“I’ve never felt like I was in any particular risk of having a hit song or a hit record,” said singer/songwriter Jeffrey Foucault. “So when I make a record, I don’t come out swinging with the radio single or anything. I’m trying to figure out what’s gonna essentially tell a story and lead you through the material in a way that makes some kind of sense.” And that he does, particularly on his latest album, Blood Brothers, which, as Foucault said, is “tender and ballad heavy.”
Foucault has been on the folk/bluegrass/rock scene since releasing his debut album, Miles from the Lightning, in 2001. Nearly two decades later, he has carved out a lasting career — “I haven’t had a straight job since about 2000” — writing and singing lyrically enticing, musically compelling songs. He’s played with top-notch musicians and has even had his tunes covered by rock legends — former Eagles drummer Don Henley does a great version of “Everybody’s Famous.” I recently spoke over the phone with Foucault about his new record. The following is an edited version of our conversation.
“Dishes” is such a great opening track; it sets the tone for the whole record. Did you place the tracks in a certain order for specific reasons or was it haphazard? It’s always a pretty thoughtful process. Sometimes you sequence a record, and it goes together in a pretty easy way. Sometimes it’s like a puzzle, and you try to sequence it for weeks and weeks and weeks. … One of the things you have to think about is the length of each song and, assuming you’re gonna work on vinyl, then you have sonic limitations based on how long a side can be and how the songs work together. … But, like you said, it seemed as though “Dishes” set the table for the rest of the record in a nice way and created a context and a feeling.
How long did you work on this album? I tend not to pay much attention to outside expectations of timelines. So, they come when they come. … Everything that I tried to do with this album in the planning stages was frustrated. … I didn’t want to repeat myself and go to the same studio with the same players that I had on the record prior. … I was going to do a trio of all acoustic record. … [I called up] Kelly Joe Phelps, who is one of the best lap steel and acoustic guitar players in the world…and I said, “Kelly, why don’t we make a record, like two steel guitars, two acoustic guitars for each of us, and then we’ll have Billy Conway play the drums?” … I had the studio booked, and about a month out, [Kelly Joe] had some family stuff that made it impossible for him to be a part of the session. … So, I called up my regular road band … and then, about 10 days out, Eric Heywood, who’s the guy you’re hearing play all the pedal steel on the record, [joined us].
What was it like having Don Henley sing one of your songs? I knew he was playing that song on his live shows, and then he invited my wife and [me] down to see him at the Beacon Theater. We live about 175 miles north of New York City, so it’s only three hours to get down there. We drove down for the night and had supper and got to watch his solo show at the Beacon and go backstage and say hi and all that stuff. He’s very sweet.
You’ve had a long career, maybe because you’re not chasing that radio hit. You’re a lucky dog if at the end of the day you’re not working for somebody else and you’re able to pay your mortgage and keep food on the table. If you’re not looking to be rich or famous, then this line of work may appeal to you…. I mean, it is a lot of hard work. I don’t mean to say that it’s not hard work, because it’s a full-time job and then some, and when you’re working for yourself, you’re never done working and you have to really make a point of taking time to not work, to get yourself out of the trenches, because you’ll be the worst boss in history when you’re your own boss on the clock.
It seems like you’ve created a really good life. Well, it sounds good when I talk about it out loud. It gets complicated…. But, no, it is. It’s a good life, and I can’t even begin to complain about it, because there’s no democracy in the arts, and there [are] a lot of people I’m sure who would love to play music for a living and I’m one of ‘em.
Jeffrey Foucault plays Saturday, November 3, at SOhO Restaurant and Music Club, 1221 State St. Call 962-7776 or see sohosb.com