DRESSING UP - A CHAT WITH HEATHER “FOSTER” KJOLLESDAL AND SARAH LANG
The wonderful women who prepare the backstage explain what it takes and how they got there to Steffan Chirazi.
I enjoy saying “Foster & Lang” because it sounds like an über important legal firm. The überness of Foster & Lang should not be understated (indeed, it’d be hard to overstate), however their partnership is not in law but wardrobe… oh, and also interior design/service/fashion/seamstress-ing/food and beverage as well as backstage hospitality/ambiance. Foster & Lang operate all elements of Metallica’s WorldWired backstage environment, from deciding which areas will be dressing rooms, interview rooms, and so on to making sure there is always hot water and the right tea on hand. Their mission is to make each backstage feel like “home-away-from-home,” to make sure whether in Munich, Moscow, or Miami, the backstage area feels the same. So What! sat the ladies down last year to find out how they achieve this tricky goal with such stunning consistency. One thing which makes chatting with these two a lot of fun is their subtle (and dare I say, “British”) sense of humor, which requires sharp senses at all times. As you will soon discover for yourselves…
Steffan Chirazi: It is fair to say that you two are probably the heartbeat of what goes on backstage? You are seen as “wardrobe” but that doesn’t cover the half of it. So just briefly outline your duties.
Heather “Foster” Kjollesdal: Well, pretty much what we do is we pick out a bunch of different rooms and set them up as to what each room requires. So, the dressing room does take a lot of wardrobe but also personal items as well. Obviously [the] food room, we set up all their food. Massage has a massage table. The tuning room is all musical instruments and things like that, but wardrobe is probably a very small part of what we do for sure. [Of] all these road cases here [points at many road cases around us – ED], there’s maybe one that has wardrobe.
SC: So you step into the venue at what time…six, seven in the morning?
HK: Eight or nine.
Sarah Lang: Eight or nine is a good day, I guess. We’ve been at the venue at seven a.m.
SC: Okay. And your first job when you come into the building is to scope it out and say, “This room for this, this room for that, this room for that?”
SL: Usually we make a coffee, sit around for a while.
HK: [Laughs] Relax.
SL: Fix each other’s hair.
SC: Which takes a good hour as I understand it!
HK: Yeah!!! So [seriously], we suss out the rooms, the space, pick what room will be best suited for what needs-
[At this point, crew member James Nelson pranks the ladies and scares the bejeesus out of them, causing water to fly and shrieks to be heard. – ED]
SC: Right! Okay! Moving forth from that moment, let’s get into “band idiosyncrasies” a little bit with regards to dressing room items and what-not. Are these guys any more idiosyncratic than any other bands you’ve worked with? Would you care to share one or two items that are always very specific that you have to procure for the dressing room?
HK: There are very specific items, for sure. I personally don’t think it’s bizarre in any terms, because if you go away on vacation and you’re gone for two weeks, a month, who knows, you want your items. You want your shaving cream as opposed to, I don’t know, some miscellaneous shaving cream. So it’s kinda the same thing with them. Everything they like at home, we want to provide here in this space. And if that’s Evian bottled water that’s one liter, then that’s what we’ll get. If it’s a certain hair “jid,” if you will, then we’ll provide that.
SL: Green bananas. I don’t know who eats those, but it’s just weird! [Lang-humor striking – ED]
SC: How hard is it to achieve the consistency? Talk about some of the challenges you have in making that the case.
HK: Sometimes it is very difficult. Each venue across the board and across the world is very, very different, and especially countries that don’t necessarily speak English misunderstand what we mean. So, they’ll give us a dressing room the size of a road case, and they’ll be like, “They just need to change, don’t they?” And it’s like, “Well, no. They need space to do yoga, they need space to chat and have meetings with people,” and so on. So we’ll get very, very tiny rooms and we have to make do, and that is the challenge, to get everything exactly the same when you’re given a tiny space to work with.
SL: And that’s dependent on what kind of venue we’re in. You know, we go stadiums, arenas, and then we play festivals and outdoor gigs and things like that [where] they are literally creating a building or a compound or a large tent. Putting up walls, putting up pipe and drape to make the rooms. So that becomes difficult. Also, sometimes you come in and it echoes, everybody can hear you or there’s bands warming up and you’re listening to them sing… all those different things factor into it, obviously.
HK: So it does involve a lot of advance work. You have to get online and send emails and photos of what we’re expecting. Anything we can do to get the venue to understand what we need prior to our arrival, the better and easier that becomes.
SC: So you get the tour dates and your first course of action then is to hit the promoter and say, “Hey, I need you to send this to the various venues?” Do you work for the tour manager or are you autonomous?
HK: I try to be autonomous, because I don’t want to sort of bother anyone else, but our production manager sends out a rider so it’s a list of everything that the dressing room requires, the stage requires, his production office – what that requires, what catering is required for the crew, for the band. So he’ll send that out to each promoter, and in that he’ll say, “Contact Foster for any questions with the dressing room.” So they’ll eventually contact me. If I don’t hear from them, I will contact them and say, “Everything look good? Do you have any questions?” And then we’ll just sort of start there and go. But I don’t like to involve our production manager because we are kind of a different entity, and the stage is, especially this show being so huge… he’s got a lot of other stuff to deal with.
SC: We should talk about that. I mean you also have another environment that you have to create, not exactly onstage, but right behind it. I mean that’s a whole other responsibility, right?
HK: Yeah. Absolutely.
SC: And do you share that responsibility? How does the division of duties get taken care of?
HK: Sarah sets up a quick change area [these are the areas around the stage where members can quickly switch a shirt/rest for a moment, etc.].
SL: Yeah, our department transfers to onstage too, so towels, drinks, things like that which also involves sometimes changing clothes, which happens a lot for Lars and sometimes for the other guys as well. But there’s an area [near the] stage that’s pipe and draped usually, sometimes it’s created within the stage, and it’s this little area to go in and be away from anybody so you can change, have your moment, things like that. So I set that up every day. Foster gets to “man” the stage during the show. I’m usually back here breaking down the dressing room when we’re not in the same place for three shows. So yeah, I run back and forth to the stage, then back here and pack everything up during the show. Foster gets the highlights of the quick change.
HK: Yes, the highlights of quick change!
SC: Okay, you’ve got a stadium show in Boston, 48 hours later there’s a stadium show in New York. There are two systems, right? Talk about that. You have replicas of everything?
HK: Almost. There are some clothing items that we can’t replicate. A lot of people will make custom clothing for the band members, and we can’t recreate that, so we carry those. That’s fine, we’ll shove it in a suitcase and we’ll fly with that. But everything else fits into these road cases and we have another system exactly like this. So, we have toiletries and tape and hair ties and exactly what they use. If we open both systems, they would mirror each other for sure.
SL: Which we’ve had to do in the past, preparing for tours that have both systems going the whole time. We get into the warehouse and we open ’em both, the matching cases facing each other, right? And take it all out and make sure, “Okay, there’s two of these, there’s five of these,” so they match.
HK: So we have the two systems, the black and blue. Black system does most of the shows so it tends to be a little larger. The blue system kind of did Europe and special shows like Lollapalooza and things like that, but [the] black system will do mainly everything. We have a huge list of inventory. It’s, like, six pages. And every once in a while, we just go through that list. Okay, we’re getting low on Advil. We’re getting low on deodorant. We’re getting low on whatever. [So] we buy everything and we travel down to said-system with about four or five suitcases each of stuff.
SL: We are usually extremely prepared and have almost anything that somebody could ask for.
HK: We’re like good Girl Scouts. Be prepared!
SC: What’s the oddest thing that you’ve been asked for? Come on, the strangest.
HK: Ooh, strangest thing. That’s hard to say. I guess sometimes there’s juices that are strange, like kombucha and things…
SL: …that you can’t get everywhere…
HS: …we can’t carry, and you can’t get everywhere.
SL: Like, you can’t carry kombucha in a suitcase, it’ll explode.
SC: On the rare occasion that you don’t have an item, are they pleasant? Do they accept and move on?
HK: Absolutely. Nobody temper tantrums.
SC: Good, good. I think it would be interesting for people to know how each of you got into this line of work, because the one thing everyone says is, “I wish I could do your job.”
HK: Cleaning toilets, really? Because that is part of it, too.
SL: Yeah, [do] you want to pick up the soaking wet underwear? Sure… I always tell people it was an accident, because it really was. I was a snowboard coach for a number of years of my life, still am, still run a freestyle snowboard company. But I started sewing when I was a child. My mom taught me. And long story short, I started making clothing for snowboard kids that I coached, had some friends in bands in Minneapolis where I live, and ended up on Vans Warped Tour for a short stint for the summer, which was a blast. I met somebody on that tour who found out I can sew, and she said, “You should do wardrobe and dressing rooms,” and I didn’t have a resume of any sort. I got hired on a tour a few weeks later and that was seven years ago, so…
SC: Wow. So initially you came on board as a seamstress, to alter pants or whatever else, or repair vests and so on. Thus the sewing machine around the corner.
SL: Yeah, still travel with a full sewing machine setup, and there’s repairs that need to be done no matter what. There’s custom stage clothes that I make, but there’s also things that, you know, we need to hem the bottom of a pair of pants or whatever.
SC: And Heather, I must say the words “shepherd’s pie” because that always comes to mind when I think of your history.
HK: My history… I would say, jokingly, I do say my drug dealer got me the job. I was a bit of a pothead when I was in high school, and the guy I used to get my pot with worked as a security guy locally. He said it was a great job, he worked for all these venues and he was like, “Yeah, come work and it’ll be awesome.” I ended up working at a venue but it was catering. So I just got in with a catering company that worked locally at all the venues, the stadium, the arenas, the theaters, wherever, and did that every summer through high school. And eventually Rod Stewart’s people asked me to join their tour because they liked my work ethic. I was 19 and I said, “No, I can’t do that!” To me it was no career. It was not a career; it was a summer job. I was like, “I need to go to university, I needed to make something of myself,” and I went to university. And five years later… slow learner.
SC: Hang on, hang on. You turned down Rod Stewart??? Rod Stewart invited you on tour and you said, “No, I need to go to university.”
HK: Yeah. I was leaving that September, so I said no.
SC: And what degree did you graduate with?
SC: In fairness, considering the job that you do, that’s pretty interesting…
HK: Absolutely. Traveling around, meeting people and different cultures, yeah. [So] I came back after university and then started working again for this catering company, just every once in a while when they needed help, and one day they called… “Do you feel like going on tour with The Rolling Stones?” And [I’d] finished university, ended up doing the exact same thing, so I just went, “Yeah, okay, why not?”
SC: Were you a fan?
HK: Yes, I guess. If I had to choose [between] The Beatles and The Stones, that whole conundrum, I usually went with The Stones. Sorry to Beatles fans everywhere. The weird thing is that March of 2002 was when I started, well in May, but in March my house had burned down. So I had nothing. I had no clothes; I didn’t even have a suitcase. I had nothing! So when I was asked two months later to go on the road, in my head I was like, “It’s gonna be a pretty small suitcase. Let’s do this!” I didn’t have much to carry, it was good.
SC: Wow! And The Rolling Stones helped build those suitcases and house back up again.
HK: Totally. Yeah.
SC: Okay. I’ve hinted at the shepherd’s pie. Come on, can we just say…
HK: I personally never made it, but I would deliver it to him. It was, yes, Keith Richards’ shepherd’s pie. Everyone knows about [it], I assume, or at least big Stones fans know. But every night before he goes onstage he has shepherd’s pie. And he likes it made a certain way, properly layered. Actually, anyone from England knows it’s actually a cottage pie. It’s not a shepherd’s pie. But we call it shepherd’s pie.
SC: So, okay. Anthropology… how do you all live together on tour? How do you deal with the dynamics, what you need to bring to the party to be able to tour with a band like Metallica?
HK: It’s very interesting because the people out here become your family. You have your family at home, obviously, and your family here. We rely on these people all the time, things happen at home all the time, and these are the people you lean on, these are your everything. And so if you don’t have that sort of connection with each other, it’s not a fun tour. You want to run screaming, really.
SL: You’re with these people every single day, right? Me and Foster are together almost 24 hours a day. We’re at work for 16… 18… 25 hours sometimes, and then we take the bus to the next show, or we are on a plane and we’re at the airport at five in the morning. You’re with everybody constantly. So, you gotta find people that you get along with, you’re agreeing with, and [Heather’s] completely right, they become a family.
SC: And within such a big dynamic, even if there are people who you may not connect with so well, you find a point of respect with them and you make it work that way, right?
HK: Oh, for sure. You have to. You couldn’t do this job if you weren’t somewhat of a people person. You have to be able to deal with different personalities. You have to know and learn how to mesh with people, because you are 24/7 with these people.
SL: It’s a very, very diverse group of people. You think back to your high school years, or your time at home before you started touring, and then you realize [that] I maybe wouldn’t have talked to a person that’s like this in the past, but now they’re your best friend and this tour put you together. It’s just very interesting the friends that you make here.
SC: It is an interesting question, though. How do you reconcile the family you have here, and the schedule, with your home life and your loved ones, partners and whoever’s at home? How does that work?
HK: It’s difficult.
SL: It’s difficult.
HK: Communication is key, obviously, keeping in touch at home, making sure there’s constant communication. I think one of the biggest things is letting them [at home] come out every once in a while so they see what you do. They see [that] if you don’t talk to them for a day or two, there’s a reason. It’s not like we don’t want to call, it’s because we’re busy, or we’re on a bus and there’s no reception. It becomes very difficult, so for the people at home to come out and see everything, it helps them understand and then there’s a bit more of a balance, really.
SL: You have to schedule in conversations a lot of the times because we’re usually on the other side of the world from where you live at home, there’s a five-hour window that you can have a conversation, and sometimes it’s in the middle of your work day. So it turns into, “Okay, these are the fifteen minutes we’re gonna talk, oh, I’m getting on the bus, I don’t have Wi-Fi anymore, we can’t Facetime…”
HK: Yep. We’re both lucky that we have partners that are very independent and awesome and completely understand what we do.
SC: I mean, can I ask? Is there ever truly a day off? Or is that the day that you spend catching up on sleep?
HK: I will sleep if there is a day off; I’ll sleep till I wake up which is sometimes two in the afternoon because I’m just exhausted, because you may go for seven days nonstop.
SL: That’s what I was gonna say, [but] you kind of choose. Are you gonna have a day off, get up and do adventures and have the same lack of sleep you had that show day? Or are you gonna sleep until two p.m. and wake up for dinner? Some people choose that. [If] you have your day off as a full day every time, you will be exhausted by the end of the tour. Probably sick, which happens a lot.
SC: To tie things up, obviously, everyone is here for a reason. It’s not just because it’s a job; everyone on this tour is more than smart enough to find other employment. But people are here for another reason than just the work. Why? It’s hard work. Why do you do it?
HK: Why do we do this? Why do we work 18 hours a day? Why do we travel and make ourselves sick? Because for me personally, I love the fact that I get to travel and I get paid for it.
SL: You get paid?
HK: Yeah, don’t you?
SL: Oh sometimes when the band does their laundry and there’s, like, 20 bucks in their pocket [Sarah was concerned some of you might think she was being serious – the truth is she’d never take anything less than $60…JOKING!!!! – unfunny ED).
SC: Revelations, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. We might have to edit this bit out. Wink, nudge. Anyway, as you say…
HK: Yeah, like we’ve been to Antarctica, for crying out loud. You know, how many people can say that? We did all seven continents in one year.
SL: In one year. Yeah, you’re completely right. The thing to say when you get out of high school, [is] “I’m gonna travel.” I’m gonna do this. And for a lot of people that doesn’t become a reality, or they make it to Europe once or something like that. We have been around the world more times than anybody will ever do in their lifetime, and [in] even less than a five-year span we’ve been around the world multiple times.
SC: And at the end of the day, the four of them are all right, aren’t they? They’re pretty good guys. I mean I’m not being completely obsequious when I say that, it’s kinda true.
SL: I think they’re great.
HK: If they weren’t, I probably wouldn’t still be here after however many years it’s been.
SC: And on that note, I’d like to say thank you very much to Foster & Lang. I like the sound of that. Foster & Lang, it sounds strong and it needs a logo.