Thursday, March 10, 2016

Interview with Foster James

Photo credit: Emily Winiker
Today I have something really special for you guys! An interview with Foster James - an up and coming artist whose first album is in production. This self-proclaimed Connecticut misfit is a California college grad and NYC model turned singer. Her instagram account is a compilation of artistic selfies (she's perfected the model pout,) a couple teases here and there of her musical talent, (I dare you to find them! Her instagram name is @fosterxjames) and pictures of her family and throwbacks to her childhood. A more recent insta post is a photo of, well, a collage of photos, centered on her and another child, who, based on the comments, I'm assuming is her sister. Sister is holding up a sign that says "I'm Sting" in one hand, and flexing pre-pubescent muscles with the other. Foster James is wearing red satin pajamas, holding a sign that says, "nuns with guns." The caption? "Wtf was childhood?"

And this is Foster James. Unapologetically herself.

MM: Tell us a bit about yourself. What made you decide to move to New York and try out modeling? Have you always been interested in fashion? 
FJ: I’ve been in New York on and off since I was a kid. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, but it never felt right for me. I didn’t understand the small town mentality or fit in with the social cliques there, though I tried. The city has always felt more like home. I wouldn’t say I’ve always been interested in fashion, I’ve just always been kind of weird I guess and gravitate towards creative pursuits that make you think twice.

MM: What do you mean, you've always been kind of weird?
FJ: I really didn’t fit in with other people in my town. I was ashamed that I was different and couldn’t connect with kids my age… I really tried to. I tried to dress and act and fit in with everyone in the suburbs, and I managed to have a good group of friends, but I always knew that we didn’t really “fit.” When I went into the city, though, it was like the world finally made sense. Everyone was wearing whatever they wanted, and celebrating differences, and it was like I could breathe for the first time.

Photo credit: Jason Forbes
MM: How did you find your first modeling gig? 
FJ: My first official modeling gig was with ASAP Ferg and ASAP Rocky. I was just modeling clothes for a store that I was working for after college downtown in Chelsea, and Rocky pulled up with a huge crew in this black Escalade. He wasn’t known at the time, so I had no idea who he was. But he gave me his card and said they were filming a music video for Ferg, that he had hired girls for the video but was firing them on the spot and needed me in it. To be honest, I was annoyed he had interrupted stuff we had to do for work… and I think he could tell. He promised me he was going to be big and told me to check out his stuff. I listened and fell in love. We filmed in an old mansion in Harlem and at Ferg’s apartment with his mom making us mac n’ cheese. There was this feeling on set though that we were making something big, and I realized that fashion could open a lot of doors. To this day it’s still my favorite job.

MM: Wow, that's kind of crazy, just being noticed like that. Did you go over there worrying it was a scam? I mean, did you text any of your friends the address you were going to, in case he turned out to be a psycho? (Also, we totally need the name of that song, to look up the video!)
FJ: Hahaha yes. My brother made me take his girlfriend with me, it was so sweet of her to come. She stayed to meet everyone and make sure it was legitimate and that I was safe. The song is “A Hundred Million Roses” by ASAP Ferg. Don’t laugh when you see it… I was a baby!

Photo credit: Nacer Paul
MM: What was it like working in the fashion industry? Did you have to work a full-time non-modeling job to make ends meet? 
FJ: Working in the fashion industry was as surreal as it’s portrayed in all of the clich├ęs. There were shady agents, money is withheld from models, eating disorders… all of it exists, but when it’s not being narrated to you as a storyline and it’s your real life, it’s even weirder. Because you feel like these abnormalities are reality. I met some amazing people, though, and the creativity you get to work with was wonderful. You can’t work a full time job because you have to be able to attend castings any time of the day, so most people waitress, bartend, etc. at night. I hostessed a restaurant because making enough money to support yourself in New York on just modeling is essentially impossible these days, unless you’re famous already or a supermodel.

Photo credit: Babak for Aveda
MM: Do you have any crazy casting stories for us?
FJ: Hmm…nothing too crazy, I guess just casting itself is weird. You are instructed to always wear sleek black clothes, minimal make up, hair out of the face… you want to look as bare as possible so designers can imagine making you into their own vision. One thing that SUCKED though was during my first fashion week there was a massive heat wave. We had to run to castings all day in these long pants and leather jackets and somehow look presentable while sweating, packed in with hundreds of other models in rooms with no air conditioning. Just thinking about it makes me want to jump in a cold bath haha.

MM: What was it like interacting with other models and people "in the industry"? 
FJ: I loved other models. They are the only ones who know what your life is like. Honestly I rarely experienced any issues between models, most of the time you’re there for each other when you need to be. Some of my best friends are models.. some have quit, some have used it as a platform for other pursuits, some have made it big. The only people in the industry I had a hard time with were agents and some random behind the scenes people. Usually I find that people who are insecure within themselves are the ones creating issues.

Photo credit: Nico Turner
MM: Did you ever feel body self-conscious? Were you ever confronted with body image issues (either your own, or those of your friends?)
FJ: I’m naturally thin so I was lucky that my measurements usually were good without having to do anything drastic. But I saw a lot of girls get torn apart for measurements. And it’s just so stupid to me.

MM: Yeah, I feel like that's what we normally hear about the fashion industry - eating disorders, trying to look a certain way. It must be tough emotionally. Why did you decide to leave modeling for music? 
FJ: Modeling was never a dream for me. I was fascinated with the world and wanted to feel like I had done enough to check it off my list, but I never felt like a model. I loved fashion for embracing my eccentricities and it gave me confidence for the first time, which I’ll always be grateful for. I was always awkward, but high fashion embraced that and gave me a home.  But for me, music has always been my passion. I just had to get the balls to go after it, which happened after I broke up with a controlling boyfriend. I was terrified to leave him because I had been so broken down by the relationship that I felt like I couldn’t do anything without him. However, I had finally had enough and went to Grand Central in a onesie pajama set in the pouring rain with one bag of clothes. I quit everything from Grand Central station right in that moment. I called and quit my agency, quit all side jobs, got on a train to Connecticut and moved home to my parent’s house. And I properly lost my shit. I have an anxiety disorder that I’ve had for 8 years, and I almost went back to the place I was when I was first diagnosed. It was a really dark place I had only been in once before, previously at 19. But for me, it took losing everything again and facing every fear to find myself as a musician.

MM: That sounds like a tough time for you. What was your family's reaction when you moved home?
FJ: My family was incredibly supportive. They knew that I had to face my demons I guess and stop depending on men for happiness, which I hadn’t been able to do until this point in my life. I had to face this anxiety disorder and every fear I had, come to terms that I would have this disorder for life but learn how to actually cope with it. Which I can, now! I still face it daily but I have so much more control over it. It was almost fate that my brother had come home because of an illness, and my sister came home because she was pregnant with her first child, so it was actually this really amazing time to be back. We all kind of collectively went through our shit together as adults, faced everything that needed to be faced, and everyone is really happy now. It was this year of complete transition for all three of us. I hate that they had to face their own issues, but I was really grateful to have them there.

MM: How did you come up with the name, Foster James?
FJ: My name is really special to me. Foster is my sister's middle name, who I'm very close with, but I also used it because my mom is a foster mother and we grew up in a foster home. Any proceeds ever made from our first single, "Daddy's Girl", will go entirely to the Department of Children and Families funding. I really wanted to bring awareness to the foster care system... it feels paramount to me. I witnessed kids who became a part of my family come from really abusive pasts...people hurt my foster siblings, and the system wasn't able to stop them until it was too late, so anything we can do to bring awareness and funding is a huge mission for us. Then, James is a family name used in every generation on my dad's side, so my brother, dad, great grandfather etc. have all been James. My family is really my comfort zone, so being able to bring them with me into music is just the best feeling.

MM: Have you always been interested in music and singing?
FJ: Always. It’s been the only language that has made sense to me from the very beginning.

MM: Do you play any musical instruments?  
FJ: I play some guitar and piano, but singing is the only thing that is innate for me.

MM: How would you categorize your music/sound?
FJ: I would say it’s soul vocals with electronic backtracks. Everything we create, we hope people emotionally connect with.

MM: Do you write all your own songs? What do you write about? What inspires you? 
FJ: I do. I started writing when I was initially diagnosed with this anxiety disorder. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face in life, especially with the lack of information given to us in society about mental illness. I blamed myself for it and felt so guilty and ashamed. I now know it was a chemical imbalance and there was almost nothing I could have done. But at the time, writing was my only solace. It’s gotten me through everything. I just write about my life… I try to be as truthful as possible. Sometimes, though, I’ll write about my fantasies, my dreams, things I foresee for the future.

Foster James with her Producer, Bobby Wooten. Photo credit: Rebecca Levine
MM: How did you find people to work with? Do you work a full-time job in addition to doing music? 
FJ: Finding people to work with was a long journey. Once I decided that this was the only thing I could do with my life, though, I knew I would make it happen. My ex boyfriend was my first producer, and when we broke up, he deleted all of our music. I had to start everything from scratch, which was devastating at first but turned out to be the best. I connected with producers through Instagram and went through a string of producers that ended up in really disappointing dead-ends. Finally, I met Bobby Wooten, who is my producer now. He is my sister's boyfriend's roommate, so it feels very organic for us. He's been producing and playing music his whole life and has worked with Mac Miller, Jennifer Lopez, Rick Ross, etc and plays Broadway shows. He's just so multifaceted and talented, and is a complete workhorse. He never stops. Honestly it feels like fate that we found each other...music just makes sense for us together, and we're both very committed. It's a relationship with trust that we've had to build with time, but now I can't imagine this without him. We work in a safe place where we can freely bounce off of each other our ideas and just support each other no matter what.

I do work a full time job as well. I am the Lead Sales Coordinator for a French perfumery. I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a business woman. As a starting artist, it’s so easy to feel like a failure when things go wrong. I wanted to provide a steady life for myself while doing music so it was always a genuine joy for me to create, rather than being stressful that I HAD to provide for myself with it.

Foster James and Producer Bobby Wooten. Photo credit: Rebecca Levine
MM: When can we expect to hear some of your music?
FJ: That’s the question everyone asks. The thing is, we only have one shot to come out, and we have to do it the right way. We have an EP of our 5 favorite songs almost done, so now we’re focusing on how to go about entering the music industry. There are so many different ways to do it, but you have to protect yourself and your work and do it in an intelligent way. So long story short, I don’t have a time, and I don’t know in what way we will do it. But I hope when we do, it’s the impact we’d like.

MM: Any advice for people interested in pursuing creative passions?
FJ: If you want to pursue a creative passion, it has to be your greatest love. It has to be a part of you, something you can’t live without creating. If it isn’t, you won’t put the necessary work into it to actually have any success. Your work needs to be everything to you. Then, I’d say get to work. And be ready to work really, really hard. My boyfriend, who has managed to become a very successful artist in New York, always says it’s a marathon. You’ve got to be able to take everything that will try to knock you down, and there will be SO many things, and just keep going with steady faith. He’s the reason I believe. Google him, you’ll be amazed. Sebastian Errazuriz. He’s pretty much the reason for all of this.

MM: That's so sweet. We'll definitely have to look him up! Just two last questions for you. Have you ever seen Kendall Jenner (I'm obsessed!) and who is your favorite designer you've worn?
FJ: I saw Kendall and Hailey Baldwin when they were just starting and actually going to castings (they definitely don’t have to do that now :)) They seem like genuinely cool girls, though; I’ve got a lot of respect for them. I can’t imagine growing up in that limelight and the pressures that come with it. My favorite designer is actually my brother, James Concannon (@jamesconcannonart on Instagram). He’s a Neo-Dadist and he makes a lot of t-shirts and leather jackets with these incredible phrases. Lady Gaga wore his stuff for like an entire week but never credited him, so that was kind of a bummer, but she looked good in them! I really love his stuff, it’s so true to who he is and incredibly smart. I still can’t get him to make me a piece to wear, though…unless I pay :)

 ***

 Editor's note: In case you are wondering what a Neo-Dadist is... click here. Oh, and want to see Foster James in that music video? It's got 1.86 million views... But she would never brag about that. 

Follow Foster James on Instagram: @FosterxJames | Follow Bobby Wooten on Instagram: @b3wooten

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