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Retro: Quick Q and A with Jeffrey Foucault

So what has Jeffrey Foucault been up to since I interviewed him in 2008? Quite a bit, I’d say. He’s recorded eight albums and he has toured as a solo artist or with a band here, there, and everywhere around the world. Born and bred in Wisconsin, he calls New England home now. His style is a solid mixture of country, folk and good ole rock and roll. He can rock out with the best of them. In fact, he’s part of rock band called Cold Satellite with poet Lisa Olstein.

Foucault’s latest album, Blood Brothers, has garnered outstanding reviews from an array of publications and writers, including the mighty Greil Marcus, noted author and music historian, who wrote about the album: “A country plea, a blues reach for facts beyond sound, the sense of immediate doom that only a slide guitar can make in its hesitations, its sense of suspension that seems to hold everything a step behind where it ought to be… scary in the bend of the first note.” It’s this kind of quiet praise that makes a dedicated music fan’s ears delight in every single aspect of every single song. These accolades are echoed in No Depression magazine: Blood Brothers illustrates that whatever genres and subgenres he embraces… Jeffrey Foucault continues to prove himself one of contemporary Americana’s more eloquent and versatile artists.”

Yeah, and there’s more to learn about Jeffrey Foucault that each of you can check out on his website. There’s all kinds of good music for you to purchase and you can check out any and all news about upcoming streaming shows.

Here’s a haunting video of the title song of the latest album, Blood Brothers.

And just because…here’s a video of Jeffrey and his wife, Kris Delmhorst.

Here’s my interview with Jeffrey from 2008.

I loved reading your list of influences on your web page. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a diverse (and long) list before. Your list goes from rock and roll, to literature, to art, to history and beyond. Do you think that Abraham Lincoln would have dug Little Richard? I’m only half kidding here, but it’s an interesting concept (to me anyway).

No. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t have had any point of reference for Little Richard. It’s sort of hard to imagine anyone from the 19th century being anything but bewildered by most of what happened in the 20th, Little Richard included. When I was small I spent some time with my Great-Great-Aunt Blanche, who was born in 1891, and who managed to live well into her 90’s. She liked The Love Boat and that was about it.

What kind of influence has your wife (Kris Delmhorst) had on your own writing or performing?

When you’re starting out as a songwriter, and probably some other things too, you have some pretty hare-brained ideas about the creative process, and it feels important to prove something to the world about what a genius you are, by relying solely on your own powers and perspective. Living with Kris I’ve had the opportunity to bring songs to her at every stage of the writing process, and even the act of playing them for someone else changes that process and your sense of it. She’s an excellent editor and arranger, an ideal sounding board. One of the songs from my last record that I’d spent about sixteen straight hours writing, she managed to cut two pages from in five minutes, leaving me with a page of finished lyrics.

What is it about your ’48 Martin that makes it so dear to you? Have you tried taking other guitars on the road and found that you came back to the Martin or has it always been a love affair between you and this particular guitar?

The love affair dates back only about one year, which is the length of time I’ve owned this particular Martin. I don’t know what it was up to before we met but it’s definitely been played. I take it with me on the road because it’s the best sounding guitar I own, and the easiest to play. Different guitars are better for certain things, and different guitars have different songs in them, so from the writing side it’s good to have a number of instruments around, a variety of textures. But for performing this guitar splits the difference best, and covers the most ground.

I’ve owned plenty of guitars and played mainly other people’s guitars on records. On the Stripping Cane record I used (producer) David Goodrich’s 1937 00-17, an all mahogany number that doesn’t look like much but is the nicest Martin I’ve ever used. On the last record, Ghost Repeater, I used mostly Bo Ramsey’s ’50’s vintage Gibson J-45, for that big, dry, warm country-rhythm sound that those guitars have.

It looks like you and Greg Brown have a couple of things in common: fishing and Kenneth Rexroth. Have you ever had a chance to discuss either of these with Greg?

Yeah, I think so. My uncle Bill, an anarchist who drives a cab in Chicago, gave me a copy of Rexroth’s biography when I was about 15, and I later found my way to his collected shorter poems and his translations. Copper Canyon Press just recently released his collected works in hardcover. Rexroth is probably the poet whose works I find the most consistently moving and resonant, and it’s interesting to me how much he and Greg Brown have in common, or rather the way that their interests and approaches intersect.

Fishing isn’t something I tend to discuss much, preferring instead to do it, and alone. When I do talk about it I try to lie freely. I don’t mind sitting in a rowboat with a can of beer staring at a bobber with my brothers or something, and that can be a nice social way to fish. But these days I mostly fish for trout, and it’s a solo thing. Fishermen are cagey people and will talk about it obliquely when they do at all, in my experience.

You also have Bo Ramsey in common with Greg Brown. What was Bo like as producer of Ghost Repeater? How did you guys hook up for that project?

Bo is a great one, simple in all the best and most complex ways. He plays just like he talks, all economy and cool. We hooked up because I knew who he was, had been on the bill with him here and there, listened to his records for years. I was looking to hire a band that could play together, guys with some history, and needed a producer who could bring that to the table. I was also looking for someone coming at things from the blues. I wanted the blues to color the country idiom I was leaning toward. So I called Bo too early one Saturday morning and probably woke him up. We discussed making a record and I sent him some demos, and then drove down to Iowa City while I was visiting back home in Wisconsin. We met up at the Mill and drank coffee and ate grilled cheese sandwiches, talked about music and family, and went back and played for a few hours in his dining room. It seemed like we were coming at things from the same direction, and the pairing felt very natural.

As a producer Bo was laid back, thoughtful. He pretty much let things happen, just gave a push here or there, and weighed in on arrangements, keys, takes, sequence, the brass tacks stuff.

One final question: You and Peter Mulvey appear to have a longstanding and very fond relationship – where and how did you meet?

Actually, Peter and I both grew up in Southeastern Wisconsin and met the first time when our little-league teams played each other in a tournament in Mukwonago, circa 1983. I was playing shortstop for my team, and Peter was the opposing team’s mascot, all dressed up as an enormous ptarmigan — papier mache, feathers, the whole deal. He was running up and down the first base line when I came up to bat, and then suddenly between pitches he ran right into the middle of the diamond like a crazy person, waving his arms and making a sort of muffled screaming sound through his feathers. Everyone was laughing and thought it was hilarious, but it turned out he’d stepped on an underground hornets’ nest and they’d flown out the hole and right up his pant leg, a fair number of them filling his trousers. He had to be hospitalized, and I was delegated (as team captain) to ride along with him to hospital, and we’ve been friends ever since. Of course, that’s how he got his nickname (Ptarmigan). [Editor’s note: Believe this or not. ;-)]