Born on August 18, 1964, in San Antonio, TX; married, 1994; divorced. Education: Attended the University of Texas-Austin, 1983-86. Addresses: Record company--Drag City Records, P.O. Box 476867, Chicago, IL 60647. Website--Edith Frost Official Website: http://www.edithfrost.com.
Chicago-based singer-songwriter Edith Frost is one of the independent scene's quietly emergent stars. Her quasi-folk, alternative country-and-western sound is evident on her three records for the Drag City label, but Frost has also ventured into a more mature lounge style. Critics have compared her to Patsy Cline, Joni Mitchell, Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, and Liz Phair. Frost's "music falls somewhere between rock, country and lounge," Chicago Tribune writer Josh Noel explained, while in 1996 the Chicago Reader's Peter Margasak contended that Frost "might be the most distinctive and gifted singer-songwriter to surface in the last year or two."
Frost is a native of San Antonio, Texas, where she was born on August 18, 1964. When her parents divorced, she, her mother, and her younger sister Lucie lived in Guadalajara, Mexico, for a time, but eventually settled in the Texas capital of Austin. Frost enrolled at the University of Texas campus there, and though she took many music classes, she did not finish enough core courses for a degree. Frost began writing her own material for the first time during her years at the university. Moving to New York City in 1990, Frost settled in Brooklyn, where she first began performing publicly. Within the space of a few years, she was fronting three acts: the Holler Sisters, which covered obscure country-and-western songs from decades past, a western-swing outfit called the Marfa Lights, and Edith and Her Roadhouse Romeos, a rockabilly band.
Frost began writing in earnest following a particularly painful break up and began to perform her own material publicly for the first time. During the early 1990s, Frost held a day job as the business manager of the music department at an advertising agency. She married on March 4, 1994. Two years later, she separated from her husband and was on her own again, and this time Frost began recording her songs, playing acoustic guitar herself, in her Brooklyn home. She made a demo tape and sent it out to several labels. Two were interested: Dejadisc, a roots-rock label back in Austin, and a highly regarded experimental label out of Chicago called Drag City. The latter was run by Dan Koretsky and Dan Osborn, and Frost was a fan of many bands on the label.
Deciding to start anew, Frost moved to Chicago in late 1996. She was eager to leave Brooklyn, as the tight housing market forced her to live just a block away from her new ex-husband, "and it was just bad on my heart," Frost said in an interview with Paper's Allison Stewart. "Every place I went, I'd either see him or hear about him. I felt like I couldn't move on." In Chicago, her demo tape was released as a four-song EP, Edith Frost, in 1996. Margasak, reviewing it in the Chicago Reader, liked its quiet emotional power, asserting that "Frost sings in a clear, ringing voice, opting for folksy gentleness over emotional bombast; her fluid phrasing and subtle accents undergird the uneasy resignation in her words." The influential music writer also singled out "Blame You," a track which Margasak felt "effectively paints a scenario of a troubled couple avoiding their problems rather than dealing with them, but it's the gorgeous, insinuating melody that imparts a real emotional substance to the song."
Frost's first full-length record, Calling Over Time, appeared in 1997. Some of the songs on it dealt with Frost's recently ended marriage, but many of them were about a one-month fling she had just after her split back in New York. "That one just killed me," she told San Diego Union-Tribune writer Jeff Niesel. "I was heartbroken. Looking back on it, I have to laugh. It's weird how you can be with someone four years and come out strong, and a one-month thing can stomp on your heart."
To record Calling Over Time with Frost, producer Rian Murphy, drummer for Chicago noise-rock band Royal Trux, had asked some musicians on Drag City to work with her. Jim O'Rourke and David Grubbs of the experimental outfit Gastr del Sol were described by Paper's Stewart as "the epicenter of Chicago rock royalty" at the time, and they utilized some unusual instruments to complement Frost's vocals and a piano. Their more avant-garde sound, here manifesting itself in pedal steel guitar and fiddle, gave "an increased sense of sophistication to a lovely and otherwise simple record," Stewart opined. Others credited with helping Frost out were Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas and Stereolab, and Rick Rizzo from Eleventh Dream Day.
Debut Earned Lush Praise
Reviews for Calling Over Time were enthusiastic. Writing for the Arizona Republic, Noah Slankard, like Stewart in Paper, also commended the all-star assemblage that drew out Frost's sound. The other musicians, Slankard noted, give "a rich patina of color to Frost's tales of self-doubt, longing and heartbreak, while keeping a sense of cool restraint and ghostly atmosphere to the mix." A Wisconsin State Journal contributor described it as "an intimate, often harrowing collection of heartbreak songs begging to be heard in the middle of a lonely night." The work was even mentioned in Billboard's "Declaration of Independents" column by Chris Morris. He described her as "a giddily disarming new arrival," and termed the debut record "a striking achievement that makes one look forward to Frost's live performances."
Frost was happy she chose Chicago at that crucial juncture in her life, as she told Morris in Billboard. Compared to Brooklyn, she found it "a lot easier here for a musician than in New York. People go out more, and they're a lot more supportive." Yet for her next record, Frost traveled to Virginia to work at the studio of producer/Royal Trux founder Neil Hagerty. Hagerty and bandmate Jennifer Herrema share a joint producers' credit under the name "Adam and Eve" on Frost's Telescopic, released in 1998. The result was a bit more of a rock sound, with less piano and more organ, cello, violin, and slide guitar. Frost even began playing an electric guitar, a Stratocaster that had been a gift for her high school graduation, but she had never learned to play anything but basic chords. Alternative Press writer David Daley found that the second release "far surpasses her first-rate debut.... Frost is positively heart-stilling, her voice tender and true, her melodies evocative and pure."
Writing for the Austin Chronicle, Kim Mellen echoed Daley's words. Mellen praised Frost's "subtly sweet, never-saccharine vocals blowing over the stark, wintry soundscapes, convincing you she means every word of her high-lonesome songs." Other reviews were similarly laudatory. "The rickety guitars make her sound like a cowgirl riding off in the distance on 'Light,'" wrote Daily Herald journalist Mark Guarino, "while the dancing violin and flute fuel life into the tragic elegy 'Tender Kiss.'" Frost was also a bit more assertive before the microphone, and some critics now compared her to Patsy Cline, the 1950s-era country-and-western crooner. "Gone are the breathy vocals from the past, which sometimes came out sounding faux-Goth and wobbly," noted Beth Nottingham in her review for the Daily Texan. "Now she sounds confident and self-assured in her singing ability." Nottingham singled out one violin-tinged song, "Light," for special praise, liking "a galloping beat and melancholy violin [that] serenade the listener into an intoxicating joyride."
Third Record Moved Toward Lounge
Frost returned to work with producer Murphy again for Wonder Wonder, her third full-length effort for Drag City. The 2001 record featured another impressive lineup, including famed Chicago-based recording engineer Steve Albini, who has worked with the Pixies, Nirvana, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Frost told one interviewer that Albini, known for his perfectionist ways, had spent an entire day arranging instruments around the studio for the dozen or so musical guests, who included Archer Prewitt from Sea and Cake, Glenn Kotche of Wilco, and Rizzo again. The sound that emerged for this record was a little less country and somewhat more jazzed up, but Frost's emotionally charged songs about love and heartache remained. Brian Mock, writing in the Tucson Weekly, asserted that "Frost has turned out a magnificent little record." Mock called attention to one track on Wonder Wonder in particular: "Near the end of this wonderful ride comes "Easy To Love," which has her singing in such a beautifully deep and personal and warm voice you could swear it was meant only for your ears."
More admiring reviews came in from several places. The Daily Herald's Guarino described it as "rich in austere emotionalism. Frost is most effective as a tortured torchsinger in the barest country setting." Frost was once again compared to an impressive roster of female singers before her. Writing for Magnet, Joe S. Harrington called it "a charming torch-song masterpiece," and deemed it "the album Liz Phair should've made after Exile In Guyville."
Like Phair, Frost makes Chicago her home and has settled domestically with a local musician, John Whitney. She admits that she finds it harder to write songs when she is happy. "Broken hearts give you something to ... complain about," Frost told Chicago Sun-Times journalist Mary Houlihan. "When it's working, you just want to enjoy it. The songs may be fewer now but I think they are better." Frost continues to tour and write music. She contributed vocals to the debut album of the Greek electronic band Sigmatropic in 2002.
Frost remains somewhat of an accidental musician. She often notes in interviews that in her guitar playing, she has failed to master more than the basics, and always credits the experienced musicians like Murphy and her other Drag City cohorts for providing her with assistance. As she told Chicago writer Elizabeth Lenhard, she always believes each album is her last, and remains in awe of the creative process in recording and then selecting the tracks for each of her records. "I can never imagine it before it comes into one piece and afterwards," she told Lenhard. "I can't imagine the next one, either." Her one regret is the rockabilly band, the Roadhouse Romeos, which she abandoned when she headed to Chicago. "It's just really fun, joyous music to play and would get people dancing," she told the San Diego Union-Tribune's Niesel. "That was a rush."
by Carol Brennan
Edith Frost's Career
Sang for three New York City bands: the Holler Sisters, Marfa Lights, and Edith and Her Roadhouse Romeos, early 1990s; signed with Drag City label, 1996; four-song demo tape released as EP Edith Frost, 1996; released first full-length record, Calling Over Time, 1997; released Telescopic, 1998; released Love is RealEP, 1999; released Wonder Wonder, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Edith Frost (EP), Drag City, 1996.
- Calling Over Time , Drag City, 1997.
- Telescopic , Drag City, 1998.
- Love Is Real (3-song CD single), Drag City, 1999.
- Wonder Wonder , Drag City, 2001.
- (Contributor) Tramps, Traitors and Little Devils (compilation), Drag City, 2001.
- Alternative Press, December 1998.
- Arizona Republic, January 28, 1999.
- Austin Chronicle, January 22, 1999.
- Billboard, May 3, 1997.
- Chicago, July 2001.
- Chicago Reader, November 29, 1996.
- Chicago Sun-Times, July 15, 2001.
- Chicago Tribune, August 27, 1998.
- Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 12, 1999, p. 4; September 28, 2001, p. 6.
- Daily Texan (Austin, TX), November 3, 1998.
- Houston Press, September 13, 2001.
- Magnet, September-October 2001.
- Paper, July 1997.
- Philadelphia City Paper, September 20, 2001.
- Philadelphia Weekly, September 19, 2001.
- San Diego Union-Tribune, January 28, 1999.
- Tucson Weekly, September 23, 2001; October 11, 2001.
- Wisconsin State Journal, August 28, 1997, p. 17.