Music Interviews
1:03 am
Sat October 6, 2012

Josephine Foster: A 'Vibrating Voice' To Shake The Soul

Originally published on Sat October 6, 2012 6:55 pm

Don't try to pigeonhole Josephine Foster. She has recorded albums of psychedelic rock and Tin Pan Alley, music for children, blues, Spanish folk tunes, 19th century German art songs and a song cycle based on the poems of Emily Dickinson. Although her soprano may be a little unusual, it's arresting.

Foster recently released a new album, Blood Rushing. She spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about finding her voice, collaborating with her husband, singing at funerals and embracing small-town life.


Interview Highlights

On finding inspiration in opera

"I guess when I first heard an opera singer, I was in a small room, and she was singing a Verdi aria. It was just so ... you know when your hair just kind of flies back and you feel the vibrations? How is that possible that this woman has such a force? It seems supernatural. I loved that experience. I wanted to have a vibrating voice. I didn't want one of these sort of pansy voices from the pop singers that just sound like a thin little noodle, trying to be a girly-girl. I wasn't into that."

On her past life singing in funeral homes

"I remember being backstage in the funeral parlor with the body, and then back with the priest or the reverend in the secret chambers, musty and dark. ... I guess a rock club is just about like a funeral parlor to me, one step away — dark and dreary and smells bad, not too many windows, or the shades are drawn."

On how she knows when a song works

"I look for something that, immediately, I want to listen to again. The rhymes, I want them to be so delectable that I want to repeat them again and again and I can't forget them. It's because my memory is not so strong, so I have to carefully build a song for my own memory. ... My ideal is that all of the things that I love are in my head and I don't have to depend on anything — that they'll all just be safely there. And if they don't fit in there, maybe they're too long or something's just not right."

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Please don't try to pigeonhole Josephine Foster. She's recorded albums of psychedelic rock and Tin Pan Alley, music for children, blues, Spanish folk tunes, 19th century German art songs - do even Germans listen to many of those? - and a song cycle based on the poems of Emily Dickinson. Her soprano may be a little unusual, but it's arresting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHILD OF GOD")

JOSEPHINE FOSTER: (Singing) Started in the city, (unintelligible) be alone, being just a baby child of God. Even in the city getting high on the hog, isn't it pity a child of God...

SIMON: That's "Child of God" from Josephine Foster's latest CD called "Blood Rushing." Josephine Foster joins us now from Nashville. Thank so much for being with us.

FOSTER: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You've got a background that just seems to stretch about everywhere.

FOSTER: Well, maybe, maybe a little bit.

SIMON: Well, let's go over what I enjoyed reading about you. You were born in Colorado and when you were a teenager you sang at funerals and weddings.

FOSTER: Yeah. Church services.

SIMON: What do you remember of that?

FOSTER: Well, I remember being backstage in the funeral parlor with the body and then back with the priest, whoever, in the secret chambers, musty and dark.

SIMON: Well, I guess it's not exactly like singing a club date, is it?

FOSTER: Well, it probably is a bit. I guess a rock club just felt like a funeral parlor to me.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Why do you say that?

FOSTER: One step away. Well, it's dark and dreary and smells bad and, I don't know, not too many windows and the shades are drawn.

SIMON: You just convinced me. And, of course, now I'm told you now live in a small town in Spain. How do you wind up living there?

FOSTER: Well, I fell in love with a Spanish fellow. And he's from a small town and I'm interested in the small-town life. I never had exactly quite such a small-town life, so.

SIMON: Well, let's listen to more of your music, if we can, from "Blood Rushing." Here's a song called "Panorama Wide"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PANORAMA WIDE")

FOSTER: (Singing) I was born a fiery child in a panorama wide.

SIMON: That beautifully played Spanish guitar. You know the guitarist?

FOSTER: Well, I'm still getting to know him, but he's my husband.

(LAUGHTER)

FOSTER: Victor Herrero, mm-huh.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PANORAMA WIDE")

SIMON: I hope you don't mind me saying - I'm sure you've heard this before - your voice sounds almost as if it's been transported from another era.

FOSTER: Well, I'm certainly inspired by the old style of singing, whether from opera to old jazz and stuff. I think they're definitely more inspiring to me than more modern singing styles.

SIMON: What inspires you?

FOSTER: I guess when I first heard an opera singer, I was in a small room and she was singing a verity aria and it was just so, you know, where your head just kind of slides back and you feel, like, the vibrations. How is that possible that this woman has such a force and sings supernatural? So, I loved that experience and I wanted to have a vibrating voice. I didn't want one of these sort of pansy voices from the pop singers that just sound like a thin little noodle, you know, trying to be a girly girl or whatever. And I wasn't into that.

SIMON: Take that, Katy Perry. What do you look for in a song?

FOSTER: Well, I look for something that immediately I want to listen again. And the rhymes, I want them to be so delectable that I want to repeat them again and again and I can't forget them, because my memory is not so strong. So, I have to carefully build a song for my own memory.

SIMON: Well, can't you write it down on an index card or something?

FOSTER: Well, my ideal is that all of the things that I love are in my head and I don't have to depend on anything, that they'll all just be safely there, and if they don't fit in there maybe too long or something's just not right.

SIMON: This sounds like a kind of lullaby, a song called "Underwater Daughter."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNDERWATER DAUGHTER")

FOSTER: (Singing) Sweet little pearl in the waters of my love island, sweet little pearl swim the waters of mankind. Her (unintelligible) who was inside of me, who was inside of me. I met pearls in (unintelligible) water. I gave this to an underwater daughter.

SIMON: That's very pretty.

FOSTER: Thank you.

SIMON: And is it a lullaby?

FOSTER: I consider it a birthday song.

SIMON: A birthday for...

FOSTER: Well, I wrote it on my own birthday thinking of my mother, just thinking of the gift of life, that how amazing.

SIMON: Has your mother heard the song?

FOSTER: Yeah. But I haven't told her about it, that I was inspired by her.

SIMON: Well, I bet you she'll want to hear it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNDERWATER DAUGHTER")

FOSTER: (Singing) So, so, so much loving and (unintelligible).

SIMON: What can a song do when it works?

FOSTER: Well, could stop time.

SIMON: How so?

FOSTER: Well, I think that so much of life is about getting to the next thing, you know? Like, I'll be going there and now I'm thinking about going there. And if the song works, you're just not wanting to go anywhere. You're just absolutely immersed in that.

SIMON: Do you have to do much to keep your really very beautiful voice in condition?

FOSTER: To be honest, I've kind of left it in a state of decomposition because I had the training and it was in a certain direction. Opera training quite a while though, but it's such a specialized training that I've kind of just let everything just go haywire.

(LAUGHTER)

FOSTER: And so I'm enjoying the new limitations and I enjoy just not knowing what'll happen when I sing.

SIMON: So, when you open your mouth, you're not entirely certain what's going to come out?

FOSTER: Well, I guess I'm not.

SIMON: That is kind of exciting.

FOSTER: It's fun.

SIMON: Well, Ms. Foster, thanks so much for speaking with us.

FOSTER: It's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: From Nashville, Josephine Foster. Her new CD is called "Blood Rushing."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLOOD RUSHING")

FOSTER: (Singing) My name is Blushing, you can hear my blood rushing. My name is Blushing, you can hear my heart pumping...

SIMON: And you can hear some more tracks from Josephine at nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.