The Beat ‘n’ Track with Chase Foster

This month, Vision editor Erin Carson sat down with artist Chase Foster to cover some serious musical territory. Hailing from Winfield, Okla., Foster is into everything from western swing music to Chic Corea to John Legend and The Roots. He released his first LP, “Half-written Letters,” in June and will readily tell you that Stevie Wonder changed his life.

How did you get started?

When I was young I started playing violin in the elementary school orchestra at the age of 9 or 10. After that, my grandpa got me started on a bunch of fiddle stuff, so I was playing lots of western swing, lots of bluegrass, lots of country. It’s actually kind of a funny story, the first time I brought home a violin, I went to my grandparents’ house and my grandpa said, “you’re going to learn to play this song called “Faded Love” before you leave the house today. I didn’t know anything about the fiddle, so I learned it by ear, taught myself horrible technique, but that started the whole thing. Fast forward quite a few years later, in high school, I had a long-distance relationship with a young lass. It was one of those high school girlfriends. She lived two hours away, so I began writing a little bit. I learned guitar as I was learning fiddle and piano at the same time. The first song I wrote was right around that time in high school, probably my sophomore year of high school. I realized that could get me more notoriety, more gigs, I could sing, and it got me more chicks, which was a big deal at the time, not so much anymore. Who am I kidding? Yeah, it is. But yeah, I started writing music, I started just writing a lot and recording in my own house with a little 16-track recorder that I had. From then on I’ve written ever since, and then I moved to Nashville, and so on and so forth.

So you released a full length album in June. It seems like a lot of folks around here are only doing EPs, how did you wind up going full-length?

About two years ago, I was talking to the manager of one of my heroes, Tommy Emmanuel, who is an Australian finger style guitar virtuoso, one of the greatest guitar players in the world. I met him through the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival that was held in my hometown on Winfield, and I met him through the friend of a friend, a crazy, random kind of event, and I played fiddle with him, I got to jam with him and sing with him. His manager found out that I wrote and sang, and she said, “Well, maybe in a couple of years you can come out on the road with us when you’re ready.” So, I held her to it, and two years later, we were already talking about it. She was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” I had already done the showcase here, did a songwriters thing here as well. Everything was just going right. I was writing a lot. I’d built up a pretty good 10-song thing that I could do for an album. I would have done an EP, but I released an EP when I first got here. I was like, “I can’t do another EP, especially if I’m touring.” I toured for a month with Tommy. I was opening for him as a solo act, playing guitar, singing my songs. I did the album for that, that was basically my deadline.

You play guitar and fiddle, what else do you play?

Let’s see, I play fiddle, guitar, piano, bass, mandolin. I can play lap steel, slide guitar stuff. I played sax back in the day–haven’t picked one up in a while, and likewise, clarinet. Anything that I can get my hands on, anything with strings, too. I play banjo, I can play dobro, viola and upright bass. Strings get to be strings after a while.

What was the last album that you listened to?

I just bought the new John Legend and the Roots album called “Wake Up.” Woooo. It blows my mind. It’s the grooviest thing. The Roots are incredible. ?uestlove has always been one of my favorite drummers of all time. The Roots just do such justice to John Legend’s sound and they collaborate on a bunch of stuff. There’s a bunch of my favorite rap artists on there, like Common. Mallary Hope is on there and all these incredible singers. That’s a great album. I just got it last night and I’m in love with it. It’s got a good sound. I’m amazed at how retro they can make things sound in a digital age.

So, you’re pop/jazz. On the jazz side of things, who would you say are your influences?

Since western swing is the hillbilly version of jazz– it’s a bunch of country dudes trying to play swing music. I grew up on that. That gave me a good helping to get into all the jazz things, so I soon followed into Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt , which is gypsy jazz, and that led me to listen to some trumpet players that played a lot of gypsy jazz, too. In particular, Wynton Marsalis, played with Mark O’Connor, all those guys, and they did gypsy jazz. “Kind of Blue” is one of my favorite albums all time, so Miles Davis, obviously. John Coltrane, I’m a big fan of his. Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Chick Corea– all 3 of those pianists. There’s just so much jazz to be heard. I love Wayne Shorter on sax, Charlie Christian on guitar. So much, there’s too much to talk about, really, but it all kind of sprouted from western swing and it moved to Bebop, then got back to swing. I’ve migrated all over.

You posted online a cover you did of “That’s it, I Quit, I’m Movin’ On” by Sam Cooke. Are you working on any other covers? Or is there a song that you would like to cover in the future?

Yeah. That audition video came from my audition for the commercial showcase and thank the Lord I got in. I don’t know how that happened. I thought it was a mistake, I thought they were calling Cody Fry–our initials are the same, I didn’t know, because his audition was beyond amazing. I was really shocked. They wanted us to do three songs and a couple covers, obviously. If we don’t do an original then it’s three covers. I’ve looked at “Got to Get You into My Life” by the Beatles. I’ve also looked at “Do I Do” by Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder changed my life.

It’s sort of a clinical way to put it, but how would you describe your process for writing songs?

I feel you. To be honest, I haven’t really written in a long time and I’m getting very scared about this dry spell that I’m on, but it comes in waves, so I’ll always have a dry spell, and it always gets darkest before the dawn. After that I’ll spit out a whole new album in the course of a couple months. I’ve just got to get to that eruption point, but usually when that happens, I’m up until 2 in the morning, I lose a lot of sleep, and I’m typing on my computer furiously and I have this idea in my mind of a vibe or a meter, and I’m typing the lyrics out on my computer. I start seeing verses sprout up and then I find a hook and then I write a chorus, and next thing you know, I have this whole song written out. I’ll go to bed and the next day I’ll sit down with my guitar and work it out and then it usually just finishes itself up. That’s basically how every song I’ve ever written has come about. I’ve never really written the melody first, I’ve never really written them at the same time. It’s always been, lyrics first because I know what I want to say and I know what setting I want to put it in, but specifically, I don’t really know that until I sit down with a guitar and hammer it all out. It all makes sense at that point.

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