With tremendous accolades received from NPR Music, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Telegraph, Caitlin Canty’s 2015 album Reckless Skyline has made a tremendous splash in the country and Americana worlds. Caitlin’s fourth full-length release, Reckless Skyline, was a studio collaboration with producer Jeffrey Foucault at the helm. And interestingly, the two will be also touring together, including a Dec. 11 show at Rockwood Music Hall.
Reckless Skyline features a top-tier band that Jeffrey helped assemble, including Morphine’s Billy Conway, Booker T’s Jeremy Moses Curtis, Ray LaMontagne’s Pariah Dogs’ Eric Heywood, and Rusty Belle’s Matt Lorenz. As explained to me within Q&A conducted with both Caitlin and Jeffrey, there was a lot of effort placed into the selection of these musicians. Keeping the family vibe going further, while Caitlin and Jeffrey are performing their own sets at Rockwood, the two should be expected to spring up throughout the evening.
During my portion of the interview with Jeffrey – who has a fan in Don Henley — he interestingly explained what a music producer does in the modern era. He also clued me in on an upcoming project with author Chris Dombrowski titled Ragged Anthem. Caitlin, as she explained, has her eyes entirely set on her path as a working singer/songwriter and wouldn’t have it any other way. She may have been right about “the kids” with regards to my request for “last words” for them, but for those listening closely to and for heartfelt music, Dec. 11 promises to have plenty of that at Rockwood.
Do you see yourself as a producer who writes and performs, or more a performer and writer that also produces?
Jeffrey Foucault: I learned to produce records by making records, as a touring musician and songwriter. “Producer” is an amorphous term at best. To me, it means hiring the band, choosing the studio and engineer, choosing the recording and engineering approach, setting the work schedule, and running the sessions. It can also mean cooking breakfast and dinner. Most of the work happens before and after the recording — choosing songs and working them over, thinking through the nature of the record. My theory is that you start with a great artist, get the best possible players for the songs in question, put them all in a room together, and let them play. Then make them eat dinner together, and drink a little wine.
Wisconsin is known to have a few great recording studios, like Smart and Rock Garden, and some prominent musicians who grew up there, like The Violent Femmes, Steve Miller, Les Paul and Liberace. But Wisconsin isn’t generally known for its “scene.” Why do you think that is?
J: It’s probably too cold. I honestly don’t know. Iowa is just the down the river and has a really distinct sound — Bo Ramsey, Greg Brown, Dave Moore, Joe Price, The Pines — but Wisconsin doesn’t exactly. But then the Midwest is the land of [Bob] Dylan and [John] Prine and Neil Young, and I think there’s a sort of storm window existentialism bred in the bone. Anyway, if Wisconsin had a scene, no one in New York would know about it, because we’d be too modest to mention it.
I’ve been to Summerfest in Milwaukee a few times. Is there a festival or event elsewhere in the United States that you find to be comparable to Summerfest?
J: I don’t get around enough to tell you. I don’t go to festivals unless I’m playing them, unless we’re talking about the county fair. My Dad grew up in Milwaukee and my grandparents grew up there too, so I spent a lot of time in that town and went to Summerfest a bunch when I was a kid. I remember seeing The Blues Brothers, The Beach Boys, and CSNY various years. I haven’t been in a long time but I remember it had that good Milwaukee blue-collar feel, same with Brewers games. Great town.
How did you wind up having a song performed by Don Henley?
J: Apparently he heard me on SiriusXM Satellite radio and liked the song [“Everybody’s Famous” from 2011’s Horse Latitudes], and then started covering it in his live set. I have yet to hear it, but he’s mentioned wanting to put it on a record. That would be fine with me, I’d love to hear him sing it. He’d kick the shit out of it, and I’d get paid. Beat that.
For your upcoming show at Rockwood Music Hall with Caitlin, what’s to be expected?
J: We’re going to play real music as close to the bone as we can do it, without a shred of irony or detachment, and with any luck we’ll all have a real good time. Sometimes Caitlin puts up a movie screen and does shadow puppets.
After this run of tour dates is over with, what’s ahead for you?
J: You know, I haven’t had much time to think about it. I have a lot of unrecorded songs and ideas for records I haven’t made yet. I have a book in the works with the poet and author Chris Dombrowski called Ragged Anthem, a collection of his poems that take as their point of departure old blues lyrics and such, interspersed with my letters to him from the road over the years; [poems] which fall somewhere between wry amusement and terror. The main thing is finding the inflection point where there’s some constructive tension — the kind that creates good work — but you aren’t making your real life the leavings of your work. I have a home and responsibilities, and I need a lot of time to sit still. I’d like to think I’ll do some of that.
Caitlin, when you were working on your new album with Jeffrey, was it always the plan to tour alongside him?
Caitlin Canty: It wasn’t a plan to tour together, but I’m thrilled it’s worked out as it has. When Jeffrey signed on to produce my record, our first conversation was about the band. The players we picked are veteran studio musicians who also spend much of their time on the road and have played together in various iterations of Jeffrey’s bands. It’s pretty wonderful that we can tour together with roughly the same team and sit in across each other’s sets — I sing backing vocals on his set and he plays and sings on mine.
I’ve read that prior to making it as a musician, that you worked on the show Live From The Artists Den. What was the best performance you saw while working on the show?
C: I was the first employee, straight out of college and new to New York City. I learned so much from working on the production side of live shows. My favorite would have to be the last show I worked before leaving to pursue my own music: Patty Griffin at the Angel Orensanz Church on NYC’s Lower East Side. She sang “Up To The Mountain” and nearly brought that crumbling building down with the power of her songs. And that voice! My friends Darlingside are opening for her now on tour and I can’t wait to catch a show.
Your latest album, Reckless Skyline, was recorded in less than a week. Was that more out of necessity, or do you prefer to work on things fast?
C: It makes more sense to me to record music this way. I spend most of my time playing with other musicians, live and in-person, but each time I’d been in the studio prior to making Reckless Skyline, the process felt sterile and backwards, with overdubs and isolation booths or nonsensically playing my guitar to a click track and later singing to it. And a project could happen in fits and starts over the course of months. The heart would go out of the music and it wouldn’t feel right or sound good to me. For Reckless Skyline, we tracked 18 songs in four days all together in one room playing live. Soon as the studio felt more like a live show, the songs came across with more life and sounded better.
How would you describe Reckless Skyline to someone who hasn’t yet heard it but is familiar with your other recordings?
C: Where Golden Hour is gentle and quiet like the winter in Maine where it was recorded, Reckless Skyline has more heat, more energy — it’s warmer. The songs are desperate at their core and they plead or brag or at least strut around a bit more than mine have in the past. My singing was recorded live so I think it feels more alive, and I was over the moon to be spending days playing with this killer band. We all had a blast making music together and I think that good feeling comes through on the tape.
When you’re not busy with touring or recording, how do you like to spend your free time?
C: Honestly, it all feels free now that I don’t work in an office anymore. If I’m not touring or dealing with the necessary logistics of keeping this show on the road, I’m most likely writing new songs or spending my brief home time with family and friends.
Finally, Caitlin, any last words for the kids?
C: Do kids actually read about music? I’m not even sure they listen to it anymore. If you’re fishing for closing remarks, it gives me a chance to thank Jeffrey Foucault and the beautiful band, who played on this record and continues to push my music into new territory, for all their hard work and kindness. No one phoned in a single note or an opinion, every bit of this record process was sublime, and the hang with this crew is tough to beat. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful that my songs and I have been so well cared for.
-by Darren Paltrowitz