By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 19, 2002 at 5:22 AM

Singer/songwriter Jeffrey Foucault is a Wisconsin native, having grown up in Whitewater. Even though he went to college in Madison and lives in Fort Atkinson, we don't see that much of him around the state. But that's changing, especially this year as he's been touring in support of his disc, "Miles From the Lightning."

As he prepares for a busy autumn touring the U.S. and getting ready for a U.K. jaunt with pal Peter Mulvey, we talked to Foucault about growing up in Wisconsin and his work as a musician.

OMC: How was life growing up around the Fort? Was there plenty there to inspire you as a musician?

JF: I was raised in Whitewater, or just outside it really, and moved to Fort Atkinson after finishing college, living out West for a while and coming home again. But with Whitewater and Fort only 10 miles distant on the same stretch of highway 12 it's probably fair to call them similar.

Growing up in Whitewater was very good. I have a close-knit family with two older brothers, each of us only a few years apart. We had a hell of a lot of fun. It's a small town and there's room enough in it for a kid to sort of wander around, uncatalogued, just watching. I was never a musician until I took up guitar at 17, and so it's difficult to think about it in those terms. Both of my parents were musical, pop a guitar player and my mother a fine singer, and there was often music playing in the house, in the car.

OMC: Besides Cafe Carpe, where does one get out and play there?

JF: Beside the Cafe Carpe I don't know anywhere else for someone in my line of work to play in this town. I suppose I could go down to Salamone's on karaoke night, but that about covers it. The Carpe is the reason I moved to this town. It's one of those venues -- and there a few, spread around the country -- places I've now had the chance to play, that possess a certain magic. Musicians traveling the circuit know about that room and talk about it like they talk about expensive liquor; something you have the chance to experience now and then, and have to relish. It draws great writers and performers, people like Greg Brown, Chris Smither, Kelly Joe Phelps and gives them a chance to play in an intimate setting.

OMC: Did you spend a lot of time traveling to Milwaukee and Madison to play?

JF: The truth is that I haven't spent a whole lot of time playing in either Madison or Milwaukee, and would like to. When I lived in Madison attending UW, I worried more about writing songs than singing them out, (so I) didn't play around town very much. If I did it was just for kicks. These days it just seems to be working out that way. I played Madison probably five times in the past year, and Milwaukee only twice, although I do have a Milwaukee show coming up at the end of the month that I'm excited about.

I'll play roughly 150 nights in the next year, mainly around the rest of the country, and over in the UK. I hope to increase the number of shows I play in my home state, especially during Packer season. It's a real drag to watch Monday night ball in a hotel room in North Carolina.

OMC: Who inspired you to make music? Who inspires you to carry on?

JF: It's hard to come up with a prime mover, trace everything back to some revelatory moment, because there have been and continue to be so many. When I picked up guitar I learned to play the whole of John Prine's first record, but it's hard to give that more or less weight than sitting and listening to my dad pick after dinner, hearing Townes Van Zandt for the first time, or reading "Moby Dick." I guess if you're lucky the whole thing just keeps rolling.

In terms of working, getting out into the world and remaining focused on the heart of what I am trying to do as a writer and performer, I am in perpetual awe of Milwaukee's native son Peter Mulvey. He's like Cal Ripken, just the hardest working man in baseball, always out there getting the job done, able to keep things in some kind of perspective. I admire the hell out of him.

OMC: You've collaborated with Peter Mulvey. Have you worked with other southeastern Wisconsin singer/songwriters?

JF: I guess I jumped the gun on your question. Yes, I have worked with a few and crossed paths in various parts of the country with a lot of others. Bill Camplin, the co-proprietor of the Cafe Carpe is a wonderful writer and singer and a good friend of mine. L. J. Booth from up near Amherst, John Smith from over by Trempealeau, Don Conoscenti, Willy Porter. Nice guys, all of them.


OMC: Tell us about "Miles From the Lightning." How long did you work on it?

JF: I wrote the 15 tunes on "Miles" over the course of four or five years, in my early 20s. I recorded it pretty slowly; it took me about four months to get the whole thing finished, working on Saturdays and a few nights each week when I still had a day job. It's a pretty good record.

When I set out with "Miles" I was after hi-fidelity, something that sounded exactly like what I was doing. We -- I worked with engineer/producer Joel Lorberblatt in Madison -- laid my vocal and guitar tracks down, working hard to find the pocket in each tune; songs ought to have a sort of internal logic, and I wanted to keep the production on the record simple enough not to obscure that logic. As a result the recording is spare but very warm. Most of the tracks are just vocal and guitar, and then Peter Mulvey plays some lap-steel and Nashville-strung guitar, my friend Mark Olson plays classical guitar on a couple of tracks, and Joe Wong plays light percussion backing two tracks.

OMC: Are you working toward a new record soon?

JF: I am. I tend to be writing all the time, if not always in any linear fashion. I have a set of songs that I've been working on for the past two years, things that are, with any luck, organically related. I'd like to take15 or 20 songs and narrow them down to about10 for the next record. The plan right now is to begin laying down demo tracks in the early spring; I'd like to have another record out in spring or early summer.

OMC: What's next?

JF: Well, specifically next is a show in Milwaukee, at the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse, a co-bill with Richard Buckner on the 21st of November. Next after that will be a few weeks on tour in Oklahoma and Texas with Chris Smither, back out to the Northeast with Smither after Christmas, and over to Great Britain with Peter Mulvey and Kris Delmhorst at the end of January.

In the general sense what's next is about 25 or 30 years of working at this job. I figure I'm a pretty lucky dog; it's a good job.

Jeffrey Foucault performs with Richard Buckner, Thurs., Nov. 21, at 8 p.m. at Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse, 6823 W North Ave. Tickets are $12. Call (414) 607-9446 for more information.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.