Band: Frank Foster
When: Saturday, Jan. 30, doors at 8 p.m.
Venue: Soul Kitchen, 219 Dauphin St., www.soulkitchenmobile.com
Tickets: $20 advance/$25 day of show/$35 reserved seating; available at Soul Kitchen, its website, Mellow Mushroom (both locations) or by calling 1-866-468-7630
For years, the modern indie movement was dominated by rock. However, country artists have also begun embarking on the do-it-yourself music path, and one country star has successfully embraced the business philosophies and techniques that helped define the term.
From the beginning, Frank Foster (with help from his wife, Ashli) has kept all his business in-house. Foster has acted as everything from manager to label executive, with a personal stake in his own brand that has allowed the Louisiana crooner to ascend from a day job in the oilfield to a successful career in country music.
With his newest album, “Boots on the Ground,” Foster is coming to LoDa with a batch of songs marked by familiar country and Southern rock.
Stephen Centanni: You were able to do what many musicians would like to do. You traded the nine-to-five for a professional music career. What was it like making that transition from the oilfield to the stage?
Frank Foster: I tell you what, man, it was a big step. It really was. Fortunately, when my music career first started in 2011, I was still working in the Gulf of Mexico, and my schedule there was two weeks on and two weeks off. That schedule allowed me to get out there and work and get that paycheck. Then, I would come home for two weeks and chase that dream.
The plan I put in place was that once the money started balancing out, there is going to come a point in time where I could I choose to do the music full time, if I would be fortunate enough. I think it was about the time that I released my third album that I made that decision. It wasn’t an easy one. It was hard to walk away from a good check, and in the oilfield at that time, I was making good money.
It was a leap of faith, but you never know unless you jump. In my estimation, the oilfield was always going to be there. So, if I failed, then I always had the credentials to go back to that. Fortunately, I took the leap, and it worked out.
Centanni: It’s nice having that back up plan.
Foster: Ain’t no doubt about that! A back up plan in good to have. It wasn’t easy to jump, but it would’ve been way harder without a plan.
Centanni: Indie country has become a big thing over the past few years. Much like indie rock, I think people have forgotten what that means. Indie bands are independent, and you took that all the way. Since the beginning, you’ve done everything in-house from publicity to album releases. What were the early days like? How did you educate yourself on the business to get where you are today?
Foster: It was a learning process. It really was. I came to Nashville just like everybody else with a dream to make it. You get told “no” a few times, and then you’re like, “You know what, I can either hang my head in the corner or figure it out on my own.” Fortunately, I had my wife in my corner, and she’s my biggest cheerleader. We decided that if we were going to do this, then we were going to figure it out.
There were some hard lessons learned early on. You play a show for a couple of thousand people, and the money sometimes doesn’t average out. That’s lessons learned. Over the past five or six years now, we’ve learned so much in this business that I don’t think there’s anybody I can come in contact with who could throw me a curveball anymore. I feel like we’ve been through it all.
Does that mean that we’re not still learning every day? Absolutely not, but we’ve had so much experience on all sides of it, from touring to recording to getting the albums made up and into stores and iTunes. We’ve jumped through so many hoops these past few years, both good and bad.
I’m pretty seasoned in the game, and I’m happy about that. We still do everything on our own. The only thing I don’t do is book my own shows. I’m with William Morris Agency out of Nashville. Other than that, everything is an in-house record label. It’s pretty taxing at times. It’s hard to tour and get back to do everything that we need to do on the label side of things, but if you want to do it, you got to make time. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The main thing is that my music remains untouched. I put out what I want to put out.
Centanni: I don’t blame you about the booking thing. To me, that’s the hardest part.
Foster: Me and my wife set a goal. We were like, “OK, this thing is getting out of hand. It’s getting bigger than we can handle. What would be the first thing that we would let go of?” We both said, “booking.” We knew if we could get that off our plate, then we could hold it down for a year or two.
Bringing in a booking agency was such a blessing. It was a place and time where my career was getting bigger. It’s hard for the artist to answer the phone and say, “Yeah, we’ll come do that show, but we can’t do it for that money.” It’s better to let the booking agent handle that, so I can show up and be the nice guy.
Centanni: “Boots on the Ground” is your latest album, and just from the title, it seems to have a different vibe than your previous release, “Rhythm & Whiskey.” Tell me about it.
Foster: Fans know what to expect from us for the most part. They know what I’m coming with most of the time. In my heart of hearts, I’m an old-school country guy. If you hop in my truck, that’s what’s on the radio. I’m also not an idiot. I know that I need to put a little bit of edge on it sometimes to catch the crowd. If you could put out a bunch of steel-guitar country songs, then that would be wonderful, but I’m not going to sell many of them.
With this one, if we were going to do an upbeat song, then we were going to go as southern rock as possible and do that ‘70s southern rock sound. That’s the kind of thing you’ll hear on tracks like “Redneck Rock N’ Roll” and “Tuff.” Anything we do country, we did just as far the other way. It’s steel guitars and old, like a Waylon (Jennings) song.
In comparison to “Rhythm & Whiskey,” I would say it’s similar types of songs but definitely a more raw, natural sound on this album. We recorded this album straight to tape. We didn’t go into Pro Tools and all that, which was a really, really awesome experience. It was another lesson learned. It was recorded in an older fashion. We had the option to do that, and I said, “Hey, why not?” It’s a real raw, warm, condensed sound.
Centanni: After all this work, how does it feel to go before a big crowd and hear the crowd singing your songs back to you?
Foster: There’s nothing like that. That’s the payoff for me. Even though my wife isn’t on stage, it’s a payoff for her too. It’s a payoff for my band. When you go out there and all the crowd is singing the stuff that I wrote on my back porch, there’s not a better feeling.