Jeffrey Dean Foster has always been ahead of his time. Having been involved in several seminal Americana bands since the 1980’s he is just now releasing The Arrow, following up his first solo release, 2007’s Million Star Hotel, and it’s fantastic. His ability to capture thoughts and feelings and to communicate them in a unique, individual way is truly admirable. We’ve been rocking out to his music here at the RUST offices and we wanted to reach out to Jeffrey to hear what he had to say about it. Here he is in his own words:
RUST: Jeffrey, this is a great album, before we talk about the individual songs can you tell us a little about where your life is at right now? What’s going on? How is it coming out through your music?
JDF: I’m not 25 years old and invincible anymore. Me and many of my friends and family have lost a lot of people close to us in the last few years since we started making this record. The Arrow is still just a collection of songs, but there does seem to be a little ghost of something running through them. The record is certainly not about death but it may be about LIFE and how ephemeral it can seem.
RUST: Who are some of the people that helped you make this album?
JDF: Well when I opened the door to the studio on the first day of the first session, there was Don Dixon saying “I’m here, what can I do”. I knew we were off to a good start. Mitch Easter engineered, mixed and played some guitar, Dixon played a lot of instruments during the 3 days that he was there. He’s a great cheerleader in the studio and keeps things rolling along. The rest of the record was made by good friends like Lynn Blakey (Tres Chicas), her husband Ecki Heins, my long time pals, John Pfiffner, Brian Landrum and Brooks Carter. Sara Bell (Regina Hexaphone, Sharkquest) helped me write a song and played piano on another. Cliff Retallick who is just now finishing up arranging a cool Paul McCartney tribute record in LA with everyone from Cat Stevens to KISS, sent in some great piano tracks. Crispin Cioe and Larry Knechtel of The Uptown Horns arranged and recorded some great Exile on Main St. type horns for “Life Is Sweet”
RUST: Now that it’s all done, how happy are you with it? Did you get the sound that you intended? Was it a challenge to finish or was it a free flowing creative motion?
JDF: As usual, some songs come quick and easy and some take months. I love the sound that we got. I think it feels like a spin across the FM dial back when I was a teenager. Back when you could hear the Faces right next to Al Green and Lynyrd Skynyrd!
RUST: Let’s start with Life is Sweet.
JDF: Cut almost completely live in the studio, 2 guitars, bass and drums. The horn section was added later by Crispin Cioe and Larry Knechtel up north. Even though this one only has about a dozen words, it took me a long time. It was like whittling a piece of wood until I got rid of everything that didn’t matter.
When You Break: This is one of two that I wrote with my teenage daughter. It didn’t occur to me until I was recording the vocal that this could be a Buck Owens song, if Don Rich was playing his telecaster through a fuzz pedal.
Morningside: One of my favorites on the record. All my friends played a lot on this one. We were just going for something beautiful and Lynn Blakey’s voice is always nothing less than beautiful. Her husband’s string arrangement in the coda feels about 150 years old.
Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts: I think this was the first song that we recorded on the first day of the sessions. Don Dixon played some terrific organ and Brian Landrum came up with a crazy, almost New Orleans drum groove. The title refers to a phrase written on a slip of paper found in Stephen Foster’s pocket when he died.
The Sun Will Shine Again: My friend Sara Bell played the haunting piano and the rest of the track was cut during those original sessions. I think it has a “Don’t Fear The Reaper” shimmering murkiness.
The Lucky One: Sara Bell helped finish the lyric to this one. She took her time, saying that she wanted it to be as good as when Patti Smith added lyrics to “Because The Night”. I don’t think it’s in that league (that being one of the best singles ever ) but Lynn and Tonya Lamm’s backing vocals sure are pretty.
Young Tigers Disappear: This is another one that I taught to the band right on the spot. I’d never even really sang it out loud before. The finished version is almost completely live. I just wanted it to sound like modern warfare and not a romanticized version of wars from the past.
I Will Understand: The other side of the coin to “When You Break” I took me a long time to convince folks that I really did want this to sound like the witches in MacBeth gathered around a fire!
Jigsaw Man: John Pfiffner and I recorded this one all by ourselves. He can play almost any instrument and did on this one.
Hang My Head On You: This song has been around for a LONG time. I first recorded it about 25 years ago with Andy York (John Mellencamp, Ian Hunter). I reworked it and I dig the Ronnie Lane party rock vibe. Cliff Retallick added some of his trademark Floyd Kramer piano licks too.
Open Book: Some more Lynn/Tonya backing vocals and some very southern California grooving.
Out Of The Blue: Another one that John Pfiffner and I did by ourselves. I think it started as kind of a Plastic Ono Band track but it grew some more flesh and bone.
The Arrow: It was originally gonna be a epic ballad but it just kind of laid there when we were recording it. After much consternation I went into the other room and figured out that it could just be plain and simple, like a Buddy Holly song.
RUST: Thanks Jeffrey, what’s next for you?
JDF: So now I just want some folks to hear this record that I made with such a cool gang of people. I don’t think it would have sounded like this if I’d recorded it anywhere else or with any other people. Everyone that played on it are close friends and I think it sounds like that. Hopefully we can get out on the road and let these songs breath a little. I love that records are exactly that, a “record” of something very fleeting, that happened in one moment, but then they last forever.