“I started playing piano when I was 10 years old…in Radio Shack. I used to go in and play the pianos until they told me to leave.”
And that’s how it all began for St. John’s singer/songwriter, Ian Foster.
His parents picked up on his interest in piano and bought him a keyboard. From there Foster picked up on other instruments, and the rest is history.
Learning improv at an early age, Brian Way, a piano teacher in St. John’s, introduced Foster to many styles and forms of music spanning classical and jazz, to funk and 20th century modernist music such as Charles Ives. This was what Foster considers to be his first real musical education. And rightfully so.
Working with his piano, Foster started writing instrumental music but quickly branched out into the lyrical world. “Guitar is arguably the world’s ultimate “singer-songwriter” instrument, and so with that came songs with lyrics when I was in high school. I took voice lessons so that I could learn to better deliver what I wanted to sing. “
Finding himself at the familiar crossroads upon completing university, Foster, now with a degree in English and History from Memorial University of Newfoundland, decided to put his musical career in action, ignoring the popular conception that you can’t make a living playing music.
“I decided to give it a go, because I had these songs that I believed in, and playing, writing, and thinking about music had essentially made up my entire life up to that point…and now, here we are.”
Today Foster’s inspiration is a 50-50 split between other art, and experience.
“A great novel can feed the imagination and give me a jumping off point for a dozen songs, even if those songs take years to fully write and end up not resembling the source material at all (all the better if that’s the case!). Travel, conversations with strangers and friends, and the stories that come from those conversations also inspire and end up as songs.”
Influenced by great songwriters and storytellers, Foster calls Bruce Springsteen’s Devils and Dust album brilliant in the way it captures his imagination, feeding it stories that have no context in his own life. Authors such as Salman Rushdie and Milan Kundera are also on his list.
“A novel like The Ground Beneath Her Feet is both epic and microscopic in how it’s written, and novels like The Unbearable Lightness of Being or Immortality are eloquent and yet feel as if you’re having a conversation over coffee with a really amazing storyteller.”
Foster’s latest work, The Evening Light, is an 11-track album that took about two years to complete. Recorded in his home studio and Stagehouse Studio in St. Phillip’s Newfoundland, Foster describes the album as “a love letter to home,” with many direct and indirect St. John’s references throughout.
“The main theme of the album is hope in the face of other things,” says Foster. Introduced on track two, “Deep Dark Night,” the song acknowledges the dark while opting for light. “It looks at where you are and where you should/might want to be.”
“Newfoundlanders tend to relate a lot of things to the weather,” claims Foster. Reflecting on the province’s long winters and warm summers, he has decided the record strikes delicate balance; “it’s an album for the fall.”
The mix of extremely personal songs such as “Sparrow” and “Foot on the Stairs,” to narrative songs like “Hochelaga, Montreal” and “A Large Crowd Gathers for the Deceased Jeff Elliot’s Encore Performance,” in conjunction with an array of instruments including drums, bass, guitar, violins, cellos, banjos, pianos and more: all to create an overall diverse album. One of which Foster is proud.
When asked what the biggest struggle with this album was, Foster says the song order. “I still firmly believe in the concept of the album, and the right track order can make or break it. When I listen to an album, I want to be taken on a journey, and it should be one I want to have over and over.”
Touring Newfoundland to Ontario and back again, Foster says the tour has consisted of some great house concerts and memorable connections. Sounds like a standard tour, right?
Well on top of this, Foster has also been running school workshops and playing concerts, which he calls “good for the soul.”
“I did a show in Wyvale, ON, and after the concert (which was in a gym) this little boy came up to me – he couldn’t have been more than five years old. He looked up, said “You’re just awesome!” hugged my leg for a second, and then ran off. I thought it was the sweetest and funniest thing!”
When asked what the most important part about writing a good song is, Foster’s answer sung.
“I think that for many people, music is how we process the world. It’s how we think about things. If I can write a song that speaks to you, or that explains someone else’s story in a way that moves you, then I’ve done my job. Imagine if we all actually really understood one another. One thing we all have in common is that we all love music, so perhaps – on a small scale at least – good songs connect us.”
What can we expect from the show at the Company House tonight? “Stories and songs. Electric guitar and an acoustic guitar in a beautiful open Csus2 tuning.”
Leather or denim?
Sabbath or Zeppelin?
White or whole wheat?
Pepsi or Coke?
Fender or Gibson?
Gibson. I own a Hummingbird.
Red or white (wine)?
Whiskey or rum?
Beard or no beard?
No beard. Though I feel like I’d be more a famous folk musician if I had one. Isn’t that the measure of being a popular folk musician?
Queen or The Beatles?
Smarties or M&M’s?
For information about Ian Foster’s show tonight, click here
video courtesy of ianfoster.ca