia, Barry White and Dr. John and, most important, starting a family with Paul Simon.
Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians had two major label releases during the early '90s--the platinum Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars and its introspective follow-up, Ghost of a Dog. The group had a top 10 hit ("What I Am"), appeared on Saturday Night Live (where she met Simon) and toured the world before she ultimately chose spending time with her children over making music full time.
Still, she has never set her music aside for good. Her first solo album, Picture Perfect Morning, which was produced by Simon and Roy Halee, was released in 1994. Longtime New Bohemians fans were caught a little off guard by the succinct arrangements and polished sound, but the record seemed to connect with a more mature "adult contemporary" audience. Because of her commitment to her family, she didn't tour extensively to promote the album, and Geffen Records seemed at a loss on how best to promote the work. After eventually severing ties with the label, she continued writing songs and studying the guitar but chose not to solicit another major label record deal in the meantime.
In 1999, Brickell invited the original members of New Bohemians and local producer/engineer David Castell up to Montauk, Long Island, to try to recapture some of that original improvisational magic. The result was the self-released The Live Montauk Sessions, which included an early version of "Rush Around," a song that would later be the first single from her 2003 solo album Volcano. The Montauk album satisfied the loyal fans who had been with Brickell and the band since the beginning but never reached the vast audience that had embraced the first two New Bo's albums. Still, the group continued to perform on occasion, including a number of benefit shows and a handful of amazing "reunion" shows in Deep Ellum.
Amazingly, given all the twists and turns of her "accidental" career, Brickell has always maintained her humility and sharp sense of humor. Creatively, she also seems to have shifted into overdrive once again, with three different projects moving forward at once. Brickell has written and recorded a follow-up to Volcano, with Charlie Sexton producing and local musicians Carter Albrecht and David Monsey contributing. This new solo record, however, might have to wait, as she has also been writing and recording with the original members of New Bohemians once again, this time in Brooklyn with Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain producer Bryce Goggin. She sounds excited as she explains how this all came about.
"Well, first of all, I met Bryce through Paul's son Harper, who I have been collaborating with, too. Harper's great. He's got Paul's ear, you know, so he hears everything. He really understands melody and harmony and texture. And Harper introduced me to Bryce, who has worked with Phish and Pavement and a few other jam bands...and a light just went off. I just knew that after all these years, this was the guy who could really capture what the New Bohemians are all about. I really wanted to re-create that old sound that we had live during the early days. So I've been working with Bryce on both projects, this new thing with Harper and the next New Bohemians record."
The next solo record with Charlie Sexton might have to simmer on the back burner for a few more months. "I love working with Charlie, and we recorded quite a bit of stuff with the band from my last tour, but the first time we actually sat down and listened to it, it hadn't been mixed, it was kinda rough. I really like the songs, but it just hadn't really been produced. Then not too long ago Charlie went in and did some new mixes, and now it sounds great. But I'm just so excited about this stuff the New Bohemians just did with Bryce that the solo stuff might have to wait for just a little while."
Her family is still top priority, of course. Shortly after 9/11, they moved from a tense and fractured Manhattan to the Connecticut countryside, where the kids can play on a Slip-n-Slide during the summer, and everybody can make as much noise as they want. These days, Brickell is also becoming an exceptional jazz-influenced guitarist. She has been studying the piano and is reading far more than she ever had before.
It is rather hard to imagine how a shy kid from East Dallas went from delivering pizza in an old yellow pick-up truck to living a life that few of us could dream of. Even harder to imagine is how a gifted artist like Edie Brickell could do all of this without becoming a pretentious diva or a blatant parody of herself. She's still grounded, she can still pass for a 25-year-old and is so well-adjusted mentally that you have to wonder how she does it. To borrow the simple theme from her biggest hit single, what she is is what she is. --Jeff Liles