Monday, March 20, 2017

Evan Foster: A Sonic, Boss Martian guitar machine / Interview

Evan Foster with The Boss Martians. (All Cat Rose photos)

By Andy; Cat Rose photos

Play it loud and hard -- don't leave any sonic stone unturned.

That's the way Evan Foster delivers his rock and roll as guitarist for The Boss Martians and a powerhouse band that helped pave his musical path, The Sonics. Yes, it's dream-come-true time as the 45-year-old is shredding his six-string on stage alongside original member Rob Lind (sax, harp and vocals), Freddie Dennis (bass and vocals), Dusty Watson (drums) and Jake Cavaliere (keys and vocals). Upcoming dates are March 23-26 in Chicago, Cleveland, Toronto and Detroit.

I spoke with Foster -- who I joined on the mic a decade ago during a sweaty Martians gig at The Comet Tavern in Seattle on a cover of The Dictators' "Cars and Girls" -- last Tuesday after he concluded a five-day recording session of Martians and Dirty Sidewalks tunes at Electric Wall Studios. (By the way, that intimate Comet gig featured Magic Christian with Clem Burke of Blondie on drums, Cyril Jordan of The Flamin' Groovies on guitar and Eddie Munoz of The Plimsouls on bass, so that was way cool.)

-- What was the first band or the first song that really lit a fire with you growing up?

What my parents told me is that the first single that I ever responded to was 'Louie, Louie' by The Kingsmen. This is when we lived in Chicago. I was born in '71, and when I was a couple years old, my parents got me one of those little portable plastic 7-inch players. I remember my mom and my dad would tell me, 'Man, you're just obsessed with that record. You would put it on and you would just play it over and over and over and over.' I'm sure it drove my mom nuts.

It's the same for my brother, it's the same for me... Music is something that was just there when we were growing up. For us, it wasn't any kind of a stretch or a struggle to find that it's important to be a musician.

-- ('Louie, Louie') well, not a bad one. It's right on par with where you've been and where you're at. That same style, that same raw energetic music, that stompin' music that's in your blood, I guess.

Yeah, I guess so. (laughs) Frat rock, man, for 40-plus years, you know?

-- Do you remember when you first picked up the guitar, what your first guitar was?

My dad always had guitars around. I never really sat down and attempted to play until maybe when I was about 15. My dad got me my first guitar and it was a Japanese Squire Strat that I really regret not having today. It was an incredibly playable guitar. Started out doing the lessons thing and stayed in lessons for about a year, but as in the case of a lot of teenagers at the time, there was other stuff going on, so I just didn't stick with the lessons. Just kind of picked it up and strummed for a couple years, and then by the time I was a junior in high school, I had started to try and get bands together. I started a little straight-edge hardcore punk-rock band (Feeding the Cause). Played a little bit and then came to the attention of a band called Brotherhood, which was a straight-edge hardcore band based in Seattle that I was a huge fan of. So when their guitar player Greg (Anderson), in summer of '89 he moved to LA, the band wanted to continue and they asked me to join on guitar.

-- Who were your earlier influences when you first picked up the guitar?

Oh, god, so many. First off, I gotta say, absolutely Chuck Berry. I'm a real big early Ricky Nelson fan-- his guitar player was a guy named Jimmy Burton and I just loved his playing. My dad, obviously born and raised in Chicago, our house was definitely a Chess Records house. Hearing everybody from Muddy, Howlin' Wolf, he had a lot of the blues guys, no question about that. I was never really into like the current rock going on. I was always looking back at more vintage stuff... just how sincere and real that stuff was -- it was always the beat, the pulse, the rhythm on that stuff that just blew my mind when I was younger.

As you get a little older, you start looking into some of the musicians that actually made those records with guys like Little Richard -- then you find Earl Palmer. Earl Palmer's drumming has been a huge influence on my rhythm playing, trying to work with some of his grooves and some of his pockets. It seems like most of the time with the bands I work for and guys that I play with, most people kind of see me as a lead-guitar guy, but the truth is, especially with the Martians, I spend just as much time playing rhythm guitar as I do leads. I'm backing myself up on guitar with vocals.

(Also mentions Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, Dick Dale, Jim Masoner, Rory Gallagher and Taste as other main influences.)

Freddie Dennis joins the Martians for a tune.

-- With the Martians, you guys have done quite a lot. What are some of your top experiences with the Martians. I've seen a photo of you with Iggy.

Wow! Some of the things I'm grateful for, and that I continue to be grateful for, playing guitar for the Martians has opened so many doors for me that I literally am in a continual state of gratitude for the guys that have worked with me and the band. One of the things that I'm most grateful for is to be able to play with my younger brother (Erik) in The Boss Martians. It is just such a natural fit, and it's a really powerful thing to have family in a band.

Getting a chance to open for and do direct support for some of my favorite bands: Dick Dale, The Sonics, Iggy and The Stooges, X. I've gotten to know Billy Zoom. (He) actually built one of my reverb units for me. By the way, I gotta drop Billy in there... when I was in high school in around 1985 or '86, I heard X for the first time, 'cause my dad was funneling Slash Records to me. When I heard X, to me it was the most brilliant and most organic and most natural synthesis of rock and roll as I saw it and felt it back then and still do largely today. When I first heard X, I was like 'Fuck, yes, this is rock and roll to me.'

-- What was the thing you did with Iggy?

Iggy wrote some lyrics for a Boss Martians single ('Mars is for Martians'). We came to Iggy's attention because Iggy and me have the same publishing administration company (was Bug Music, which was bought out by BMG). My manager at the time, a guy named Art Bourasseau, and an ex-Seattleite that lives in Hollywood, she was one of the executives in charge of creative licensing at Bug Music. It was at their urging that Iggy and I work together. (Along with Iggy's old manager Art Collins.) Iggy had been hearing The Boss Martians a lot on Little Steven's radio show, 'Little Steven's Underground Garage.' In 2003, we had a single called 'I Am Your Radio' and that single was voted the best song of the year on his radio show.

Iggy was inspired to write some lyrics. It's kinda like the Iggy alphabet, it's unlike anything I would have ever thought to write, and that's why I just absolutely love his writing style. I wrote the music to the lyrics, actually -- usually I work in reverse, but it was an awesome experience. Me and the guys recorded it, and the first version was just me singing, and Art (Bourasseau) and I were like, 'Man, huh, I wonder if there was any way that Iggy would actually get on this.' (Since they thought Iggy would be a good fit singing his own style of lyrics.) We made the pitch and he agreed, and so Iggy called me, and he said, 'Yeah, I'd really like that Evan, that'd be cool. Man, just don't make me get on a plane and fly all the way to the West Coast to do this, will ya?' And I was like, 'No fuckin' problem, man.'

(Evan devised a mobile Pro Tools rig and visited Iggy at one of his homes in Miami in 2007 to cut the vocals.) I set up my little rig... It was classic Iggy, he's just an absolute professional, he just got on the mic, we got levels -- he took his shirt off, put the headphones on and we just nailed it in two takes.

--That's definitely a pinnacle moment, but leading into now, you're playing with The Sonics. What's it like being a part of that? That's gotta be a dream come true for someone like you.

Yeah. It's hard to put it to words as far as what that band's legacy and what they did and what they created as such young men. All I can say is, I'm in a perpetual state of gratitude working with them. Obviously, I was honored when they chose me, and to stand next to Rob Lind on stage and play my literal ass off and be completely drenched from head to the heels of my Beatle boots.

It's beyond an honor and it just means so much to me to be able to try and present that Northwest legacy. Even though I wasn't born here, I grew up here. Everything pretty much that I've learned about life I've learned while living here, so I definitely feel a very organic, familial bond to the Northwest. Where my brother and I write music and where we make records, and the Northwest style, all the bands that absolutely just meant so much to me. From the Fastbacks to the Posies to the Young Fresh Fellows, bands that have been a tremendous influence on me.

It means everything to me (playing with The Sonics). I'm up for the challenge--  and every single night that we go out there, I try to bring it harder than I did the night before. That's kind of a Martians thing, we've always been known for ... if it's 10 people or 10,000 people, you gotta go out and do it like you mean it, because if you don't, you can't expect anybody else to get on board and support the band.

Erik and Evan with the Martians.

-- What guitars are you playing nowadays?

With The Sonics, I travel with two Fender Telecasters. And I am incredibly excited and stoked and honored that my guitar tech for the last 25 years, a guy named Mike Lull, I ordered my first custom Mike Lull Tele, and it's being built to a speck that I've worked with him on. Teles are just bare bones, they're workhorses that were meant to be played by guys sweating on 'em and just gettin' down and dirty with 'em. (Add a fuzzbox and a Fender Super Reverb, and Foster's good to go.)

(Editor's note: After the upcoming Sonics dates, Evan and Erik are going down to Los Angeles to record and play on a new EP with their dad, Larry. It will be Larry's first recorded material since the 1970s and Evan has hired Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello and the Attractions to drum on the record.

Larry, 71, will sing and play acoustic guitar and piano on the tunes, which Evan described as sounding a bit similar to songs by Neil Young, Warren Zevon and Jimmy Webb.

The Foster family musical tree was rooted in the '60s, when Larry and wife Marita were in two successful bands together -- the New Village Singers and The Three of Us -- and served up their folk/electric stylings in NYC's Greenwich Village and beyond. Marita passed away in 2011.)

-- You, your brother and your dad playing tunes. You can't get any better than that.

They're my main dudes.

I'm grateful for what (my mom) passed on to me, what she gave me musically and as far as trying to be a good human in some pretty uncertain times like these. She's really central and really a part of everything that both my brother Erik and I do musically.

-- That recording session coming up, her vibes are definitely gonna be in the air because that's where it all came from.

Absolutely, there's not a question on my mind. (He noted that his intensity and focus take a backseat to being reflective and appreciative about everything he's received in his life.)