Interview: Shona Foster


First of all, please introduce yourself and your band.

I am Shona Foster. I sing, write songs and play a bit of guitar. And I have a regular core band that I work with which is Matt Gest on keys, Sam Walker on drums, Matthew Waer on bass and Jim Mortimore on Guitar. Plus other folks that are involved along the way.

Tell us about your early life, We know you were born in Scotland and grew up in Yorkshire…

Yes, I grew up in North Yorkshire. Moved around several small towns and villages. The folk and blues scene is very prominent there and I got introduced to the live music scene from quite an early age. I was about 10 when my mum started working for a local music collective. It was a tiny studio, recording local blues and punk bands. My mum’s partner, who was a great bass player, introduced me to the world of Elvis Costello and took us to see The Stranglers in Scarborough. I started singing in school plays and loved acting but never really had much confidence. When I was about 17 I got asked to do some backing vocals for a friends demo and the lead singer didn’t show up on the day (cliché I know but true…) so they asked if I could do lead. Everyone seemed really impressed, I found a bit of confidence and suddenly I was in my first band.

How has your music changed or developed?

I was in few bands before I started focusing on my solo thing. Some of which I just sang for and others I wrote for as well. I love collaborating with people, especially friends, but just started to crave for the time and space to focus on this sound that was building up in my head.

This your debut album; over how long did you write the songs that make it up?

Some of the songs are many, many, years old. And some are as new as a few months before we started recording. So there’s a real mixture of old and new which is quite difficult to get right on your debut. Obviously there’s a confidence there with songs that have lasted the length of time that it takes to record your first album, that they must be strong enough. And you have this need to set them free into the world like children that have grown-up and that are desperate to flee the nest. But you also want something fresh, something that represents where you are at that point of recording. There is a risk element to adding tracks to the album that haven’t stood the test of time but I think its important to have a balance. But I’m not going to tell you which songs are which…

How do you go about writing songs? Do you prefer to collaborate or write solo; music or words first?

I write on my own. Sometimes it can be quite a long process. You have the immediate excitement of a melody, maybe a hook line, you work out the chords, figure out where the song is pulling you, where it wants to go. If you’re lucky, you write down as many lyrics or ideas as you can but sometimes this can take quite a while. A line at a time, walking down the street, sitting on the train, laying in the bath. It can be quite a labour of love getting a song finished. But discovering a new melody and giving birth to a new song is the most exciting part of song writing for me. And then hearing them come to life. I quite often feel nervous taking a new song to the band. They are usually the first people to hear it so first reactions can mean a lot. A couple of the songs off the album I co-wrote with piano player Matt Gest. They add another flavour and tension that I think the album really benefits from.

How did you find the experience of recording your debut album?

I think when you spend a long time dreaming of the day when you might finally get to record an album, you have a lot of expectations. Unfortunately, money, as with most artists today, is tight. You have a limited time to get it done. It can suddenly become quite stressful. You eat, breathe and sleep the whole process and it completely takes over your life. But obviously it was amazing to hear the album as a whole come to life and take on its own personality. Just as when writing a song, it kind of takes on its own identity and pulls you in the right direction. Sometimes songs would end up sounding quite different to how you imagined. But seem to fit in well with the album as a whole.

What can we expect from the Shona Foster live experience?

We love playing live. The songs have more of an edge and vulnerability. And with the recent addition of Jim on guitar there’s definitely an exciting, added layer to the music. It doesn’t sound exactly like the record but then I don’t think it should. And then there are the more intimate gigs, which might just be me and Matt on keys. They are the total flipside of the full band. Much more sparse but sometimes that can benefit the simplicity of a song.

Who, if anyone, do you consider to be your influences? Are they just musical or do you draw from other arts as well?

Bjork, Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, Elvis Costello, Billy Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Danny Elfman and Tim Burton, Nat King Cole, Stevie Wonder, 12 Stone Toddler,
David Attenborough, photographs, maps, wildlife, love, loss and…life.

Your album was released on February 7; what are your plans for the rest of 2011?

The plan is to play as often as we can and in as many places as we can. We are presently organising a small UK tour in spring and hope to be playing a few festivals as well. On a personal level I would very much like to have some time just focused on song writing. A lot of the business side of stuff can take over. So would love a bit of time to get back to what I’m good at and, hopefully, if people like The Moon & You enough, I can start my second album. Oh and a holiday too…. That would be nice.

The Moon & You is out now on Republic of Music/Universal

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