Ian Foster Releases New Album with Tour Dates
By: Pamela Hodder
It’s May 5th, 2017. Ian Foster and fans awoke excitedly this morning to the release of his seventh studio album, Sleeper Years. Rock Eden had the pleasure of meeting up with Ian at the Rocket Bakery in St. John’s this past week and in-depth explored the artistry of the album. So go grab your favourite cup of tea, because in this garden, there’s always something more to discover!
Rock Eden: What does the album’s title reveal, if anything, about its themes? Would you say there’s a certain theme or mood that you were trying to set for the album?
Ian Foster: For sure! It’s about waking up. Sleeper Years is like the idea where you had years that were the defining years of your life, but you only see that retrospectively. [It’s like] looking back and realizing that those years were a time of becoming who I am. All the songs sort of feel that way. Even [the song] The Stinging Nettle, which is about my Great Uncle in the First World War (The Battle of Beaumont Hamel). I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about the ordeal he was about to go through when he signed up at age 17 or 19, or what it would mean to the world. And then it turns out to be World War One! It’s kind of a funny way to put it, but those were his sleeper years in that way… Sleeper Years is about becoming who you are, because of and in spite of the world around you.
RE: Did you think through how the album was to be structured? How did you decide the order of the songs?
Ian: This was one of the easiest records ever for that. And I say that as someone who has really struggled with and dreaded that process in the past. Because it is hard you know? I was someone who made mixed tapes [laughs] they were ‘tapes’, and CD’s and so I fully subscribe to order being key…take it up a notch, bring it back down and go back higher… but this one, for whatever reason, fell into an order that just seemed right. There are definitely clear bookmarks, like the last song, Our Love Was. It has that one little stanza in it at the very end that are lyrics taken from Feels Like it Wants to Rain…
RE: YES! I wanted to refer to that! It’s the very last song, and it’s an instrumental. I was just really enjoying it and then...
Ian: ...and then I came in and ruined it all [laughs]
RE: [laughs] No no, not at all! For me, having only gone through the album once so far, I didn’t recognize that it was lyrics from another song, BUT the placement of the lyrics was right in line with what I was feeling at the moment they started. Like there was something birthing in the instrumentals and I felt like I was waking up and realizing something. Then the lyrics come in saying just that. It woke me up as a listener. To me, that’s just brilliant creativity. Do you want to elaborate?
Ian: Yeah, that stanza has been around for a while in some form and there’s something about the imagery in that stanza that I really like and it felt totally appropriate that it should go there. It speaks to what we’ve been talking about with the theme of the record like “our love was one red room… when suddenly around us was this world” in other words our whole lives were small, but there is so much more when you walk out your door. And you can realize that, or not. It’s funny how you can walk down the street and still be in that little… well almost like you’ve got blinders on, or like you’re in a little box in your own head. But, if you open yourself up there’s a lot more around you. So yeah, it took from the first song on the album, but it felt like a great lyric to have at the end of the album as well.
RE: Are there any lyrics where you feel you’re kind of sharing your beliefs or values? I mean listeners attach their interpretation based on experiences, but were there any intentions to share things you value?
Ian: A song like Don’t Know What’s Good for Us is a bit of a sarcastic song, but a response to daily frustrations with what we all read in the newspaper. I mean, some might think ‘oh he must be talking about politics...’ but I mean in general, because we all read the stories… the lyric I think you’re alluding to is “a woman won the day and we counted it as a loss”. Some people have been like “oh you’re obviously talking about Hillary.” And with the timing of the song coming out after the election I can understand why people would assume that that’s what the lyric is about. But, so often we read stories about a woman doing wonderful things, and then the trolls come out. It’s because we don’t know what’s good for us.
RE: It goes in line with the theme of the album where you’re saying “wake up”, well I don’t know if you’re speaking to the audience saying “let’s wake up” but…
Ian: Feels Like it Wants to Rain is definitely about that anticipation, and it’s about waking up and realizing where we are right now and where we might want to be are different places. It also involves looking back on where we’ve come from so it’s a super big theme in a way. A cool theme, and a broad one, but because the songs take a number of approaches, for example, Don’t Know What’s Good for Us, it’s like there’s a winking sarcasm to the lyrics that I don’t think is super subtle. It’s a fun song in a way, and yet has some pretty sarcastic lines. That is a very different approach to the song Feels Like it Wants to Rain where it’s more of a direct delivery. So, when I was thinking about the title [for the album], I thought ‘How can I find something that covers those emotions?’ Because I think they are definitely connected, but at the same time they’re broad and different.
RE: Would you say that you had something in mind production-wise before starting the album?
Ian: It definitely felt time for a new album. I also knew early on I wanted to work with my friend Scott Hammond who mixed my last record and mixed various records I’ve produced over the last few years like Kat McLevey or Melanie O’Brien. I talked to him about engineering this record as well. It makes a lot of sense you know. It’s like the person capturing the sound during the recording is listening with the same ear as the person who’s going to be mixing the final record. So there’s a cool through line of vision there and I think that helps. Lucky for me, Scott agreed to do that [laughs] and so he engineered the record as well.
RE: Did you produce this record yourself?
Ian: Yeah I did. I had the visions for the songs in terms of what I wanted to achieve and who I wanted to bring in and hire for the songs. As a producer, whether I’m producing other people’s records or my own, I think that a big part of a producer’s job is to know who to bring into the room, and when those people get in the room, to just let them know to do their thing. So there were charts given, whether it was strings, trumpet, etc… but I really trusted all the players that played on this. To me, it’s like each musician who came in made it better than what I expected.
The cast of musicians features many of St. John’s’ best: Andrew James O’Brien and Catherine Allan (The Fortunate Ones), Jerry Stamp, and Nancy Hynes (harmonies), Andrew McCarthy (drums), Paddy Byrne (bass), Adam Press (cello), Heather Kao (violin), Terry Campbell (trumpet), and Brian Way (piano). ‘Out of Towners’ include Laura Spink of Toronto and The Young Novelists on harmony for Don’t Know What’s Good For Us, and Kris MacFarlane (Great Big Sea) on drums for New Rush For An Old Town (engineered by Dave Gunning in NS).
RE: Was there any new production techniques used in this album that were different from other albums?
Ian: Yeah one thing we did do different this time was recorded all of the acoustic instruments in Scott’s studio, The Blue Room in Kilbride. Then a lot of the various layering and soundscape moments were all done in my studio. It led to a really interesting result because Scott would engineer the sessions at his studio, and then I would take those sessions and bring them into my studio, do the soundscape stuff and bring it back to Scott’s. It was a cool division of labour. It led to less ear fatigue, which is a common problem in studios where you’re spending ten hours a day for what might be weeks or months. At a certain point you might think 'are we even hearing this anymore? We’ve listened to the same thing for hundreds of hours.' But what would end up happening is that because it was bounced back and forth between studios, fresh ears would be hearing it, which was different this time around. I feel it had a cool result.
RE: So then you’re pleased with the outcome?
Ian: Absolutely! Yeah! I mean every record is a moment in time. For me it’s trying to achieve the best thing in the moment. Something I’ve learned more as I’ve produced other people’s records is to try and see the big picture and how you can get from the very beginning to the very end with the least amount of compromise.
Ian Foster St. John's CD Release
Sunday, May 7th
$10 at the door | in advance through www.ianfoster.ca
Opening sets from Maggie O'Connell and Melanie O'Brien
Special guests Jerry Stamp, Nancy Hynes and more.
For tour dates visit http://ianfoster.ca/shows/