By John Cody
FOR FANS of classic pop rock, Jeffrey Foskett is in an enviable position. He’s worked with a lengthy list of legends, including Paul McCartney, Neil Young, the Everly Brothers, Tom Petty, Elton John, and the Moody Blues, to name just a few. He’s received more than 30 gold and platinum records, but he’s best known for his work with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, playing everywhere from Live Aid to Live 8. He spent over a decade as musical director for the Beach Boys (1980-91), and since 1998 he’s been Wilson’s band leader. In that capacity he participated in recording sessions for last year’s Smile album. The subsequent tour was voted Show of the Year in Britain’s MOJO Magazine and the disc itself – a re-imagining of the never-released 1967 Beach Boys epic – received almost universal raves.
On his own, Foskett has released nine solo CDs, and garnered three top ten hits in Japan. Stars In the Sand – his first North American release, available through www.popcollective.com – compiles the best of his catalogue. The songs are infectious pop, bringing to mind the Beach Boys – no surprise there. ‘Thru My Window,’ could easily fit onto any Beach Boys album circa 1968-72. In another era, this music would be storming up the charts. Goldmine magazine called it “a perfect pop album.” Essentially a one man show, Foskett plays and sings all the parts on the majority of the album, occasionally bringing in collaborators, including Robert Lamb (Chicago), Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Wilson.
The CD booklet includes a quote credited to C.S. Lewis: “The whole of man is to drink joy form the fountain of joy.” That pretty much encapsulates Foskett’s stance. His lyrics address love, loneliness, and life in general. There’s a ‘glad to be alive’ vibe that comes across throughout the entire disc.
Jeffery Foskett will be performing the Smile album with Brian Wilson at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre on August 29th. He spoke with CanadianChristianity in July.
JC: As enjoyable as the album is, the form you’ve chosen – pop music – is hardly a big seller today. Forty years ago, a release as good as Stars In the Sand would be readily accepted.
JF: Trends change in all aspects of popular culture. Clothing styles, automobile and motorcycle designs, art, to name a few. These things, like music are cyclical. I notice from watching TV shows in foreign countries that there seems to be an incredible resurgence of “Hot Rod” designs in autos. The 2005 Mustang looks more like the 1964 Mustang than any other year. There are numerous movie remakes out there in the 2000’s …The In-Laws, The Longest Yard, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, etc. I think that Pop Music will once again face a resurrection. I don’t know that it will ever come close to the ‘glory days’ of the first British Invasion. The Beatles, DC5, Stones, Who, etc. And the American answer to that, The Beach Boys, The Righteous Bros., Spector’s Groups, The Byrds and so on. Those were such powerfully influential groups that I believe people want some kind of music that relates to those bands and / or those days. With my music, I try to give them some small notion of pleasure. I don’t stand on a soap box or have subliminal messages. My music is fun, harmony based power pop with a good strong melody line and heavily borrowed production techniques. I’m not fooling myself here. Pop music doesn’t sell and probably won’t sell nearly as well as it used to but it’s enjoyable to make and fun to listen to. Spin Marshall Crenshaw’s debut LP and listen to the template for how every post British Invasion record should sound.
JC: You’ve had far more success as a solo act in Japan than America. Why do you think this kind of music no longer sells, especially where it started?
JF: that’s simple…the good people in those countries obviously have better taste in music than we do here in the US.
JC: Any solo shows coming up?
JF: I do perform some solo shows. I mostly perform in the UK or Japan. I think I only performed three solo shows in 2004, all outside the US. I enjoy doing solo shows. I am working on a show now that will encompass one song from every group that I have performed with live or on record and several original songs as well. It will be a real gas to play the covers as well as my originals. I toured so heavily with Brian Wilson and Smile in 2004 that I slept only 50 nights in my own bed the entire year. That was a lot of work.
JC: On many of the songs you’re playing everything – is that by choice, or out of necessity? Do you prefer to work alone?
JF: I enjoy playing all instruments on my records. I don’t play many of the keyboards though. My co-producer Gary Griffin is a masterful keyboard player and a top notch musician in general. He has great harmonic sensibilities and helps me with my vocal arrangements. I play most of the other instruments because it’s simply faster to perform how want something to sound rather than try to communicate it to someone else. I enjoy having other friends come in and sing with me because I think that it’s a compromise to have only one person’s voice singing all parts. God has blessed me with a really great voice and I have learned to change my voice timbre around enough to make it sound different in the varied ranges in which I sing. In the 1960’s I spent many years in front of my parents’ Magnavox Stereo listening to The Beach Boys, The Beatles and many other vocal groups practicing my singing.
JC: Where do you record? When you’re writing, where does the inspiration come from.
JF: I like to record in various locations in and around Burbank, Hollywood and LA in general. My favorite studios are Ocean Way formerly United), Cello (formerly Western) and two home style studios, The Hall of Supreme Harmony owned by Gary Griffin and Parsons Green owned by Hank Linderman. These two guys are very talented as engineers and I enjoy ‘the hang time’ with them as well. When I’m in the other larger, more conventional LA Studios, it’s more expensive and I have to be more time conscious. When I am recording with other artists playing along with me, drums, bass, keys and other guitarists, I will sometime choose to record at one of the bigger studios. When I’m in the zone and doing things by myself, I prefer Gary’s or Hank’s. My friend Gerry Beckley of the great group America, first turned me on to home recording in the late 1980’s. He was the first person I knew that had a bona fide home studio that could produce master recordings. Another great home based studio is Mark Linett’s Your Place Or Mine. Mark definitely has one of the best outboard gear selections in the US and it’s a nice relaxing hang.
JC: Outside of Brian Wilson, could you name some of your influences. What current artists are you listening to?
JF: When I ‘write’ music, I like to think that I am simply channeling ideas from God. Brian Wilson has said this many times. Most of the great songs ‘Yesterday,’ ‘God Only Knows’ and others, were ‘written’ or ‘dreamed’ in a very short amount of time. ‘God Only Knows’ was completed in less than 30 minutes start to finish and ‘Yesterday’ was ‘dreamed’ by Paul McCartney. I rather think that God gave these guys these songs because He knew that they could get them out there and enjoyed by millions of people. I believe that God wants us to enjoy music, that why I am puzzled by some of the newer spoken or rapped songs. They are mostly electronically generated patterns with pornographic or violent lyrics rhymed over them. What’s the point? Some of the artists that I do enjoy today are Maroon 5, MXPX, Norah Jones, Relient K.
JC: ‘It’s My Fault’ brings to mind P.F. Sloan, both as a composition and your singing – was that intentional or just co-incidence? Is he an influence?
JF: I have met Phil Sloan on a couple of occasions and find him to be a nice guy. Very talented and prolific as a writer although I don’t recall ever hearing him sing under the name ‘P. F. Sloan on record. I know that he provided vocals in the studio for many of the 1960’s acts that he wrote for, Jan and Dean, The Grass Roots etc. ‘It’s My Fault’ was not written with him in mind rather on a beautifully sunny, picture perfect afternoon at East Beach in Santa Barbara, CA when I was 20. I was in my Power Pop Trio The Pranks with Randelle Kirsch and Bo Fox,and we needed more original material. Randy and I were writing fools in those days, churning out several songs each week. It was a bitter sweet time in my life because I loved writing and performing original music but I wanted to perform and tour with The Beach Boys and ultimately The Pranks faded into obscurity.
JC: You mention ‘Hurting Each Other’ was a tribute to the Righteous Brothers. It certainly sounds like the biggest wall of sound ever created by two musicians – I noticed a similarity to 15 Big One’s cover of the Righteous Brothers’ ‘Just Once In My Life.’ Was that a nod to Brian, or just a case his pervasive influence?
JF: Around 1986, I was laying on a beach in Maui listening to The Carpenter’s cover of ‘Hurting Each Other.’ Interestingly, Chad Allen & The Guess Who and Ruby & the Romantics had both recorded and released versions of that song. One of Richard Carpenter’s strongest suits is arranging songs to fit his group’s style. No one, and I mean no one, ever sang like Karen Carpenter. Richard took that song and let Karen make it her own. I loved his arrangement and loved the song with Karen’s voice on it and finally after almost 10 years of arranging it in my head, I put it on tape. I originally recorded it for Bill Medley to sing the lower part and me to sing the higher part. My Japanese label loved the demo and released it. Several years later, I played the cut for Medley and he paid me a huge compliment by saying “You have made the perfect Righteous Brother’s record.” Maybe one day he’ll put his unbelievably great voice on my version. I love everything that Brian has ever produced and his version of ‘Just Once In My Life’ is one of my faves. We sometimes drive in my car and sing that song. It seems to be one of the songs on ‘our’ playlist. Brian has influenced most things in my life especially my musical tastes and abilities. Several of my songs are direct tributes to him and his writing / producing style…(Listen to my first CD Thru My Window and hear what some reviewers have called “the best Beach Boys album that they never made.”)
JC: Your publicist told us that we’d “enjoy an interview with Jeff, as he enjoys speaking about the interaction between his faith and the music world in which he has been so involved.” To that end, how has your faith impacted what you do onstage and in the studio? Any observations as to the role of believers in the mainstream music industry?
JF: My faith impacts my life in general and since performing, writing and recording music is a huge part of my life, obviously God is a major influence in my life and I try to be a great soldier in His army of Believers. I am human, and a musician (usually at least strike two if not strike three in the real world), so I have my downfalls. I have experienced a great many things in my life from an early age but I am still learning a great many things. I like to help where I can and any advice that I offer is based on my personal experiences, what I read in the Bible or what I have heard at my church. Some people know that I am a Christian and ask specific things relating to that others ask me where the best Mexican restaurant is on the Strip. I am never short of answers for anyone. I enjoy conversation of most kinds although I do tend to stay way away from political discussions as not many people in my industry and I share like views but I don’t ever let that affect my relationship with them. As far as a ‘role’ of Believers in the mainstream, I think that living your life according to God’s teachings should be on every Believers ‘to do’ list. If we can accomplish that, I think our influence will at the very least be noticed and maybe start a few conversations. It’s a challenge every day.
JC: You’ve done a lot of touring over the years – how do you balance your personal life and your career.
JF: I have toured extensively over the years … well over five million air miles. I started touring at age 17. My first tour was an Eastern European trip with some high school friends through the then ‘Iron Curtain’ countries. I took along my guitar and had the Russians, Polish, Turkish, and other people singing ‘Barbara Ann’ along with me. Touring took a toll on my first marriage and it ended acrimoniously several years ago. I should have sat up and took notice when my daughter Katie pointed to the phone and said ‘Daddy.’ Now I try to bring my gals with me from time to time or take time out to spend with them. I love touring and performing but I love being at home as well. When I work, I work hard, when I’m off.. I’m off. Hanging with family and friends, swimming in my pool, riding my bicycle and watching the Food Network are tops on my list. Very few people enjoy their time off as much as I do.
JC: There’s always been a spiritual sensibility just below the surface on Brian’s music. He’s been quoted on numerous occasions referring to his music as being ‘spiritual’ and that certain projects involved a lot of prayer. How do you see Brian’s music – why does it reach people at such a profound level?
JF: Brian Wilson has said some really great things regarding God’s influence in his music. I think he best summed it up by saying that “I am a conduit for God when I write. I like making people happy with my music and I really think that God gives me melodies to let others enjoy the music.” How can I add anything to that? Anyone who can write ‘God Only Knows’ in less than half an hour obviously is very in tune with his Spiritual Maker. As far as the effect that Brian’s music has on others, he writes songs that are instantly familiar. You can hear his songs only once and it’s as if you have heard them somewhere before. That is the definition of a classic. Brian has written many.
JC: You’ve worked with many legends. Any interesting stories you can share? Is there anyone who you’d still like to record with? How did you come to work with Mike Smith (Dave Clark Five)?
JF: I have worked with many, many luminaries in the music industry and I have been very blessed in this regard. I am not adverse to calling anyone and asking them to record with me or sing a part on a CD that I am recording. I have received many calls to sing with others as well. I really enjoy recording and performing with people that I admire because I get to question them on their techniques and styles. It only makes me a more complete artist and performer. One of my favorite contributors was Mike Smith of the DC5. I was in London in 1987 and simply called him one evening. A friend had given me his phone number. He called me back at 7:00am the next morning. We met for lunch and I convinced him that I truly was one of his biggest fans and we formed a great relationship. I have cut several of his songs and really admire his production style great writing ability and his unique Rock and Roll voice. Unfortunately, last year he fell off of a ladder at his residence in Spain and broke his neck. He is now paralyzed and can really use some prayer support.
Jeffrey Foskett: Stars in the Sand, Pop Collective, 2004
For fans of classic pop rock, Jeffrey Foskett (see interview on opposite page) is in an enviable position. He’s worked with a lengthy list of legends, including Paul McCartney, Neil Young, the Everly Brothers, Tom Petty, Elton John and the Moody Blues, to name just a few. He’s received more than 30 gold and platinum records, and has played everywhere from Live Aid to Live 8.
But Foskett is best known for his work with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. He spent more than a decade (1980 – 91) as musical director for the band, and since 1998 he’s been Wilson’s bandleader. In that capacity, he participated in recording sessions for last year’s Smile album. The subsequent tour was voted Show of the Year in Britain’s MOJO Magazine; and the disc itself – a brilliant re-imagining of the never-released 1967 Beach Boys epic – received almost universal raves.
On his own, Foskett has released nine solo CDs, and garnered three top 10 hits in Japan. Stars in the Sand – his first North American release, compiles the best of his catalogue.
The songs are infectious pop, bringing to mind the Beach Boys – no surprise there. ‘Thru My Window’ could easily fit onto any Beach Boys album circa 1968 – 72; in another era, this music would be storming up the charts. Goldmine magazine called the CD ‘a perfect pop album.’ Essentially a one man show, Foskett plays and sings all the parts on the majority of the album, occasionally bringing in collaborators – including Robert Lamb (Chicago), Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Wilson.
The CD booklet includes a quote credited to C.S. Lewis: “The whole of man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy.” That pretty much encapsulates Foskett’s stance. His lyrics address love, loneliness and life in general. There’s a glad-to-be-alive vibe that comes across throughout the entire disc.
© John Cody 2005