A recording studio in a converted church is an apt setting for a TLOBF interview with singer-songwriter Marcus Foster. The gods have clearly blessed the Londoner with an array of talents; he is a multi-instrumentalist, an artist (he paints and sculpts) and has a beautifully evocative singing voice. His debut EP Tumble Down is a glorious fusion of Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits and The Band. Foster is so annoyingly gifted, that his publicist describes him as ‘where Michael Jackson meets Jesus’. We assume he is joking. Thankfully, Marcus turns out to be charming and more than happy to admit to an array of childhood misdemeanours. Oh, and by the way, he is best friends with Robert Pattinson.
I believe you started playing piano at the age of six – were you a bit of a musical prodigy?
My mum had a piano in her house, and I just started playing. I tried to learn the recorder for a little bit, and then the violin and it wasn’t really working. I listened to a lot of Beatles stuff and started doing recitals at school. I just like performing, I guess. I was a massive attention-seeker as a child.
Why was that?
Well, my younger brother is slightly autistic and has learning difficulties. My parents spent a lot of time on him. It makes perfect sense to put your heart and soul into that person, to make sure that they are better and turn out okay. I love my brother more than anything in the world but, when they were looking after him, I was like “Look, I can dance, I can sing”.
I believe you are a big Tom Waits fan – how did you get into his music?
I first discovered Tom Waits when it was my dad’s birthday and I bought him an album, but I listened to it before I gave it him and I thought it was amazing. So, I kept that CD and bought my dad something else.
What! You ‘stole’ your dad’s birthday present? Does he know about your act of deceit?
I pretty sure he knows, because he hasn’t got that Tom Waits CD.
Anyway, getting back onto the straight and narrow, I assume you aced your music exams at school?
Actually, I got an ‘E’ for music at school – I don’t know why. I had all the answers in my pencil case as well, and I don’t know why I still got an ‘E’. Maybe it was the wrong pencil case.
You are now admitting to cheating? We are two minutes into our interview and you’ve already ‘fessed up to birthday present theft and exam naughtiness.
Cheater! Liar! Fake! Miserable thieving bastard! That’s me.
Blimey. It is always the quiet ones. So your exam results presumably explain why you went onto study art, and not music, at college?
Not quite. My dad was an artist and I got brought up going to his studio. I did a foundation at Chelsea College of Art. I went there as a painter initially, but when I got to college I stopped painting and got into more sculptural stuff.
Didn’t Charles Saatchi buy one of your sculptures? Did you meet him?
Yeah, someone just said that he wanted to buy one of my pieces. I was on my way to college and he had just left, which was a bit annoying.
What was the piece like?
It’s basically like a large hot-air balloon shape, made out of steel – it is a big thing – it’s like a big, Zeppelin war-like toy thing. It’s quite fun.
It sounds like great fun. So, when did the music kick back in?
While I was at college; originally I did some demos for EMI, just to sort of develop my stuff. A couple of days a week I would play and record some songs. That is how I met my manager, who used to manage a mutual friend. He is also a music supervisor for films, so he spoke to [film director] Nigel Cole about me about putting a couple of songs in one of his films called Five Dollars A Day which has got Christopher Walken in it.
Is that how you also got a song in one of the Twilight films?
That was a different thing. That just came about as an accident. I just happen to be friends, well best friends, with the guy who is in the films.
Like who – Robert Pattinson?
Yes, he just took one the songs and ended up, yeah, putting it in the film.
Er, backtrack please. You are best friends with Robert Pattinson? As in, teen-idol, Robert Pattinson? You kept that quiet, that’s a pretty big deal.
It is not a big deal for me, because he always used to play and sing my songs for years and years and years.
From your body language, I can see you are not hugely comfortable talking about this?
Well, it’s something that happened two years ago. But it was great; it allowed me to tour America and Canada twice. I was playing sold out shows in every state in America – it was crazy. I went out by myself for the first tour and it was a good opportunity to test the water. I got a taste of touring and travelling.
Okay, let’s change the subject. You’ve been writing and touring for a while. Why have you only now decided to put an EP out?
Now feels like the right time as I’ve just written a bunch of new stuff for this album, so it is a good time to start. If I’d tried to write an album before, I don’t think it would have been as strong. We went to Rockfield studios in Wales. We were there for a month and had the best time in the world. For the first time ever, I feel I have made something that encapsulates everything that I listen to and that I love.
How is the debut album coming along?
We are at the mixing stage. It has a lot of energy – we did almost all of it live. There are a lot of horns on this record and some of it sounds like Otis Redding. I wanted to make a record where you can tell there was someone in a room. It’s a mixture of that and a bit of folk and gospel. I am really into Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Half of the album is new stuff and half is old stuff which I felt needed a second chance to record better and get it right.
How does the new stuff differ from your older songs?
For while some of the new stuff was quite dark; I always like the way Tom Waits writes – it is kind of cinematic. I try and put myself into these small films, or scenes. For a while I had this vision of doing a themed album, which was a really terrible idea.
What was the idea?
It was this weird Pagan village being invaded by alien pirates.
You were right, that does sound terrible. You’ve just signed to the Communion label, but also have backing from Geffen. What attracted you to them?
Communion were mates and they asked me to do a song on a compilation and they took me under their wing a little bit. It felt right and they seemed like nice guys. It made sense to do the first album with an indie label, so I have total control and I get to make the record I wanna make. Having said that, the Geffen guys have been really great as well; getting funding from a major, but getting licensed under an indie, is a dream.
And finally, you’ve been compared to lots of incredible singer-songwriters – who do you think you sound like?
It’s a hard one, if I start throwing some big names out there, people will think I sound like an idiot.
At that moment, Marcus’ publicist walks back into the room and shouts out ‘he is where Michael Jackson meets Jesus’.
That’s amazing; my press guy has said it all.
Amen to that.
The EP Tumble Down is out April 4 via Communion/Geffen.