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A Window Into AHF – Exclusive Interview

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As published in Montreal Rocks

Read the original article here

Randal Wark & Alex Henry Foster

Imagine opening a leather-bound journal. You touch pen to paper and, without filter, you begin to explore your trauma and pick at the fresh scars.

At the end of the exercise, you have poured out your innermost feelings, you faced your deepest fears and relived trauma you wish you could forget.

To what lengths would you go to hide that journal from curious eyes? A bank vault? Armed guards? Bottom of the ocean?

Alex did the opposite. He took his journey, gently placed in on a layer of music and release this soundtrack of his recent life.

What starts as darkness, pain and trauma becomes a story of finding your true voice, feeling the light and finding forgiveness.

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Montreal Rocks sat down with Alex before his sold-out performance at L’Astral on November 30th, 2019. The dressing room is filled with pictures of the band, memories of past shows and Your Favorite Enemies milestones.

We first spoke about the recent Nick Cave Evening of Talk and Music that we both attended.

Alex Henry Foster: I’ve been a fan of Nick Cave for a long time. He suddenly evolved into a very public figure, with the letters, being in every music media and on the website every other week. I was wondering if it was a move, where fans like me, might feel that it’s not the same anymore.

Montreal Rocks: Like the never meet your heroes thing.

Alex: Yeah, exactly. We’ve met him and the Bad Seeds in London. It was a completely random thing. We were rehearsing at John Henry’s pretty early in the morning. We are a pretty hard-core band in the sense that we get there early and do our thing. There was a band already before us, which was like…whoa, those guys are serious! As we are setting up, we started hearing the music. “That’s funny…they’re playing a Nick Cave cover.” We keep doing our thing and eventually went: “Wait a minute…who would keep doing Nick Cave covers? No….” Then Miss Isabel comes in and says she just saw Nick Cave in the common kitchen area. So, out of the blue, we spent the whole day with those awesome guys.

Sometimes, with the other band (Your Favorite Enemies), we played so many festivals, so we got to meet a lot of bands and people that we really like. I’m sometimes reluctant to talk to them because you never know if the relationship with their music will be affected because of who they are that day. If they are acting like a** holes, it doesn’t mean they are.

MR: Everyone can have a bad day.

Alex: Exactly. I’m always very careful when I’m meeting people, regardless of what is going on in my life. That one moment is very important…

MR: For them…

Alex: And for me as well. When you lose that perspective, you lose everything; the reason you communion with people.

Even with those seasoned artists, like Nick Cave…it was HIM.

MR: It wasn’t an act.

Alex: Exactly. It’s a good thing, especially now in the music business, it feels like there is a disconnection. It’s shrinking and everyone is fighting for a piece of something that doesn’t exist. There are rivalries, for whatever reason. We have never been in cliques like that because we evolved in different areas. We’ve never been a “Montreal Band” for instance, because everything started elsewhere. We’ve never had that perspective of; are you in the right crowd or clique?

MR: I want to go back to the beginning. Because “The Beginning is the End.” (first song off his Windows in the Sky album)

Alex: True!

MR: You are a young child and you are flipping through your parent’s record collection. What stands out as something that changed your life?

Alex: I don’t remember a day without music at home. I come from a very humble family where my father always struggled to get a job and keep it. We were always moving. It wasn’t till I was 13 or 14 years old where I could say: “This is home.”

Music was what preserved me from that crazy environment of always moving.

MR: It was like the one constant.

Alex: Yes. It brought so much joy. My mother was really into old school rock-n-roll like Elvis and Jerry-Lee Lewis. I remember, as an only child, dancing with my mother every Saturday morning.

My father was into Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, CCR, Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones. The fondest memories I have, spending time with my father, was through music. He would go: “Let me show you something.” He had an enormous collection of LPs and 7 inches. It was so powerful.

I think that music impacted me in a very positive way and preserved me from understanding the reality I was in. It was also able to connect me with my folks in a very special way.

Those are the fondest memories of my childhood.

In my teenage years, I discovered music of my own.

MR: I’m also an only child.

Alex: By the nature of an only child, you are always alone. My mother was really pushing me into art and to read. I understood later that these are the dreamy elements that shaped me into the person that I became. I can now understand my passion for words, sounds and to connect with others through music in a very special way.

MR: I want to ask you something, out of burning curiosity. At one point, in your teens, you went from one side…to the dark side, the Neo Nazi direction.

Alex: Yes.

MR: You then swung way to the other side, where you are helping Amnesty International. You said it was something your dad said that brought you to your sense. What did he say?

Alex: I now realize the reality of being bullied in school because I wasn’t wearing the right stuff. It was difficult to understand because I came from inside this reality bubble at home.

Suddenly, my dad became an alcoholic, a very heavy drinker. That safe environment that was preserving me from the exterior world was suddenly shattered.

I was very angry, confused and frustrated. It was through the music that I was introduced to those groups (Neo Nazi).

When I share my story at conferences, I share that I was so alone. If someone would have come to me and said: Do you want to play Chess? I would have been the biggest champion of Chess! Chess would have been cool!

But it was those groups that could see and detect kids like me, living what I was living. I found myself in a place where I had these people to be with. It went way beyond the uniform thing, behind the ideology. Still, I was part of this thing that was completely crazy.

When I saw my dad turning his life around, I really hated him for that. It felt that what my mother and I had to go through; it was an easy way out for him to say: “I found Jesus…I’m saved.”

I was like; “You might be saved, but I’m going to give you hell to pay!”

But again…I was a teenager…

MR: You don’t know how to process it.

Alex: Exactly. I was in a constant storm with this and school. The only way I had to protect myself was in the music.

With my dad, it was always confrontation. I was always picking on him. I was even reading the bible to go back at him. It wasn’t that I hated him, but I was in a place where I wanted him to pay.

MR: I think we all go through a rebellious phase. My pendulum swung from one side to the extreme, but you find your middle eventually.

Alex: One time, he came to me and said: “Well…you are right.”

He apologized for all those years. It was the first time I saw my dad cry. He talked about his own experiences as a child and things that happened to him.

I think it impacted me, because deep inside, I wasn’t someone who was into violence. That wasn’t part of who I was in my core.

I started to process that and break it down. The price to pay to be in those groups versus what I was gaining…it was just weird.

Also, you grow, meeting other people and they can have an impact on you when they are patient and compassionate. They were able to see through my uniform.

There was a wall where you don’t want to be touched or have people approach you. You want to be safe in your own bubble. The message is so strong and repulsive that nobody would dare come close to you…but friends where still coming to me.

It’s been a whole process to realize this. It’s not so much something he said, but it was looking at someone and saying: That’s the real deal…for him.

MR: That vulnerability shows a lot of strength. That was back in the days where men didn’t cry. You held everything in and pretended you had everything figured out. When you see that vulnerability in man, it’s a good thing.

Alex: Yes. I think it was a breaking point.

MR: Your album is about being vulnerable. You’ve taken that from your dad, and now you are giving it to other people.

Alex: Yeah. It’s a beautiful thing to stop for a moment. It feels like the whole world is turning so fast, especially now, and you don’t quite understand what is going on. You pretend that you do.

At that moment, when he sat down with me, even if we didn’t have a follow up conversation to that out of the blue moment…it has been THE conversation.

I was very touched to see that. My dad was a big man, 6.4”, 250 pounds and always worked very hard…that whole cliché, you know what I mean? Then there was me, small frame but with that drive…going at him…you know….let’s drop the gloves!

It was a turning point for me where I realized that I was hurting myself more than I was hurting him. It just didn’t make sense anymore. It was time to acknowledge that through those years, I hurt people, even without knowing it, because of what I represented.

MR: Yeah. It could be a symbol you wore even…

Alex: Yeah. When I did my first mission trip to Haiti and was working with people that were dealing with AIDS, I got caught in a place where I was the only white guy. I wasn’t very popular. (laughs) I understood, then and there, what it meant to be judged. They were experiencing things that I was representing. That moment was very significant for me.

Being with Amnesty International, I had a very different perspective than being on the other side.

I still have a lot of compassion for those still stuck in those groups (Neo Nazi). It’s difficult for people to understand my point of view because it’s very easy to react to those groups with hate. It’s the reflection of what they are showing you.

I have a different perspective because I want to see the person behind the uniform. I was one of those guys, but I was still reachable. Rejection will feed…

MR: Feed the hate.

Alex: Exactly. Because I have a different point of view, I’m able to reach out to them without being judgmental. We can talk about so many other things.

MR: Find the human side.

Alex: Yes…there is! Whenever there are chances to do a conference, I like to do them because it gives a different perspective to people who are working with them or people who have been victims of these groups.

MR: I don’t know you that well, but I think you found a way to conquer your ego. You made this decision to break away from Your Favorite Enemies. You said it was so that your ego would not take over, and you could stay true to yourself. What triggered that desire to preserve yourself and the enjoyment of what you were doing?

Alex: We’d been on the road for something like 12 years. At some point, you lose the perspective of reality. It’s a normal process in that business to have a little bit of traction, which we had with the band, going everywhere in the world.

There is always emphasis on the lead singer. I had a very particular past along with what I was doing with Amnesty International.

It was important for me to keep my sanity, in a way. It goes so fast!

When you start believing in your own press kit…it’s already too late.

When you start believing in your own press kit…it’s already too late. – Alex Henry Foster

I always kept a little bit of distance and perspective from all the glamour…what you want other people to believe…how you want to be perceived as well. It’s a business of image. There needs to be a strong message of how you look and what you believe.

Maybe because I’m coming from that very special background, I know how easy it is to fall into those same traps. I never really want to play that game. It got to the point with Your Favorite Enemies, all that attention…it was fantastic! We were really fortunate. But I needed to take a step back. Why am I doing this? Do I still enjoy it?

When you never press the pause button, there is a reason for that. Maybe you don’t want to ask the real questions. You don’t want to be the one to tell the others that you need a break. If you do that, you will impact other people’s lives, the people that you love.

I was at a point where I really needed to stop. It was time. I was destroying myself slowly. I wasn’t enjoying it. It was becoming a real burden for me because I was tired. I wasn’t able to connect all the feelings of how important it was for people, with what I was doing. I wanted to keep that connection, but I felt I was losing a bit of it. I didn’t want to be a rock-n-roll cliché where you only do the same thing, the same jokes, the same set.

It was necessary to take a break. The rest of the guys would surely agree, because we are like brothers.

Going to the studio to rehearse and writing new song was like a bad picture that was just a little off. It’s not that much out of focus, but you could see that I was the guy in the back not having a good time. It was obvious for those outside of this thing (music business). But when you are always on the move, you don’t realize that.

MR: But they are here. Obviously, they are supporting you.

Alex: Yes.

MR: When your dad passed away, that was a catalyst for you. We were both at that Nick Cave show where he described going through such a grief was like your life being shattered into a million pieces. You are then grasping at all these shards, trying to put yourself back together. But you will never be the same person.

Alex: True.

MR: For Nick, he had more compassion. You went to Tangiers. Was that to put yourself back together?

Alex: When my dad passed, there was still tension between us. I was always on the road. I wasn’t easy to connect with long distance. We were able to see each other a good ten days before he passed.

What was frustrating and difficult, for me was, where do we start from that conversation we had so many years ago?

Now I’m seeing my dad, this big invincible guy, who is now so fragile. He was weak but yet his spirit was still so strong. I was so moved by him being so full of faith. I had never seen him like that. It was so confusing for me.

When he passed, I just shut everything down. We were headlining a festival in Taiwan five days after. Even the band said we could cancel the gig. My mother said: “If you want to cancel, cancel. If you want to go, go.”

We played there, in front of 90,000 people and I wasn’t feeling anything. Even the band was seeing me doing my thing, but they knew I was not normal.

That’s what I had to touch in Tangiers. Through the years, I was so disconnected to all the emotions we’ve been through as a band, friends, brothers, family…that I was completely out of touch emotionally.

MR: Dead inside.

Alex: Yeah. That’s why I had to stop Your Favorite Enemies for a moment. I needed to go to a place I’d never been before, where I didn’t have friends and it woud be a completely different culture. Somewhere where I’m completely invisible.

I didn’t know if I wanted to come back. Completely lost, but not in a way where I wanted to waste myself. I was confused but aware of it, and I had to address that.

I realized all my friends were really worried, thinking I looked like a suicidal guy.

It was only a few years after my dad passed till I went to Tangiers, but in that time, I don’t remember much. We did so many things…tours…festivals. It was the most successful period of Your Favorite Enemies…but I don’t remember much emotionally. Obviously, I remember places…but I don’t remember feeling anything.

MR: It was time.

Alex: Yeah, and to allow myself to grieve.

MR: It’s like a complicated puzzle. You have to put it all on the table and see all the pieces…what the heck is this life that I’ve had…before putting it together.

Alex: Even if everyone was so supportive and they really wanted to help me, in my head it was: Where do I start? What should I do?

Some people will experience someone’s death when they are a little bit older. I lost someone very close to me, my grandfather, when I was four or five. I understood what loosing someone meant and had that conversation.

MR: Even at that age? Wow.

Alex: Yeah. I had that understanding, but as an adult, I was like: “Let’s keep going. Let’s keep going. Let’s keep going.”

In Tangiers, I remember looking at the bay and I had to admit: I’m so lost. What the f#$% is going on with my life?

All this, even though months prior, everyone was screaming when we performed. It felt like when you watch a TV show and you think: Maybe that was a season too much.

MR: Jumping the shark.

Alex: Exactly. I felt like that. When it’s your life, it’s weird.

MR: Water is featured a lot on this album. If you close your eyes now and pictures yourself back in Tangiers…what feelings do water bring back to you?

Alex: Peace. It was what I was looking for. I was in the midst of living in the noise. I don’t remember how many days I spent on that terrasse just looking at the sea. The thing about Tangiers is that the sky is always blue. It’s the perfect reflection of the water. You lose perspective of where you are.

MR: What’s up and what’s down?

Alex: Yeah, exactly. That’s how I felt and that’s why I really recognized myself in that situation. That peace…to close my eyes and listen to it.

Even all the boats, because there was a ferry every 45 minutes that would go from the Bay of Tangiers to Spain. I was thinking about all those people travelling, all those images in my head. I would look at the people in the streets…the lifestyle.

I was in a little hotel in the oldest part of the city owned by French people. We became friends. When you ask them why we became friends, they say it was because they saw this guy and he looked so sad.

Even to strangers, and I wasn’t playing the guy who was emotionally unstable…it was that obvious.

MR: Interesting. Do you feel that this record was something that was inside of you and needed to be released, or was it more of a process, a journey of self-discovery that you need to take?

Alex: It was more of a process because it wasn’t like I was going to release a record. It was just like water. I was in the middle of it for so long, drifting to wherever. My friend, who went through the same thing, gave me this little journal and said: “You have to write, whatever it is. We know you are writer, but don’t think about it. Write about whatever you feel.”

I was in the plane going to Tangiers and I looked and saw in the plane all those little windows. Windows in the sky. It was the beginning of that process. I wrote that on the top of that journal. I just wrote, wrote, wrote.

At the end, those words had a different incarnation than what they were at the beginning. I was exploring things in the same realm of reality but suddenly in the end, it was something different.

At the end of that whole process, I realized that I was writing a little bit of music here, some words there. But I wasn’t contemplating putting out another record, not even something on my own. I was so far away from that. I didn’t want to get back together with the band. I was just in the place where I wanted to be free and peaceful for a while.

In the end, those words became alive in a way that was very special for me. I started to put them on the music I was writing. I was writing a score for films…that’s the thing I wanted to do.

MR: OK. That makes sense. I was walking here from the Metro, listening to the second song off the album, Winter is Coming. I’m picturing a scene from Apocalypse Now in the hotel room.

(Alex burst out laughing)

There was just this intensity. What the heck was going on in his mind at that time?

Alex: Yeah!

MR: Even in real life, I think Martin Sheen had a heart attack. That scene was intense. In the end, it creates a beautify artistic thing.

I’m really curious how you will bring this to life, because I’ve never heard you play live. You have a sold-out show tonight.

Alex: It’s a different experience, especially now. I got through the record and the band was so instrumental in the process.

As I was writing the score for an independent movie, Ben, the guitar player that I always write with said: “What is this thing?”

“No…don’t worry about it…don’t touch that.” (referring to the journal/music).

He said: “Dude, this is very…Wow…very personal.”

We talked about it a little. He said: “Do you want to keep doing it? No pressure…just for fun and for you to be able to let go of all those emotions?”

That is how it started. Even to the point of us being in Tokyo for the pre-listening session, in the green room with Jeff…I was still thinking: Do I really want to release this?

To the very end, I didn’t know if I had enough guts to share that record and those songs with other people.

To the very end, I didn’t know if I had enough guts to share that record and those songs with other people. – Alex Henry Foster

Have I exposed myself too much? Would I be able to live with the fact that now I could not go back? Where do you go from being that honest to going back to Your Favorite Enemies…if we do go back? This was my reality now.

It’s something to have the record, all the songs, with no pressure. When it was time to cross that line and to share, I really freaked out. I remember Jeff was there and said: “Alex, it’s your call now. Everyone is waiting. If you want me to cancel it, there’s no pressure. It’s your thing. What do you want to do?”

I took a deep breath and said: “Alright man…let’s do it.”

That was the beginning of it. I didn’t want to play the record live because my biggest concern was first, would I be able to stand in front of people and live those emotions over and over again. For me, it was out of the question. It was not something I wanted to perform.

Maybe because I was doing movies…I could have images to the songs, something like that we could share. I was doing Q & A after, and maybe I was OK to do something like that. Playing live was completely out of the question.

Then Laurent Saulnier of Le Festival de Jazz heard the record and kept calling. “You need to come and play that record. It’s very cool and I really dig it. People will really like it.”

Then with the sales…everything went out of control. I got so scared when suddenly I had to give interviews. “Oh…you sold THAT amount of records…”

I never cared about that, even with Your Favorite Enemies.

I took a long break, for months. Laurent was really persistent. Out of love, he really wanted me to perform. So, I said OK.

It was completely different from Your Favorite Enemies. We were rehearsing and I was thinking: Will I cry? How will I experience all those emotions? I don’t just want to play them like a jukebox.

Even if I had ten to twelve years’ experience, playing everywhere, doing every sort of gig, jumping from the third balconies…all those crazy things…I was so scared…so scared.

MR: This is completely different. It’s like you are being almost naked on stage.

Alex: The guys were so good with me. They really nurtured me into going back into the light. I said: “I don’t want to do Your Favorite Enemies Part II.” I wanted to have other people come into the band. We are now nine, which is completely crazy.

It was a different experience at Club Soda for the Festival de Jazz. I received so much love. Close friends telling me it was MY VOICE. It wasn’t about the jumping around. It was my voice, and I was really happy that I didn’t turn it into some sort of rock-n-roll gimmick. It was me incarnating those emotions, because they were still there.

MR: You mentioned at one point that this album was almost like a communion, which is a sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings. Because you are getting so much feedback from others about the way they are interpreting these songs, what are some things they are getting from it that you weren’t expecting?

Alex: I’ve been set free from what I was feeling when I received that feedback.

I knew I had a responsibility to not just throw the record out and “see you later guys, whatever you want to make out of it.”

When they were writing to me about their own grief, what they were experiencing and the difficulties they had, it was very very poignant.

MR: You realized that you put something out there that had an effect on other people’s lives.

Alex: Yeah. It was very transcending in many ways because I realized that it wasn’t my record anymore, and that felt really good. It wasn’t done out of selfishness.

MR: That why I think you found the key to releasing your ego. It wasn’t about you anymore.

Alex: Yeah. I felt humbled by that. At that moment, I was releasing the vinyl edition and I wrote a personal letter to every single person who ordered one. That period where I didn’t want to give interviews, I didn’t want to promote…that’s what I did. It was a connection with people.

It was very intimate. I was writing why I wrote the record. I answered those that bought the record and sent me a message with it.

My friends thought I was crazy. It’s such a labor of love. I didn’t see it as I HAD to do it…it was that connection…

MR: I WANT to do it.

Alex: Exactly. I felt like that record opened a very intimate line of communication with people. I felt humbled. I didn’t feel like I was obligated to answer and write them, but it was such a beautiful opportunity.

Some people would get something different out of the words on the record.

It’s true! That what those words meant for me. I could relate.

I was discovering the record differently because I was able to have a bit of distance with it.

It was an exchange off the grid, one person to another. It wasn’t an artist answering his so-called fans. It was very personal and emotional.

I was talking with a Japanese girl. In Japan, emotions are complex and different. You need to people, love that culture and dwell on what it means.

Someone wrote to me and said they experienced being abused, in their family. She said: “I want to forgive. I want to let go.”

That’s the kind of messages I was receiving. Pretty powerful!

It goes way beyond the music. Is it good? Is it special or not?

What can you say to something like this, more than just: “Wow…Thank-you. You have so much courage. There is a beautiful power in acknowledging that you can give forgiveness.”

For me, forgiveness is the most generous gift you can give others.

“Forgiveness is the most generous gift you can give others.” – Alex Henry Foster

You will set them free, whether they will take it or not. It goes way beyond what truth is about. It goes beyond morals and religion.

MR: Have you forgiven your dad?

Alex: Yeah. That’s what we talked about on his deathbed. It’s fifteen minutes that shaped my life and leads me where I’m going.

RANDAL WARK
December 10, 2019

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Showcases in New York City

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I will have a few free showcases at the Piano’s, an iconic venue in NYC, where I have already played before with Your Favorite Enemies. I am truly looking forward to those gigs! If you’re in the area, drop by and enjoy the music!

December 3-4-5
Free
From 6pm to 7pm
Piano’s NYC (158 Ludlow St)

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AHF @ L’ASTRAL | Concert review by Montreal Rocks

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As published in Montreal Rocks

Read the original article here

Alex Henry Foster performs at a sold-out L’Astral on November 30, 2019.

“Who is this guy?” I said to myself, being handed an Alex Henry Foster pamphlet, as I exited Club Soda.

Earlier that day, I had a fascinating conversation with Bishop Briggs and subsequently caught her show in the evening.

This was the sixth or seventh AHF pamphlet I had received since the summer. After every MTelus show…at the Jazz Festival Verdun exit…there was this mysterious picture of Alex. This street team is dedicated!

Curiosity got the best of me, and I went to YouTube and found this.

I reached out and secured an interview before his sold-out show at L’Astral on November 30th, 2019.

I was definitely not expecting the conversation to last over 45 minutes and to get so deep.

Read the original Interview with Alex Henry Foster.

En français: ici and even in Japanese !

Highlights from Alex Henry Foster Live @ L’Astral

To call this a concert review would not give it justice…it was a 2 ½ hour performance. Intense, captivating and powerful are the words that spring to mind as I think back to my experience.

Alex put Your Favorite Enemies on hiatus, after playing in front of 90,000 fans, yet feeling nothing inside. You could tell that to the sold-out crowd, Alex was feeling something far superior, intimacy with his fans.

There he was, performing solo, but with the full backing of the members of Your Favorite Enemies behind him, and then some. Nine talented musicians shared the stage, led by Alex.

This was more than a concert. It was the story of a man whose life was shattered by the death of his father. He escaped to Tangiers to grasp at the shards of his life, and slowly put himself back together again. He would never again be the man he was before but experienced a rebirth as an artist.

The street team was just a glimpse into the support that Alex has behind him. There is a genuine love and respect from fellow bandmembers who trust that this story had to be told musically, and they fully backed him.

Each song was a glimpse into the mind of Alex as he struggles to make sense of all the pieces in the puzzle of his life.

These were not your typical 3 to 4 minute pop songs. The mathematical average length of the songs were 13 1/2 minutes, but the reality being that some went past the 20 minute range.

A cohesive group of musicians told this story with every note, backed by an extensive lighting show.

I was not familiar with all his songs, but some of the highlights were “Winter’s Coming In” and “The Hunter” among many others that I simply cannot name.

The 2 1/2 hour set went by in a flash, and we had to return to reality. The lights were turned on, and the fans remained, speaking to one another.

Alex Henry Foster and the band were in the lobby, once all were moved out of the main area. Alex hugged every single person in the lobby, having found some magical boost of energy after his draining performance.

That energy comes from his connection to his fans, a group so diverse in every metric.

I got my hug, and made my way into the darkness of the night to catch the last Metro.

I remember sitting there reflecting on the day and night I had and couldn’t help but appreciate the connection I made with Alex through our conversation. I appreciated experiencing this intimate story with his dedicated fans. I appreciated his courage to share with us his incredible journey.

I look forward to seeing where that journey leads him.

RANDAL WARK
November 30, 2019

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Alex Henry Foster: Interview with an emerging artist

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As published in Le Collectif

Read the original article here

How did your passion for music start?

The passion for music, literature and art in all its forms undeniably comes from my parents who, despite their constant struggle to survive, have taken all possible means to make me discover a reality that was expanding well beyond the financial precariousness with which they had to deal during most of my childhood and adolescence.

I have no memory of a day without the music of an artist or another coming to fill the space of the innumerable small makeshift apartments where we lived successively for a brief moment.

The most intimate memories I have with my dad are defined by the moments when he made me sit on an old sofa to share his love of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, to name only those. I still remember my fascination for these vinyls, which ostensibly so fragile, had in their grooves an unsuspected power, a clamor with the unique property of feeding both my mind and my imagination.

My mother, who is very fond of what is now called old time rock ‘n’ roll, made me dance every Saturday morning to the rhythms of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and other heroes from her childhood. I could not really understand how much good it was doing to me, but at this age, I would say that the definition of a sad existence was not that marked by the anguish of my uprooting and multitudes anxieties engendered by what it means to have to deal with poverty, but rather of a life stripped of all forms of music.

I think that music truly took over from the moment I witnessed a rehearsal of a friend’s brother’s band. I was in 5th grade… I will never forget that moment when I saw people really playing an instrument. There was such power in coordinating the chaos that I heard this autumn afternoon that made me discover The Cure, The Clash, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Smiths, Joy Division and many others. I was totally hypnotized by what had changed my life forever…

Then followed my discovery of the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, The Stooges and The Cramps, bands that allowed me to live my first musical experiences, although it was Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen who eventually took the whole place, while the music became for me more than decibels, but literature and sound textures. From that moment, everythin that was not artistic became totally uninteresting for me…

What led you to start everything?

I had numerous bands while in high school, but nothing too serious. It’s only when I met Sef, with whom I was going to found Your Favorite Enemies, through our academic background in social work, that music would become the driving force of our activism and the tool with which we could express ourselves and have the opportunity to bring together people who, like us, felt the need to break their emotional isolation.

It’s really this goal of reaching people that made us start everything. We played a few benefit concerts to the profit of human rights groups with which we were already involved and then followed the beginning of what would be a unique adventure which brought us to the four corners of the world, without any other plan than to follow our instinct, guided by our friendship and the desire to connect with others, whomever they might be.

You were first the singer of the band “Your Favorite Enemies” before starting your individual career. What distinguishes your music as a band from your own music?

I would say that it distinguishes itself by the nature from which this music emanates. Your Favorite Enemies has always been the product of a deep friendship among its members, a collective vehicle expressing strong emotions through our deep creative differences. The pure energy of this expression was only for the sole purpose of being communicated with people who felt the same emotions, the same needs, those same desires, or who did not suspect their existence… All through one almost cathartic abandonment.

My project, however, was born through the mourning of my father, which highlighted years spent trying to avoid addressing deep personal issues and other intimate emotions that I had camouflaged for years through the group’s sound and the “we” that implies to be part of a collective. This is what makes my music a more introspective, contemplative and immersive experience, where the words carry emotions expressed honestly, without filter, without shame, without artifice, where music transports us rather than jostling us and to make us capsize.

In 2016, you went to Morocco for 2 years to work on your album “Windows in the Sky”. What was your inspiration in its creation?

I first and foremost went to live in a place where I had no friends, no landmarks, no potential beacons. I was totally exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually. My only goal was to drift, but the spirit of the city of Tangier allowed me to discover what abandonment meant, to let go totally. It was at this moment that the desire to write slowly came back, and that I became aware of my need to live the mourning of my father, to make peace somehow with the many torments and storms who had marked the person that I am and the artist that I had become.

Have you always wanted to have a solo career? What led your choice?

I have never had any careerist ambition… For me, creation, like art in general, is a gift that we receive in order to offer the subsequent fruit in return. And if producing a solo album was really a choice, I would say that it was more a need I felt to express myself without having to hide through decibels and not having to throw myself into the crowd from the second balcony of a venue to feel alive…

Why introducing your album in grand premiere in Tokyo?

Because I always felt at home in Japan. As this album is both personal and intimate, I felt this deep need to expose myself to people who have not only seen me as the person I am today, but who have always been generous to me in their affection and hospitality. I knew that if I could present myself in front of them with this album, it was because I knew that I had gone to the end of my ressources for it to see the light of day.

You launched your book “A Journey Beyond Ourselves” in 2017, in which you discuss the creation of “Tokyo Sessions” of Your Favorite Enemies. Why was it important for you to explain the story of the creation of this album?

Because “Tokyo Sessions” is the album that allowed us to free ourselves from our doubts, our limitations and our eternal reassessments. This album is the re-appropriation and re-writing of the album “Between Illness and Migration”, for which the group was nominated at the Juno Awards and which allowed us to tour around the world for almost 5 years, tours where the songs became their own incarnations and where we became aware of the distance that had settled between us. It was important for me to witness this pivotal period, to share its nature with the people who had been following us and supporting us so loyally forever. If “Tokyo Sessions” was to be the last album of Your Favorite Enemies, it was exactly what we wanted to do and the real reflection of what the band had become. I wanted to celebrate the emancipating effect it had on us and to bear witness to the creative freedom it infused in us.

You also write about artistic, musical and daily topics in 2 magazines: “The Eye View” and “BEEAST” in Japan. In addition to considering you as a singer, musician and author, you are a poet. What are your writings inspired by?

Of all that I perceive when I take a moment to observe, to see beyond myself. I have always been fascinated by what I affectionately call “the other”; his life, his wrongs, his paradoxes, his nonsense, his kindness, just as his honest cruelty. There is in the “other” what I refuse to admit in my own self, what I like to believe as different when it is not. I saw absolutely beautiful things in “the other”, I was swept away to have seen the suffering and terrified by those he loves to inflict his neighbor. I realized and understood that I did not know anything about him, or me, for that matter. It is these reflections that inspire me… “The other”, knowing that he sees me too.

Before focusing on your music career, you first graduated from Social Work and were involved with Amnesty International as a spokesperson and speaker, among other things. Do you give room for social involvement in your artistic career?

For me, the two are indissociable. There is no form of art, whatever it is, which does not prove to be a social implication. Even the one that can appear as the most insipid form of expression or creation is a social implication. Whether it is the reflection of the world or the pitfall of the latter, art is social, has always been, and always will be. I often feel that we live in an age of appearances, the illusory and the culture of insipidity in all its forms, but art is nonetheless at the heart of it, just like its social impact. Art is a reflection of the world, of the “other”, and its opposite. At least, that’s how I see it and put it at the center of each of my public or personal projects.

You have been nominated for “Anglophone Album of the Year” at L’ADISQ this year. Did you expect this nomination after seeing the success of your album?

It was a wonderful surprise, but for a reason that has absolutely nothing to do with the award ceremony and their so-called recognition, since for me, it is first and foremost the joy of knowing people who have received me through my album to be not only proud, but carriers, since they have given an identity that goes far beyond the words and sounds that carry the album. They made it theirs, and it was for all those people that this nomination particularly pleased me.

Among all your compositions, do you have a crush, a preference? Why?

This is a difficult question to answer, because the answer invariably rests on my state of mind. At this moment, I would spontaneously say “From the City to the Ocean”, because it is about questioning yourself in front of the distance that one believes to cross with the time which unfolds before our eyes, a text resulting from a perspective on our intrinsic need to be in control, when this is never really the case; the motion is the result of our decision towards the need to let go when we are told to hold on.

When did you realize the scale of your musical success? Did you anticipate it at a certain point? Was it your goal when it all started?

I do not believe that we can anticipate anything if we feel no desire and in that sense, I do not really believe in the notion of success or failure when we decide to create. However, I quickly realized the perverse effect when I felt dispossessed from the reasons why I created when, after only 3 concerts, our first (and last!) manager parachuted us without any form of preparation or coaching in the implacable world of entertainment and the claws of those who feed on the dreams and hopes that are for some their only possessions. I am proud to say that it is our deep friendship and love for each other that not only protected us from ourselves, but are the reasons why we are still together today. If there is a notion of success attributable to our adventure, it is our friendship that deserves to be honored…

You also perform in Germany. Do you plan to expand elsewhere in the world? Are your roots (Montreal) important to you?

I did not have the vision to go on stage when I gave birth to “Windows in the Sky”, I was even terrified! I did not think I had the strength or the ability to play these very personal songs night after night. It was our friend Laurent Saunier who insisted that I perform at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which convinced me by his resilience, his insistence, but especially his deep attachment to my album. So, unlike Your Favorite Enemies which took off in Europe and Japan, this project is closely linked to my roots. That’s what made me want to repeat the experience on November 30 at L’Astral in Montreal, but also to perform across Quebec if the opportunity was given to me, although I’m already scheduled to play in Europe, Asia and the United States in the coming year.

What are your plans, what can we wish you for the future?

The deluxe version of “Windows in the Sky” is expected to be released internationally next spring. I composed the soundtrack for a film about the Irish poet William B. Yeats also set to appear at the end of 2020. There’s also a project that is particularly close to my heart, the release of a special boxset of Your Favorite Enemies on January 31, 2020.

And if I have a wish to express, it is the hope that the privilege you granted me to share my adventure through your newspaper will inspire others to follow their instincts and create their own uncompromising destiny.

Don’t hesitate to write to me: Facebook

ARIEL BÉLANGER
November 20, 2019

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November 30 in Montreal: Sold Out!

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Thank you!!!

2 sold-out concerts in Montreal, one after the other. Thank you for your support! It truly means a lot to me! Knowing that the emotions I have poured in my album “Windows in the Sky” resonate within you is beyond words…!

I can’t wait to share this moment with you! And already, there are new songs that have been added to the show, and probably a few more until then…!

See you on November 30!

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3rd date at the Reeperbahn Announced

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I am truly happy to say that I will have the honor to perform a third concert at the Reeperbahn Festival this year! Here’s a recap of all the shows. Hoping to catch you at one of these!

• September 19, 11:00, Hamburg @ Kukuun (Reeperbahn Festival)
• September 19, 23:25, Hamburg @ Angie’s Nightclub (Reeperbahn Festival)
• September 21, 14:10, Hamburg @ Spielbude (Reeperbahn Festival)

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ADISQ 2019 nomination!

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My album “Windows in the Sky” has been nominated at the ADISQ for best anglophone album of the year! Thank you! It feels a bit surreal… but THANK YOU! You are the ones who made this possible!

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