New Artist Spotlight: Alex Henry Foster

Alex Henry Foster (& The Long Shadows) are not really a “new artist” per se…the group has been making waves in Canada for a few years now, racking up airplay and streams and growing a loyal following in the great white north. But now, AHF is ready to bring his style of sonically and lyrically reach alt/rock music to the states with the May 1st release of Windows in the Sky. CCMmagazine.com recently connected with Alex….here’s what he had to share.

Artist Name:
Alex Henry Foster (& The Long Shadows)

Age:
Too young to care and too old to worry
I need to credit my mom for that one.

Genres:
Post-Rock / Art Rock / Progressive

Hometown:
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Label:
Hopeful Tragedy Records

Hobbies/Interests Apart from Music:
I really like to be surprised by art in general, but architecture, especially old houses, is something I like, as much as everything baseball and skateboard.

Last Netflix Binge:
Who Killed Malcolm X? 

Musical Influences:
I’ve got numerous influences, but if I have to pick 5 in no particular order it would be: The Cure, Sonic Youth, Glenn Branca, Fugazi, and Nick Cave.

Very First Musical Purchase:
Standing on a Beach by The Cure was the first LP (along with London Calling by The Clash)

CCM: What led you to pursue a career or ministry in music?
AHF: It was during my first year as a university student in social work and I was already working for a community center on the South shore of Montreal. I was mainly helping newly-arrived kids to acclimate themselves in a very difficult neighborhood where families were stacked on top of each other, having to navigate the best that I could between gang rivalries, systemic racism, and cultural walls, all while witnessing a great deal of isolation and desperation for the members of that left-aside community, basically held hostages by middle-class locals who were either scared of them, judgmental or fiercely working to have them dislocated. There wasn’t much hope for those people to build their new lives on.

I had welcomed a new intern and found out he was a guitar player. For me, this was interesting since I had spent so much time playing in bands and hanging out with the Montreal underground music scene as a teenager. So I decided to organize a small community concert in a park known for its preoccupying increased violence, fed by social tensions. From kids to grandparents, they were abandoned to their own misery, in a way. I knew it could be a little risky to bring together the very same people who were trying to kill each other, but I firmly believed there was a way to unite them all by reaching out to them.

So we did the show a few weeks later. I don’t even remember what we played, probably a mix of French Canadian folklore and classic Americana, a setlist that was tagged BAD IDEA (at best) from the very start, especially as we were playing for people who were from South America, Middle East, and Africa. It’s only way after that I realized the funny picture it must have been for everyone who came around that day when a friend told me about it. As for me, the only thing I saw was amazing kids with so much potential to see their dreams and visions be unfolded. I didn’t really pay too much attention to the obvious details that could have derailed the moment. I had to give it a try. “As long as it was real and honest”, I thought… And I had absolutely nothing to lose.

In fact, it’s what I ultimately saw that day that tremendously moved me inside. Not only was the music able to gather people who would have never stood close to one another without a fight in other circumstances, but it also created a tiny little breach for me to be welcomed by the different community members right after. This ultimately led me to partner with them and establish programs of homework assistance, teen pregnancy initiatives, involving usually absent fathers in their kids’ lives, and so on. It was that brief spark of faith aligned with the gathering power of music that made the whole difference, and it was incredibly mesmerizing.

There are many other little glimpses of life that I could talk about, but it’s truly that socially impacting very first “concert” that opened my eyes that day, which was utterly significant in preparing the soil in which a seed of life would grow soon after…

CCM: Do you remember that moment when you realized you wanted to make an actual career out of music?
AHF: It’s probably when I talked with my parents about that perspective. It was a defining period of my life. I was involved in a small Christian community church at the time, serving wherever the need was, and I was asked to become a full part of the church staff, even though that band thing of mine was becoming a bit controversial in the church. They thought the music was strange, that the people attending my concerts were probably even more bizarre than my music for any outsiders looking in. But I firmly believed it was the place I needed to be and the path I needed to follow.

So when I told my parents about it, even though they always supported and trusted me, I was really surprised by their answer. They admitted knowing all along that this kind of conversation would come, and they encouraged me to do so, while insisting for me to do it based on my social vision without compromising who I was. It was a big thing for me.

So I eventually quit my social work job and university shortly after and I started that singular adventure. Soon, playing even more of that strange music for more and more of those bizarre people ended up with me being invited in places not a lot of people have been able to go to. Several extensive tours in mainland China (something that, at the time, no other foreign artists were allowed to do), up to playing in all sorts of incredible places such as one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan, iconic places in France, culture hubs all over Europe, arenas in Indonesia, headlining major festivals and playing in mythic music venues all over the world, all that while having my own record label and studio. But more importantly, by doing it all with respect to my convictions, my heart aligned on the vision I had from the start, and the love I have always had for the people I’m called to commune with through music, whoever they are, whatever their tags and labels, no matter how different they may look or may be perceived…

CCM: What are your hopes for the new project?
AHF: After a decade of being in a band, I’m honestly still trying to understand the particular nature of my solo album as we speak, especially since it’s a very intimate and personal record that took place following my father’s passing after a long battle against cancer. Even though the album has surprisingly charted in Canada for almost a year, it’s absolutely not designed for radio or commercial purposes. It addresses emotional matters, such as hopelessness, doubts and desperation, let go and abandonment.

I wrote it when I was living on my own in the city of Tangier, which became a defining moment for me in what was a somber period of my life. That time apart allowed me to realize that you cannot always be in a giving mode if you are not being fed as well. I was emotionally burned out, physically ill, and spiritually drought, which I found extremely difficult to admit at the time. It’s so easy to become proud and religious when it comes to confessing the real state of our hearts and souls, especially when you are usually the one people look up to. We easily forget the blessing we have to be able to listen. Illusions become so real that we turn them into absolutes and semi-truths that are simply designed to cover up for our lack of faith in other people’s measure of compassion. After hearing all the good rhetoric about “ministering” to others, I’d lost the very fundamental essence of being welcomed and being loved… simply.

So if I have hope for my new project, it is for anyone going through that same season of their lives to accept that it’s ok to be broken, ok to be hopeless, doubtful, and even to completely become faithless if we are… Because there are so many promises for those who confess that state of their emotional bleakness with an honest heart, and it’s comforting to know that we can be free from our burden, that we can be restored after feeling totally empty. We all, at one point or another, feel those human sensations of being thirsty or feeling abandoned. Therefore, those promises are an emancipative invitation for every one of us, especially in the current context of uncertainty, fear, and confusion.

CCM: How did you arrive at the name of your new album?
AHF: In the plane on my way from Montreal to Tangier, looking through the window… I originally wrote “Windows in the Sky” on the cover of a notebook about to be endlessly tortured with sadness, sorrows, regrets, poems, prayers, and letters for months to come… and then for the two years I finally spent in North Africa following my father’s passing. What I guess was originally a desperate call for help is now, with a restored perspective, a hopeful invitation to reach out, to see through the pain, and to redefine the lone echoing nature of our desperation. It’s also a reminder that no matter how confused we may be, we’ll be heard and answered, always.

CCM: What can listeners expect in terms of the sound, style and lyrics?
AHF: I don’t know what the expectations could be, but I know it’s a very honest and organic album that has been written totally free from any commercialization type of ambition or promotional convention. It might be an uncomfortable listen at first, but it’s a journey in which emotions evolve in a flow of sincere and contemplative motion. It goes from personal shadows to communal bright lights… At least, that’s how I see it.

CCM: Are there any underlying themes or threads that tie this project together?
AHF: I think there are always underlying themes involved in a project that isn’t designed for commercial or mass appeal. By crafting something organically, it grows way beyond the intentional perspectives you might have had as a creator, especially when it’s based on the people you commune with in the first place, simply because it all depends on the listener’s willingness to let go in the midst of the album’s nature. It involves the measure of its emotional commitment, its  commitment towards it, which therefore defines and keeps on redefining the nature of those underlying threads and themes.

We don’t need to have all the answers all the time and it’s beautifully refreshing to discover different details and shades of colors through other people’s perspectives on your own creation as an artist, but mainly as the individual who initiated such creation. That’s how it becomes greater than any of the emotions from which such a creation has been inspired. That’s how words and sounds evolve beyond the limitative realm of their creators and ultimately why some of those pieces of art impact not only individuals, but communities, history, and the world. That’s why, for me, there’s quite a difference between entertainment and art. It’s the same difference as having a good time and having a life-changing experience.

CCM: How important is your faith or spirituality within your music?
AHF: It’s at the very center of it. Music is spiritual. Even the most commercial and standardized one. I saw people in Africa on the verge of transcending levitation, as much as I saw people being healed through whispering sounds. That’s why it’s such a magnificent gift for some as much as it is a very elusive channel for others. That’s why it’s important for me to not only be sensitive to the Spirit but also to be conscious of that spiritual nature from the first spark of a song idea to the improvisational form it may take once shared with anyone willing to take a chance to let go within it. It’s never about myself, but always about the communion.

CCM: What message do you hope listeners will take away from your music, regardless of what they believe?
AHF: That freedom doesn’t reside in our vision of what is absolute, but in the honesty of our condition.

CCM: If you could potentially tour with any other artist or band (that you haven’t already), who would you choose and why?
AHF: That’s a very good question. There are several artists, but I would say Nick Cave, since my ultimate choice would have been Keith Green, if such a choice wouldn’t be too farfetched of an answer to the question. As for the reason I picked Nick Cave, it’s because I like people who admit the limitations of their understanding while they keep on contemplating the invisible and taunting their own disbeliefs. Beyond the self-awareness projection we all like others to perceive us, there are far more inspiring elements that lay underneath any honest individual, and Nick Cave has often served as a way for people to explore their unknown inquiries as we all tend to do with those we want to define the nature of our own most intimate beliefs, may we like to admit it or not.