Having anxiety and worries are the opportunities to be free
As published in Yaruki Lab
Read the original article hereI interviewed Alex Henry Foster who is active across the world as a frontman of Canadian rock band Your Favorite Enemies, about the source of his motivation.
Alex Henry Foster
After graduated from the university in Montreal, Canada, he started to work on the musical production while working as a social worker. In 2006, he debuted as the frontman of Your Favorite Enemies (YFE), toured all around the world from Europe, Japan, Australia, China and United States. And the album “Between Illness and Migration” was nominated to the Juno Awards in 2015. He is now focusing on his solo activity and released his solo album “Windows in the Sky” on March 20 in Japan.
Alex Henry Foster and Music
Introduction to Music
Katsube (Interviewer) : Please tell me how you were introduced to music.
Alex: It’s my father who introduced me to music. He would often take me to our tiny apartment living room for me to listen to his massive vinyl collection. I would sit on whatever piece of furniture we would call a couch to explore the album jacket while my father would explain the reasons why the artists, albums, or songs were meaningful and why I needed to know them. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, CCR, King Crimson, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones and The Doors to only name a few. Every listening session was for me a very important moment as I was able to get to know my father through something he deeply cared about. All that while closing my eyes to travel to the sound of music that so often felt like it had been written only for me. It was some sort of contemplative and immersive experience.
On the other hand, my mother was more into rock n roll. Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown… She would take me every Saturday morning, after I watched my weekly anime, to dance, again in our very small living room. Music would take a different dimension with her, it became physically engaging. It was about having fun through the rhythm. She was actually making a great deal of effort for me to see the world with an emancipative and positive vision, and she succeeded in many different ways, I would say.
Katsube: So the music was the connection for you and your family.
Alex: I grew up in a very modest and humble family who, regardless of the constant financial struggle and stigmata of being clearly on the very lower scale of the social latter, would greatly define the individual I would become by using music and literature as a way to show the infinite nature of imagination and creativity beyond the obvious limitation of my social/economic environment.
Transition from social worker to musician
Katsube: You worked as a social worker after university. Wasn’t it hard to become professional musician?
Alex: For me, any honest art form is a social statement, a personal engagement towards others. So it wasn’t much of a transition for me to go from being a full-time social worker to investing all my energy in music, especially that the decision came following a concert I did for the people in a very segregated, poor and violent neighborhood. Witnessing how the social barriers crumbled and how the cultural tensions were suddenly bridged, I realized just how incredibly impactful, healing and communing music could be.
Katsube: So even if you changed your job, the heart you have to help people didn’t really change.
Alex: Only a spirit with the sole desire to humbly serve others and to generously offer itself in order to invite them to commune could produce that fabulously pure reaction amongst people, whoever they are, regardless of their economic status, religious beliefs, cultural identity, life background, age or any other demographic elements that usually stand between us all.
The image of rival gang members standing side by side cheering for the music to keep going while others had their eyes closed without worrying about anyone’s judgment or having to fear being roughed up as they dwelled on the moment was absolutely stunning for me. It was something that commercial ambitions and stardom-longing could not inspire people to experience.
From that moment on, I not only knew how incredibly powerful music could be, but I understood just how profound our need to connect with others is. It was way beyond me and my music. There was something universal in it all.
The source of “motivation” for musical activities
Katsube: Where is your source of “motivation” coming from to create music?
Alex: Music has always been part of my life, for as far as I can remember. It’s been a way of life for me. I remember buying CDs and vinyls before even considering buying anything else. So I don’t know if I ever needed motivation to craft music, but I need music to motivate my everyday life.
For me, music is both immersive and engaging, just like I’ve experienced it as a kid. It needs to be free and pure, honest and real. Its worth is both physical and spiritual for me. And I believe there is no way you can reproduce its effect.
You can cheat and fake your way into the entertainment world and even become the most popular artist, but you can’t fake the transformative essence of pure art. It’s greater than us all.
Katsube: Music itself is the source of your “motivation” and it guide you towards the direction to walk.
Alex: That’s why I felt like I had to take a brief instant away from music and art a few years ago. I exiled myself in North Africa, in the city of Tangier, where I would end up living for 2 years, in order to reconnect with myself and face long awaiting emotions, such as the grief caused by my father’s passing.
That moment away not only allowed me to make peace with several things I kept hiding inside my heart and soul but also allowed me to go back to the very foundational meaning of what music and creativity are to me. And it’s when I decided to completely let go that it all came back to me… Anew, like my vision of the world. This experience would, later on, give birth to my album “Windows in the Sky”.
Alex Henry Foster and social activities
The reason to continue social charity activities
Katsube: You’ve been active beside music, just like having established non profit organization for raising the awareness of human rights and for the purpose of education, as well as supporting the victims from earth quake and tsunami. Why do you continue taking actions towards those activities?
Alex: It’s only because it is who I am.
I’m not in any possible way better or more special than anyone else around. My social engagement and active involvement towards social justice and human rights remain a choice that honors those who have faithfully supported me and believed in me during times of great desperation. By being pro-active, I hope I can inspire people who have lost faith and hope.
At the end of the day, it’s not what you say or what you’d like others to believe that matters, it’s who you truly are and how determined you are to be involved in whatever can make a difference for somebody else. I do understand those who act as if they were bigger and more important than any situation they are involved in, but it’s not aligned with my personal values to even think about capitalizing on my engagement towards others.
To walk towards the dream
Katsube: How can people find the “way of living” like you did?
Alex: I’m not much of an advice type of person, to be honest but…
Sometimes, it takes time to figure things out… There’s so much social and societal pressure for people to define who they are, what they want to accomplish and how they intend to concretely contribute to the system they are part of. So then, does it mean that every person who wonders is a failure, lazy or only wants to take without the intention of giving back and contributing? Absolutely not. Again, sometimes, it takes more time than others would allow us to take.
My only perspective for anyone who feels empty and faithlessly discouraged is simple; explore, explore, explore, observe, observe, observe. Remain faithful to what might look ridiculously insignificant to others. Nothing, as small of a gesture we might believe it is, remains inconsequential when done with a kind heart.
It will bear fruit in time. Keep feeding the soil and maintaining the ground for life to bloom… because it will.
I could talk about many people who were considered wastes of potential and shames to their own families, but who, by remaining faithful in what looks like nothing, have been blessings for so many people years later. But there’s nothing like exposing myself and honestly sharing my own experiences.
Katsube: To be faithful towards your own actions. That’s the start.
Alex: And you need to take time to face to yourself. I was completely lost and totally desperate when I arrived in Tangier. I had an incredibly successful career, won awards, toured all over the world, had several songs playing on the radio… But despite that, I felt dreadfully worn out and had a lack of vision for what I wanted in my life.
It took me 2 years, during which I wrote every day, looking at the world turn too fast for me most of the time, to let go of that unbearable pressure to keep going no matter what I had to face. And it’s in that personal abandonment that I slowly found peace with myself, that I’ve been able to see what my eyes weren’t able to perceive no more.
It’s still a daily decision to be, regardless of my fear of failure and my battle with anxiety. Sometimes I win without much of a fight, while other times I lose after a fierce fight. But now I know that a true victory always comes with accepting what I can’t control and pressing on until a new morning comes.
Remember, you are already a miracle of life. There’s absolutely no possible failure in hopelessness and desperation, only an opportunity to let go and redefine everything all over again. That’s what I believe in.
In the end
Katsube: Please give a message to the readers.
Alex: what truly matters to me right now is not only the importance of thanking you all for offering me the great privilege of sharing with you, but also for the incredible honor that I have to be able to call you brothers, sisters, and friends.
I believe that once we have communed in an intimate and honest way we have the blessing to have been transformed and therefore forever be connected. So again, thank you for welcoming me with so much generosity and an open heart… it means a lot to me.
Thank you very much! I am looking forward to your activities from now on.
April 13, 2020