The Secretly Canadian Newsletter

The title of Faye Webster’s new album is inspired by her occasional compulsion to lose herself amongst concertgoers at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Craving company and distraction but also leaning into the anonymity of a bustling crowd, Webster often bought a ticket to a performance at the last possible second. “Going to the symphony was almost like therapy for me,” she says. “I was quite literally underdressed at the symphony because I would just decide at the last moment that that’s what I wanted to do. I got to leave what I felt like was kind of a shitty time in my life and be in this different world for a minute. I liked that I didn’t feel like I belonged”

The world around Webster may be moving faster and faster, but despite an influx of new fans and attention, she’s still singing about it in an almost impossibly low-key way on her fifth album. Indeed, the first time we hear her voice on Underdressed at the Symphony, she’s navigating the unmapped space between comfort and vigilance: “I’m asleep in the moment when you’re holding my head / but I want to remember I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” she sings on “Thinking About You.” Instead of turning the dissolution of a relationship into a morality play, she details the solitary moments where her brain is in conflict with itself, allowing unhurried insight to come naturally.

Webster has never been more comfortable in her own skin than right now, which makes her unique ascent into the vanguard of young, independent artists even sweeter. At any given moment, Webster might be making country-tinged indie rock flecked simultaneously by pedal steel guitar and modern R&B production and songwriting techniques – a bespoke sound which has won her ardent fans and turned her into something of a stealth superstar beloved by everyone from southern hip-hop heads and alt-rock tastemakers.

At Webster’s increasingly sold-out concerts, it’s not uncommon to observe these fans singing along with every word – even when she unironically performs theme songs from Pokemon. In an even more delicious twist, Webster doesn’t even have an account on TikTok, where several of her songs have gone viral, including “Kingston,” “Right Side of My Neck,” “In a Good Way” and most recently “I Know You.”

Recorded at Sonic Ranch Studios in Texas with her longtime band, Underdressed at the Symphony revels in experimentation, playfulness and adventurousness. Moments of vocoder, flourishes of an orchestra and spooky harmonies and synths arrive without sacrificing the spacious quality of Webster’s prior music, allowing each lyric to burble to the surface with added layers of meaning. Matt “Pistol” Stoessel’s arcs of pedal steel add just the right shimmer, while Wilco’s Nels Cline contributes his undeniably emotive fretwork on a number of songs.

Hunkering down at the literal U.S./Mexico border provided the musicians space to isolate, focus and experiment. All the songs here are live-room recordings, with several captured on the first or second take. In this way, they can be seen as direct lines to the human subconscious, showcasing Webster’s knack for pulling a universal experience from a highly specific moment.

On “But Not Kiss,” her voice lilts “I want to sleep in your arms…” before Nicholas Rosen’s propulsive piano and Bryan Howard’s sumptuous bass burst in, prompting Webster to rush out the rest of the line: “… but not kiss.” What better shorthand descriptor for the quietest of moments in a relationship? The rest of the song echoes that first line, emphasizing the duality of intimacy. To be sure, Underdressed at the Symphony is a document of what happens once you start to create a new life from the ashes of old routines. This rebirth isn’t flashy or definitive, but is instead a series of healing moments scattered across weeks and months.

That new life is documented on the autotuned “Feeling Good Today,” which finds Webster running through the details of her day in barely 90 seconds. She’s got plans to go see her brother, and she knows she’ll “probably buy something dumb” because she just got paid. “I definitely think I turn to humor sometimes just for distraction almost,” she says. “But a lot of it is just like the truth. Even if I’m saying it, I’m not really meaning to be funny. That’s genuinely how I feel, and I’m feeling good today.”

A strain of lightheartedness with a melancholic backbone is the driving force behind “Lego Ring,” which features Atlanta multi-hyphenate Lil Yachty as the only guest voice on the album. Webster and Yachty have been friends since middle school and have stayed close ever since. At points, his ghostly warble floats just under Webster’s voice, jabbing through emptiness as it trembles over a low rumble of bass. It’s the kind of sonic collaboration that succeeds based on a lifelong understanding of each other, and a close bond predating both artists’ tenure in the music industry.

“I think I hit a point in songwriting during this record where I was just like, man, I said a lot.” admits Webster. “The record feels like a mouthful to me, but I don’t always have to be deep. I can just sit down and sing about this ring made of crystal Lego that I really want.”

If there’s one song that amounts to a mission statement for Underdressed at the Symphony, it’s “Lifetime,” a lush slow burner that emphasizes Webster’s brilliant use of space and phrasing. Epiphanies become mantras, her voice lilting and fading over expertly placed snares and a soft piano twinkle. Is there any better encapsulation of the vagaries of love than the contradictory “When I said I mean it / I didn’t really mean it?”

Like the rest of the album, Webster isn’t providing answers here, nor is she on some epic journey of healing and self-care. Instead, she’s choosing to just live, to document heartbreak and ridiculous moments right next to each other until they start to blur, becoming real enough for us all to feel.


Thinking About You

But Not Kiss

Wanna Quit All the Time

Lego Ring

Feeling Good Today


He Loves Me Yeah!

eBay Purchase History

Underdressed at the Symphony