Faith, Missouri, Wisdom and Music- Country Music Singer, Kenny Foster Talks to Seele
I don’t want to create separation from others, I want to create intimacy with others. I question celebrity. I defy the elevation of someone for the milestones they have achieved. I’d rather elevate them for the character they have cultivated.
Seele Magazine: Did Missouri or your upbringing have any influence on you becoming a Country Music singer?
KF: Yes and No. Though it was a hotbed for it, I didn’t really listen to country music growing up. My dad raised me on James Taylor and Paul Simon, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. I later gravitated towards John Mayer, Counting Crows, Dashboard Confessional, and Third Eye Blind. The tie that really bound all of these artists together in my mind were strong male leads that sang from the heart, whatever that meant to each of them. I didn’t even really discover country music until Garth Brooks in junior high. Suddenly it was: “Oh wow, this is my life. These are great songs. Where has this been?”
So as I went on this musical journey, I became a mishmash of all of these things that spoke into my life. I moved to Nashville and they said I wasn’t ‘country enough’. I went to LA and they said I was ‘too country’. I’m thinking ‘Man, can’t a guy just be himself?’.
But first and foremost the thing that informs my songwriting, my perspective, and my soul, is Missouri: the land that made me. The people, the ease of life, the goodness that lived in those hills and on those plains. I value those years so very much. There are many, many days I wish I could just go back. I am a midwesterner through and through, and adulting is hard.
SM: Why a singer? What made you become a singer?
KF: I think I’ve done music longer than I’ve done anything in my life. Started in church choir in third grade and had a knack for it. I was kind of a trouble maker back then, and we had wonderful choir directors in Terry & Karen Dolanc that didn’t really take any crap from anyone, so the fact that they kept me around told me I was at least good enough to keep putting up with. [laughs]
But, I had good and sensible plans to live a respectable, quiet life as a lawyer or business man. I’d never really thought about it, to be honest. I’d been living my life to get to college and that was really the end of the line as far as my future considerations were concerned. Then, while at university I was playing at a summer camp with some looooong time friends (knew me since I was a baby) and they were so moved by what I was doing they said: “Well, what are you going to do with this?” and I said “Well, I was just planning on giving it up to go to law school.” and they replied “But do you think that’s really going to make you happy?”
I’d never really considered that question before. I was just doing what seemed right. But I realized that I’d never really considered what ‘right’ was. I hadn’t asked that, and for all of my philosophical meandering, it seemed a pretty important question to have a good answer to. I asked myself when I felt most alive, and what brought me the most joy in my life. The answers were: ‘When I was performing’ and ‘When I was listening to music.’ The rest sort of wrote itself. I felt this innate desire to recreate for someone else what I had felt so deeply and so fully growing up. To be a part of someone’s self-discovery through music was going to be my way of giving back and paying it forward.
SM: When your heart "cried out to you" to go to Nashville, what was that like? Do you have any regrets listening to your heart?
KF: The ‘crying out’ portion of my heart at that stage in my life was a sense of undeniability. There’s a quote often attributed to Goethe, but actually belongs to a Scottish writer and mountaineer W. H. Murray that says:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way… Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!"
I think that’s the best way of putting it. I started looking into the prospect of moving to chase this thing, and all manner of incidents, meetings, and material assistance opened a way for me to move to Nashville that could only be described as: serendipitous.
I took those as a clear sign that this otherwise insane move, the leaving of comfort and goodness for the unknown, was something I could no longer deny. Something I was destined for, what dreams may come.
And yes, even in light of that beauty and mystery, there are days I curse the decision and the process, and the heartache since. I think I know deep down that those things would have come eventually no matter where I ‘grew up’, but as it stands I very much associate the hardships of young adult life with that decision, and this place. I’m not saying it’s fair, I’m just saying that’s how it is. Those difficult days are becoming fewer and farther between, but I’ve not yet reached that stage of ‘absolutely worth it.’
SM: You write about "being protected by your own naivety." Why is being protected by ones naivety a blessing? How has this made you the person you are today?
KF: Well, if the me that started this journey knew what lay ahead, he would have never taken it. I’m very Bilbo Baggins in that way. I was comfortable and happy at home, but I knew there was this great adventure I’d been charged with. The thought excited me, but at times it felt like more of a burden than anything. And in Tolkien’s books (rather than the Hollywood adaptation) at the end of The Hobbit, he’s completely changed. He’s grown. He has different ideas. He can’t even describe it, but The Shire doesn’t look the same, and the comforts he used to hold so dear weren’t complete enough. They no longer satiated the person he’d become. He also wasn’t a hero when he returned. Most people were even unaware what he’d just been through. It’s tragic, and beautiful, and somehow more real than tying it all up in a neat little bow.
I like who I’ve become. I’m thankful for the journey that led me here, but it wasn’t easy or fun or even desirable. It just was what it was, and these songs are my message from the journey. I pray they can help make someone a little more wise for the listening. I’d love to save them the trouble.
SM: What three adjectives would you use when it comes to being in the music business?
KF: My brain went immediately to these three adjectives: Thankless, difficult, necessary.
SM: What other music genres inspire you?
KF: When I was an intern at Sony Nashville, one of the A&R guys Cliff Aldrich said to me: “Kenny, there’s really only two kinds of music: good music, and bad music.” I’ve taken that to heart as I’ve grown older. There are artists doing amazing things all over. Connecting with people is really important, and I think the best music reaches across borders, cultural lines, and social mores. I’m inspired by anyone doing something well for the right reasons.
SM: What would you tell your 16 year old self, and your 25 year old self?
16: You ain’t seen nothing yet. Enjoy this time for what it is. It is sweet, and lovely, and all of this being misunderstood is going to make great fodder for some wonderful art that will help someone someday, including yourself. Breathe deep. Don’t miss it.
25: You ain’t seen nothing yet. Enjoy this time for what it is. It is sweet, and lovely, and all of this being misunderstood is going to make great fodder for some wonderful art that will help someone someday, including yourself. Breathe deep. Don’t miss it.
SM: Because you grew up in church, does faith influence you in any way? If so, how?
KF: Absolutely. Faith in God is the driving force for me. But I’d argue that faith in general is the driving force for everyone. Faith in what is the real question. Faith in yourself? Faith in a system? Faith in fairness, justice, equality? Faith in your abilities? Faith in your research? Faith in a higher power? Faith in science? Faith in nothing?
Unfortunately once you get past empirically verifiable disciplines (math, physics, astronomy) and into the ‘softer sciences’ (psychology, sociology, philosophy, religion) there gets to be a lot of gray area. But I think the most important, and most interesting aspects of human relationships and interaction are based on these intangible, unrepeatable, almost chaotic happenings that we call ‘life’. Unfortunately it’s far from an experiment; we only get one shot at this one.
Empirical data is immensely important, and it helps us answer the ‘how’ of life. By experimentation and implementation we can improve our lives through technology, policy, advancement, and any number of avenues, but these items never really get to the nitty gritty of ‘why?’ Why do we need to improve? What is happiness? Why do we want it so much? Why do we have to do any of this? Some disciplines look to answer some of these questions, but the premises and the conclusions all contain a leap. It’s unverifiable. None of us really has that answer, really. This is where faith comes in.
As it stands, my faith informs the kind of man and artist I strive to be. I want to have a purposeful existence full of generosity, compassion, and connection. Being a good person is more important to me at the end of the day than being renown. Creating moments from stage or at a meet and greet are more important to me than magazine covers and notoriety. I don’t want to create separation from others, I want to create intimacy with others. I question celebrity. I defy the elevation of someone for the milestones they have achieved. I’d rather elevate them for the character they have cultivated. One is harder fought. One of those can only be earned, never given.
I’m pretty widely read, I’m decently well-travelled, I like delving into other cultures, I like learning. And so I try things out against my most closely held beliefs. If I am going to hold these truths in my very core, they better be well-documented, well-researched, and time-tested truths because it is through them that I see everything else.
And for all of us, whether our faith is in something specific or nothing at all, the ‘why’ that drives us is only reached by taking a leap, any way you slice it. I guess I want to leap towards time-tested thoughts and actions that produce goodness for myself and others during our short stint here on Earth.
SM: What male and female Country Music artists, before 1990 would you like to perform with?
KF: Merle, Willie, Johnny, Dolly, Waylon, & Charley Pride. Garth and Reba sneak into that pre-1990 category, so I’m freakin’ claiming them too. :)
SM: What can the world expect to see from you in 2018?
KF: Hopefully a lot more of the same. I’ve got a few fun UK specific projects I got to be a part of, and we’ll be back here at least once more before the year is out. I spend a lot of my time in Nashville writing for myself and others to help develop stories into meaningful songs, and I’ll spend a good deal of time on the road this year continuing to seek out ‘my people’. The wild, out there, defiant ones. The ones that aren’t scared to get real. In fact, the ones that are more comfortable with real than anything else.