Not Everybody's Girl

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Lesbian singer/songwriter Jen Foster does not mind frequent comparisons to Melissa Etheridge. But her music is distinctly different than the work of the leading lady of gay music, and the only two things she and Etheridge ultimately have in common is being gay and being a woman, Foster says.

“I admire Melissa, and I have tremendous respect for what she has done for the gay community,” Foster says. “I see my image as a little bit more feminine than Melissa’s. My music is also different, and I’d like to appeal to an even broader audience than she does.”

Foster’s debut CD “Everybody’s Girl” is a heartfelt pop-rock album that covers a range of very personal sentiments. The record includes songs about falling in love (“She”), the struggle to conform (“Everybody’s Girl”) and failing relationships (“Superwoman’).

Foster is a singer/songwriter in the spirit of Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt and Joan Osborne, but she has a unique lyrical style. She is able to translate big ideas and emotions into everyday terms.

A poignant song on the album is “In Between Poses,” on which Foster sings about how people are only themselves in between keeping up a certain image to others.

Foster was born and raised in Houston, but moved to Los Angeles for college. After class and homework, she played club and coffeehouses with a band she put together.

Most recently, Foster moved to Nashville, Tenn., to work with producer Glenn Rosenstein on her debut album, which is a collection of older songs and melodies exclusively written for the record.

Foster learned quickly during her short recording career that she can’t be “everybody’s girl” as an artist.

“There might be people that are not going to like me, but those people will be around anyway, whether I’m pretending or whether I’m being real, so I might as well be real,” she says.

Foster received attention for lyrics in the same-sex love song “She.” The song garnered critical acclaim as a finalist in the pop division of the John Lennon contest and a First Prize in the great American Songwriting contest’s pop category.

Foster made a conscious decision to be out as a gay artist. She says that she feels strongly about being a visible presence so that other gay people can draw inspiration from it.

“I think it is my responsibility to be open and to be real,” she says.

May 3, 2004 in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

A True Jem

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Jem couldn't believe her ears when she first heard Madonna's rendition of "Nothing Fails." The Welsh musician had co-written the song almost two years earlier with famed producer Guy Sigsworth, who then passed the track on to the Material Mom, "Nothing Fails" surfaced on Madonna's "American Life" album, and helped propel Jem into the international spotlight.

"I heard it for the first time in her manager's boardroom and I thought to myself 'this is the weirdest thing," Jem tells arjanwrites.comfrom her home in West London. "It was a surreal moment."

She recently released her debut album "Finally Woken" on Dave Matthew's ATO label. The record is a progressive mix of catchy pop, hip-hop and electronica. The singer’s distinct songwriting appears deceivingly simple, but has an emotional intensity that will likely appeal to many.

Songs such as "Just A Ride," "Finally Woken" and the single "They" all reflect Jem’s positive and pragmatic outlook on life.

Jem’s interest in music emerged when she worked as a DJ agent and party promoter in Brighton, England. In 1999, she wanted to give way to her own artistic ambitions and moved to London to collaborate with a number of writers/producers, including Guy Sigsworth. Some of her early demo tracks were played on the influential Los Angeles-based radio station KCRW that eventually sparked the interest of ATO Records.

Some might compare Jem to other British female vocalists such as Dido, Beth Orton and Portishead. Jem appreciates "the lovely comparison" but does not entirely agree. "The only thing we have in common is that we have a soft voice and that we are from the UK. Musically I don’t see many similarities."

Rightfully, Jem's music is more upbeat than Dido’s melancholic songwriting. "I am an eternal optimist, which doesn't mean I haven’t seen a lot of shit," the star smiles. "You just have to appreciate every second of your life.”"

She finds it hard to describe her music to people that are not familiar with her sound. "I guess it is a good thing that it is hard to describe. That means it is different," she says. "I suppose you can shelve it under popular music."

Given her background, it comes as no surprise that the singer takes a keen interest in hip-hop and dance music. "I usually prefer a backing with strong beats and baselines," she says. "I'd put my songs under pop because of my emphasis on melody and the consistent structure of the songs, which makes it quite hooky."

Jem worked with hip-hop producer Ge-ology (Mos Def, Talib Kweli) and producer Yoad Nevo to give her album an eclectic, hip flavor. "Yoad has a lot of crazy instruments on the wall in his studio," says the singer. "When we recorded a song we tried to figure out what it was calling for and then we just picked out an instrument from the wall that we added."

The singer recently decided the move to Los Angeles to prepare for a tour and many media appearances. She has great memories about Los Angeles, New York and Miami in particular.

"I've been to Miami twice and I remember getting drunk there," she laughs. "I’ve been there for the Winter Music Conference. I had a great time, but I probably haven’t experienced the proper Miami. When the conference takes over everybody is a bit mad."

April 27, 2004 in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

Against All Odds

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Singer Anastacia achieved superstar status in Europe, but only had moderate success in the US with her second album “Freak of Nature." Most people will remember her from the hit tune "Love Is A Crime," which was included on the "Chicago" soundtrack.

Much of Anastacia’s growing momentum in the US stalled when she was diagnosed with breast cancer early 2003. This was another blow for the feisty Chicago-born singer who also suffers from painful Crohn's disease. She was immediately hospitalized for treatment in the spring of last year after taping the video for "Love Is A Crime."

Against all odds, she went back into the studio in September. Together with producers Glen Ballard (Alanis Morisette) and Dallas Austin (Janet Jackson, Gwen Stefani), she recorded her self-titled third record. The result is an uplifting and raw mixture of pop, rock and soul that once again features her larger-than-life vocals. Her new single "Left Outside Alone" is a good sample of what's to come later this spring when the album drops. Her new songs will please fans and surely make many new ones.

Continue to read Arjan's interview with Anastacia in Los Angeles (8/2002)

The success you have in Europe is incredible. Why does America seem to be left behind?
With the overwhelming success that I had overseas last year, it was hard to make a schedule that would allow me to make it work over here. When Europe got hot, we decided to just go with that. It was more like now that fire is hot, let’s put the meat on it! We didn’t plan and figure it out. It just happened.

So there was no strategy to capture Europe first?
Ha! No, really. I wish I could say that, because then we would look really successful!
We thought America would hit first and then we would take it over to Europe. But, oh well, things went differently. Fine with me!

Why do you think Europeans were initially so impressed by your music?
It is not really different than why Americans are appealed to my music right now. If you like my voice, if you like the way I write, if like the the eclectic qualities of my musical choices than you will like my music and become a fan. If you believe that I am believable than you believe in me.

So being genuine is the key to your success?
Absolutely! Once you know yourself and you find your own art and you are comfortable staying in that, I have found that you find your fans, but more importantly they find you. So that is really how it works for me. I refuse to fit myself into a mold wherever music is at that time. I just allow my music to be what it is.

I find that interesting. Are you never pressured by your record label to do things in a certain way to sell more albums?
No. Not at all. I simply would not have taken the job if that would have been the case. Frankly, my record company enjoyed who I was and they believed in my originality from the very beginning.

Listening to your music, it is very clear that originality and individuality are very important values to you…
That’s right. That is based on a lot of negative experiences I had as a person and entertainer. I actually received a lot of discouragement from people. Oftentimes based on my looks. I was different, short, and wore glasses. There was lots of negativity.

Why then did you keep pursuing a singing career?
All the negativity actually turned into something positive for me. The fact that I did not get accepted in the beginning was better for me because it made me understand more of who I am, allowing me to accept myself first and be stronger.

Did it make you a fighter?
It primarily made me understand who I am. See, I did try to follow other directions and other paths, but it just didn’t work. It wasn’t me. Everything that I have been through, whether it is relationships or health, has really made me become the strong person who I am today with a very positive outlook. I am a very optimistic person. When the World Trade Center collapsed, I didn’t think “Oh my God, I need to cancel my tour.” I just went overseas. Everybody cancelled. I don’t get that philosophy. We have to stop working, because there is no World Trade Center? That does not make sense, that is what they want. I can’t live that way and I will always refuse to do so.

Do you often feel like an outsider?
Yeah, and I like to be the one that does not fit in. I am a freak in that sense, but a positive freak of individuality. For example, my glasses were always a burden to me, but now I have turned them into some unique and original that works for me.

Tell me more about your glasses. You are making them a hot fashion item again.
Well, you know I actually like glasses. I have prescription glasses and I just have gotten really creative with the frames. I think I look better with glasses than without. Contacts don’t do it for me. Now that I am famous the glasses have become a trademark, which is kind of cute because they have been so much a part of my life. When they were basically a limb on my body at first, my specs now make me stand out and be original.

Let’s talk about the album a bit. You co-wrote all the songs on ‘Freak of Nature.’ How did you experience that?
It was amazing! I really had no idea how much I really had to express. I had so much to say. What did you think of the record?

I think it is a very tuneful album with a lot of heart & soul. I was surprised by the depth of it if you go beyond some of the dance beats. What is one of your dearest songs on the album?
Let me think. I think ‘Overdue Goodbye’ is probably the most special to me. I had just gotten out of a longterm relationship that was very long-term with a lot of love involved. I was heartbroken when we decided to call it quits. I was so in love with him. It was just better to do that and unfortunately we did not have chance to really say goodbye and come to grips with it.

‘Secrets’ is a song in which you encourage people to share their feelings. What inspired you to write this song?
To me a secret can be very harmful and it can really hold you back from living the life you want. This song was my angelic way of saying to the inner child in all of us that a secret can create walls between us. Can I tell you something?

Sure…
The song ‘How Come the World Won’t Stop,’ is very personal to me as well. It is about the death of R&B star Aalyah, who died in a plane crash last year. That was such a tragic loss. She was so approachable, sweet and kind. She had a unique quality, bringing light to our world, not controversy and drama. Only weeks later the World Trade Center collapsed and that song got an entire new meaning.

I find you actually very spiritual. However, you are most know for your dance hits and people often see you as just another dance diva. Do you have a problem with that?
You know, I am really, really fine with that. I think the beauty of music is that it gives you so many avenues to explore. Remixers add a little of sizzle to my songs. It allows me as an artist to go into an entire new vein, because I didn’t write my songs as dance songs. My songs are simply a form of expression, but if you put a techno beat behind it, bang!, you are launched into the club scene. I think that is pretty cool actually.

Your voice is really a unique quality of your music. Does it take a lot of maintenance? Cups of herbal tea?
Ha, funny you ask. Believe it or not, but I only started to do vocal warm-ups recently for the first time in my life! I am also going to see this amazing doctor in New York that Celine (Dion) told me about. Celine and I have a very similar way of singing and she suggested I see him to learn warm-ups for the voice. When the workload increases, vocalists like Celine and me need to treat our voices like athletes

April 6, 2004 in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Great Escape

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DJ Escape, aka Jeff Jonas, is rapidly emerging as one of the circuit’s premier spinmeisters. The 26 year-old New York-based club jock is sweeping the dance floor at major circuit events around the world with his tribal beats and infectious vocal tunes. He recently played Rio de Janeiro’s White Party and he is gearing up for a visit to Avalon in Boston. A pop quiz with DJ Escape....

How did you get your start as a DJ?
I actually started out playing hip hop and reggae thirteen years ago and then moved over to dance music when I was about seventeen. That change was really influenced by Junior Vasquez. A year later I got a residence at Liquid in Miami, which basically catapulted my career in the dance music scene and in the gay scene.

Besides Junior are there other DJs that have influenced you?
Definitely. Johnny Vicious, Danny Tenaglia, Victor Calderone have given me a lot of ideas. Of course, Junior has been making house music forever and he continues to be an important part of the scene.

You’re part of both the gay circuit and the regular party scene. Do you have a preference?
Yeah, I prefer to play the gay crowds. They’re very receptive to the music I play. Gays really enjoy the tribal beats, which are base-driven and have a lot of vocals and acapella lay-overs.

But you’re not gay?
No, I’m not but I love to hang out with the gay boys. I can’t remember that last time I went to a straight party.

Some say you’re the sexiest DJ on the circuit…
I try! There is nothing wrong with some sex appeal.

Try?
This business is all about image. I try to keep up my body in the gym. It is all about staying healthy and in-shape.

Do you try to make your music sexy too?
Yes. I try to project a good energy with familiar rhythms in everything I play. I want to make people dance and have them relate to what I’m playing.

Do create original productions as well?
I’m actually going back into the studio to work on things. The most recent thing I released was a collaboration with DJ Guido for a remix of Kathy Brown’s “Turn Me Out.”

Is it hard to stay fresh as a DJ?
You just got to play the new stuff that you like and manipulate it a bit. I like to pull the vocals off the record so I can change how you hear it. So you won’t hear the same record in the same way all the time. I also constantly take old records and reinvent them. A good example is “Sweet Dreams.” It is ancient, but a friend of mine redid it and it is huge now.

How do you get your hands on new music?
I’m in touch with a lot of the DJs and producers that make it. As soon as they’re done, I get it.

How do you prepare for a gig?
I just put together some of the music that I think will make the crowd go crazy.

You make it sound so easy…
It is not. I think about what records to play at what time. However, everything I do is on the fly. Nothing is pre-planned. I’m feeding off the energy of the crowd.

http://www.djescape.com

February 11, 2004 in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (2)

Trading Spaces

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Pop singer Ari Gold is in a much better place than three year ago. After dealing with both personal and professional difficulties, he traded adversity for a new sense of optimism, reflected on his second album, "Space Under Sun."

Gold purposely took a lengthy break after his 2001 self-titled debut, which garnered him an Outmusic Award for Outstanding Debut Recording.

"Three years ago was the end of a lot of big stuff in my life," says Gold, 27. "My five-year relationship ended, I went through changes with my professional situation and there were a lot of things that were going on with my family."

The album’s title track, "Space Under Sun," appropriately sums up how the photogenic artist overcame this difficult time.

"That song provided a lyrical framework for the project. It is about finding a place in the world," Gold says. "I think it has become a very positive album. It is about overcoming some of my struggles and being a survivor."

Gold, who grew up in an orthodox Jewish family in the Bronx, admits that he has still not completely found his own "space under the sun."

"I’m definitely heading in the right direction, he says. "I know for sure that I’m most happy performing, writing and making music. That’s the one thing that remains constant in my life."

Gold describes "Space Under Sun" as "an intergalactic hybrid of ‘80s and contemporary R&B, spacey pop and funky smooth soul."

In other words, Gold’s music can be classified as catchy, middle of the road pop that features his light, soulful vocals and some techno production tricks that give the compositions a current flavor.

He wrote most of the lyrics on the CD, but received help from famed songwriters and producers such as Peter Amato (Leanne Rimes), Marsha Malamet (Luther Vandross, Chaka Kahn) and Steve Skinner (Rent, Bette Midler).

"During the creating of the album, I basically went wherever the music sent me," Gold says. "If there was a producer in Atlanta that was recommended to me, I flew out there to work on a song. In the end, I spent time in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and London to record."

Gold is a member of a select group — openly gay, male pop singers.

"If you’re measuring success by access to MTV or access to major record labels it is very possible that my sexuality has stopped me from being in those type of mainstream places," Gold says.

"Gays have more visibility on television, but music seems to be the last frontier. The most MTV will do is feature a Christina Aguilera video with two kissing men," he adds.

Initially, he was even advised not to disclose his sexual orientation.

"This was part of my struggle three years ago," he says. "These people did not understand my vision and wanted to keep my sexuality under wraps."

But for Gold, hiding his sexual orientation was never an option.

"As an artist you write about your life," Gold says. "How can I not include such an important part of my life in what I do?"
The song "Fan-tastic" is an ode to gay divas and Madonna in particular, he says. But Gold adds that gay men should not just look at women as role models.

"There is noting wrong with female role models, but we really need some gay men who can serve as an example," he says.

Part of a commercial pop image is a heavy dose of sex appeal. Gold is not afraid to take of his shirt and flaunt his toned torso. In fact, in conjunction with his new album, the singer also released a 2004 photo calendar.

"Even though I can be shy, I like to show off at times," he smirks. "I love fashion and style, and my music is sexy. Showing off and creating a fantasy is just part of the whole package.

"If Christina and Justin can do it, why can’t I?"

January 31, 2004 in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (1)