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Singer Josephine Foster: ‘Complicated song forms rarely capture my heart or attention’

Samuel Breen

foster 300x225 Singer Josephine Foster: Complicated song forms rarely capture my heart or attentionThe Colorado-Born opera singer talks about life in Spain, discovering Castile folk, and returning home to record her latest album.

Josephine Foster is the warm, kindly recording artist, too adverse to synthetics to be of this world. She is the singer listeners hold close to their hearts. She is the real, tangible romance, one of well-thumbed folk tales, of intimacy in plain expression. It wouldn’t take a fine comb to reveal how impersonal and calculated music can be. Foster is the antidote. “Making music is not about logical processes,” she writes via email, “It’s a way to resonate with wherever you are and whatever cultivate beauty you desire to share”.

Foster’s career could be seen as a continuous endeavour to construct the sounds of her locus. Graphic As A Star placed the poetry of Emily Dickinson in an intimate setting of friends and music, and her two records with The Victor Herrero Band are very much placed in Grenadine Sierra, Spain – albums of haunting folk tales recalling oppression under Franco, local churches, and life in the Sierra today.

“Where I live has a profound influence on me, in fact that first song on Perlas Puerto de Santa Maria was a melody I dreamt during a stay there several years ago. It is an old port town where many historic voyages departed from the old to the new world. So it made sense that we ended up returning to that town to record the album. We also arranged and recorded the music living by the Atlantic, and I hear and feel the sea in this music.”

She works hard to remove herself from the creative process and it is audible (as opposed to laudable). “All I write are just rhymes, and they don’t necessarily make sense,” she tells the arts and film group Harmonic Rooms, extolling the virtues of obvious rhymes. “Rather than emerging from oral sources, this latest album [Perlas] is taken from scores and folk songbooks. This is often just the poem, a melodic line and chords, which Victor and I liberally rearranged.”

Without obstructing the process of creation Foster applies a deft touch. Graphic As A Star, her sombre collection of songs based on the poems of Emily Dickinson, is a perfect example of this. Throughout the record there’s a restraint from contributing to the landfill where most music is dumped. Beyond the brilliance of her music, there’s a quality to Josephine that suggests she is respectful to the listener. That she is not driven by ego, nor a desire to be a pop star. Not even to be recognised, nor vying for our attention, rather, she shows an uncommon degree of caution.

However Josephine sees this slightly differently. That it is the avoidance of the complex, and a desire for the simple that bolsters her music. An idea that combines with an organic outlook on newness. “It’s hard for me to assess my work, but in general, very complicated song forms rarely capture my heart or attention. Broader and simpler themes to me make a song more durable and less likely to burn out. The new is something that happens by itself being open to the unknown.”

Foster’s music is noted for dynamic vocal phrasing, frequently jumping up and down octaves. An ability born out of her years studying opera. “I loved to sing from a young age, opera was attractive to me for its liberating impulse, because all the bland conforming pop filling the air was frustrating on a psychological level. Sung intervals could be compared to the muscular impulses in dance, also to the rising and falling in nature influenced by the elements. So the only limiting factor is the muscle itself, because the spirit behind it wants complete amplitude. I’ve noticed most free music in the world seems to find expression vibrating freely along the widest reaches of the voice. Commercial singing styles seem to reign in the voice, and repeat sterilised and limited spectrum frequencies.”

On her new record Josephine returns to Colorado, “I still feel love of the arid and rocky landscape, and understand how this shapes the people distinctly despite all the barriers we erect,” and draws attention to the, “subtle and expansive forms of information that are available to us”. It’s a land named after Spanish explorers describing the red river which runs through it. It’s a record that could soundtrack that journey, that could bring John Ford back to life, rushing along dolly tracks panning across the imagined Rio Grande.

Blood Rushing is a reminder that the digital sanitisation of events and the binary reduction of humans to Turing machines – inputters as a sorrowful outlook. Blood Rushing is an emotive, that Foster was compelled to act. But it also points to the linking of generations, of bloodlines, which acts as a theme in her writing. Panorama Wide deals with birth, and titles Child of God and Underwater Daughter nod to bloodlines. It is the honest humanity of her music that lifts it up and above its contemporaries, floating on a masterly falsetto.

‘Blood Rushing’ is out now

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