The Dallas-born singer, who turns 45 this month, became an overnight success with the release of her 1988 debut with the New Bohemians, which went double platinum thanks to the hit single “What I Am.” In 1992 she married Paul Simon and eventually put her career on part-time status to raise their three children. She reunited on occasion with the New Bohemians and has just released two long-in-the-works projects, a solo album, Edie Brickell (produced by Austin’s Charlie Sexton), and a non-Bohemians band effort with famed drummer Steve Gadd, The Gaddabouts.
How did you get started with the New Bohemians?
I was strangely shy, a long habit from being in day care, where you sit there, miserable, and see other kids pushing and biting each other. That was a huge drama I’ve been trying to get over ever since. Luckily a friend of mine was friends with the New Bohemians, and I met her at this little club where another band was playing. I wasn’t saying a word, and this girl I hardly knew set this drink in front of me and whispered in my ear, “You need to loosen up.” At the end of the night the Bohemians, who were in the audience, got up onstage to jam, and my friend asked if I could sit in with them. That’s how it began.
In 2003, after you released your solo album Volcano, you began the recordings that turned into your new solo album. Why did you begin recording so soon after releasing an album?
It dawned on me that I wasn’t really expressing the joy that was happening in my life—I was caught up in my early emotional habits. At the time, I was also writing these happier songs, and I wanted to get to that place you find on the old records that I know and love, where you write a song and record it immediately so you can just feel that energy. We slipped into the studio and recorded three songs live in one day. And when I heard that energy, I thought, “This is it. This is the way I want to do it.”
Was this approach a reaction to the fact that you never duplicated the commercial success of your debut?
I never wanted to duplicate that first record, which had that eighties sheen to it. Everyone in the Bohemians likes the older, classic records, but we didn’t know how to get those sounds in the studio. I’m not complaining about it, but I wasn’t in love with that record; I was embarrassed that there was so much focus on me and on the band, because I felt like we hadn’t earned it. We knew bands who slowly grew into the public eye, and people treated them better. So when you have a big hit right from the get-go, you feel like you’re punished for it a little bit later.
After a long silence, you’ve just released two albums at the same time. Why?
I already have a big batch of new songs, and I don’t want them to sit around and get old. They’re two very different-sounding records, and people will gravitate to the sounds that they like anyway. And even if they don’t hear it for a year, it’ll come to them. Like that Flaming Lips record, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots ? I totally missed it when it first came out. Now I play it in my kitchen all the time.
Two new records, a batch of new songs—that doesn’t sound like a quiet home life.
This may sound weird, but I’m always home. What I experienced as a kid made me very determined to be right here with my little ones. I wasn’t in a hurry to put anything out, because my top priority is to be here at home and cook and drive my kids around. But along the way, the writing doesn’t stop. There’s always a song going through my thoughts, so I sing them into my recorder. I just love songs. And I love playing with musicians. And I’m hoping that if I make really good records or records that I love, one day, when my kids are in college and I’m suffering desperately from empty-nest syndrome, I can slip back into a creative life and occupy my time with a healthy career. So I’m trying to figure out a way to move gracefully into the next phase of my life.