Graham Weber Bio
In the six years since moving “sight unseen” from Ohio to Austin, Texas, Graham Weber has staked his claim in the Live Music Capital of World as one of the area’s finest young singer-songwriters — not quite famous but highly respected by peers and fans “in the know” on the strength of both his live performances and three exceptional albums (2003’s Naïve Melodies, 2006’s Beggar’s Blues and 2008’s The Door to the Morning). In the summer of 2011, he joined his buddy Mike Schoenfeld’s roots-rock band So Long, Problems as a co-pilot and songwriter, with plans to hopefully enter the studio soon to record an EP together. But first and foremost on his agenda is the November release of his long-overdue fourth solo album, Women. Recorded in Austin with co-producer Britton Beisenherz, the title nods to the impressive lineup of female singers and musicians featured throughout the album. It’s a project Weber’s dreamed about for years, now finally come to fruition in what is unquestionably both is most ambitious and uncompromisingly personal album to date.
“The idea of having all the women sing on it is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, just because I’ve met and become friends with so many great female singers and artists,” Weber says. “But I never really felt like I could get all the people I wanted to do it, and also, I just didn’t think I had the right songs.”
Rounding up his dream team of female guests actually proved rather easy. The formidable cast he assembled — acclaimed singer-songwriters Carrie Rodriguez, Amanda Shires, BettySoo, Dana Falconberry, Bonnie Whitmore, Leslie Stevens and even his own wife and muse, actress/singer Michelle Keffer — speaks volumes about both the talented company Weber keeps and his standing as a true songwriter’s songwriter. (That term may get tossed around a lot these days, but Weber earned his certification when none other than Slaid Cleaves recorded one of his songs, “Oh Roberta,” on his 2006 album, Unsung.)
That said, though, coming up with just the “right songs” for Women was no walk in the park. In order to write the album, Weber first had to endure the worst year of his life.
“I’m very gun shy in calling it a ‘concept album,’” Weber says, “but it’s pretty much about my marriage and this pretty dark year we went through in 2009. It kind of starts leading up to that, and then just tells this story about a relationship.” (Spoiler alert: After nearly a year apart, Weber and his wife are happily back together and recently celebrated their eighth anniversary.) In the interest of giving a fair and balanced account of the situation (albeit with a distinct bias against himself), Weber wrote several of the songs from the female point of view — “or at least I was thinking more about that side of the argument than I had before.” That’s where the women of Women — including his wife — come in.
“A lot of the songs in the middle of the record, it’s just me singing, which makes it kind of a lonely time in terms of the story and the way I sequenced the album,” he explains. “But when there are songs about two people dealing face-to-face with some of the problems and issues that come up in the relationship, I wanted female vocals on there to make the story a little more realistic. Even when it isn’t an actual duet, where it goes back and forth, you still feel the presence of a female voice or a female being there in that moment of whatever that particular song is describing. And I think they really enrich the songs. I may play a lot of these songs solo live, but when we added the women to them, it just made them more real — to me, at least.”
That female presence isn’t the only extra something-something that sets Women apart from Weber’s previous three studio albums. Although he can certainly hold his own playing solo acoustic (as proven over countless performances at Austin’s famed Cactus Café and at venues around the country, opening for such esteemed artists as the aforementioned Cleaves, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Eliza Gilkyson, Todd Snider and Guy Clark), Weber and Beisenherz decided early on not to restrict themselves in the studio. “We both were like, ‘If we’re going to make a record, let’s make this a record,’” Weber says. “I hope people listen to it on good speakers or stereo headphones, because we put a lot of stuff on these songs — more so than I’ve ever done before. There are parts of the record where it’s still pretty sparse, but overall we really tried to give it more of lush feel and thicker sound. There’s a fair amount of strings on there, by Bonnie and Amanda, and we multi-tracked all of their parts. And there are horns here and there (by Jonathan Doyle, of Austin’s White Ghost Shivers and the Jazz Pharohs), plus a lot of baritone guitar and of course allthe harmonies and backing vocals — all stuff to kind of make it beefier. The most produced song on the record is the first one, ‘Sweet Virginia Brown,’ because I really wanted to kick off the record with something big. We were shooting for a Harry Nilsson kind of vibe, and putting the horns, organ, baritone guitar and Dana Falconberry’s vocal harmony all on there really made it feel like an old-school song.”
None of the sonic bells and whistles on Women come close to covering up the naked honesty of the album’s dozen songs, though. The confessional writing’s on the wall from the get-go, with “Sweet Virginia Brown” finding Graham (aka the male protagonist) admitting early on in the relationship that, as much as he loves the girl, he’s guaranteed “to let you down.” In the chaser, “I’m Already Lonely” (a spare, tear-in-beer country lament graced by Amanda Shires’ harmony vocal and Luke Jacobs’ lonesome pedal steel), things are already unraveling, with the woman grown weary of her ne’er-do-well man “runnin’ ’round drunk all the time” and threatening to leave, to which he retorts: “I’m already lonely, you don’t have to go.” “Settle Down” (featuring Leslie Stevens), shifts to the female point of view, with the woman on the receiving end of what’s apparently not her lover’s first call from the county jail: “You’re gonna bleed us dry again … the last time was the last one.” In “Lander, WY,” Weber daydreams about escaping to a cabin in the woods, far away from home — not to get away from his partner, but to clean his act up, shake the monkey off his back and “return a man she never knew.” Alas, he’s all talk and no action, and the cold, hard facts of the inevitable separation come to a head in “Dinah Blue” and “My Milvena Dean” (named after the last living survivor of the Titanic), in which there’s nothing for him to do but watch her float away. The first half of the album ends with the rock-bottom loneliness of “Baltimore,” which features nothing but Weber, his regrets and a lone nylon-string acoustic guitar.
“Side two” opens with “Black and White,” the devastatingly bittersweet centerpiece of the album. “It’s about a photograph of Michelle and I from not long after we got married that I found when we were split,” says Weber, who recalls his estranged wife balling her eyes out the first time she heard the song when he played it at a show opening for Guy Clark. The actual photograph is included in the album’s liner notes, and Michelle herself sings the harmony on the song. “Having her sing on that song — it’s as honest as it gets. But when I wrote it, there was no chance in hell that that was ever going to happen.”
When the characters finally meet again, after a year apart, in “Unrequited Love,” hope of a reconciliation slowly begins to bloom. In “All About You” and “Still Be Mine” (the later featuring Carrie Rodriguez), Weber is through confessing his own shortcomings merely as a line of defense; what’s done is done, and things definitely didn’t work out as originally planned, but “could you pretend to try to love what’s left of me?/Forget the rest of me and all you thought I’d be?” Time heals all wounds, and opens the door to the new beginning suggested in the closing “Sleep It Off,” which co-stars Austin rising star BettySoo. The song and album’s last line is, “In my mind, I’ll pray that we’ll sleep it off and start it all again.”
Weber will release Women on November 11th, a month after his 31st birthday and a little less than two years after he and his wife did indeed get back together. “I like to think that I’ve grown a lot since then,” he reflects, “and kind of become a person that I like a lot better by changing a lot of things in my life and not acting like an idiot.” But in talking about the album, it’s clear that the songs — along with the decision to share them on record and onstage — still leave him a bit unsettled.
“This is definitely the most personal thing I’ve ever done — and to be honest, I don’t know if I could ever get that personal again, or even want to,” Weber admits with a rather nervous laugh. “But at the same time, just getting some of those songs down on paper when all that stuff was happening kept me from going bat-shit crazy.
“I definitely spilled my guts on this thing,” he continues, “and I didn’t do it for any other reason than I felt like I wanted to and needed to. But even thought story is based on my experience, I think a lot of people have gone through a lot of the same things. I feel incredibly lucky that my wife and I were able to work things out, because some people aren’t that lucky. But I know that when I was down and out, all I wanted to do was listen to and get solace from other people’s songs that dealt with what I was feeling but maybe couldn’t get my head around yet. So maybe other people will be able to hear this record and identify with it, and hopefully it’ll be a good experience for them — or at least help them through a really bad one.”
released 11 November 2011