Kate Foust has moved around the Philly music map like an expert couch surfer, from the glam-rootsy Toy Soldiers to the chamber-goofing Virtual Virgin to the folk-popping Perkasie. But it's with Lady that the raven-haired 22-year-old from Denver, Pa. (out in Lancaster County), has made her bed. Their sound is a mix of cosmopolitan country, trembling torch and flash-dancing soul, with vocals so clear, cutting and emotive you could cry.
Some moments in the Lady catalog, like the torrid "Lie to Me," are so stripped bare, even Foust gets nervous. "My voice is so naked, it's almost uncomfortable for me to listen to," she says.
"That's how I know it's good."
Tears will surely flow when Me, You (Ropeadope) comes out in October; Lady's debut disc was produced by Phil Nicolo, the Butcher Brother known for injecting the funk into white guys like Billy Joel, Urge Overkill and G. Love.
While the band — bassist Jim Scanlan, guitarist Ryan Belski, violinist Liz Zook and drummer? James Dudas? — tumbles through horny R&B, Afrobeat and jumpy jazz, Foust litters Me, You with a saintly/whorish voice empowered by the theatrical range of k.d. lang or Prince.
"We all have really wide-ranging music tastes," notes Foust, musing about Stevie Wonder, Beck, Otis Redding, Jeff Buckley and other influences that have impacted Lady's sound since their formation in 2009, when a then-restless UArts vocal performance? major ?made it known she was on the prowl for tough and complex collaborators.
"I wasn't going to go to college, but in the summer of 2006 my mother dragged me to an open house at UArts," says Foust. "I really was mesmerized by the city, seeing as up until then I had lived in a one-traffic-light town." She moved to Philly the next year and started studying jazz vocal performance."
The rest of Lady, students all, had equal dedication to a diverse array of musical studies.
"We belong together," says Foust.
The band released a sonorous eponymous EP and made mincemeat of any showcase they played. Now, Nicolo's on board with Me, You, to give Lady's broad, soulful pop a sharp focus. Like Sinatra albums of yore dealing with bouts of love and loneliness, Foust's conversational lyrics have a conceptual bent toward ruined romance.
"The songs cover the past five years or so, and the different relationships I've had as well as periods of solitude that filled those years. I decided that since the record chiefly deals with that subject matter — why not just dive in and drive the concept of the record as a whole in that direction?" But don't expect track after track of baleful ballads.
"For the music nerds, 'How Did You Know?' has some neat time and feel changes," she laughs. The same complexity is what lifts "Give Me" with its dazzling middle section and chilling strings as well as the "jazz odyssey" (as Foust jokingly calls it) of "Don't You Dare/High." The music is beautiful and sensual. Lady has played these tracks live with a dozen different arrangements — yet hearing them now on Me, You, they are finally defined.
And Foust is restless to get the thing released and move on. On occasion, she seems to treat it like the past lovers scattered throughout her lyrics — like she'd rather not deal with them again. Not on this day, though. "I have to take back what I said about the record," says Foust with a loud laugh. "I'm in love with it again so much. But I've also got 16 new ones and am ready to make the next record."