As such, it’s both a repudiation of the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency and a rekindling of her friendship with her old band New Bohemians.
“This record was recorded a long time ago, when I was trying to ignore our president as much as I could in order to feel better about life and about our country,” says the 54-year-old Texan, best known in the UK for her 1988 hit What I Am. “But I realised that in the midst of that darkness that it felt good to reconnect with our band and create any joy that we could while the outside world felt crazy and often shameful.”
Brickell often writes from the perspective of different characters; she says she finds it easier to frame stories that way. “I do love a good story and I realised about 10 or 15 years ago, just before I started working with Steve Martin, that a song that told a story felt more enduring to me than a song offering about how one individual feels about life. I thought that it was far more colourful to write about something that happens to someone than how I personally feel because in doing so, you can offer a wider range of feelings without saying ‘And I feel this way...’”
Nonetheless she admits autobiographical elements do creep into her songs. “I don’t see how you can avoid it, because it’s a filter of your own perception, and people that you know and influenced you.”
Hunter and the Dog Star is the second album that Brickell has made with New Bohemians since 2018. Before that, there was a lengthy hiatus following the fatal shooting of keyboard player Carter Albrecht in 2007. “I couldn’t imagine stepping onto a stage or going into a studio without seeing him there, he buoyed us with his everything,” she says. “His personality and his professionalism and his musicality was so above-par that he helped the band grow to be better and without him I felt we were not as good as we could be.”
It took producer Kyle Crusham to convince her that a new album was viable.
It’s 36 years since Brickell decided to take a year out of college and join New Bohemians. She admits it was a gamble but music was “all-consuming” at the time. “My English professor called me in and said, ‘Do not leave school, it’s a one in a million chance. Do you really think anybody would be signed out of Dallas, Texas?’” she recalls. “My mother was the lone voice who said, ‘You’re only young once and you need to pursue your dreams’.”
By 1988 they had a million-selling album, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, on their hands. However, after marrying Paul Simon in 1992, Brickell decided to take time out to raise their three children, Adrian, Lulu and Gabriel. She says that period was “absolutely the best time of my life, I laughed every day”.
She has eased herself back into music over the past decade. One of two bluegrass albums she made with the comedian and banjo player Steve Martin won a Grammy; the pair also collaborated on a Broadway musical, Brightstar. “He would send me two-minute banjo tracks and it was very different working with him because in the beginning it wasn’t even in person,” Brickell says. “I would sing the song on the track, send it back to him, and then the next day he would send another. It was a lot of fun because we had a similar pace, we like to just keep going, and it was a very fast creative machine, which I love.
“Steve, I felt, brought out the best in me in that time because he allowed me to express that storytelling style of writing, which i discovered I was most interested in, and I think that is a better expression.”
Hunter and the Dog Star is out today. ebnewbos.com