Back in late February, when actual live music was still a ” thing” , I booked for the first ” Nashville Meets London” event of 2020 in order to catch Glaswegian singer/songwriter Katee Kross for the first time …..those of you who know me will be aware that I generally prefer female country artists, and Katee was as brilliant as I’d hoped she would be. The ” Nashville” component that evening was a name new to me, Kenny Foster, but a bit of research beforehand ( mainly listening to his 2017 album ” Deep Cuts” ) and I was won over, especially by his eloquent, thought provoking lyrics…..here’s the song Kenny describes as the linch-pin of that album, ” Made” , which he says is the voice of a person both he and co-writer Daisy Mallory wanted to be, someone content in their life regardless of the circumstances, a voice Kenny hadn’t heard on a record or on the radio for so long and which he needed to hear. It was the marker he came back to when selecting the album’s other tracks, which all revolve around it.
That cold, February evening Kenny treated the intimate London venue to stunning acoustic performances of his songs ( new and old ) alongside some covers which he re-interpreted in a very personal way, and in addition was a very entertaining and engaging artist who totally captivated the audience and won me over…..I can’t wait to see him again ( sadly my plans to do exactly that at this year’s C2C in London were thwarted) and I simply had to fire off some questions to him on behalf of Think Country! His answers are written almost as poetically as his songs’ lyrics and are equally as honest …….and I can genuinely say that of the numerous interviews I’ve conducted over the years his replies are among my favourites largely because of this! I hope you enjoy the read.
LH Thanks so much for your time, Kenny! Can I start by asking where you are while replying to my questions please…..let’s paint a picture like any great country song does!
KF My wife and I have a breakfast nook, a two seat tall table made of reclaimed wood in our gingham blue kitchen overlooking our wild back garden. It’s quiet, save the hum of the refrigerator and Sara’s shower singing meandering down the hallway. We’re in our 4th week of quarantine and it’s felt like maybe a week or two. Time is racing by as our little haven continues on in a syrupy-slow capsule of tranquility.
LH I caught your fantastic London headline show earlier this year which was actually my introduction to your music ( sorry for being a late starter!) . An intimate, cabaret style setting, you had everyone in the palm of your hand not only with your music but your banter in between. Were you a natural entertainer as a child…..one of those types that would hauled out to ” do a turn” family gatherings maybe, or perform a solo at the school concert?
KF I think everyone comes to find good things at the precise moment they’re meant to. Late starter or no, I’m glad to have you on board now. *wink* I love an intimate show. The climate and audience were great. Everyone was there to have a great evening, including myself, and I think we collectively had one.
I was an irritatingly incessant entertainer as a child. There’s an infamous video where my new baby sister came home and my mum wanted to make a sweet video of some of her first weeks of life. Meanwhile I’m singing, dancing, and vying for attention in the background over, and over, and over again. Singing Ray Charles, doing bad jokes, choreographing to Pepsi commercials. It’s become a bit of a family legend now. But it’s probably a good summation of the type of energy and need to perform that was born in me so early. I’d like to think I’ve toned it down a bit, but that kid is still in there, believe me.
LH Apart from your fantastic jokes that evening of course (!!!) It was your lyrics that particularly drew me in…..is that what first attracts you to an artist when you listen to music, and who in particular inspires you as a lyricist in any genre, from any era?
KF I love a good joke. Love them. They’re little colloquial time capsules. New or old, funny is forever.
But yes, I’m a word guy. There’s only so many notes and chord progressions. They’ve all been done 100 fold, believe me. But every combination of words seems almost infinite. The emotions expressed have an opportunity to say something. The music I loved and was always drawn to was more of a soliloquy with a musical backing, a statement piece, than a little head bobber. I wanted to feel differently after I’d heard it. I love comedy for the very same reason. Here’s an opportunity, where there’s an expectation for entertainment or an experience, and you have the sacred honor of using that time and the attention of those that would listen to really say something.
I hope the effort to distill that message is appreciated.
Inspirations of mine, (in no particular order): Adam Duritz, Chris Carrabba, Stephen Jenkins, Tom T. Hall, Tom Douglas, Eminem, Chris Martin, Andy Gullahorn, Andrew Peterson, Derek Webb, John O’Donahue, Lil Dicky, James Taylor, Jason Isbell, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Haruki Murakami, and John Fucking Prine.
LH You’ve been playing shows over this side of the pond for several years now, does the support for country music in Europe surprise you …or at least did it before your first visit?
KF It was a dream I’d never hoped to have. I’ve always a had a love affair with Europe (as Eddie Izzard said “where the history comes from”) from a very young age. Though I was brought up in a small town, my parents were very worldly: loved travel, good food, literature, etc. It seemed that was born out of Europe to me, and also as a footballer (soccer) I came over to the UK to play at twelve years old. I was so enamored with you all, I never thought that something that feels so distinctly American would get the same treatment back. So to go to a place I love, bringing something that is distinctly me, to a people who want that very thing, in a place that is distinctly them. It’s a total love fest.
LH UK fans in particular are renown for being respectful, attentive audiences….but we can also party hard too….has this been your experience?
KF I love this dichotomy. I feel as though each of those archetypes don’t mesh well in the states. At least not ubiquitously so. The fact that a naughty drinking song gets as much response as a tear-jerking ballad is one that takes a pretty complex individual to be comfortable loving both. I’m not saying Americans don’t also do this, but I feel it’s less socially acceptable for a heavily masculine party guy to get sentimental in any way. It feels like a real feat when it does happen. Whereas there doesn’t seem to be any animosity towards both of those things living in one individual over there. You are fantastic listeners, and I feel like good listeners get more out of their evenings than self-interested good-time harbingers, but listeners don’t have to be confined to simply being wallflowers either.
6. LH You were over here for several weeks now this round, did you got any inspirations for new songs ….or maybe even actually been doing some writing with any of our singer/songwriters?
KF I did a little writing, and a LOT of hanging out. Went to Holly Rose Webber’s wedding and had a smashing good time up North with her and her family. Dinner with Lewis and Isi from Two Ways Home, a pint with my favorite curmudgeon Ags Connolly, a little demo sesh with Sue McMillan, a heartbreaking FA football match with Callum and Kieran from Morganway, a UTAT session with Miles, good good backstage hangs with Twinnie, Cath McGrath, Gary Quinn, and Jake Morrell in Berlin, and if it hadn’t ended so abruptly we had plans to catch up with so many wonderful UK artists at C2C London: Gasoline and Matches, Demi & Robbie, Jade and Luke, Dan Wharton. I love the country music family over here so much. Maybe if/when they make the trip over we can dig in and do some good work here. Even had to cancel a trip with Simon James who was coming to record and write here in Nashvegas for a few days after the trip was over. Hope to be getting back and celebrating/creating again real soon.
LH One artist who we like to consider an ” honorary Brit ” is Sarah Darling, who I know you’ve collaborated with recently on a cover of ” Country Roads” . How did that come about?
KF I. Love. Her. It’s like she comes from some other distant land. Operating on another wavelength of mystical revelry or something. I just like being in her presence. Oh right, there was a question here.
So, Sound of Nashville in Germany put us on tour with one another last October for their Country Music Week, and we decided to do a collaboration to promote that tour by making a little cover video just to say “come out and see us do this live”! But the response to the video and the recording were such that we decided to put it out officially on the streaming platforms, and CMT picked up the video the following February. We literally made it up as we went along. Normally you go into the studio, cut the song, and then go make a video. But we were just doing this on the sly, so we did it all at once and made up the song arrangement in the middle of a field with an Airstream trailer in it. Shot the whole thing in an hour maybe, and the rest, as they say…
LH Looking back to your move to Nashville from Missouri, which you describe in the bio on your website as being compelled to do….can you elaborate a bit more on that pull, please?
KF I can’t put a tangible serendipitous point on it, but all signs over the course of a great upheaval in my life pointed to Nashville and the opportunities that could lie for me there to live a different life altogether. I loved my life back home, so it wasn’t a running away story like so many. It’s as if there was no other option. I know some might balk at the idea of being ‘called’ in a spiritual sense, but that’s exactly what it was. Turns out I had a lot of learning and growing to do emotionally and spiritually and the trials that came from leaving a comfort zone and striking out to do something I’ve never known to have been done before was a thing I was meant to do. I had no control over that fact any more than my height, or my eye color. But it came all at once, and the deal I made with myself was not to make another decision that drastic or rash unless I felt a pulling of that strength again. No matter the trials, the tribulations, and the struggles you’ve undoubtedly read in the rest of my bio, it felt to me just part of the gig. The gig that I had to figure out, because, that was the gig.
LH The musical community there generally come across as extremely supportive ( just look at how they rallied around in the aftermath of the recent tornado) …..did you feel as though you were among friends from the start even though you were a newcomer?
KF I love that it seems that way, and for some I think it really is that way, but whether self-inflicted or not I’ve felt like an outsider from the moment I stepped foot in this town. They just operate by a different code, and one I just never really figured out. Not a pariah, necessarily, but a lot of the Nashville insiders are waiting to see what everyone else is doing, so if there’s not a well-spring of support behind someone that reaches critical mass, it’s almost as if you or your art has no value. So people tend to come up the ranks with others that are at the same/similar level of fame/stardom and help each other along the way. But the tie that binds them altogether isn’t always talent. Sometimes it’s hometown, sometimes it’s neighborhood in town, sometimes it’s just partying in the same spots, but I can’t stress to you just HOW MANY TALENTED PEOPLE live in Nashville, and so people stop being judged by their talent and start being judged by all of these other factors I’d never accounted for.
Now, in times of trial the people of Nashville as a whole do the right thing. But the industry of Nashville is often pretty cutthroat and self-interested. A lot of shifting sand. A lot of “what can you do for me” and unfortunately “make music you’ll love” isn’t a compelling enough answer for most.
LH Co-writing is a big part of what goes on in music city and something I gather you do a lot of these days….but had you done much collaborating back home?
KF None. It’s a muscle I had to work out A LOT. It’s a completely different thing, but when you need as many songs in as many different arenas as possible, it’s the only way to increase your output. If you wait to be inspired to write, you won’t write that many songs. But while you’re waiting to be inspired, you can woodshed so that when the moment does strike, you’re prepared to serve it well. I’d liken it to training for sports. You do the work with no crowd, no feedback, just repetitive motions to train the brain and the muscles to do the thing so that when the game comes, you can be focused on the task at hand, not struggling to keep up.
But while some co-write as a social climbing tool, I try to co-write as a means to write the best song possible with whomever is in the mood to do it. A great idea can come from anywhere, and having been an outsider for so long, I try not to write anyone off. Sometimes the outsiders are the hungriest, the most inventive, because they’re working off of instinct, not reputation. I tend to trust instinct more.
LH How has your time living there there changed you as both a person and an artist?
KF God. I don’t think either of us have enough time for all that. I’ve changed. Irreversibly. In most ways good, in some ways bad. I think I’m a deeper, more empathetic person. I think I see the downtrodden in a whole new light: as victims of circumstance, rather than personal choice. I know how to live really lean to get through difficult times, but I’ve developed habits in anticipation of those times that cause me to be less hopeful about the future. I care about music more than I care about fame, now. I judge people more, usually by their actions more than their words. But I love strangers better, because I need nothing from them and they need nothing from me. I give most people the benefit of the doubt, unless they prove otherwise, and then I have no further dealings with them. I don’t give myself the benefit of the doubt always. I care more about art, and love, and community, than I do about money: truly and completely, not just lip service. As a result, I’m less enamored with hype, and instead have to see things for myself. As a result, I hold others and myself to an almost impossible standard. But those that meet it are my friends for life, for I am an intensely loyal person.
But that’s just off the top of my head.
LH Looking forwards now to the rest of 2020….you performed several new songs when I saw you in London, can I assume that you are looking at going back into the studio?
KF Yes, and I can’t flipping wait. I’ll head back to Sputnik with Mitch Dane (who also did Deep Cuts) and get the boys back together, and fight over the song choices, and live in a moment of time where I’ll have everything thing to say, and I’ll distill it, and argue about it, with friends and strangers, and nitpick that thing until it’s the right thing, the only thing, until I have that overwhelming peace that I’ve exhausted all of my options and done all of the brain work, done the due diligence that it will be the best thing I can produce in this moment in my life, and then we will say a humble prayer, and begin. I’m so fracking excited.
LH And hopefully you plan to continue visiting us here in the UK on a regular basis?
For more information go to kennyfostermusic.com where you can also find links to all his socials