Jeffrey Foucault’s music is the perfect soundtrack for a long drive on a lonely stretch of highway, with all the windows rolled down and the volume turned up as loud as it will go.
“People tell me that all the time, that they like to put the records on while they’re driving,” Foucault said from his tour van as it headed down the Oregon Coast. “That’s one of the ways I still listen to music.”
That seems appropriate, since Foucault, who performs at the Bartlett on Saturday, is frequently traveling and often writes on the road. His songs function as souvenirs of the places he’s been, capturing what Foucault describes as “the absurdity of driving around the United States, but also the beauty of it.
“You start to realize the outskirts of every town look pretty much the same,” he continued. “I think running for president is the only other way you’d see this much of the country.”
Foucault starts writing most of his songs, which blend classic blues guitar licks with the twang of old-school country, while he’s traveling through the middle of nowhere.
“I’ve got two notebooks with me right now: one for writing down what’s going on and another that’s just fragments and lines and bits and pieces,” Foucault said. “I like to have one that feels formal and one that’s more scattered. … I don’t tend to finish much until I get home. There’s a better chance that I’ll have time to sit down with a guitar and lyrics.”
Foucault’s most recent album, titled “Salt as Wolves,” contains a few songs that were inspired by specific moments on the road. “Take Your Time,” which closes the record, was the product of a beer-fueled jam session in a California hotel room. “Des Moines” is about a gig in Iowa where Foucault and his steel guitar player Eric Heywood found unexpected musical chemistry.
“We were both kind of groggy – I drove all day, and he flew all day,” Foucault said. “So we sit down and drink a bunch of beers, and we go up to play and there’s nobody there, because nobody knew the show was happening. But we ended up having this beautiful show. … Inevitably you start to ask, what does it mean if you play perfectly and nobody hears it? I’m not trying to get all Zen about it or anything, but it’s a question that’s worth getting into.”
Foucault also describes this particular collection of songs as a series of letters he wrote while on tour, personal messages to the people who pop into his brain as he’s traveling.
“I didn’t consciously set out to do that, but I’m pretty comfortable with that epistolary form,” Foucault said. “I still write letters, and I try to keep up a decent correspondence. … There are letters on there to some of my heroes, my family, letters to old lovers and people that you were close to. It just worked out that way, and I don’t know why.”
Foucault sometimes tours with a full backing band, but his upcoming Bartlett concert will be an intimate affair. He’ll play acoustic and electric guitars through a small amplifier, and his drummer will play on a kit that actually folds up into a suitcase (the suitcase itself serves as a kick drum). Show opener Laurie Sargent, formerly of the new wave band Face to Face, will also be providing guitar and harmony on a handful of songs.
“That setup allows us the freedom to play blues, country, rock ’n’ roll, folk music,” Foucault said. “Really, anything that we’re interested in, we can do it. And we can do it playing what we can carry into the club on our own in one trip.”
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