By Megan Doherty, Staff Writer
Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer Keithen "Bassman" Foster has helped make songs for H.E.R., Teyana Taylor, Marc E. Bassy, Wyclef Jean, and Leo the Kind. As his producer moniker suggests, he's primarily known for playing bass. However, he does much more than that. Starting in 2009, Bassman attended Berklee College of Music for Contemporary Writing and Production. Now, he's a songwriter/producer at Sony Music Publishing who lives in Connecticut. On top of that, he plays bass, synth, and keys in H.E.R.'s touring band.
Foster first picked up the bass as a 16-years-old living in Southern Massachusetts. He learned under the mentorship of Chris Loftlin, who plays for Brian McKnight. Loftlin helped Foster navigate the music industry and taught him what the bass truly does for a band. Once he moved to Boston to go to Berklee, he grew out of the need for musical guidance. While in college and after, he would transcribe horn, piano, and drum parts simply to see how the instruments interact. One of his favorite bass practices is John Patitucci's "The Spider" exercise. He says that no matter how many times he plays it, his whole forearm always burns.
APPROACH TO SONGWRITING AND PRODUCING
Bassman loves creating music that's unique, so he says writing from a genuine place is key. Trying to mimic a specific style or song when composing causes it to fall flat.
In addition to remaining authentic, Foster says writing with clear, thoughtful intentions is important. In fact, composing music shaped the way he plays bass. Now, he listens more to the surrounding musical elements so he can play and add to the composition in deliberate, meaningful ways.
Crafting the song to sound amazing as a whole is Foster's objective. Fast licks might sound cool, but he focuses most on writing parts that make the artist truly experience their song. Bassman found that giving other instruments and melodies space and sticking to the sonic area where the instrument is supposed to live helps achieve that. For instance, H.E.R.'s band has two guitarists, two background vocalists, a keyboard player, and a drummer. That means the sonic high-ends are taken care of, so Foster needs to hold down the low-end.
WRITING AND MENTORING PROCESS
Last year, Bassman helped write and produce Boston-based artist Leo the Kind's EP The U.G.L.Y. For that project, he mentored Leo using a writing method he dubbed "sparring." Foster sent Leo production ideas to write lyrics to, which he then critiqued. However, he admitted that he usually doesn't need to edit Leo's writing too much.
During the sparring process, they built up a song catalog and decided to put out a project. First, they talked about what they wanted to accomplish. After his production partner David Arcelious Harris came up with one of the tracks, "it snowballed from there. We just wanted to put together a cohesive mix tape," said Foster. "It was probably one of my favorite projects to date."
Leo, Foster, and Harris collaboratively worked on the EP to develop its diverse yet connected sound. The trio even have a folder of over 200 mixed songs that they picked from to create that polished feeling. Moreover, they added little parts to the beginning and end of tracks to ensure they flow together seamlessly.
WORKING WITH H.E.R.
Foster and R&B singer H.E.R. met about ten years ago in a studio session. Harris invited him to come to Jungle City Studios in New York, where he was working with H.E.R. on some music. Bassman and H.E.R. were the youngest in the room, with him being 20 and her about 14 years old. As fellow young creatives, they instantly made a connection.
Over the years, he's helped produce and write songs with H.E.R. like "Carried Away" and "Lost Souls." He also worked on writing the reggae-fused R&B track "Do To Me." Now, he tours with her band and was featured in the Netflix film with H.E.R. entitled Yes Day.
Bassman explained that the way H.E.R. clearly communicates what she wants to hear makes working with her distinct. For example, in rehearsals sometimes, she'll sing a melodic line that she thinks would sound cool for everyone to play in the moment. It always sounds incredible according to him.
Throughout the pandemic, Foster has kept busy with virtual performances and producing with various artists, songwriters, and producers. As a result, he has multiple song releases coming up later this year with others. However, he's most excited for everyone to see the upcoming performances planned with H.E.R. More details about that will come soon.
Bassman also has an exciting mixtape in the works with Leo the Kind, which will be released later this year. It's called Sorry Miss Jackson, and it'll be Leo's largest project to date. The lead single, "Fake Love," comes out in the next few weeks. He says the track "definitely sets the tone for what's to come after."
"I love each song [on the mixtape] for its own vibe. I really can't pick a favorite," said Foster. "I like all of them for different reasons, you know? It gives me a different feeling each time. I can't pick a favorite."