(JUMP Presents) Kate Foust: Quite the Lady.
Text by Kelsey Doenges. Image by Hannah McIntosh.Standing at the stove, Kate Foust’s short black hair, cut just below her chin, is pushed in front of her face. She wears high-waisted jeans, knee-high riding boots and a dusty brown v-neck t-shirt. The only thing missing is an apron as she pulls a tray of toasted squash seeds from the oven.
“There are going to taste like shit,” Foust says.
She pours the seeds into a bowl and places them on the kitchen table, which is cluttered with trinkets that look like they came straight from the Salvation Army. A maroon, ceramic donkey sits next to a pair of tiny, teapot-shaped salt and pepper shakers, which are, coincidently, empty.
A Peter Max-style Bob Dylan poster hangs on the wall, adjacent to an oversized chalkboard with “Kate and Hannah” written across the top. Bills and a grocery list dangle from the board.
The room feels like another era, and Foust only lends to the time warp.
A 21-year old senior vocal performance major at the University of the Arts, Foust has performed in local bands Toy Soldiers and Virtual Virgin, and she had a two-year stint with the Lancaster band Perkasie.
Her former bands sounded as though they belonged in folk festivals. Foust fit that role in the old days, sporting a short brown, pixie cut, cowgirl boots and flowing floral dresses.
With graduation looming, however, she’s placing all her attention on her latest project, Lady, a five piece band with Foust on vocals and piano. Liz Zook plays violin, Jim Scanlan plays bass, Ryan Belski leads on guitar and JP Dudas bangs the drums. Lady belongs in a fancy jazz club, where Foust’s sultry voice, hot pink lipstick and tight dresses can blend with muffled voices and cocktail drinks.
With the new band, Foust is embracing a whole new style with regards to her music, physical look and attitude.
Foust continues her culinary pursuits – now making squash soup – while singing, dancing and talking of her plan to take in a stray cat that lives in her South Philadelphia neighborhood. She swears Lionel Hampton (Foust’s name for the cat) is following her.
“Lionel Hampton and I are in love,” she says. “I walk out of my apartment and there he is, just standing there, staring at me. I am afraid he will kill me and I am partially allergic. But who really cares?”
She claims she has always been singing but it was not until her eighth grade talent show,when people began to notice.
“I sang ‘At Last,” she says, and quickly clarifies, “The Etta James version, not the Beyoncé version. That one is awful. And I just remember getting off stage and my mom and my aunt were crying. I didn’t really understand why and then all my teachers were complimenting my performance. I guess no one realized I had it in me. They always thought I was the quiet, weird girl who kept to herself.”
The talent show was just the beginning. At fourteen, she started taking voice lessons. At sixteen, she saved up enough money to buy her own keyboard.
“It was literally my life savings from my baptism on,” she says. “I saved enough, asked my dad to take me to buy a piano and I still have it.
That same year, Foust recorded her own album, which she describes as an embarrassing mark from her childhood to real life.
And now she is about the graduate from college and coincidently is preparing to debut a new album with the esteemed producer Phil Nicolo, who has worked with big names such as John Lennon, James Taylor, and Billy Joel.
Lady is shooting to release this album with the help of Nicolo, in the fall of 2011 with Ropeadope records. Foust says they threw out his name as a possibility in a meeting with their band manager. Shortly after that, they met with Nicolo and played him a few songs.
“He said the f-word like four times,” says Foust. “We knew then that he was our guy.”
Ladys’ new album is going to have a much more danceable, upbeat feel, with a wider range of styles because releasing a full-length gives them the room to show off. It is also going to feature more collaboration, more arrangements and more group singing, Foust says.
“I think we sound more like a band now on this album than we did on our EP” she says.
Their debut EP was released last September. It features four songs written by Foust and arranged by the entire group.
“I provide the skeleton,” Foust says, “but we all flesh out and arrange it together.”
“To Fall Asleep” is a track that is not on the EP but it is on her website. It’s a simple song that begins with a few notes on the keyboard and Foust’s smoky voice singing, “I want to be your master, I want to be your capture.” The lyrics to the song are effortless, beautiful, and oddly empowering.
The book, “The Maiden King,” inspired Foust to write the lyrics. The book covers a Russian folktale where there is a theme of falling asleep. Ivan, the prince in the story, keeps encountering the Divine Feminine but he cannot see it because he is asleep. He knows it is there, he just cannot experience it.
“I wrote that song when I was in a band with somebody who I was in a relationship with,” Foust says. “I eventually got out of but I was still sort of in it. I was in the position where I was playing a sidekick role. It wasn’t enough for me. I can’t be somebody’s sidekick. I realized I was fulfilling his dreams but I wasn’t fulfilling mine. The book made me think of what kind of woman I wanted to be, what kind of human I wanted to be.”
She refers to Perkasie, the folk group from Lancaster. She was a part of the band from 2007 to 2009, and when she made the choice to leave, she wrote a blog post about it.
“If you know me at all, you know that I’ve neglected playing the many, many songs that have been written over the years,” she wrote on her Myspace page. “You also know that very recently, this beautiful new project called Lady has been born. I fully intend on and am now able to devote my energy to this project. These songs that render me completely vulnerable and thus completely alive and beautiful and pure. Yes, I am getting all sappy about my art and whatnot but in my time away from this sort of expression, I’ve gained a new appreciation for it. I was made for it.”
Her roommate and best friend, Hannah McIntosh, has watched Foust’s musical growth from Lancaster all the way to where she is now in Philadelphia.
While popping roasted squash seeds in her mouth, McIntosh says, “I knew that Perkasie wasn’t for her. It wasn’t doing anything to help her. She needed to have her own thing. She needed to be the feature. That’s what she deserves. Lady just makes perfect sense.”
Some people blamed Foust’s ego for her departure from Perkasie.
“People were giving me a lot of shit about leaving,” Foust says. “But the people who actually love and care about me, and who knew what I had been through, respected my decision. They were encouraging me.”
Foust’s friend Ryan Hinkle sits at the kitchen table as Foust and McIntosh finish making dinner.
“You know, I remember the first time I saw Kate perform,” Hinkle says. “It was with Toy Soldiers and I thought it was okay. But the second time, the second time, it all made sense. She was performing with Lady, wearing this beautiful red dress and the way it moved as she danced across the stage was perfect. She owned it, you know?”
He speaks of her with so much admiration. You could swear he has had a crush on her ever since he first laid eyes on her.
Slowly, more of Foust’s friends come over. They bring beer and cupcakes, and it does not take Foust long to start eating them.
“I always eat dessert first,” she says with a bit of orange icing hanging off the tip of her nose.
And then dinner is served. Foust’s squash soup is a little too thin, which is something that she is very concerned with. Still, its first impression is a good one. A little conversation bounces around the table, but the background noise of LCD Soundsystem is the only thing that can really be heard. The food is too good to be ruined with small talk.
After the meal, Foust and McIntosh begin clearing the table.
Foust asks, “Hannah, can we put on The Morning Benders?”
McIntosh whines a little and says she does not really want to listen to the whole album.
“No,” Foust explains. “Just our song.”
McIntosh walks over to her bedroom. The first chord to “Excuses” hits the guests’ ears and fills the small apartment. Both Foust and McIntosh begin to sing the first lines – McIntosh completely out of tune and Foust singing it as if she wrote the song herself.
They meet by the oven and start to dance. They spin around the very tiny kitchen. It is a waltz so elegant, in a kitchen so small, one would be fooled into thinking it is choreographed nightly routine.