Interview: Jeffrey Foucault

Armed with his guitar and his smoky voice, and joined by a complementary cast of fellow music vets, songwriter/producer Jeffrey Foucault has created Salt As Wolves, an exquisitely-crafted assemblage of original songs that represents all that is good, pure, and true about American music.  The album was released on October 16th, and explores the ideas of love, memory, God, desire, wilderness, and loss. Equal parts eloquent poet and seasoned everyman, Foucault delivers stories in song that easily resonate with anyone who takes the time to listen.  He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about his journey:

Mother Church Pew:  What is it about the music of John Prine and Townes Van Zandt that spoke to you and inspired you as a teenager learning to play?

Jeffrey Foucault:  In both cases it was the way they used language – the strangeness of it, and how natural it felt – and that they were mine alone. I grew up in a small town and by 11 or 12 I was spinning my parent’s (deeply idiosyncratic) record collection and sort of huffing a baby-boomer musical education in the privacy of my bedroom. I went from Chubby Checker Does the Twist to Highway 61 Revisited within about three years. I didn’t know anyone who listened to Prine or Townes, and that made them somehow more valuable. Also, neither one was a hot-shit guitar player or a technically adept singer, and neither was I. But they could write a song and that made me feel like writing a song was something I could do.

MCP:  Salt As Wolves is your 10th studio album; how do you think you and your music have changed since the beginning?  What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in the process?

JF:  Well, hopefully I got better. That first record I made when I’d been playing the guitar for about seven years, and I only knew how to do exactly what I did – sing and play, exactly like that. There’s a beauty in that kind of purity, and you can never get it back, but I really had no mastery and those early records don’t interest much more than my high school yearbook. I like some of the songs though. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to be kind.

MCP:  You’ve produced albums for artists Hayward Williams, Caitlin Canty, and John Statz; what do you enjoy about producing for other artists? What do you feel like you bring to the process of shaping others’ music?

JF:  Producing someone else’s record gives me the opportunity to stay engaged with process – writing, working in the studio – and employ all the things I’ve learned without having to be on the hook for living through the experience of performing and recording songs in the studio, which is its own job. It gives me the chance to work out ideas about recording and engineering, workflow, various ways to build a track. Mainly though it’s just really fun. I loved working on all three of those records and they’re all records I would sit down and listen to.

MCP:  If someone could only listen to one song from Salt As Wolves to get the full Jeffrey Foucault experience, which song would that be and why?

JF:  I’m not sure that’s possible. That said, if someone only heard one song off the new record, I might want it to be ‘Blues for Jessie Mae,’ a song I wrote for Jessie Mae Hemphill, one of my favorite musicians. They wouldn’t know much about the rest of the record, but they might like that song, and that one touches pretty directly on every other idea working through the record.

MCP:  What is your goal for your music, what do you hope it accomplishes when you release it into the world?

JF:  Successful art makes people feel more human and less lonely. That’s all I’m after. Or, as Rexroth said, ‘I write poetry to seduce women and  to overthrow the capitalist system. In that order.’ That works too.

MCP:  Can you describe your perfect day for us?

JF:  Likely not, but I’ll tell you that the other day my drummer Billy Conway and I woke up early in Miles City, MT after a show there at the Range Riders Museum, and drove four hours west to Livingston and then out to the ranch where he lives. We had a show the next night in Missoula but nothing that night, and no obligations. We drove his truck up into the mountains following a small river we’d been fishing all week, to see what it did higher up. Sure enough it got colder and smaller and traded its occasional silt for freestone and deep cut-banks, juniper. We fished for the next five hours, working together upstream fishing dries for Cutthroat in a near perfect series of riffles, reaches, and pools. We never saw another human, we barely spoke, and when we got back to the truck we sat on the tailgate and drank a couple of beers listening the river before driving home. That’s not a perfect day but it’s heading in the right direction.

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Susan Hubbard

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