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Progressive Rock Interviews

Jack Foster III

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Jack Foster III from 2007

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Can you catch the readers up a bit on your musical history?
I used to be an unknown, unpublished singer/songwriter/guitarist. Then I met Trent Gardner, and now I'm an unknown published singer/songwriter/guitarist! Um ... just kidding!

I grew up in a musical family, and I started playing guitar in grade school. I was a music major in college, focusing on composition and theory. It seems like I've always been in bands, but nothing big or monumental - mostly just party bands. But I've always liked writing songs, and always hoped that someday I would do something with the songs.

MSJ: I know artists are not crazy about having their music pigeon-holed, but how would you describe your sound?
The sound on the three albums is due in large part to Trent Gardner and Robert Berry. Had I hooked up with different producers, the sound might have been very different. But I'd say the music on the CDs is fundamentally rock with strong progressive influences and many other weaker influences: jazz, pop, blues, and even metal and country!  

MSJ: Who do you see as musical influences?
I'd have to start with the Beatles. They made music that was both accessible and artistic. That has certainly been a goal of mine. After the Beatles, I'd say Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Yes, Fleetwood Mac, and The Eagles. Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and Jeff Beck. The Talking Heads, Beck, Jeff Buckley. Joni Mitchell, CSNY, Lynard Skynrd. . .

Hey, I was primarily a musical product of American AM top 40 pop in the early 70s, and album-oriented Rock music in the mid to late 70s. The bands
that I was in covered this stuff! I probably went further afield than most of my peers, branching out to Miles, and Weather Report; Michael Hedges and
George Winston. But I always thought good music should start with a good song.

Of course I shouldn't leave Trent Gardner out as a major musical influence! As I said earlier, Trent and Robert have strongly influenced the music.

MSJ: I'm kind of curious about your lyrics. I know there is Christian imagery in there, but without a chance to fully look into it, I've not been too clear about the meanings. Are your lyrics Christian ones?
I was raised as a Presbyterian, but over the last few years I've become very interested in early Christian writings, particularly in an early sect of
Christianity retrospectively called "Gnostic Christianity." (Could Gnostic Christianity be the original "True" Christianity?) Elaine Pagels is one of the authors who writes about Gnostic Christianity. It's a non-dogmatic form that's probably more closely akin to Buddhism than it is to mainstream Christianity. According to Gnostics, it's simply not about dogmatic belief systems, and Gnostics consider all such systems fundamentally mythology -- perhaps useful and even valuable mythology, but mythology none-the-less. Read Pagels' Beyond Belief for a decent historical overview. So. Some of my songs attempt to express this view. In my opinion, religion should be about a humanist understanding and about love, and should not be about the blind acceptance of divisive dogma.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Recording more original music, of course! But Trent and I have also been working on an on-line music sales system that allows small labels or musicians to take control of their own careers. It's called JamGate, and it's very cool. A musician or label can start their own music store, and have complete control of decisions about that store: how to price, what to sell, marketing to fan base. Proceeds from sales flow directly into the PayPal accounts of the store-owners. When somebody makes a purchase, the store-owner knows who that person is, and can market to them in the future. It's something that we feel the music industry needs. But of course, we have to prove the model.

MSJ: You have had some interesting musicians to work with. How did you hook up with these guys and how has the joint venture worked out?
I played in a pick-up band with Trent for a gig. I had never heard of him, but during the gig, I was told that he was a producer. I had been looking for a producer, and so I checked out Trent's work. Glossolalia, in particular blew me away! So I approached Trent, and he asked to preview some songs. I sent him a demo tape with about 30 songs, mostly just me singing, accompanied by my acoustic guitar. He picked out a few that he thought he could do something with, and he agreed to do an album. He brought Robert into the project, and it turned out that the three of us get along quite nicely! We have a great time in the studio.
MSJ: Are there musicians you'd like to play with in the future?
Trent and Robert and I talked about putting a band together that would do a combination of all of our music, but we're all so busy that I don't see how it could happen. It would have to start with some strong demand. I play in a party band called Mojophonic, but I'd like to put a band together to do some of my originals, either with some of the Mojo guys or with other strong players. I'm thinking trio: bass, drums, and me. That would be the easiest to put together.

If the question goes to specific musicians, I'd have to say "no." There are so many talented musicians out there! Plus, I'm so...unknown. Who would want to play with me at this point?! I've got to just get out there myself first.

MSJ: Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales - would you agree?
The answer to these simple questions is very, very complex! Downloads can certainly hurt sales for established musicians. But the viral nature of
downloading can also help to establish musicians who have not previously had access to other channels. Personally, I want people to hear my music, because they can't become Jack Foster III fans until they do! Whether I get paid or not is rather secondary. That being said, it isn't cheap to record music the way it should be recorded. It certainly doesn't hurt to get paid back some through CD sales! At the very least, the revenue might help to convince my wife that I should make more albums!

MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
I kind of think that that question is best answered by the band being recorded. I know the Grateful Dead and others set up sections in the audience so that live shows can be recorded by fans! It's actually quite a compliment to have people think so much of your music that they want to make a permanent record of every note you make!
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
Hmm. Sufjan Stevens' album called "Illinoise" probably was my last purchase. I like that album very much! He displays a strong Philip Glass influence. I've been listening mostly to drafts of some new songs, recently. But some favorite albums that I come back to often include Abbey Road, Jeff Buckley's Grace, and Steve Walsh's Glossolalia.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
I saw the Police in Oakland when they came through the San Francisco Bay Area. Sting is incredible, and to hear the old music was nostalgic to say the least.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
I once played what was supposed to be a "youth dance" at a Temple. We started playing on a stage with the curtain down for dramatic affect. As our intro song progressed, the curtain was raised. We were greeted by a bunch of old folks sitting around tables, with grimaces on their faces, and their hands covering their ears!
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?
I'd like to thank you for actually paying attention to new music, Gary. There's so much music out there today, and consequently some very good music just doesn't get much of a chance to be heard. It's frustrating! Friends say, "Man, Jack! If you could get a time machine, and put this stuff out 30 years ago, you'd be a household name!" I don't know about that, but I do think that the music on my albums can be very - compelling! And it's nice to have someone recognize that and spread the word.
 
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