Love of home fosters musician’s talent

Justin Brake
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Ian Foster performs Thursday night at The Ship in St. John’s. — Submitted photo

“Like many I’ve sort of had the push and pull to leave, though, since I’ve started touring I haven’t really wanted to as much because I love this city.”

Ian Foster was born and raised in St. John’s and earned his way into an arts community chock full of musical talent. You could say the 30-year-old songwriter has been accumulating hometown fans with his honest and straight-edged brand of urban folk music, but it’s an affinity for home and his creative ethic which have inspired Foster’s querying ways and spawned the growth evident in his music.

This is most obvious in his latest record “The Evening Light,” released just last month.

“I’ve seen other cities and I know and love what they have to offer, but coming back here is much more meaningful, which I find most Newfoundlanders discover,” he says, sipping a coffee at a downtown café and sporting a confident smile that affirms his realization.

Fresh off the road from a tour of the Maritimes, Foster will celebrate the release of his fifth full-length album Thursday evening with a show at The Ship Pub in St. John’s.

“The Evening Light” is more than anything, a (diverse) collection of spirited observations set to the sound of snappy, melodic tunes (“The House,” “The First Day,” “Two Fires” and “Daybreak”), vividly rendered ballads (“Hochelaga, Montreal,” “A Large Crowd Gathers for the Deceased Jeff Elliot’s Encore Performance”), a heavier representation of Foster’s intensity (“Deep Dark Night”), and Foster’s first traditional-sounding composition (“Calendar”).

“The place I draw most of my inspiration from is either literature or personal experience,” he explains.

“For me this record is a combination of some very specific experiences of living downtown St. John’s, and (being) on the road.

“When I’m on the road I find the conversations and experiences you have just seem a little bit more intense. You’re very much more aware of your surroundings and what’s going on, so I think there’s a lot to be mined from those experiences. And that definitely filters into the songs.”

The album opens with “Sparrow,” a solemn nod to a dreamer’s life in St. John’s: “I walk the road and turn the bend,” he sings. “I’m a sparrow facing down the gale, a moment before the world exhales.”

“Deep Dark Night” crescendos into an uptempo number (featuring Fergus O’Byrne on banjo) that sets the tone for songs like “The House” and “Daybreak,” which share the theme of hope and optimism in the face of hopelessness.

“A lot of the songs have that hopeful optimism to them that acknowledge while things can be bad sometimes ultimately there is something to look forward to,” he says.

“A Large Crowd Gathers for the Deceased Jeff Elliot’s Encore Performance” is perhaps the pinnacle of “The Evening Light.”

The six-plus-minute tune was written in a Montreal basement two years ago and has metamorphosed several times, says Foster, who submitted the piece as a short story to the province’s Arts and Letters competition in 2010. It took an award in the senior category for short fiction.

“And it became a song again that I started playing, but rewritten melodically and musically,” says Foster.

“It (came from) a conversation I had with a friend about guys like Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith, hence the composite fictional character Jeff Elliott — guys who didn’t get their dues until they had passed away, which is a common thing with many musicians or artists throughout history.

“The strange little folk narrative came to me as a story idea about what would happen if one of these guys were able to come back just for one more performance.”

Written from the first-person perspective of somebody who went to the show, says Foster, “this guy stands back as the narrator of the story and looks around and goes ‘there’s a real bittersweetness to this that all these people are here to see this kind of performance, but it is because of the buzz, it is because it’s too late.”

The album, self-produced by Foster and recorded in part at Stagehouse Recording Studio in St. Philip’s with Rick Hollett, also features guest musicians Jerry Stamp, Janis Campbell, Nick Coultas-Clarke, Chris Davis, Nancy Hynes, Andrew James O’Brien, Adam Press and Sharleen Simmons.

“I’ve always tried to do something different with each of my releases, but not in a calculated way,” says Foster, the evening light fading in the window beside us. “I’ve always gone in the direction that seemed to me I should go. The artists that I respect the most do that.”

Ian Foster and a full band of performers from the album, among “other special guests,” will perform at “The Evening Light” album release show Thursday evening.

Jerry Stamp will open the show. Showtime is 9 p.m. and admission is $10 at the door or $20 with a CD.

For more information visit www.ianfoster.ca.

Organizations: The Ship Pub, Adam Press

Geographic location: Montreal, Hochelaga

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