Published On: Tue, Aug 15th, 2017

Honky Tonk Heroes: Jeffrey Foucault

Singer-songwriter and record producer Jeffrey Foucault talks to Paddy Wells about what shaped his deliciously dark and distinctive sound.


Jeffrey Foucault

Since his debut in 2001, Miles From The Lightning, Jeffrey Foucault has been quietly crafting records rich in beguiling atmosphere to steadily increasing acclaim. A Wisconsin native, his music evokes sparse landscapes and wide Midwestern skies, a potent blend of dark blues and Americana that that manages to be both traditional and timeless.

Foucault’s albums have been hailed for their literate and poetic prowess, so fans will be happy to know there is a new record in the pipeline, following the success of the 2015 release Salt As Wolves.

Q. Who were some of your first influences?
A.
My first influences would have been my parents. My dad is a guitar player, so my whole life growing up he would play guitar after work and I noticed there was a part of himself that would really only come out during that time, and that was interesting to me. I wanted to know who that person was and where he was the rest of the time. That left a deep impression on me.

Q. What was the first record you bought?
A.
When I was 11 or so, I got interested in early American rock’n’roll, so I think the first thing I bought was a Little Richard greatest hits. I went from Little Richard to Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. Any 1950s rock’n’roll released prior to Elvis going into the army and Little Richard becoming part of the clergy, that was the stuff I thought was cool.

Q. Was there a thriving music scene where you grew up and what was the first gig you attended?
A.
There definitely was not a thriving music scene. We would sometimes go to Milwaukee, where they had a summer festival, and I remember seeing The Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills & Nash. My dad took me down to this little club called the Cafe Carpe when I was 13 or 14, which is where I started to play.

That also had a big impression me, just the idea that people could play music in a little room and people would come out to see it. I eventually started opening for whoever was playing, which could be Greg Brown, Chris Smither or Peter Mulvey.

Q. Your debut Miles From The Lightning was distinctly world-weary for a 25 year old. Was that due to older influences?
A.
Ha, you mean depressing! The people that I was interested in, as songwriters, were “strange” writers. Writers such as John Prine had a strange sense of language, or maybe a sense of language that you were not going to encounter on the radio. They were not necessarily great singers and I wasn’t a competent guitar player or singer, so I thought ‘well, I can do this’. I always found the dark stuff more compelling.

I think it related to a strain of American music that I had dabbled in but didn’t really have a handle on… which is blues. The blues sort of walks that line where you hear the pathos and the pain that comes from a culture of slavery, and then you also hear the joy of gospel music. That’s pretty much ground zero for all the American music that I care about.

If it comes off as sounding world-weary, I was probably just doing a creditable imitation of some of those musicians.

Q. There is a strong literary element to your music – which writers have been an influence?
A.
I would say that I’ve relied on literary writers – novelists and poets– as much as anything for my education. Most of what I’ve been able to figure out about the world probably came about through my own self-directed reading – the likes of Tolstoy, Cormac McCarthy and Faulkner.

But it was John Steinbeck who was probably the first writer whose work I read entirely. I read lots of Jim Harrison in my 30s, I came to those late but they have been very influential in the past 10 years or so.

Q. Salt As Wolves had a bluesy pulse running through it. Will you be planning on more of that for future recordings?
A.
I think it’s going to be very similar. To me that record was the first time I’d managed to present a unified field theory of what I was interested in doing.

It involved, blues, country, rock’n’roll, folk, and there was no clear line. It’s a record that feels like it happened at a particular time in a particular place, yet it doesn’t feel like it’s easy to identify that place in time. That is all I wanted to achieve with that record, and I think that’s more or less what I’ll try to do for the next one.

Salt as Wolves is out now on Blueblade Records.

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