Alex Henry Foster: A wide-open window on his flowing memories
Following the unexpected success in the charts of Alex Henry Foster’s new album “Windows in the Sky”, Daily Rock Québec is happy to introduce a very particular interview with the artist. Up in the air in between two big cities, creator Alex H Foster answered our questions about this album; intimate, expressive and very appreciated.
PS: Our interviewer Jérôme Go-dreault says that he has perceived and reconnected with a vibrant and compelling sound, just like Mr. L. Cohen knew how to make me feel. Congratulations, and thanks to Mr. Foster.
JG: Who is Alex Henry Foster? Where are you from?
AHF: We are starting the interview with the question for which the answer is the most difficult to me…! I will simply say that I’m a hardcore fan of music, poetry, skateboard, baseball, and video games, and that I am the father of 2 pups answering to the names of MacKaye and Leonard, which I have adopted in Austin, Texas, at the end of a North American tour with Your Favorite Enemies, a little over 3 years ago now…
I come from Montreal, but I moved too often during my childhood to be able to say exactly where I would consider having grown up…
I studied social work, worked with children victims of sexual abuse, and at the heart of the HLM (“rent-controlled housing”) community of the South Shore of Montreal before committing to my passion for music full time with Your Favorite Enemies some years ago…
JG: Since when and under which circumstances did you start creating music?
AHF: I think that as far as I can remember, I have always created music. Some cassettes hidden in the infamous family archives testify of the constant and uninterrupted way I had to make my parents go crazy while singing continuously… and to make noise with everything that could produce a sound and could be broken or strongly damaged while making said noise…
I logically integrated punk / hardcore / noise bands during my teenage years, thus increasing the circle of people I could render insane while playing Minor Threat, Ramones, Gang Green and other compositions, all of them equally disturbing for my friends’ parents, neighbors, school’s social workers and other people worrying about the fact that not being that good didn’t seem to have an impact on the passion with which I was turning to it so devotedly and… non-stop.
But it’s when I met Sef (Your Favorite Enemies’ guitarist), during his internship at the community organization where I was working – and through him his brother Ben (multi-instrumentalist and producer) – that my passion for music went from seriously dangerous to dangerously serious. We then founded Your Favorite Enemies and left school and any other form of normal type of social life potentially leading to a life made of promises… and of being good sons.
What would follow is in theory largely documented in dark places of the internet!
JG: What are your musical inspirations and your artistic process?
AHF: They are numerous, I’d say, but they must first and foremost be authentic and honest. My process is probably based on not having a pre-established process. I like to be surprised and capsized, which probably explains why I can listen to Japanese traditional chants, Nick Cave, Swans, Fugazi, Mats Gustafsson, traditional flamenco and The Cure in the same evening… it’s the emotions, whatever they might be, that inspire me.
JG: How and why, aside from the circumstances already mentioned in the media, producing a solo album?
AHF: It happened a little bit by accident. I was on an exile in North Africa as I was totally exhausted, both physically and psychologically, after 5 years of touring with Your Favorite Enemies. It must have been close to a year since I had last touched an instrument, but I was writing poetry so as to live and assume some emotions I had buried deep down inside in order not to have to face the reality and risk of losing myself even more than how I was feeling at that moment…
Ben came to find me in Tangier to work on a movie soundtrack, and following discussions, he encouraged me to put those feelings I couldn’t express in music, which slowly became a song, and another one, and finally a cohesive ensemble of what I like to call “moments”. I didn’t have the ambition of making it an album, as I didn’t want to have to face those words, those sounds, and those feelings after, even less have to talk about them publicly, like right now…! In the end, it’s the other members of Your Favorite Enemies who have encouraged me to do it, saying that it would set me free and allow me to assume its nature fully – and they were right to say so!
JG: Would this album have come to life if circumstances would have been different?
AHF: I don’t think it would have seen the light of day, it’s that simple… neither would have any of the music to come.
JG: Tell us more openly about your latest album; WINDOWS IN THE SKY:
AHF: It’s a personal and intimate album, but from which the honesty produces an invitation to share and commune. I’m discovering its true nature through the eyes of others and through how they make it theirs.
JG: Is this album a reflection of all your expectations and what are its qualities?
AHF: I didn’t have any expectation. I never had any expectation for anything I produced with Your Favorite Enemies before. For me, art and creation have for only interest the honesty with which we abandon ourselves to it. And the more we expose ourselves, the more we accept that we have nothing more to give than what we have at the moment we are creating. It’s, in my opinion, the reason why all creations evolve naturally with time, if only for the way we give a new look at what once was, thus making it something that is in the present moment as well. Creation evolves to the measure we allow ourselves to evolve as a person. At least, that’s how I see it.
JG: How many stars on 10 would the album deserve?
AHF: I don’t believe in the gradation of art. Some artists hate that people evaluate their artwork. For me, it’s all a matter of perspective, to put it simply. People who let go to the journey that “Windows in the Sky” is have a perception that is as right as mine… I never feared critics, as when a work is shared, it no longer exclusively belongs to me.
JG: Who are the main people who collaborated on the album production and in which studio was it recorded?
AHF: Ben has been the maestro behind the creation of this project, but all the members of YFE participated in it and have all offered a piece of themselves to it. It was imperative to invite them to do it.
The production happened in 3 totally different places and in completely atypical conditions. Between a small fortune studio located in Tangier, up to the incredible YFE studio located in a transformed Catholic church, to a creation station in the highlands of Virginia…
JG: Could we hear some of the tracks on the album Windows in the Sky played with the band YFE?
AHF: I hope so! They all sent me their resume to be part of the potential backup band if I ever wanted to share the album in a live mode! I will therefore have them audition; it’s a serious and professional project!
JG: How will the future with the band YFE be seen following the success of this solo album?
AHF: For me, it’s all pretty simple, as I live music without cultivating the ambition of success and without any careerist perspective. Understand me well; I am incredibly happy that people took “Windows in the Sky” for themselves in such a personal and intimate way. But it influences in no way what is to come next. And knowing me, people for whom YFE is important understand this and support me in that sense. It is the same for the members of the band: we are, first and foremost, a family. What will follow will be determined by what we want or need to live, create and share.
JG: We heard that you were presently working on a movie project which could be a follow-up to this album. Would you like to tell us more?
AHF: I told myself that after the release of a surprise solo album while people were expecting a new YFE album, the most logical decision in terms of “career move” would be to offer a third project which would not be YFE nor Alex Henry Foster and to talk about it during interviews about my album “Windows in the Sky”…! I guess we understand a little bit better now why I wasn’t the one mandated for YFE interviews 😉
JG: Why choose Japan, is there a special link with this country, for this new album and/or with the band YFE?
AHF: It was important for me to host that type of event in Japan.
I have always had a very singular relationship with the people of this country, very intimate I would say, may it be through suicide prevention projects, the soundtrack for the Final Fantasy video game we did, or the privilege we have to be welcomed as family every time we go over there to share music or other projects.
And to have done that in Tokyo was on one hand the fulfilment of a promise I had made to the parents of a fan who tragically took his own life, and on the other hand a way for me to share emotions that are sometimes only expressible through music for people who, like me, don’t feel like they can express their nature.
JG: Is an international touring project something foreseeable for this album?
AHF: Yes, surely, but I must determine what I will want to share and the way I would like to do it. I’m still reflecting on all of this, but I have desires of “moments”, and not of another rock tour…
JG: On the album, the texts seem to have a big importance and we would like to know if those were written specifically for this album? Furthermore, if the musical compositions were inspired and crafted starting from each of the album’s texts, or the contrary?
AHF: The texts are always what comes first, which is pretty rare, as texts are often written to accompany the music. May it be for YFE or another project, for me, it all starts with the texts, which flow from the vision I wish to explore for the album that will carry them.
JG: After listening and discussing about the album with a few people (which liked it), two of them told me that in some moments, they thought the music was redundant. What do you think about it?
AHF: It’s probably due to the fact that it’s an 8-song album of over 60 minutes of orchestral noise music and spoken word…! But seriously, the nature of “Windows in the Sky” is meant to be, first and foremost, a voyage, and I believe it makes sense according to the measure with which you abandon yourself to it. We all have our way of consuming or living music. For me, it was my way of expressing myself, without having to ask myself too many questions on anything else than what I felt like sharing. But I totally understand as well why those people lived it this way. That’s the beauty of sharing and of letting the others define the experience.
JG: Does Alex Henry Foster have the idea of producing a second album of the same type and do you think it would have as much success?
AHF: If we look at my discography, I believe I’m incapable of sticking to one specific genre, of building my decisions on what would make more sense in order to surf the same wave the longest or of doing what has to be done in order to reach success…! Considering the fact that I dream of making an album mixing old shigin chants (a traditional Japanese chant) and some avant-garde noise, I’m thinking this might be the last time you will want to ask me questions – which also explains why I wanted to beat a record of words written in this interview!
December 8, 2018