Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jeffrey Foucault Discusses His New "Cold Satellite" Album

Jeffrey Foucault recently released his sixth studio album, Cold Satellite, on November 16th. The album was born out of a collaboration between Mr. Foucault and longtime friend, and contemporary American Poet, Lisa Olstein. Ms. Olstein is the author of Radio Crackling Radio Gone, and Lost Alphabet, both published by Copper Canyon Press.

Mr. Foucault is someone I have been following for quite some time. I was initially turned on to his work when I head the Redbird album, an excellent collaboration with Kris Delmhorst and Peter Mulvey. From there I picked up Ghost Repeater and his debut album, Miles From The Lightning.  

Mr Foucault's full-length album tribute of John Prine's work, Shoot The Moon Right Between The Eyes is an impressive homage worth checking out, and one I've enjoyed since catching John Prine at last year's Newport Folk Festival. His previous collaboration before the Cold Satellite album, Seven Curses, with Mark Erelli Erelli is an album of murder ballads, including stellar covers including Bruce Springsteen's "Johnny 99" to Neil Young's "Powderfinger", as well as some traditional tunes.

I had the opportunity to recently speak with Jeffrey to discuss the Cold Satellite album:

Could you describe how the Cold Satellite project initially started and developed from an idea into an album?

Jeffrey Foucault: Lisa gave me a pile of unpublished fragments, or in some cases poems that weren't working out as poems that included some striking lines or images. She told me I was welcome to mine the material for ideas, and I laid them aside and forgot about them for a while.

That sort of magpie approach has never been my deal but then the idea of simply finding ways to set the language to music appealed to me, and after an initial salvo with what would eventually become the last song on the Cold Satellite record ("In Our Own Country", which was on the demos for my 2006 album Ghost Repeater, but never made it onto that album) I wrote the bulk of the album in a few weeks one winter. I think it was 2007.

What was it about Ms. Olstein's work that most appealed to you and what prompted the collaboration?

JF: Lisa's poems have a lapidary quality, where layers of consciousness and intention create the structure more than linear or narrative form. The poem itself is intended as firsthand experience, rather than serving to recapitulate an experience, and the poems have a visceral appeal, an indirectness that leaves a great deal of room for the reader to triangulate an image or conclusion or emotion. This same description would apply to a lot of middle period Dylan. She doesn't write songs per se but her work translates easily to the form. I admire her writing. 

Could you describe the songwriting process for the album?

JF: The process was remote in the working aspects (hence Cold Satellite, which is lingo for a satellite that's quit communicating). Lisa gave me the language and I made songs from it, by cutting verses - as much as half a poem sometimes - repeating phrases, adding a line or a word (the only word I added to the title track was "fucking"), and moving sections or lines around. Songs and poems obviously have different imperatives. 

Once I'd made songs of some fragments that were shaped more like working poems ("Deserter's Information Center", "Geese Fly By", etc) then Lisa started giving me pieces that she thought of as lyrics. That is, we were far enough into the process that she started writing with the intention that the words would be set to music. At the point the line between forms begins to blur (songs like "Voices Talking", or "Call Off the Dogs"), and allows some room for more conventional structures and language in the approach. 

Could you discuss how you put such a great band of players together for the project? (Billy Conway of Morphine, Jeremy Moses Curtis of Booker T, David Goodrich, and Alex McCollough)? How involved were they in the songwriting process/ arrangements? 

JF: Well, I called them. I had an idea of what sounds I wanted, and what kind of players. Billy had worked on two records with my wife and we had a lot of friends in common. I was looking for a great drummer, and he's one of the best, hands down. Once I had Billy, I needed a bass player who wouldn't be overmatched, and I knew that Mose (Jeremy Moses Curtis) and Billy had played together in Twinemen, and I'd met him on a gig or two and liked him. I knew he was a great player. Alex I'd met on tour in Europe when he was backing a guy who was opening for me for a few weeks, and I wanted someone on steel who could play like Ben Keith, and really support an electric guitar player. I called all these guys and explained what I was after and then asked about bands they liked. They all answered the same way and never asked about charts. I figured we were set.

Goody (David Goodrich) is married to Lisa Olstein and they live about 20 miles from me in western MA. When I started writing the songs he and I conceived the idea for a duo record, and arranged many of the songs together, which is why the electric guitar parts are so integral to most of the songs. The heart of the songs is the work that Goody and I did together over a couple of years, slowly finding our way into the songs in a series of demos. We probably cut each of them five times, trying different feels and keys and approaches. By the time we decided to hire a band we knew the songs pretty well, which is why we were able to make the record in just two late nights and one long day.  

You certainly have a history of collaborating with other artists,  in addition to releasing your own solo work.  I really enjoyed the Redbird (with Kris Delmhorst and Peter Mulvey) as well as the Seven Curses album you collaborated on with  Mark Erelli.

JF: In my mind, outside of the fact that I appear on all of them, they couldn't be more different. Seven Curses and Redbird share a sensibility - old friends making stripped-down music together - if not an organizing principle.

But Cold Satellite is a whole other animal: longer term process, more artistically involved (in that I wrote all the music), and a rock band. I expect to continue making records with Cold Satellite, under that name. The obvious template would be Neil Young & Crazy Horse; some records he makes with them and some he doesn't, and it allows him the freedom to write and perform a lot of different kinds of music.  

How do the collaborative projects inform your solo work, and vice-versa? 

JF: Every time you make a record, in any circumstance, you learn a little more about what you do and why you think you're doing it. The various side projects that I got entrenched in over the last three years (Seven Curses, Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes, Cold Satellite) allowed me the opportunity to explore different means, play new instruments, and think about the next original record I wanted to make.

I recorded tmy next album (as yet unnamed) last month in Los Angeles with Eric Heywood (Pretenders, Ray LaMontagne) on pedal steel and electric guitars, Jennifer Condos (Ray LaMontagne, Sam Phillips) on bass, Billy (Conway) on drums, and Van Dyke Parks (Ry Cooder, Brian Wilson, Lowell George) on keys, in addition to guest vocals by Kris Delmhorst. The release is planned for early 2011.  

Will you be touring for Cold Satellite in 2010-2011?  

JF: We're doing a short run immediately following the release, out in the Northeast. After that we'll play whenever and wherever I can afford to bring a band. I'd like to do some festivals, and take them over to Europe. We have such a good time playing together I'd like to do it as much as our schedules and geography allow.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Chris,
    Really nice interview--and nice blog all around.
    I couldn't find a contact address on your blog, so I'm writing here to say--I'm in an LA based alt-country band, Meatyard. We have a new album just coming out and I would love to send you a copy if you're interested. The album is Sweet Old Green Life--it's up on Review Shine if you happen to use that service, but agian, I'm happy to send you a copy in the mail. Let me know if that's ok, and if so where to send it.