september 2009

Radney Foster: 'The gist of this record is that you go out and do it with all that you are. Warts and all.'

Amen To Love And All That

On Revival, Radney Foster Ponders His Miracle Moment

'It can't help but open our ears to new truth'

by David McGee

Photos by Carol Youdas

The records are clear: Impervious to mediocrity, Radney Foster labors with multiple afflictions: gifts for compelling melodies, straightforward and deeply personal lyrics, striking arrangements, emotionally resonant vocals and a love of deep country twang and infectious, R&B-influenced rhythms. His music for the heart, the mind and the body is no better showcased than on his ferocious new album, Revival.

Perhaps the most incisive appraisal of Foster's new album comes from his own spiritual counselor, the Rev. Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene House in Nashville, who writes in the CD liner booklet: "With Revival, Foster takes us on a spiritual journey with a voice so honest and pure it can't help but open our ears to new truth. He speaks of the most powerful kind of love, one that is non-judgmental, universal, and doesn't seek change so much as it seeks to love more. Through his own journey of revival, Foster wrote this record for you and me. He knew that the world is only revived when our individual hearts are rekindled for love."

thumbnailBy far the most scrutinized topic in music history, love in all its mystery and hallelujah moments has been fertile turf for Foster Foster as well. But as the Rev. Stevens's comment indicates, Revival goes well beyond romantic love; it explores love as selfless and self-sustaining, love as a healing force in the world, love—or agape—especially as defined by Wesleyan theologian and philosopher Thomas Jay Oord as "an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being." It might precipitate from a father's reconciliation with God spurred by seeing his two-year-old son wheeled on a stretcher into an emergency room, his life in the balance ("I Made Peace With God"); it might be resurrected when a son stands by his dying father's bedside and reflects on the patience and benevolence the patriarch practiced during the son's tempestuous youth ("I Know You Can Hear Me"); it might be in the form of a military pilot's devotion to the fallen soldiers he's charged with flying home to their final resting places ("Angel Flight"); it might arise in a plea for understanding and renewal sent out to an estranged partner ("Forgiveness," "Second Chances"). And it might be outright celebrated with gospel fervor ("Shed A Little Light"), but only after it's been allowed a night's furlough so our protagonist can kick up his heels a little bit ("Trouble Tonight"). The album's binding premise of love as an impetus for everything from the fight for individual liberty to the search for personal fulfillment on a spiritual level is stated in the song "A Little Revival." It kicks off the album in torrential fashion as guitars snarl and howl, the rhythm rocks relentlessy forward and Foster declares his message—"Amen to love/Deep in my soul/A little revival"—with unfettered urgency, then returns at the end as a soothing bluegrass benediction, a calming acoustic moment with Foster joined in graceful harmony by Tammy Rogers and Jon Randall.

You don't approach a Foster recording without expecting to hear arrangements as well crafted as the songs, and Revival delivers on that count in spade. In fact, the music fueling Foster's ruminations is arguably the most powerful he's ever delivered over the course of an entire long player, from the twangy, punishing guitars and thundering drums on the Rodney Crowell-ish "Until It's Gone" (which also features a tasty, bluesy backup vocal by Dierks Bentley, returning a favor after recording Foster's "Sweet and Wild" as a new track for his 2008 collection, Greatest Hits/Every Mile a Memory, 2003-2008); fuzzed out, sinister guitar and gut-busting vocals on "Forgiveness"; shimmering, chiming guitar, heavy bass and a subdued, aching vocal on "I Know You Can Hear Me"; plaintive fiddle and tender, fingerpicked acoustic guitar on the spiritual reflection, "I Made Peace With God That Day."

For Foster, Revival represents the latest chapter in a revelatory journey that began in 1999, on his final Arista album, See What You Want To See, and has continued on subsequent albums on the Dualtone label (2002's Another Way to Go, 2006's This World We Live In; a powerful live album, Are You Ready For the Big Show?, came in 2001). Revival represents a new venture for Foster, being released on his own Devil's River label, to which he's adding value by offering his services for private songwriting sessions, house concerts-he'll even do a house concert and prepare a gourmet dinner for eight for the right price, or be your fishing guide, or your mentor. (Go the Store section of his website for details,

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Radney Foster, "Just Call Me Lonesome," his first solo hit, 1992

Born in Del Rio, TX, on July 20, 1959, the second of four children to a guitar playing lawyer father, Foster began playing guitar himself at age 12. After high school he attended University of the South in Sewanee, TN, dropped out in 1979 to pursue a music career in Nashville, came up empty and returned to finish his degree program in Sewanee. Undaunted, he returned to Nashville upon graduation, signed a writing deal at MTM Publishing, where he met and befriended another aspiring songwriter, Bill Lloyd, whose breadth of knowledge about pop and rock 'n' roll impressed Foster as much as Foster's immersion in hard country appealed to Lloyd. The two teamed up, with one of their early songs, "Since I Found You," rising into the country Top 10 in 1986 when recorded by the Sweethearts of the Rodeo. That same year the musical duo of Foster & Lloyd landed a recording contract with RCA, stepped foursquare into the burgeoning New Traditionalist movement and made their mark—three studio albums between 1986 and 1990 yielded nine charting singles and a lasting influence on succeeding generations of artists for their cross-genre fusions of pop and country into a distinctive, hard-edged new style of their own that was about equal parts Beatles and Buck Owens. In 1992, two years after an amicable split with Lloyd, Foster re-emerged as solo artist on the Arista label, with his first album named after his home town and year of birth, Del Rio, TX, 1959. Staying in a hard-edged but highly melodic country vein, he notched two Top 10 hits out of the box, "Just Call Me Lonesome" and "Nobody Wins" (peaking at #10 and #2, respectively, on Billboard's country singles chart) and had two other singles, "Easier Said Than Done" and "Hammer and Nails," peak in the Top 40, at #20 and #34, respectively.

Conflicts with Arista began with his second album, Labor of Love, twice delayed after its first single failed to make the Top 40. The label then brought in the Tractors' Steve Ripley to remix a second single ahead of the album's release in April 1995, but neither the Ripley remix nor three subsequent singles dented the Top 40. In the midst of professional turmoil, Foster's personal life was upended when he and his wife of 12 years separated. Two years after their separation, more upheaval ensued, and it permanently altered the artist's outlook on, as he said, "everything," without qualification. In an interview with this writer in 2002, upon the release of Another Way To Go, he said in reflecting about the course of his career and the new priorities he had established for himself: "I really think I've gotten to the age and the thought process where trying to write something that's other than what is germane to my own life doesn't make sense to me anymore. About five years ago my then-almost-six-year-old son moved to France with his mom and that really made me cross a Rubicon in life, not just in songwriting. It affected everything about the way I toured the way I thought about music, the way I thought about making records, the way I thought about family, the way I thought about how I had to be a dad."

thumbnailBut even before that, on the aforementioned 1999 album, See What You Want to See, his last for Arista, Foster had set out on a highly individual path as a songwriter. The team he had assembled for that project—producer Darrelll Brown, songwriter Jay Clementi—have for the most part been with him ever since as he's used his albums to explore the whys and wherefores of emotional and romantic entanglements springing from his own experiences. He's also moved behind the board on occasion, having produced albums for the Randy Rogers band and some tracks on the latest Jack Ingram album; and his songs have been recorded by a raft of artists, including Dierks Bentley, the Dixie Chicks, Jack Ingram, Guy Clark, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, Keith Urban, Tanya Tucker & T. Graham Brown, Holly Dunn and others.

Revival, however, is a personal statement of a whole other order than any Foster has heretofore delivered. From the beautiful poignance of "I Know You Can Hear Me" to the howl of "Forgiveness" to the pulsating "Life Is Hard (Love Is Easy)" to the uplifting serenity of the acoustic "Revival," Revival is a remarkable document attesting to an artist's growth in purely human terms that are definitively musical.

Speaking from Nashville on the afternoon before the first rehearsal for his current tour, Foster discussed the issues informing the whole of Revival and his personal life as well, and looked back briefly on the Foster & Lloyd days and what it was like to be in the midst of one of country music's most exciting eras.


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Radney Foster performs "A Little Revival" at Nashville's Bluebird Café, October 2, 2008

'The Entire Album Is Wrapped Up In a Big Circle of Life For Me'

The word "revival" suggests not something coming from nowhere but something dormant dormant being re-energized, or finding its purpose anew. Several songs reference faith directly, or suggest it in the music ("Shed a Little Light"). The album begins and ends with the title song, but in different modes—it starts with a torrential rain of guitar, a fire and brimstone call to worship—

Radney Foster: (laughs) But there's no fire and brimstone in the lyric!

I'm talking about the intensity of the music here.

Foster: Oh, boy, when you hear that first guitar plough through it, it is pretty intense.

Then you end with a soothing, bluegrass-style benediction of guitar and mandolin, a cathartic spiritual uplift. On the inner sleeve you're pictured essentially praying over your guitar. The album is titled Revival. Given the highly personal nature your songwriting has taken in the past decade, what events were, or event was, the impetus for this album?

Foster:Well it was really two. The entire album is wrapped up in a big circle of life for me. After 13 years of my son living in France, he has come home to the States and is going to be a freshman in college at Belmont University, not two miles from my house. That certainly is a revival. At the same time, about 15, 16 months ago I lost my dad. Both of those are watershed events, and I've gotten to the point where I just write about what I'm going through and what life is like. So I couldn't help but write about those things. Then last fall, after I had written "A Little Revival" with Jay Clementi and Darrell Brown, it started to take shape and make sense, that this was the direction this thing was going. I love that it was written by three guys of faith, all of whom are very different in their faith, and grew up with different political beliefs, different everything. And it was in the middle of the election, which was a contentious moment in our country. We were sitting there asking, "What does our country really need? What do people really need? What do we really need?" You know? And we went, "Revival!" Think about it. If your heart stops working and you're in an emergency room with a defibrillator, that's a revival! It's all on how you look at it. So we all started talking about just things. I mentioned my son, who's cut his teeth in the subways of Paris-that's his first audience and that's how that line, "Hey, that kid with a guitar in the subway, he might change the world some day" came about. I don't know about the religious beliefs or even if he had any, of the guy who stood in front of those tanks in Tiananmen Square twenty years ago, but I know God put him on this planet to do that thing. I know why he was put here-that's it. It didn't matter what he did before or much what he did afterwards. That was it.

That was the first song we cut, and we cut it with my band. It was initially an experiment to find out was I going to use this band, my live band that's been with me for a long time, to cut this record with me. We had an opportunity to cut a couple of tracks last fall, in late October, and boom! The first two songs we cut were "A Little Revival" and "Second Chances," and I said, "Well, that went pretty well. Maybe we oughta do this whole thing that way."

You and I spoke a year ago this spring, 2008, and it was a general discussion about what was on your calendar for that year. You were producing Jack Ingram, or getting ready to, and you were writing songs for this album project, you didn't know what it was going to be. You were going to go out and play some of them solo acoustic, as a duo. At that time, between that conversation and the writing and recording of "A Little Revival," had the concept yet revealed itself?

Foster: Not until I really cut "A Little Revival" did I know it, in October of '08. So that's about four or five months after I spoke with you that it began to make sense.

And did you go back in then and start writing more songs?

Foster: Oh, yeah. I would say the majority of the songs—about half the songs were written when we went in and cut "A Little Revival," but the other half were written in November, December, January and February before we went in in March.

A pretty dedicated songwriting regimen there.

Foster: I wrote once a week with Darrell Brown and once a week with Jay Clementi all during that time period. I wrote every Monday and Tuesday with those guys, Darrell on Monday, Jay on Tuesday. And that was by design. Because those guys are really good friends of mine, and they're really good songwriters, and very good collaborators with me. They've been part of some the best things I've ever written, from "Raining on Sunday" with Darrell Brown to "Sweet and Wild" with Jay Clementi. That was something I knew I really wanted to do. So usually, I would probably need a couple of days a week to do something else, and then I would write one day a week on my own.

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Radney Foster, "Nobody Wins," second solo hit, 1992, #2

I'm going to take you back even further, to an interview we did in 2002 for Another Way to Go. In "Everyday Angels," from Another Way to Go, you speak of the woman who had been on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement in Selma and Tuskegee, the fireman who rushed into the World Trade Center and never returned; in "A Little Revival" on the new album you reference heroic stands taken in Jerusalem and in Tiananmen Square—some things play out on a big stage, some on a much smaller stage, but people standing up for their ideals and tenaciously pursuing their dreams have not only inspired you, as they should all of us, but they show up in your songs as examples you employ to illustrate your philosophy of how life should be lived. Is "A Little Revival," then, the continuation of a conversation you started with yourself and your audience in "Everyday Angels"?

Foster: Partly it is. I think about that line in "A Little Revival," "Didn't it all get started because somebody stood up somewhere?" I think that's true. I don't mind when I disagree, strongly even, with somebody, if they really believe what they're putting down. Unless what they're saying is completely anathema. But look at both sides of the political fence, or both sides of any fence, and you can always tell. It's like, "This guy is playing a game. He doesn't really believe this. This is smoke and mirrors in order to win points. This is high school with way too much money." You know? Then there are those brief moments when you go, "Hey! That guy really cares. He's trying to do something good for his country." Or, "That guy really cares. He's trying to do something good for his neighborhood." Or his mom (laughs). That's what excites me—when you see somebody do it for the right reasons; when you get inspired by somebody who does that.

The second verse of "Everyday Angels" is about my dad. But that verse goes straight to "I Know You Can Hear Me" on Revival, because basically I wrote one verse of that song remembering what it was like for my dad and my mom to make a sacrifice for someone when they were at low ebb, and not realizing until you're grown and you got kids, you got family, you got obligations and all of a sudden it's, no, daddy still went out of his way to do something for somebody else. Then you get down to the fact that I don't have him anymore. What am I going to take from that lesson? What am I going to reach for in that? King David. King David was an adulterer, a murderer and yet God says he's a man after his own heart because whatever he did, he did full tilt. (laughs) Just a hundred percent. When he loved God, he loved him with all he was. So I think the whole gist of this record is that you go out and do it with all that you are. Warts and all.

So you end up with songs like "Forgiveness," where you have to figure out for yourself and within yourself how to forgive others. In particular that was written for my son's mom; I think we had to figure out how to forgive each other and go on and be parents anyway, especially when you have the contentiousness of having a child live five thousand miles apart from two parents. That might put it in perspective. Until it's gone it's just basically, if I'm gonna do it I'm gonna do it a hundred and ten percent. I'm gonna cut my piece of cloth out of one of Johnny Cash's jackets and here I go! "Second Chances," I don't know anybody who doesn't need them, whether it's in your love life or in your spiritual life or in your economic life. "I Know You Can Hear Me" is fairly obvious and it's as true as the day is long-straight up out of me still being able to see myself as that nine- or 10-year-old boy in the closet. (Note: The lyric Foster is referencing here comes from the first verse of "I Know You Can Hear Me," when he sings of doing something to anger his father and "I ran into the closet, figured I was hiding from a whippin'.") "Angel Flight" was written for obvious reasons with Darden Smith to really honor the guys who sacrificed everything for our country, and yet honoring those who have the duty to bring those guys home.

Who themselves are some of those everyday angels you sang about in 2002.

Foster: Absolutely. By the way, the lion's share of the royalties from "Angel Flight" go to the Texas National Guard Family Support Foundation. People can find out more about those guys through It's the Texas Guard, and for me that's home, but the song is really to honor all of our military personnel. And the organization does do good things for military families that are in crisis or in need. "Trouble Tonight" and "Shed a Little Light" is a Saturday night/Sunday morning opus, if you will. My wife used to make me cassettes back when we were dating, Saturday night/Sunday morning cassettes. If it was a bluegrass thing, she'd have all of Saturday night, honky-tonk, hell raising songs on one side, and then all the Sunday morning gospel songs on the other side. And she would call them "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning," and she would do them for every genre. She'd do one for bluegrass, she'd do one for honky tonk country, she'd do one for old R&B-so you'd hear...well it was all the obvious. It's sort of amazing to hear Dinah Washington sing "TV Is The Thing This Year" and "How Great Thou Art" on the other side; and by the same token, to hear Buck Owens do "Tiger By the Tail" or "Waitin' In Your Welfare Line," with such double entendres about sex, all these things about cheatin', honky tonkin' and whiskey drinkin', and the next thing you hear is "I come to the garden alone..." It was always cool to me.

Royalties from the song 'Angel Flight,' from Radney Foster's new album, Revival, are being donated to the Texas National Guard Family Support Foundation. Written by Foster and his friend Darden Smith, 'Angel Flight' is a moving tribute to the pilots who fly the bodies of fallen U.S. soldiers home for burial. Say Foster: 'The song is really to honor all of our military personnel. And the organization does do good things for military families that are in crisis or in need.'

I'm going to run a quote by you, also from that 2002 interview, and ask you if this is still the way you feel about why you do what you do, or if it has undergone some alteration in the intervening seven years. Back then you said:

"I really think I've gotten to the age and the thought process where trying to write something that's isn't germane to my own life doesn't make sense to me anymore. About five years ago my then-almost-six-year-old son moved to France with his mom and that really made me cross a Rubicon in life, not just in songwriting. It affected everything about the way I toured, the way I thought about music, the way I thought about making records, the way I thought about family, the way I thought about how I had to be a dad. That's a big leap and it really set me on a path where I tell people that my give-a-shit meter is set on zero. Sitting across the table from some executive who might tell me, "I don't know if I really get that song," I really didn't care. That doesn't really affect me or hurt me; I really could care less, because I'm dealing with a whole other set of issues. And if I'm gonna write something I'm gonna write it from a heartfelt perspective from me. Not that I didn't before, but it got re-emphasized in a really strong way and it made me go, Okay, the idea of going, "Gosh that's a cool hook, maybe I should write a song," is not as important as saying, "What am I trying to say here?" That's become much more important to me than whether it's a hit song.

Still valid today?

Foster: Oh, yeah. I think the one caveat I would offer is that in the same breath as I would make a statement about being that intense and that personal, there's nothing wrong with a great hook. The thing that might make you want to listen to one of these songs is because you can remember the chorus. I think there is a level of craftsmanship in what I do every day. I don't think I could get to that statement if I hadn't spent a long time worrying about the craft of songwriting. I also came to the point, even with my co-writers, it's like, even if you're trying to write something that's uptempo and fun, what's the meat of the matter? What's the reality of it? What does it mean for you, for me and that guy I'm sittin' across from in the room? What does it really mean for me? If I'm standing in that guy's shoes, or if I am that guy, what piece of my heart am I gonna go digging around in and go, okay, that's what I gotta put in there, because that's what's gonna make somebody go, "Oh, I get it!" And maybe want to pull the car over and buy it, or pull your phone out and download it. I think you have to have that kernel of reality of going, "If I haven't lived it or don't feel like I can live it, nobody else is gonna believe it."

We were just talking about "Trouble Tonight" and "Shed a Little Light." Do you see those songs as being connected thematically to the other songs on the record, or are they side trips off the main drive?

Foster: No, I think they are. I think if you look at the last verse of "A Little Revival," it says, "My miracle moment was giving you my heart." Well, my miracle moment was giving Cindi Hoezle my heart, no question. As I told someone the other day, I had written "Trouble Tonight" because I was trying to convince my wife to go skinny dipping one night; I told Jack Ingram that story and he laughed his head off and said, "We're writin' that!" And at the same time, as my friend pointed out, there's something ungodly about convincing your wife to go skinny dipping.

Was she your wife at that time?

Foster: (laughs) Well, the jury's out. I won't answer that question. Depends on which skinny dipping incident you're talking about!

But that's life. I think that's who we are. And I wanted to write about the whole perspective. I don't think you can walk through a whole record of "I Made Peace With God That Day" and "I Know You Can Hear Me." Those are two powerfully intimate songs about faith, about doubt, about crying out for help, in your darkest moments. Both true stories. I did stand outside of a hospital when they wheeled my then-two-year-old in and thought he had broken his spine. No one can go through that valley all the time. And even when you're in the midst of that, you have highs. Life's a roller coaster. Sometimes the way you get revived from an incident like "I Made Peace With God" is you blow off steam on Saturday night. And sometimes it's because you're sitting quiet in the pew on Sunday morning. So I think they're an integral part of the trip.

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Radney Foster, "Godspeed," with Jerry Douglas (dobro), Aly Blain (fiddle), Danny Thompson (bass), Tommy Hayes (percussion). Foster's tender song to his son was covered by the Dixie Chicks on their Home album.

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The Dixie Chicks perform 'Godspeed' on their special, An Evening With the Dixie Chicks. Note the audience's callous response to Natalie's telling of the song's backstory—'The guy who wrote it wrote it about his son who was three, and his wife, or ex-wife, was moving him off to France, 'cause she had found a new boyfriend..."—and how she proceeds to hush the room with her sensitive reading. Lovely fiddle work by Martie Maguire, too.

That moment you describe in "I Made Peace With God," when you did what the title says, what has that meant in your life, beyond its relevance to the song?

Foster: Well, I think I have to make peace with God just about every day! You know? I became a really good fly fisherman because every time my son would leave I was so pissed off at God that I couldn't be around people very much. My wife realized that I was not exactly a nice guy to be around on those days, and she would say, "Honey, you need to go fishing." I'd go fly fishing, and everybody knew that was my day to yell at God. I got guilty feeling about it one time, and I talked to my preacher, who's a long time friend from college, actually, and is now the chaplain at Vanderbilt University, where we go to chapel-and she said, "What? You don't think God's big enough that He can handle it?" I said, "I supposed you're right."

Another theme you explore here is one you've been probing pretty much all your career, as have many songwriters, and that's the matter of love—what it is, what it should be, how it evolves. Your song "Life Is Easy (Love is Hard)" is a statement in and of itself, and I would say you give us any number of examples right on this album to prove it, from "Forgiveness" to "Second Chances," to "If You Want To Be Loved." Maybe the most important fact about these songs is that you haven't given up on love, at least you're expressing that you still believe in it, that you recognize that it's more complicated than it used to be.

Foster: Oh, yeah, but I'm a hopeless romantic.

But you're emphasizing that it is about communication, kind of getting over yourself-

Foster: That's the thing, you gotta get over yourself. (laughs) You hit the nail on the head. What's the reason that people still want to hear love songs the world over? In every language. It's the most powerful thing we know, whether it's a vertical or a horizontal relationship. To me, probably the biggest thing that's changed about my faith is that my vertical relationships are more like my horizontal ones these days. I just feel the freedom to get mad, talk back to, to love, cry, laugh, go through the roller coast of life with-you can get very angry at someone you live with. I don't know anyone who goes through fifteen years with someone and doesn't become angry with them at some point. So how do you get to the point where you spend fifteen years together? Well, you learn how to fall in love all over again. You learn how to go, Okay, I have to get past that. You can't hold a grudge. You're not going to have much of a relationship if you're holding a grudge. That ain't gonna work. I think that's ultimately the key, and the rest of it is all different aspects of love. If you're so angry with yourself that you can't forgive yourself, you can't really love anybody. And if you hate somebody else, you're the only one who gets hurt. They could give a care. I think in all of our lives, no matter what the relationship is, "If You Want To Be Loved" is a love song. Whether you're incredibly traditional and you're about to marry and move into a house, or whether you're in a much more modern relationship, where it's like, "Hmmm, should we move in with one another?" you still ask, "What's the next step?" Well, you clear space on a bathroom shelf so they have room for their stuff. That's the next step, ain't it? You make room for people; if you want love, you make room for it.

thumbnailDo you feel like Revival is the end of a story you started in 1999 with See What You Want To See? Or are these themes that you have explored so deeply and provocatively since then—the essence of love, the nature of spirituality, the bond of family—now your real meat and potatoes as a songwriter, what you want to continue to explore? Because "Suitcase" seems to represent a kind of exhale.

Foster: It is an exhale. The one thing I knew about the record when I was sequencing it was that the first song was going to be "A Little Revival" and the last song was gonna be "Suitcase." You're right, it is an extension and that's one of the reasons I used the same production team on this record as I did on See What You Want To See. I know that that record was really a watershed for me artistically, and I knew that these songs were a watershed moment in my life, and so I wanted to use that same team and figure it out.

I can't say whether that is what my life as a songwriter is going to be about from here on; I don't know what that future holds. And certainly I've made a lot of records in between, and there's always been an element of this in them, but you can't predict what the ride's gonna do next. You don't know whether those transitions are going to lead you to something much more lighthearted or whether it's going to lead you down the road to making nothing but Irish murder ballads. I got some of those! I can make a record of them if I need to! But I think you just have to try to be honest with yourself and honest with your music. Hopefully that translates to the audience and they enjoy riding the roller coaster ride with you and maybe go, "How did that guy get in my living room? How did he figure out how I felt?"

thumbnailYou spent a lot of years in the mainstream country music machine, you thrived in it, you had hits with Bill, you had big hits on your own, you've spent quite a number of years on a lower scale with Dualtone and now your own label. What's been the most satisfying aspect of the post-Arista, post-RCA years for you?

Foster: Being able to make records like this and making a documentary film to go with it, to do what you want to do. Really have incredible artistic freedom to follow a lot of different pursuits and still be successful enough that you get to go do it again. Anytime you can feed your family creating art-in music or any of the creative arts-that's a huge, fundamental home run. There's just not any getting around it. It's an incredibly difficult thing to do in any time period. The music business has been changing so much since 1999, and really, See What You Want To See might as well have been on an independent label, it was operating as an independent extension of Arista Records at the time. Yeah, that freedom, it wasn't that I didn't have that freedom before; it's just that the parameters of the game that you're playing are so different. They're two different games—one's football, one's baseball. There's nothing wrong with either game, it's just that you need to know which one you're playing. It doesn't mean that I think somebody in the mainstream country world or the mainstream rock world or the mainstream pop world can't go make those kinds of statements. Every now and then, they do. Have you heard Brad Paisley's latest record? Sort of unbelievable. And at the same time, he has a parameter that he has to live inside of if he wants to continue to play stadiums, and I think he does.

He does a good job of walking that line.

Foster: I think he does. There's guys who do it. Keith Urban's another who's done a good job of walking that line, has figured out how to make the whole thing come together and make it work as a statement. I'm trying to do that now. I know this is an incredibly personal statement, but I want it to be entertaining to people. I want teenagers in Texas to hear "Until It's Gone" and roll their windows down, crank it up and roll down the highway. That's that song's job. If they do it, then it didn't do its job.

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Foster & Lloyd, 1987, "Texas In 1880"

About the Foster and Lloyd years, you guys were part of such an exciting time in country music history and right in the middle of it with chart topping records and a big audience that loved your music. Did the two of you appreciate where you were and what was happening at the time?

Foster: Of course not, we were 26! What 26-year-old knows what the hell they're doing when they're doing that? That's an even bigger roller coaster ride, because you've never been on the ride before. And frankly, you're sitting there going, Wow, we don't know how to do this, we fell in a luckbucket and they let us do exactly what we want to do and we're making cool records, selling out bars all over American and watching this whole movement happen within country music that's gonna change it. It just literally is like a watershed because you're looking at your compatriots who are your own age going, "How did they let all of us in this store at once? Don't they realize we're gonna rob 'em blind?" It was kids in a candy store, oh, my gosh.

It really was a great time in country music history. There are moments when I long to see that sort of revival happen in the mainstream country world. I don't know if it will, but the shakeup within the music business is going to change something. It's certainly already changed what I do in the independent world. There's not as many independent labels I could go to and say, "Hey, I want to do this and I want to make this kind of record and have it have this kind of concept, and oh yeah, by the way, I'm gonna make a movie, too!" So it's like, okay, let's go do this ourselves.

And you are doing that, offering a lot of extras with this album-house concerts complete with a gourmet dinner for eight that you prepare, private songwriting sessions, VIP pass with 18 songs on a USB drive, the documentary and pre-show meet and greets. How's the response been so far?

Foster: Pretty cool! Starting to get lots of feedback, and we haven't started to tour yet. But we figured there's all these other things that we could provide that aren't about filling an arena. I'm never gonna fill an arena; I'm smart enough to know that. I'd like to, still, but I'm a realist as much as I'm a dreamer. So let's figure out how we can do some cool things for the fans, and be creative about it. And if you don't like any of that, we also suggest you make us an offer, whatever you want to do. Never hurts to ask. Can we do it? I don't know.

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Radney Foster, sommelier and chef

So when did you become the master chef?

Foster: When I became a single dad. I couldn't boil water at all, then I called my mom. I had my son three days a week when he was two and a half. I called my mom and said, "I can't take him to McDonald's every day. I don't know how to do this. I'm terrified! Help me out here!" She sent me the cookbook from the '50s that they gave to young wives who didn't know how to cook. She said, "Start on page one, call me if you have questions." So I did. It told you everything from how to steam green beans and cook a chicken, that kind of thing. About halfway through I discovered that I like this, this is pretty fun. Then you're stuck in a hotel room at one in the morning, trying to figure out how to get down off the high of having been on stage all night, and all of a sudden you're clicking through the channels and there's the Food Network and some guy doing something, you say, "You know, I think I can do that at home." We had a dinner party one night and my wife was saying, "You you should figure out how to do this for fans and maybe someone will do a big party. And you can charge a pretty penny for it." I said, "Okay, throw it up on the website. See if it works."

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