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Kenny Foster talks country music’s ‘identity crisis’ ahead of debut Irish tour

Ahead of his debut Irish tour, Kenny Foster spoke with Sounds Like Nashville about how he got into country music, his songwriting process, his thoughts on the current country music scene and much, much more.

Written by Anita McSorley
Kenny Foster talks country music’s ‘identity crisis’ ahead of debut Irish tour
Kenny Foster

Rising US country star Kenny Foster has been going from strength to strength since the release of his debut full-length album, Deep Cuts.

The record has been gaining traction on both sides of the pond, with his heartfelt and relatable lyrics really striking a chord with European audiences.

Ahead of his debut Irish tour, he spoke with Sounds Like Nashville about how he got into country music, his song-writing process, his thoughts on the current country music scene and much, much more.

He’ll be performing at Chez Le Fab in Limerick on August 23, and in The Harbour Bar in Bray on August 24.

 

You can read the interview in full below:

  • How did you get into country music?

The songs. Heartbreaking, straight to the gut, songs. Songs that express how you’re feeling in any mood. Lyrics that give words to feelings that had never been put together before. Poetry, authenticity, reality. That’s what brings people into country music at its finest. I care about lyric, I care about real, and country music was just about the only thing left that did the same. Here I am.

  • Did you always want to be a singer/songwriter/musician?

I’ve wanted to be a lot of things when I “grew up”. Comedian, airline pilot, cave tour guide, big-time Hollywood actor. Where I grew up I was told I could be anything I wanted, but it never really felt like those things were for me. Like, how do I get there from here? Those professions were for other, greater men than I.

The esteem I held musicians and their music in my heart and mind felt other-worldly. How could I possibly be one?!? I was in college before I ever even tried to write a song, so to say I ALWAYS wanted to be a singer/songwriter was to assume that I thought I could be one in the first place. It wasn’t until I tried, and put myself out there, did I think I had he ability to be as good as my heroes. And that was how good I needed to be if I was ever going to consider myself a true singer/songwriter.

  • Who are your biggest influences?

Musically? James Taylor, John Mayer, Counting Crows, Garth Brooks – I listened to everything growing up. And while I loved all of those acts, and even emulated them at different points, they helped me find what I wanted to become, and my job was to find a way to be a version of that, that was distinctly my own. Otherwise, I’d just be a copycat, and no one should listen to a copycat if the original is still out there. No point. Go straight to the source.

  • How would you describe your music for someone who maybe hasn’t heard it before?

This new record, Deep Cuts, is just honest, raw, gut-checking, real music. I care about lyrics, and if you want to be pushed emotionally and feel what music is capable of in both storytelling and picture making, I’d say my music could be for you. It ain’t background music, we’ll just say that.

  • What has the reaction been like to Deep Cuts?

Overwhelming. I never thought I’d get a Rolling Stone write-up. I never thought I’d be on radio. I never thought people would take in what I was creating in the way I meant for them to in. The album reviews, kind words, interactions, etc. have been really moving.

I put everything I had into this record, and to have that come back to me is just beautifully life-affirming. I think the people that get it REALLY get it, and that’s great because it’s sort of my precursor to us being friends anyway. [laughs] I promise if you interact with it, if you really let it sink in, you won’t be lukewarm about it. You might even come out a believer.

Kenny Foster

Kenny Foster

  • Can you describe your songwriting process?

If I’m writing by myself, there’s usually an idea/a concept, that I want to convey. If I’m writing with someone else we can usually just chat for a bit and wind up stumbling on something that we’re both feeling. In a collaborative setting it’s always best if everyone is not only on board for writing it, but excited about it. That’s when you know it’s gonna be good.

As for process, I personally just spit as many lyrics, ideas, and angles as I can about the subject/title we’ve decided upon. Lyric, rhyme, prose, whatever. I’ll end up with pages of notes, and I draw a line on the page as I read back through. The really great thoughts, I put above the line. If it ain’t great, I’ll skip it, or re-work it until it’s good enough to make it above the line. After I’ve got enough material and a road-map for how the song is gonna play out, the craft kicks in and it’s time to figure out how it all works together to make a complete thought. No throwaway lines, only the ones that serve the story and push it forward.

  • Where do you get your inspiration?

Everywhere, man. Usually in good heart-to-heart conversations with friends, or confessions, or great quotes/literature. Sometimes a good film will stir up so much within me that I have to pause and go write somethin’ down, or as soon as it’s over I lock myself away and write as much as I can before I forget.

Sometimes that source material winds up inspiring me in a room days or even weeks later to put something to a tune. Reading it back usually puts a tune/melody into my head without thinking about it as I start to shape the song. That part, I can’t explain. It’s just become second nature to me.

Kenny Foster

Kenny Foster

  • Are you looking forward to performing in Ireland? Have you visited Ireland before?

Oh my gosh, yes. I love Ireland. I got to visit with my wife three years ago during the great Garth Brooks debacle of 2014. She was working for Garth’s TV team, and I was coming to take a masterclass in country music entertainment. And while his shows were ultimately cancelled, we still made the trip, hired a car, and toured around wherever tickled our fancy.

We took in the beauty of the countryside, the simplicity of the lifestyle, and the kindness of the people. We call Ireland and the UK the ‘Midwest’ of Europe because it reminds us a great deal of where we both grew up. Just different accents. [laughs]

  • What are you most looking forward to about performing overseas?

Besides being die-hard fans of Country and Americana music, I hear the crowds over there are great listeners. That serves an artist like me well. I want to draw you in, and if people take as much care with the listening as I do with the crafting/performing, we’re going to have a great evening. It’s as simple as that.

  • What can fans expect from your live shows?

I try to make sure we’re all enjoying ourselves. Make a night of it, you know? I’ll tell anecdotes and terrible jokes between songs, maybe a bit of audience interaction if the mood is right. It really depends on the crowd. There’s always an energy to each room, and I try to match that before I start feeding off of it.

It feels like a conversation at the end of the day, and hopefully (if we’re doing it right) it feels like someone’s living room and we’re all just having a memorable chat with old friends.

Kenny Foster

Kenny Foster

  • Why do you think there’s now a market for American country artists like yourself to travel to Ireland and the UK for gigs?

Some tell me the show ‘Nashville’ has done a great deal to spread this particular type of music overseas. Some say the roots of Country/Americana music harken back to the folk songs of old which were, of course, born in your part of the world.

I know, historically, a lot of country music acts skipped over Europe in their tour dealings. Maybe the lack of it has brought the excitement full-circle? Regardless, I consider myself quite lucky to get to do this for a living, and to spend time in a place that already has a piece of my heart in the process? I’m not sure it can get much better than that.

  • What’s your thoughts on the country music scene at the moment?

I think Country Music is having a bit of an identity crisis right now, to be honest. There’s been a shocking number of fans flocking to the genre. As a result, I feel like a lot of artists, and their respective labels/companies, just want to give the people what they think they want (e.g. bigger, better, faster, more…).

But the advertisers and conglomerates that are being served by radio typically paint a pretty narrow picture of what country music fans want out of their listening experience. While radio leans towards up-tempo, happy-go-lucky; real life isn’t always like that. I think there are a lot of people who came to country music for its authenticity and its heart-felt songs, and finding the discovery platform for those things is sometimes difficult to navigate.

Though, with the recent successes of Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, and Jason Isbell, despite the lack of traditional radio support, it helps artists like myself feel that there is a path; there is a place; and the genre as a whole, is going to be just fine.

You can catch Kenny Foster play his debut Irish show in Chez Le Fab, Limerick on August 23 or The Harbour Bar, Bray on August 24. Entry to both events is free, so fans are urged to arrive early to secure a spot.