Edith Frost – Launching her lovebeams
Edith Frost has done a lot of things in life with little pause for deliberation. A couple years out of college, she moved from Austin, Texas, to New York with a boyfriend, mostly because she’d come into a small amount of money and the city sounded like fun. Six years later, she relocated again on similarly scant notice, leaving Brooklyn and a busted marriage for Chicago, where little more than a record company’s promise awaited her.
Those moves were leaps of faith, but they paid off for Frost. In New York, she realized her calling as a songwriter, singer and performer — a process that started with another chance taken, at an open-mike night that eventually grew into her first regular gig — and honed her skills in a succession of rootsy combos. In Chicago, her current locale and home for the last nine years, she’s carved a comfortable niche in the city’s vibrant music scene and crafted a career that’s now four albums old.
Much as gut instinct seems to have rewarded her, though, Frost took the opposite approach in conceiving, gestating and birthing her latest disc, It’s A Game (Drag City), which arrived more than four years after its predecessor, Wonder Wonder. For a time, Frost was bottled up by touring, then by procrastination and various distractions. “There came a point when I was like, ‘Ooh, I better start writing songs,'” she says, “but it took awhile, because if you’re under pressure to write, you can’t deliver.”
She buckled down, ultimately, with a guitar and a recorder in the small living room of her apartment. Sitting at a desk that faces not the window but rows of shelves rowdy with CDs, LPs and colorful detritus, she resurrected old songs never recorded to her satisfaction, fleshed out fragments that had lingered unfinished, and let inspiration guide her to a handful of new tunes, too. “It took about a year longer than it could have, if I’d worked harder,” Frost laughs.
In the end, though, It’s A Game doesn’t show the strain that went into it. It’s a warm and seamlessly cohesive disc; as on her previous albums, Frost’s voice is sweet, her phrasing economical, and her melodies and arrangements beguiling but just slightly off-kilter, the better to keep things interesting.
Then there are the lyrics, most of them focused on matters of the heart. Not unlike the carousel horse on the album cover, their mood swoops and dips and circles back, balancing gloomy bits (“My Lover Won’t Call”) with the blush of love (the lilting title track, with its cascading refrains and Tin Pan Alley charm: “It’s a beautiful day,” Frost coos, “for launching/your lovebeams/out into the atmosphere”).
Rendered by a roster of sensitive and nimble local rock, roots and jazz players, the songs move freely from nodding rhythms to dreamy reveries, between lo-fi pop and low-key twang. “It’s really hard for me to write in one style,” Frost says. “Sometimes it’s more effective to think of a singer — like, I’m gonna try to do a Patsy Cline song — then I’ll take that and fuck it up a little, so something’s not quite normal about it.”
In addition to collaborators Ryan Hembrey and Josh Abrams (bass), Jason Toth (drums), Emmett Kelly (guitar), Lindsay Anderson (violin) and Azita Youseffi (piano), Frost credits producer Mark Greenberg for shaping the album’s sound. Most of the basic tracks were laid down at Greenberg’s garage studio, Mayfair Recordings, and they’re full of what Frost calls Greenberg’s “toys.” Besides piano, drums and timpani, she says, Greenberg (a multi-instrumentalist with local faves the Coctails) filled the spare nooks of her songs with “little weird instruments” like omnichord (the rough equivalent of an electronic autoharp) and Japanese table harp (“it makes this really eerie sound,” Frost enthuses).
Now her challenge is to replicate those sounds on the road. She recently opened a few shows for Calexico and Iron & Wine, and plans to tour steadily through the winter and spring, a prospect she’s torn about. “It’s great, but it’s grueling,” Frost says. “I’m a homebody; I like to stay home. And because I’m not at a level where I can afford hotels every night, we’re always trying to find places to stay. Then I’m my own road manager, my own bookkeeper…it’s just about the hardest thing I have to do in my job, such as it is.”
Not that she’s complaining. As someone who started playing music relatively late in life, Frost isn’t likely to lose perspective on the fact that she’s able to make a living at it. And she certainly hasn’t shed her sense of humor. Faced with the thought of playing a run of shows in Europe after her U.S. tour, she heaves a dramatic sigh. “They’ve got to give me a week or two to recuperate,” she muses, “and to do laundry.”