It was probably about half way into my allotted interview time that I finally got down to any actual interviewing, the engaging Kenny Foster making it seem more like a conversation between old friends than an interview. Chatting away, perched on bar stools at the back of a restaurant in Canary Wharf, I proved my country credentials by mentioning I owned an authentic Stetson bought in Arizona; then swiftly lost them again when Kenny asked what model Stetson I had. “A white one”, I said.
Somewhere between banter about hats and why Tottenham Hotspur are such a good football team (his opinion, not mine) we began to talk about music. But still not Kenny’s own music yet.
Before he is a musician, he is a music fan and he starts enthusing about talented friends like Old Dominion (he bursts into a little rendition of Snapback), Brothers Osborne (he’d been a student with John), and upcoming artists I just had to hear. He introduced me to Steel Union, who Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town fans will love, and a singer-songwriter called Mae Estes who he describes as somewhere between Gretchen Wilson and Nickel Creek.
As for Kenny’s own pensive sound, he was late in realising it might actually be ‘country’, having been raised in Missouri on folk singer-songwriters.
I didn’t realise the gloriousness of country and its songwriters until I started sinking my teeth into it…
…There are these true songwriters, like some Garth Brooks songs, that’ll rip your heart out. That’s power. They’re not using the most complex instrumentation or latest beats, they’re just trying to capture something timeless, something human and something real.
Pop music is there for a catchy hook. If you want to dance, there’s something else there for that. But if you want something real, where do you go anymore? That’s what captured me about country.
For me country music is distilling this thing called life and putting it in three and a half minutes that’s accessible.”
Tonight when he performs it will just be him, his guitar and a microphone trying to ‘distil life’ for a mix of keen music fans who’ve come just to hear him and unsuspecting diners whose chatter he’ll hopefully break through. He seems ready for the challenge.
“You think, in the room tonight there might be 100 people. I don’t know their backgrounds, I don’t know what they’re dealing with. I need to figure out what they’re thinking and cast a net that’s wide but that talks about very specific human things and hope one of those songs will be for them. That’s our job as songwriters as artists.”
Kenny has a brave approach in trying to connect with the audience in that way.
I never make a set list…
One of the things about touring solo and acoustic is that I’m in charge; I don’t have to tell the band, there’s no monitor, I get to have a conversation. I have the microphone but the crowd’s reaction will influence what I’m feeling and what I’ll play.”
Apparently, feeding off the crowd can be trickier with a UK audience. As so many touring American acts have pointed out, we are different to their rowdier home crowds.
“You guys can be quite reserved. You care about lyrics and listen very intently so you’re discerning and don’t give in easily; but once you do give in, you give in completely.”
But Kenny’s not daunted by a sea of stiff upper lips in a crowd. He’s more familiar with the Brits than a lot of the country acts who come over.
I’m an Anglophile…
…My dad read The Hobbit to me in the womb and I pored over Monty Python growing up.”
He even played football (our football) from the age of five and came over to play in a tournament aged 12.
“If I’d been born in a different country, I could’ve been a football player; I played right through until university.”
But instead he grew up “in middle of very large country that doesn’t play ‘soccer’” and Music City beckoned.
“I was an intern at Sony when I first moved to Nashville. A gopher. I got to work in every department of the label.
At first seeing how the sausage is made was destructive for my creativity…
…but once I understood the business of it and put that side it in its place, then I could be me. So, if country music will have me I’ll be there. If Americana will see the goodness in what I do, I’ll be there too.”
And then, somehow, we’re off the topic of music and back onto Tottenham Hotspurs and whiskey until it’s time for Kenny to take the stage.
Kenny’s album Deep Cuts is out now and you can catch Kenny playing on the C2C London festival stages on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th March 2019.