It is hard to believe that it was back in April when we last caught up with St. John’s, NL singer-songwriter Ian Foster (where has time gone?), when we shared the lockdown-themed single “Siena” that he and long-time partner/collaborator Nancy Hynes released. So, imagine our delight when we caught up with these talented Newfoundlanders again very recently, and learned of their exciting news about a new single and video released just this past weekend.
Say what you will about folk musicians, they often have an uncanny knack for finding inspiration for their songwriting creativity in the most unpredictable places. Some also seem to lead the pack, setting the pace, bucking new trends – and Ian Foster is such an artist who can often be found at this forefront. With “Siena,” both Ian and Nancy were quick to connect with the viral social media images of an Italian city dealing with the harsh realities of the first Covid-19 lockdown, and crafted a song to help comfort others dealing with the uncertainties of those early days of this global pandemic.
So, should it be deemed unusual for an observant singer-songwriter to look to, say, historic space exploration as their next source of inspiration? For Ian Foster, who discovered this muse during a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts a few years ago, this appears to not be unusual at all. “I guess I’m looking to corner the market on space probe songs,” Ian shares in jest. “The stories of the Voyager probes [are] remarkable – they’re middle aged now by our standards, and ancient in terms of their tech, but they’ve travelled further into our universe than anything else human-made, and continue to teach us about ourselves.”
Written by Ian, and co-produced with Mark Turner, “Voyager” shall appear on a new album expected to come out in 2021. Mixed and mastered by Scott Hammond at The Blue Room in Kilbride, NL, this is the first taste of new and original album material from Ian Foster since his highly-acclaimed “Sleeper Years” from 2017. “Tell us where you are / In the space between the stars / Is there an answer out there? / Hope there’s an answer out there,” Ian recites, grounded by his acoustic guitar, with his and Nancy’s vocals surrounded by flourishes of strings, Taiko drums, and piano. “I know you’re growing old / No one thought this ship would hold / We were wrong, you took your shot / We’ve been wrong about a lot.”
“I wanted to create a sense of wonder and set a certain tone from the moment the writing began, and turned to my delay and reverb pedals to set the initial mood, and then to Nancy as the voice of the cosmos I suppose,” Ian shares. “Those sounds stayed with this song through two years of playing it live and are now on the finished track. The single exudes a faith in ourselves and science that I know I find personally comforting in these challenging times.”
Accompanying the single is a truly remarkable animated music video that binds the historical significance of the Voyager probes to the shared connections of a multi-generational family. “[It] follows a fictionalized engineer through his fascination with space as a young man through to old age,” describes Ian. “And the current moment where Voyager’s power is so low that it will soon lose its connection with earth and drift forever in space.” The concept of a music video was born from the MusicNL’s Press On program, which was launched as a response to Covid-19’s decimation of the music industry, and provides funds to help artists develop projects whilst subject to these strict public health guidelines. “This project was perfect,” he adds. “It’s an animated music video – it’s people working in rooms alone, on computers. Let’s just say there were lots of Zoom meetings.”
Foster teams with animator Andrew Winter and designer Mira Howards to bring this story to life; one that Ian recalled reading in a New York Times article about the engineers behind the Voyager project. “Because we’re counting on you / The lens that we see through / We’re down here with the walls / And you’re up there with it all,” the duo recites, vocalizing their own connection to these pioneers. “Just keep talking / Just keep talking / And tell us where you are / In the space between the stars / The space between the stars.” “These engineers [would] dedicate their life’s work to the painstaking taste of controlling and monitoring these probes … it’s inspiring,” Ian adds.
And as the video draws to a close, the camera pans to a quote from American astronomer Carl Sagan: For all our failings, despite our limitations and fallibilities, we humans are capable of greatness – a sentiment shared by Foster, who in closing, adds: “It’s a blast of perspective, and faith in what we can achieve as a species during a difficult time.”
Photo Credit: Chris LeDrew