Jeffrey Foucault talks bluesy, eventful storytelling
Jeffrey Foucault’s “Salt as Wolves,” his first solo album since 2011, is a marvelous record full of vivid lyrical imagery — goner’d streets, embered darkness, horizon eyes cast down — bound together by a tough, reverberating, electric sound that is often redolent of the blues, without being quite locatable as such. Foucault made the record in three days, cutting live to tape with the band he assembled for the purpose — Bo Ramsey, Billy Conway, Jeremy Moses Curtis, and Caitlin Canty — most of which will be with him to perform this Saturday at Cuisine En Locale.
Q. You tapped Shakespeare for the title of your new record.
A. The phrase is in a piece of dialogue in “Othello” about two people who are having an affair, which didn’t have anything to do with what I was after. Shakespeare is using the term to mean “bold.” I saw the phrase in a book I was reading by Barry Lopez called “Wolves and Men,” so I went back to “Othello” and looked it up — but really, it was the phrase that leapt out at me. For me, a good title may have some literal meaning, or it may not. It may just call up a whole inchoate series of feelings or ideas. With “salt as wolves,” I liked the phrase, I liked the music of the phrase, and I liked that it posed more questions than it answered.
Q. It does what you suggest; it raises questions. It’s a very arresting title, which you always seem to come up with for your records.
A. I always have the title in hand a couple of years before a record gets made. For whatever reason, I find some phrase; sometimes a song gets written that incorporates the phrase and sometime it doesn’t, but it’s usually the organizing principle. It becomes a framework for the record. And I think that inevitably, if I write enough, from that big shotgun blast of songs the ones that are relevant and interrelated are the ones that are going to end up on a record. It always happens. I have this superstition; I never mention it to anybody. So I already have a title for the next record, but I can’t share it.
Q. How are the songs on “Salt as Wolves” connected or interrelated?
A. It’s really a whole salvo of, for lack of a better word, existential propositions about family, friends, loving people that you don’t necessarily understand, and inevitably coming to terms with, making sense of where you are and your assumptions. I think we tracked 17 or 18 songs, and kept 12, and they all happened to be organized the same way in the sense that they were all written to somebody, even if it isn’t in the form of a letter.
Q. Would you say those concerns and that format make it a personal record?
A. It is the most personal record I’ve made in a couple of different ways, both in the subject matter, and also in the way that I approached it. But inevitably, while I’m writing from my own perspective, I’m also using that perspective as the framework to get at a bigger, broader idea. And I’m always leery of just giving somebody a story, like, “this is how it goes.” I would always rather get the story like I did with the first song on the record, “Des Moines.” My whole idea for that song came from a run-of-the-mill show where there was a misprint on the time; the club had us starting earlier than we had advertised, earlier than I knew about, so we showed up late. It was me and Eric Heywood on pedal steel. It was in many respects unremarkable, except for the fact that we played in a way that you rarely get. I can’t stand outside of that experience and speak to whether the six people who were in the audience felt like we did, but we wouldn’t acknowledge it; neither one of us turned to the other and said, “We’re really killing it right now.” I wanted to write the song the same way. I didn’t want to just tell the story, like, we went to Des Moines and the pedal steel sounded like this, and so forth. I wanted to leave that part out and tell all around it, so that everybody knew there was something in the middle, something happened in the story.
Q. How does “Salt as Wolves” compare to your previous records in terms of its sound?
A. I had it in my mind to make a blues record: not blues in the real specific genre sense, but in terms of the feel and the underpinning. You can get involved with any aspect of American music and you’re going to have to go back to the blues, pretty much. I wanted to go at it through that lens. So there are a couple of country ballads, a couple of rock ’n’ roll tunes, but everything is colored by the blues, even if it doesn’t sit squarely within any specific genre. The blues has always been fundamental to the way I thought about music, but didn’t necessarily come out in the way that I play, and I’d never made it the focus like I did on this record.
At: Cuisine en Locale, Somerville, Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets $20, advance $17. 617-285-0167, www.cuisineenlocale.com