For Robert Foster, even working as a music critic (which he's been doing since 2005) is personal. 'For me it's like a biography,' explains the founder of The Go-Betweens (1977-2006), certainly the biggest pop group to come out of the Antipodes. The Australian musician has been working on his second book for the past two years. It's an autobiography, naturally. And if anyone deserves to be part of the second edition of the Primera Persona ('First Person') festival, which brings together artists who have turned their life experience into raw material for their work, it's Robert Forster.
'My work is very autobiographical - I'm a singer-songwriter,' he says. 'My songs reflect on and talk about my life and how I've lived it. But I'm not one of those lyricists who explains everything. My stories aren't obvious. There are some singer-songwriters who say too much.' Forster can be subtle, but he's often singing about himself even when it doesn't seem like it: 'If I use characters, it's because I think that always using the first person is boring. I have to change the perspective to maintain the people's interest and my own.'
Return after the last The Go-Betweens concert
Forster's return to Barcelona is a big deal, even more so when the release of 'Quiet Heart' (2012) is still so recent. It's the first compilation that gathers work from The Go-Betweens' entire career, including the last album, 'Oceans Apart' (2005). The band was performing this album when Forster last played in Barcelona, just a few months before his fellow frontman, Grant McLennan, suddenly passed away at age 48.
While in mourning, Forster wrote what is now his latest work, 'The Evangelist' (2008), a solo album featuring the last songs he made with McLennan. 'It was therapeutic,' he admits. 'I did it at a time when I didn't want to turn the page, when I wanted to just stay in that same place, but the album helped me close that chapter.'
A necessary separation
'The Evangelist' was his first solo album in 11 years: the four earlier ones were made in the 1990s, during The Go-Betweens' hiatus, a decision that Forster has never regretted, even after McLennan's premature death. 'I don't regret it, and Grant didn't regret it either,' he says. 'We needed to stop making music together for a while, and if we hadn't taken that 10-year break, I don't know if we would have been able to make more albums. It's very difficult to keep a group going for a long period of time. After 15 years, it's hard to keep coming up with good ideas. I think that's the problem REM had and that U2 is having now. It doesn't matter if you're still good friends, it's just tough for a rock group to keep being creative and fantastic after 10 or 15 years without stopping. The decision to separate always seemed like the right one to us. Just like it was the right decision to get back together.'
A custom-made band
Even more good news is that Forster won't be playing alone: he'll be with Part Company, a superband made up of musicians from Barcelona's indie scene (Fred i Son, Evripidis Sabatis, and Adrián de Alfonso) conveniently named after a classic track off The Go-Betweens' third album. 'Kiko [Amat, creator of Primera Persona along with Miqui Otero] asked me if I wanted to play alone or if I wanted them to put together some musicians to play with me, and I told him, "Let's do it with musicians." It'll be very exciting, because we only have a few days to prepare for the concert, and I like that feeling. It's great. I don't know them or how it's going to go, but I have a good feeling.'
Maybe the first Robert Forster concert in Barcelona in eight years isn't the best place to perform new songs, but he's got them. 'I have some songs, yeah,' he says. 'It's been five and a half years since the last time I was in the studio and, if I can, I'd like to record this year. But first I have to find a label that will pay me to do it.'