Interview: Foster Parents

Back In early April, while surveying the latest releases to emerge from China on Bandcamp, I stumbled upon the name Foster Parents. And in the next 30-plus minutes my ears were fixated on the twisty, joyous, astute world the Shanghai instrumental rock duo had built for themselves on their debut release Grim. Clearly I wasn’t the only as the band soon had their released snatched up by Guangzhou indie label Qiii Snacks Records and were getting write-ups from just about everywhere. Now, luckily for us northern fans, the band will be swinging through Beijing to play this Saturday, July 1, at School Bar alongside some of Beijing’s newest contenders. Before the show, I had a chance to chat with the two members of the band, made up of Jon and Gregor.

First off, congrats on the release. How’s the reception been so far? Are you guys knee-deep in cassettes now?
Jon: Thanks very much! The reception has been pretty good. We tried to put the album up on as many platforms as we could and have had varying interest among them. A couple of songs on Douban and Xiami were added to some relatively popular playlists, so that was really cool to see. We only had three cassettes for the release show and they were gone before the show started … I guess we really keep expectations low [laughs].

Gregor: It was fun to announce that the tapes had sold out, even if there were only three … The reception as a whole has been really kind. My favorite part is that, according to Spotify, we’re most popular in Santiago. Need to start planning the South American tour.

I’m pretty wounded I didn’t find out about you guys till only this spring. In a city where bands hit the circuit nonstop, it seems you two have laid relatively low since you started in 2015. How’s been navigating the scene there?
It’s been good. We did take quite a long time writing and defining the sound before we started playing shows. Our first show was at the open mic night at Yuyintang and we’ve just built things up from there. Yuyintang have actually been very supportive and are a great Shanghai venue.

Gregor: Yeah, we were quite slow in getting started gigging, but I think we were quite happy to fly somewhat under the radar until we had something a bit more substantial than a few old demos. After the album was finished we got started putting all the social media stuff together, and it’s easier to get people to check out the band if you’ve got something to show them.

As Jon says, Zhang Haisheng at Yuyintang was very kind to offer us shows here and there. We’ve been lucky that we haven’t had to scrap too hard, and really grateful for all the shows we’ve had so far.

While there isn’t anything immediately nostalgic about the band’s sound, there seems to be this idea of looking back with appreciation (and maybe a touch of yearning). If you had to sum up the theme of your debut, what would it be?
We really didn’t have a plan or theme going into it; we just wanted to record the best group of songs we’d been working on during the previous year or so. I think the pieces that came later on, the samples, interludes, song names and artwork, left a pretty strong impression on the overall album though. These things came out sounding and looking somewhat depressing, but we liked the contrast with the happy/upbeat songs, so we just ran with it! We’ve heard the ‘nostalgia’ thing a few times now … maybe we’ve just been eating too many of the South Parkmemberberries [laughs].

Gregor: Yeah I think the main theme was just juxtaposing all the darker imagery and samples with the super upbeat melodies. We may have been on the verge of being a bit too saccharine-sweet otherwise. During writing, we never really considered a theme for the album but I’m happy with the way everything has come together and feel like it all gels really well.

One might be surprised to hear that there are only two of you in the band, considering the intricacy and full-bodied sound on your debut. Was that a conscious decision? How did it affect the songwriting process? And what I’m super curious about, how do you get around that facet on stage?
 I think we always planned to add other people, but once we began writing songs with just the two of us, it became increasingly difficult to incorporate other instruments. We’re still open to the idea though, so we’ll see. Writing as a two-piece definitely has its limits, both good and bad. Lots of building and deconstructing within songs. You’ll see how it works on Saturday!

Gregor: It definitely affected how we structured the songs. As Jon mentioned, it meant we had to build up and then deconstruct the layers, which can get frustrating but it’s a fun hurdle to overcome. The stage show is all smoke and mirrors.

As a film geek I had a lot of eureka moments catching some of those soundbites (RIP Bill Paxton) and plenty more frustrating ‘holy shit it’s on the tip of my tongue’ moments? When did those come into play? And more importantly can you give me some hints as to the other references sprinkled throughout?
These came in pretty late. I think some instrumental music really benefits from a ‘vocal replacement,’ so that was the idea with these. There are a couple movies that we borrowed a few pieces from. Sounds like you got one of them already, but I’ll give you a hint … they rhyme with ‘Smite of the Badgergrater’ and ‘Beard Appliance.’

Gregor: Don’t forget ‘Shallow Spleen’!

This past month you had your debut released on Qiii Snacks Records – quite possibly my favorite DIY label out there in China, after (shameless self promotion plug) Nasty Wizard Recordings. How did you guys hook up? What exactly does having them in your corner entail?
I think Gregor can explain how that came about. It’s been great though; it’s just nice to collaborate with people who want to release independent music for the fun of it!

Gregor: Xiao Ji got in touch with my friend Bobby who had helped us spread word of the album through his site Wooozy and then we were put in touch from there! Xiao Ji is a really cool guy and you can tell he has a passion for what he does. It’s great to have someone who has the means to help you reach a wider audience on your side, Qiii Snacks have put out some really cool CDs so they’ve got a bit of a following behind them. Them helping us release the album opens a lot of doors to fans that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. So we’re really appreciative of all their help.

On a scale of original Die Hard to A Good Day To Die Hard (that’s the one where no one cared any more) – how excited are you for Beijing? Any bands you looking to catch? Dishes that must be consumed? Hutongs to demolish?
It’s going to be a pretty quick trip as we’ll both be back to the day jobs on Monday, but we’re really looking forward to it, especially to seeing all the other bands. I’ve heard the hutong destruction is being taken care of, so no plans there. For the analogy, I’m going to go with original Die Hard, with a side of Looper.

Gregor: It’s going to be all too brief! But I’m really excited to catch all of the bands we’re sharing the stage with on Saturday, so that will more than make up for the lack of time we get in the capital. Put me down for Die Hard With A Vengeance, a wee bit of Sammy L. J. makes everything better.

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