The hidden gem of Southern indie pop talks about his excellent new EP I’m Starting to Bleed
Like most of us, songwriter and guitarist Jeffrey Dean Foster has had a lot to cope with in the last two years.
“I help run The Shalom Project, a free medical clinic, food pantry and clothing closet,” Foster said, from his home in rural North Carolina. “It’s a flexible job that leaves me room to make music. It’s a non-profit and it’s been going for 15 years. We help people in poverty, or those fallen on tough times when they’re between jobs. We’re on the ground every week, especially in times like these.”
Foster has been playing his unique style of folk rock since the 80s, when he got signed, and dropped, by two major labels. “I didn’t start playing music until college. I had a band with a couple of friends that played covers in bars. We kept replacing them with originals until it was mostly our songs. After touring the South for a couple of years, we got signed. The label gave us a house outside of New York City. We stopped touring and worked on putting an album together. It never came out, but we learned a lot.”
More recently, Foster’s been splitting his touring between solo dates, band gigs with a rotating cast of friends, writing music for film soundtracks and running his own indie label. His latest recording project is the five-track EP, I’m Starting to Bleed.
“It seemed like the right title for the times,” Foster said. “To me, it feels like a special kind of record. Everything about it could only have happened in this weird time. I wrote the title song a while ago and sent it to my friend Michael Kurtz, the head honcho of Record Store Day. He said we should make it a single and put it out on Record Store Day as a benefit for The Shalom Project. I had other songs I’d been working on during the same time period and started to think about four or five that might work together.”
The single expanded into an EP, and Foster started putting it together. “I recorded a couple of tunes at home, playing everything myself. One of them, ‘When Was the Last Time,’ was recorded in an empty club for a live stream event. One day, my friend [producer/musician] Don Dixon was visiting. He said: ‘Let’s take ‘Last Time’ and make a proper record out of it.’ I added keys and electric guitar and sent it to him. He brought in some folks for some overdubs and made a pop record out of it.”
The EP opens with “I’m Staring To Bleed,” a quiet meditation on the pandemic and the events of the past year – George Floyd’s death, BLM demonstrations and general American malaise. Acoustic guitar, subtle electric guitar and mixed down bass and drums allow the lyrics and Foster’s wistful vocals to stand out.
“I don’t think of images as political,” Foster said. “They’re just small personal stories. I’m not sure how much you can change with a song. All you can do is report little bits of your experience and hope it gets inside somebody’s brain.”
“Headin’ Home,” another song Foster wrote during the pandemic, is a mid-tempo rocker, featuring brittle electric guitar, a solid backbeat and a slightly claustrophobic lyric that describes being on lockdown with a touch of arch humor. “When Was the Last Time” is an introspective song that casts a questioning glance into a mirror to ponder life’s deeper meaning, while “Tell Somebody” is a hard rocking love song with a forceful vocal that celebrates a long-term relationship.
The first version of I’m Starting To Bleed came out on Record Store Day in June. “In August, I put the EP on line and made some CDs,” Foster said. “It got played on Sirius XM, and smaller stations. Journalists and bloggers started writing about it. I’m looking forward to making a new album soon, but I probably don’t write as much as I’d like to.
“When I have a song idea and I finish it, it’s an enriching thing to do. It makes me feel good, but the last year has been weird in a lot of ways. When the shutdown happened, it didn’t bother me. I like living out here in the middle of the woods. It suits my personality. I’m fine being by myself, but after a year of that, you have to relearn how to be a human.”
VIDEO: Jeffrey Dean Foster “I’m Starting to Bleed”