I firmly believe that, to do radio, especially public radio, you need a great sense of humor. Scott Foley has that and he shares that hunger for new, exciting music that is also essential.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio and what other stations have you worked at? What were those stations like?
Scott Foley: As a child, I would use my cassette recorder to tape myself back announcing music. My station was KRDA, “The Hyperamplification Rock Association,” and I was the Choklit Beetle. My younger brother was Velvet Jones, on KLUV.
Fast forward lots of years. I was head buyer for Grass Roots Books & Music in Corvallis, Oregon, and did concert promotion as a frustrating hobby with few benefits. A friend who had a radio program on KRVM in Eugene asked if I would sub for his acoustic music show. I covered for the summer, and when he returned in the fall, the station offered me my own broadcast. That’s how Routes & Branches was born.
I moved to Northern Colorado around 2008, and fell in with another community station, KRFC in Fort Collins. My first airtime for that station was as a weekday “mix” host – my personal tastes have always vastly overflowed the roots music bucket. When given the opportunity, I revived Routes & Branches at KRFC. Since then I served as the station’s program coordinator and music director for a couple years, stepping back to plain ol’ blissfully unaware volunteer a couple months ago.
In related news, I gave birth to my award-winning blog while at KRVM, and continue to post weekly playlists, reviews and pithy asides. You’ll also find a pretty darn thorough calendar of recent and forthcoming releases there, as well as a handful of links to other fine blogs, rootsy and otherwise. These days, I consider my online blog at least half of what I do under the Routes & Branches moniker.
Where do you work now and what hours are you on?
I’m a volunteer host at KRFC, where I broadcast Routes & Branches every Saturday afternoon from 4 to 6 p.m. Mountain Time. In real life, I’m a full-time librarian, cementing my commitment to obsolete technologies.
How do you describe your show?
“The very best of Americana, alt-country, and roots music.” Also, “A home for the Americana diaspora.” And “Where Dad goes on Saturday afternoons.”
How do you prepare for your shows?
In my earlier days, I thought it was cheating to plan my playlists. I would arrive at the station carrying three times the amount of music I needed for my show. Now that I’m grown up, I recognize that there’s nothing magic about a bad show, nothing cool about a poorly executed set. Nowadays, I assemble my playlist gradually during the week, keeping a strong eye on rotation, diversity, and flow. I’ll still fiddle around with it in the studio, but I pretty much know where I’m going and why. The only theme shows I do are Christmas and year-end favorite songs and albums. Otherwise, I’m deathly allergic to theme shows. It’s rare that I play more than a single song per artist, per broadcast.
How many new releases do you play?
Let’s say that I shoehorn around 28 songs into an average two-hour broadcast. At least a handful of those will inevitably be debuts. Maybe 5 or 6 will be stuff from years past. Everything else is “currents,” or stuff that’s been released in the past couple weeks and months. Of those currents, a good three-quarters or more can be found on your friendly Americana music radio charts. I spend far too much of my week cruising the interwebs in search of new stuff, and nothing makes me happier than to come across something unfamiliar and worthy. There’s a neverending supply of Pretty Good Music out there, and I won’t let anything into my rotation unless I’m ready to fully commit.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
For me, there was no “a-ha” moment, but rather a lifelong commitment to expanding the frontiers of my musical attention. I’d say that R.E.M., Lone Justice and Dwight Yoakam initially gave me permission to listen to roots-leaning music at a time when I was the hipster imports buyer for a record store in Salem, Oregon. I did some time as booking coordinator with the Corvallis Folklore Society, which found me wandering for a time into the seamy underbelly of contemporary singer-songwriters. My heart, however, has always remained dedicated to music with some kind of edge. I prefer even my folk music to come with a parental warning sticker.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre, and what artists define Americana music for you?
When asked what kind of music I like, I typically respond with “good music.” Throughout my life, I have embraced everything from the DeFranco Family (my first LP) to Cocteau Twins. I’ve been changed by Prince and by Maria McKee. I believe deeply in the spirit of punk as well as the power of gospel.
Here’s a list of names I’d say would need to be on a list of artists that have helped defined my music journey: Kate Bush, R.E.M., Bowie, Van Morrison, Elliott Smith, Jason Molina, [and] Vic Chesnutt.
In retrospect, it would seem that I’m a fan of deceased artists. One day when I have nothing more pressing on my plate, I will draw a vast and impressive tree, with roots and branches (see what I did there) representing the various strains of Americana, alt-country, and roots music that populate my program. The “roots” artists might feature seminal names like Townes Van Zandt or Johnny Cash, with Uncle Tupelo, Old 97s, and the like forming some of the thicker branches. Until then, there is not any handful of artists that define the genre for me. Or perhaps I just refuse to open up that box, knowing that we limit ourselves as we draw those lines and borders.
What does Americana music mean to you?
I define Americana music by walking, rather than by talking. I spend two hours building on that definition every week. Listening to Routes & Branches may help you develop a working understanding of Americana, alt-country, and roots music as it exists in my head. I think I cast an unusually wide and generous net around what I air. I thrive on diversity.
My kids will still tell you that I play country.
Where do you see Americana radio, or radio in general, going in the future?
I love radio, and have since I was a child. That said, it’s a medium whose potential is far greater than its reality. The last couple generations of “radio professionals” have broken radio almost irreparably – you know who you are. Even on quality community stations, good radio is hit-and-miss. Radio will be around forever in one form or another, but I mourn the increasingly shallow mainstream musical representation that stands as the industry’s official statement. My hope and expectation is that music of all sorts will continue to evolve, hybridize, and crossbreed in order to remain relevant. Never close the door on musical discovery.
My own part in that future remains to be seen. While I really enjoy playing a DJ on terrestrial radio, there are times I flirt dangerously with the idea of throwing my eggs in the podcast-and-blog basket. Other days, there’s nothing that makes me happier than flopping around behind the mic of a real live radio station.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
Over the past couple of months, I’ve thrilled to new stuff from Justin Wells, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, Cody Jinks, and Joe Purdy. My days have been graced by Courtney Marie Andrews, Big Shoals, Lydia Loveless, BJ Barham, and William Tyler. I’ve been blessed to hear Massy Ferguson, Tim Easton, Matt Haeck, Arliss Nancy, Angel Olsen, Whitney, and … and … and …
And I’m most excited about that artist I haven’t heard, but that I’ll trip across next week!
What inspires you or what keeps you going?
See above. I’m driven by the perennial quest for that next good noise. Also, I head for home after every broadcast in a tangle of regret and optimism. I’m very tough on myself, and it’s the rare show that really makes me feel like I’ve achieved something special. Most of the time, I’m just grateful to have another chance next week, and eager to get started meeting that challenge.
We all program the show that we’d like to hear on the air, and I recognize that mine can be a very particular musical vision. I trust there’s somebody out there spinning the dial who will land on Routes & Branches and hear a kindred soul.