Thursday, 12 March 2009

Andrew Foster - Welcome To The Beautiful South

One of the most wonderful films about music in the last decade is Once. It is a beautifully human tale of a Dublin singer who falls for a Czech immigrant. It features the most tender but uplifting music that gels in perfect synchronicity with the visuals. Butterflymind by Andrew Foster sounds like a lost outtake from that film. There are gentle soft hued acoustic guitars, flushes of subtle piano and voice that gives off a secure fireplace warmth. Foster is seated in the traditions of the male singer songwriter for sure. There is nothing progressive or particularly unusual about his songs such as Watching Clocks and the harmonica led Hovering Over The Red Button. Instead he is steeped in the craft of developing his skill, to produce a melody that is natural and honest. He writes in a quiet personal way exemplified on tracks such as the questioning Snow Through The Window where he asks “What if I had never taken a chance? What If I’d had never spent the time? What if I had never replied to the mail?” Before concluding “You wouldn’t know me and I wouldn’t know you.”

Foster is central to the hub of the more intelligent, and mature sounding young artists that herald from the Portsmouth scene. A collaborator with both Loz Bridge and The B Of The Bang both featured earlier this week, Foster has supported a whole range of artists from eighties singer songwriter Nik Kershaw to the likes of Mumford and Sons. To conclude our Welcome To The Beautiful South feature, Breaking More Waves took a bit of time to ask Andy a few questions.

You hail from the south of the UK, where exactly are you based and have you always lived in this area ?

I am a Portsmouth born lad, and have also spent some time living in London, I was disillusioned by the whole experience, but I did learn some invaluable life points from it. I do love this area as I adore the sea yet a few miles down the road are vast areas of forest and nature. This town for all its faults has a strong place in my heart.

What do you think, as a musician, is the benefit of being located where you come from ? And what are the bad things ?

Obviously being so far away from any major city is a downfall for industry stumbling across acts but that shouldn’t really be a problem, as not all signings and success’s come from London, Manchester, or Birmingham obviously! I don’t think it matters where your from if you have a car and the internet. It may just take more time which can be frustrating. When you’re in London you realize just how many bands/artists there are in a small space competing for attention. That can freak you out a little; at least here you have space to learn your craft and to cultivate your art. The benefit is Portsmouth is loaded with songwriting subjects! It feeds me ideas……

Portsmouth is a mid sized city and yet over the years it seems to have had very little success in producing bands and singers that have had significant commercial success compared with other cities of a similar size. Why do you think this is ?

I have been on this “scene” if you want for many years now and I’ve seen the way this town works, and it saddens me a little. The minute someone gets a whiff of success then jealousy kicks in from there contemporaries and they are discarded from the area like they are automatically U2 sized! It’s a strange tick this city has, the undercurrent is very competitive and the city will never develop any kind of scene like Liverpool or the small east London scene that erupted in the early noughties because of it. There’s no reason for industry to take the trip here on a whim as nothing is asking to be looked at. If an artist put this place on the map then the band would then disappear out of the city with the tag. No-one would be brought up with it. I don’t regard myself on a scene anyway I don’t really enjoy the idea as I like to think of myself as stand alone. I do like what B of the Bang, Loz, and myself have though. This is the closest thing to a scene I will ever feel comfortable in as we help each other and respect each others art. I will never be jealous of Loz in a way that isn’t constructive, he deserves everything he gets. It’s a shame people don’t know what goes on down here though as we do have some amazing music in this little city. If artists helped each other out a bit more then we could give the industry a reason to be here. I do quite like the flying stealth ideal though, you have to get out amongst it and show your face. No one’s going to see you if your playing a local Portsmouth pub every night. Love Albert Road Day, and SouthseaFest are events that could possibly bring the town to the forefront, like a mini sound city or Edinburgh Festival. Even then there’d be a squabble over who was better that day! Its definitely getting better though, and there are people and bands that are respecting each other more and more.

What are your three favourite venues to play in the South ?

I have strong ties to the Cellars as I like what they do there and will always have respect for that place as it has played a huge part in shaping me. From the gigs I have done and the artists I’ve watched there, it’s been integral to me learning my craft. The Wedgewood Rooms is where I started my starry eyed gig watching days so that will always be a special place, I still get a shudder walking onto the stage that has housed so many greats. The third would have to be the Bedford in London. The hospitality is unrivalled, the sound is great, and they really care about the music.

Tell me a little about your music, and your musical plans for the future.

I’m predominantly an acoustic artist. It’s where my voice sits better, I like intricate voicings on acoustic guitar and I enjoy understatement in a track. Saying that I listen to a lot of heavy music and also went through a dabble with electronica. I started my musical life in a rock band from which I was front man, and I have also produced many local acts. I’m still a huge fan of music even through being a songwriter and studying music technology the logistics in that still hasn’t destroyed my passion for the appreciation of other peoples little slices of soul. This forms a good canvas for a melting pot of influences. The records take on a slightly different form but I enjoy the craft of the song, the bare bones…the Ryan Adams School of songwriting if you will!

Planning is a difficult thing to do with art as I sit and wait for inspiration to strike and it does thankfully, very regularly. Career wise you can only do so much before a hand of fate comes and gives you a go. There are countless artists that should be heard but aren’t being and for that reason my plan is to keep going until I feel I have given it all my worth. But I will never stop writing and performing no matter what. It’s who I am and what I want to do with my time here. I’m a little obsessed with the idea of communicating an emotion through music.

What inspires you ?

Nature inspires me so much, I’m very aware of my surroundings and the way they make me feel. Hyper sensitive in fact, I can feel changes in the vibe or tone of a conversation or environment. Sometimes it’s a curse but it does make for some interesting songs! A lot of my songs are from something I have experienced or gone through but it all amounts to how I feel about something. For example a book will ignite a thought process and I will then relate it to something in my own life. Sometimes I will write in the third person say on a recent track called Justice. That is character based as I can honestly say I have never been so jealous I have killed the next door neighbour with a brick to the face! Other musicians inspire me also; I could watch Loz Bridge play for hours. Some people have this weird connection with there instrument, like they are communicating another language and transferring emotion when they play. That’s very inspiring to watch. I take in everything, I’m like a big sponge, I don’t miss a thing….whether i’ll remember it is a whole different story!

You’ve self released a CD. What are your thoughts on the argument that major record labels are not healthy for an artist who wants to maintain artistic integrity and not compromise ?

This is a very good question Breaking More Waves. It’s difficult as not feeling the other side of being on a major label, I can’t really comment on the horror stories you read about artists being pulled in awful directions. What I do understand is that a major labels interest is the product. In effect they are car salesmen; they very rarely know the cars real history, on what basis it came to be in the showroom or to whom it will leave. The only prime objective is to sell it. This is the same with songs, and I fully understand the process and why it is there. The fact is I have self released many a CD now but no one knows it’s there apart from the people that stumble across me or see me live. Major labels give you the grand exposure that propels an artist into the public conscious and that is obviously where you become judged artistically and financially. This is that constant battle between integrity and necessity from which all artists struggle with. Neil Young is an inspiration in no compromise but an artist like him nowadays would not survive in this current climate. He obviously has a huge legendry back catalogue of work in which to base him self on…he is safe. For the emerging artist it is very hard to write what you feel and have success without shaping. Its luck as to whether something catches on, and it crossing over organically. I for one very much subscribe to the traditional songwriting vibe of what comes out sticks, it crosses my mind sometimes to make it more palatable or friendly but it never comes to be.

I really hope I can maintain my integrity as an artist if the call comes for me and mass promotion happens. Artistic respect is the main reason I do what I do, and it’s hard to speak to people emotionally with a financial target breathing down your neck. Money and art……there’s a violent relationship!!!

So if Breaking More Waves were to offer you a big fat dirty wad of cash to use on of your songs for a TV advert would you take it ?

I’d like to say no…..bear with me….!

It really depends on many factors. If I were asked to write a piece for the advert I would do it immediately no questions. I come from a background in music for film as I worked in a very big studio in Soho as a runner and trainee so I understand that people get paid an astronomical amount of money for 30 seconds of audio. With the struggling musicians wages as they are a hefty chunk of cash would help me live my life like a normal person, as apposed to what I, and many others in the area are doing now!

As for one of my songs, that would be a different matter as they are emotionally attached to me. It would feel like watching other people kiss the girl you love! There is the argument that it gives more exposure, but you ask any Nick Drake fan if he got a shudder when watching a recent ad….i’m sure he’d say yes….Maybe us musicians are too precious and pretentious….maybe we just don’t like our art to be used as a pawn in selling burgers or razors! Its a tough decision whether you like it or not money is important in life.

You’ve done a whole load of support slots with a range of really varied artists. Any juicy gossip on any of them ?

I don’t do well with gossip, sorry to disappoint! I can tell you that Wit from B of the bang has a very good cheese collection…..

Finally, this article is called Welcome to the Beautiful South. What is your favourite song by The Beautiful South ?

I like the sound of a Rhodes keyboard so it has to be Perfect 10!!!

Thanks Andy, that’s another vote for Perfect 10 then from the bands of the south!

Here's Andy playing live, complete with a messy beginning....

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