Singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault fights against the musical grind, in search of authenticity
Jeffrey Foucault gets called an “old soul” a lot. Maybe it’s because the singer-songwriter’s music sounds like it could have been written in the 1940s; maybe it’s because he looks kind of old-timey. Whatever it is, Foucault doesn’t pay too much attention to it. The way he sees it, one of these days he’ll be an old man, and then the “old soul thing” won’t mean anything. Getting down to the truth of music is, for him, far more important than labeling it.
“I don’t even know how to talk about it anymore,” he says when asked what inspires him musically. “At this point, the stuff that I really love feels true to me, and that’s about it. That could be a 17-year-old kid sitting on the street playing a cheap guitar. If it feels true, then it is true, and it’s probably worth hearing.”
A veteran of the American roots circuit with nine albums under his belt, Foucault has spent many nights trying to connect with that truth in front of audiences. He says the danger of doing the same material every night is falling into a routine with it.
“Standing up on stage, playing the same songs night after night, can become too much like rote memorization,” he says. “You risk falling back on familiar techniques and tricks that have been successful in the past. It can be detrimental to your progress, and to the best parts of playing music live.”
His solution? Add other musicians to the mix.
“If you bring someone else, especially if that person is a great musician, it’s a conversation in real time,” Foucault says. “It’s always new, it’s never going to be the same thing. Even if you try to play it the same way, the variables are just exponentially greater and more lively.”
When collaborating this way, some nights can be “really sublime,” he says, while others can be bumpy as the musicians struggle to connect with each other or contend with less-than-perfect sound. But, for Foucault, it’s better than playing songs out of habit.
“It lets you turn the wheel a little bit more,” he says. “Get deeper into what you’re doing.”
For his current tour, Foucault has tapped his longtime drummer, Billy Conway, to accompany him. Conway, who played in the band Morphine, is what Foucault describes as “probably the finest musician I know,” and claims anyone who has played with Conway will say the same thing.
Since his last solo album, 2011’s Horse Latitudes, Foucault has been busy. He collaborated with the award-winning poet Lisa Olstein on a musical project titled Cold Satellite, and he produced albums for several up-and-coming artists. He’s now putting the finishing touches on a new solo album; a stripped down, bluesy collection of songs that he says is the coolest thing he’s done.
Singer/songwriter/producer Bo Ramsey, who has worked with some of the great Americana acts—including Lucinda Williams and Greg Brown—and also produced Foucault’s 2006 album, Ghost Repeater, plays electric guitar on the forthcoming album. His contributions are beautifully placed touches that nicely complement Foucault’s lyrical subtlety and spacious arrangements.
“At this point, the older Bo gets, the less he plays,” says Foucault. “He hears a lot of negative space, and is a really artful player.”
This less-is-more aesthetic seems to suit Foucault just fine, both musically and in the down-home way he chooses to live his life. Hailing from Whitewater, Wisconsin, Foucault now lives in western Massachusetts with his wife, singer-songwriter Kris Delmhorst. They live in a small town with no big-box stores and no fast food, which works just fine for this “old soul.”
“It’s a little tiny town with a river through it,” he says. “That’s my spot for now.”
Jeffrey Foucault will perform at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $12. 429-6994.