Texas singer-songwriter Radney Foster may blur the lines between songs and stories when he and his band performed Dec. 6 at the Waco Hippodrome, but it’s a feature, not a bug.
Foster makes the relation between the two an overtone in his project, “For You to See the Stars,” which features a book of 10 short stories paired with an album of 10 related songs.
“Songs and short stories are little windows on a moment in time,” he explained in a recent phone interview from his Nashville home. “Take the song ‘For the Good Times.’ That’s one moment between two people on one night. That’s a short story.”
The well-respected country and Americana songwriter, who came to national attention as part of the duo Foster & Lloyd some 30 years ago, said the dual-form project evolved from a time where his music, but not his writing, was sidelined.
In 2015, pneumonia and subsequent laryngitis prevented him from talking or singing for six weeks. Compounding the frustration was a week-to-week uncertainty that he might not recover, even though the problem resulted from a strong cough response rather than vocal overuse.
“A lot of it is psychological. It’s such a personal thing (losing one’s voice),” he said. “A performer knows how personal and scary a thing that can be.”
His wife and manager Cyndi Hoelzle, herself a writer and journalist who was the radio industry’s Gavin Report country editor for several years, told him to keep writing and try his hand at short stories for some variety. “And thus began my writing career,” he chuckled.
He found shifting from verse backed by music to a longer prose stimulating, even if both forms were storytelling at their core. “You’ve been writing stories all your life, just three-and-a-half minutes long and had chords under them,” he said.
Though one of Nashville’s leading songwriters, with hits like “Nobody, Wins” and “Crazy Over You” for himself and others for Gary Allan, Keith Urban, Jack Ingram, and Sara Evans, Foster hadn’t done much in prose outside of some pieces for Guitar Player magazine on alternate guitar tunings.
Working in the longer form sparked a general creativity. The short stories inspired songs and vice versa, with the short story-then-song “Sycamore Creek” ultimately leading to “For You to See the Stars,” released in 2017.
For the most part, there’s a correspondence between the stories and the songs, although each changes to accommodate each form. The short story “Bridge Club,” for instance, had a title change to “Greatest Show on Earth” when the bridge club reference, a peripheral part of his story, disappeared from the song.
Foster, 60, says the experience of writing short stories has changed how he approaches songwriting sessions with his colleagues. “Instead of walking in with a verse, I walk in now with more like a paragraph,” he said.
He’s working in even longer forms these days. He and his wife are collaborating on a film script expanding one of his short stories, their first joint writing project and a new format to explore. “I went to film school on YouTube,” he laughed. Also in process is a novel set in 1940 s Del Rio, his hometown. With three main characters and a time frame of years, it’s a bigger window on bigger moments in time.
His stories may bleed over into his music when he performs with his band, guitarist Eddie Heinzel man and bassist Mike Vargo, but that’s something that’s natural and welcomed by his fans.
His writing may take different forms, but not his wish for his audiences. “They should come out and have a good time — that’s exactly what I hope happens,” he said.