Published Jan 19, 2010Although she's been at it for a decade now, Colorado-born folk chanteuse Josephine Foster has remained mostly in the shadows for much of that time. Originally maligned within the freak-folk movement of the mid-'00s, Foster's eclectic taste, haunting voice and studious understanding of the American primitive and its musical forbearers all made her too unwieldy to pin down along the same lines as a Marissa Nadler or Joanna Newsom. It certainly didn't help that the majority of her work came out on self-released CD-Rs, while more traditional releases tended toward obscurity. 2007's A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing, for example, was a paean to 18th century Romanticism, sung wholly in German. On Graphic As A Star, the conceptualism continues, but in a direction that should bring the distinctly talented Foster the admirers she so richly deserves. The 26 songs that make up this album are Emily Dickinson poems set to music, and whereas this conceit makes Graphic sound like an intellectual exercise, Foster's unique singing technique - she used to be a voice teacher - and spare orchestration render the poems arresting vignettes. Graphic As A Star is a deceptively simple record, yet one filled with melodic subtleties that will keep listeners coming back to Foster's cult.
You have a very malleable, haunting sound. When did you first discover your voice as a talent, and how did you cultivate it?
When I was pretty young, like 11 years old, some people took notice of my voice, saying it was soulful and peculiar, stuff like that. I liked how it felt to sing, and that people felt things when I sang was even better. Later, around 16 years old, I wanted to study opera and gain the means to explore all those frequencies that operatic singing opens up.
You've taught singing. How does that experience affect your approach to song and songwriting?
The idea that a song could be sung by others than myself is always a real hope of mine, so I don't consider my recordings finished products and, indeed, its sort of a way to flow in the modern way of sharing the music. Working with amateur singers and being one myself influences me quite a bit, and I'm very interested in the collision of freedom in rarefied music.
What are some of the next projects for you in the pipeline?
Later in the spring, Victor Herrero and I will release an album of Spanish songs we arranged for our new band, inspired from Federico Garcia Lorca's folksong arrangements.
You've released your music on small indies for a long time, even though it has the potential to touch a much bigger audience.
Seeking bigger audiences, or being really calculated about career moves, I'm no good at that stuff at all. There are always surprising new lessons around the corner, as recorded music was never a thing I foresaw myself winding up involved in, and I come quite unprepared.
How does the dynamic of your music change when working with others, and what aspects of the solo or group arrangement work best for you?
The thing I enjoy most about collaborating is live performance and a plane of invention and playfulness within the song forms. That atmosphere can be hard to find in a recording situation. Playing alone seems more consistent, obviously. I know what to expect, which is the thing that challenges: trying to surprise yourself.
You've been away from home for three years in a Spanish village. How'd you end up there, and why have you been on the road for so long?
I'm married to a Spaniard, and as for being on the road so long, it seems that until there is a place to truly call home the natural course of things is to just keep moving. (Fire)