Upon rendezvousing with Foster Kare’s Chad MacQuarrie at his band’s practice space, a CD-R copy of In Formation Go the Heard is placed into my hands. MacQuarrie apologizes for the makeshift nature of the offering. With less than a week to go before their CD release show, the band still has some work to do.
“[Drummer Jason] Dana had a vision for how he wanted the packaging to be and we went for it,” explains MacQuarrie. Seeing that vision through to reality has proven to be a labour-intensive affair. Each cardboard-based CD sleeve must be handassembled by a glue stick wielding band member. Still, MacQuarrie isn’t at all put off by the arts and crafts workload. He suggests, “It’s always nice to try something different.”
In many respects, Foster Kare itself is a testament to MacQuarrie’s adaptability. While In Formation Go the Heard functions as the band’s debut album, it’s but the latest product of a music project that traces its origins back thirteen years and four time zones. “Karen Foster started in 1992 in Fredericton, New Brunswick,” shares the singer/guitarist during a crash history course. The “sloppier and more experimental” band eventually headed to Vancouver and landed a deal with Sudden Death Records. In the midst of all this, MacQuarrie established a two-piece improv group called Assertion. As the drummers for both groups began to disappear, Foster Kare started to take shape. Karen Foster was the fi rst to lose their skinsman. At that point, MacQuarrie recruited bassist Bryan McCallum for Assertion and established a stronger songwriting emphasis for that project. When Assertion’s Scott Ritchie departed, Jason Dana
was drafted in as a replacement. His playing style proved highly reminiscent of Karen Foster’s original drummer; consequently, a name change seemed
in order. However: “I didn’t want to call it Karen Foster again,” says MacQuarrie. “That would’ve made me feel like a dinosaur.” And so, with a reversal/reworking of words, Foster Kare came into being.
Early in 2005, MacQuarrie, McCallum and Dana traveled the well-worn trail leading to Vancouver recording studio The Hive, churning out fifteen songs in nine days. With the guidance of engineer Jesse Gander, the trio focussed on solidifying material then still in progress. MacQuarrie—the group’s songwriter—jokes, “Once they’re recorded, I don’t have to worry about forgetting them.”
“The arrangements and vibes of the songs didn’t really change much while we were recording them,” he continues. “Having guests on some tracks was probably the biggest mutation.” Notable guests included Gander (keyboards), vocalist Sarah Jane Doer, trumpeter JP Carter and saxophonist Masa. Despite strong ties to the local music community, MacQuarrie endeavoured to keep the invitees to a minimum. “I wanted to keep and keep it sounding like a consistent rock trio.”
Of course, a serious problem exists with such an aim. One of Foster Kare’s most beguiling characteristics is their strident unpredictability. The band trashes the notion of an established musical approach or “sound” with frenetic abandon. On In Formation Go the Heard, blistering “Black Magic of Zion” and earnest “Best in Show” kick in the doors and clear a path for “Evil Tidings.” Amidst propulsive rhythms and searing guitar, female harmonies chime in and a saxophone wails. Next, “Bottles” boasts rootsy fretwork that’s later echoed in the opening strains of “Synthesize.” “Francis Bacon” finds MacQuarrie wailing “Rock and roll song!” with the same venomous vigour afforded to the “You’re a fucking idiot!” refrain of bilious “Saltspring.” In the album’s most audacious transition, atmospheric instrumental “Lullaby for Harkit” (augmented by effects-drenched trumpet) runs headlong into “The Sage” – an unmitigated hardcore attack.
“I hope that the different styles don’t deter listeners,” says MacQuarrie. “I fear that the differences will seem irrelevant and irreverent. I’d like to think that, amongst the differences, there’s a common thread that people can jive on.” He aspires for Foster Kare’s eclecticism to mirror that of Led Zeppelin. “I’m in awe of how they combined so many different styles but remained consistent and true.” It’s a fi ne line to walk. In the case of skilful yet erratic Mr. Bungle, he concedes, “I’m sometimes annoyed by listening to them. [They’re] flexing their musical prowess for the sake of fl exing their musical prowess.” Or more succinctly: “Showing off.”
The members of Foster Kare are certainly capable of throwing their musical weight around. As a rhythm section, McCallum and Dana are a consistently devastating tandem. Meanwhile, the dextrous MacQuarrie boasts a university-level education in jazz guitar. When asked whether Foster Kare’s heavy leanings are a reaction to his formal training, MacQuarrie refutes the suggestion. “‘Jazz’ is a very broad idiom,” he declares. “The kind of jazz that I enjoy is often very ‘mathy.’ It’s helped me understand and express rhythmic tension more than most rock that I’ve studied.”
“I’ve learned a lot from playing jazz and African music. It’s expanded my vocabulary,” continues the guitarist. “I don’t think I quote many non-rock styles verbatim in Foster Kare but I’m sure they seep through in less obvious ways.” At this point, every member of the band plays in other projects (including Hard Drugs, Open Fire and Co-Pilots). MacQuarrie views the extra-curricular endeavours as beneficial to Foster Kare’s development. “All the music we make as individuals in and outside of the band affects our musicality,” he states. “That’s an ongoing and beautiful thing.”
A characteristic that’s been present throughout the band’s various incarnations is MacQuarrie’s social conscience as a songwriter. “I’ve always been motivated to write songs with social themes because they seem real and inclusive to me,” he says. However, MacQuarrie doesn’t see himself as overtly “political.” “Sometimes, the deliberate omission of social themes experienced by a songwriter seems more political to me,” he commercial radio. “It seems like more of an effort to avoid expressing feelings about one’s relationship with the world in favour of… I don’t know… ‘Let’s party all night and be beautiful forever’ or ‘We’ll have fun fun fun ‘til your daddy takes the T-Bird away.’”
“Writing stuff like that would seem really unnatural to me because my life isn’t at all like that,” offers MacQuarrie. Yet, he concedes, “Sometimes I outgrow songs and feel foolish playing them. I don’t feel like the same person who wrote it.” While some songs may be embarrassing in retrospect, a track such as “Faust and Arjuna” holds a unique and lasting significance for him. Written almost twelve years ago, it found its way onto the new album. “That song is currently the most enduring for me.”
Even with more than a decade of Foster Kare history behind him, MacQuarrie still finds many labours laying in wait. Once the In Formation packages are assembled, the trio will begin their attempts to fi nd a label for their band. There’s also the vexing matter of touring. Between the three members, they possess precisely one driver’s licence and zero motor vehicles.
“All our money is currently going into this CD,” accepts MacQuarrie. “I guess the next purchase will be a van.” As Foster Kare continues to chart their course, he philosophizes, “Small paycheques. Small steps.”