Kris Delmhorst takes marriage and motherhood on the road to rekindle her creative spark
By Bliss Bowen
Myriad factors complicate the creation and recording of music; add intimate marital dynamics, and things can get dangerously heated in the studio. That’s one reason why singer-songwriters Kris Delmhorst and Jeffrey Foucault, both respected luminaries in New England’s folk/Americana community, opted to treat their individual musical identities like their own “sovereign land” after marrying. They traded off taking tours and staying at home in Western Massachusetts with their now 9-year-old daughter (though Foucault plays about twice as much as Delmhorst these days) until “The Wild” — Delmhorst’s insightful new album, co-produced with Foucault. It’s the first they’ve made together.
“When the stakes are so high, it’s really important that we come out the other side and still like each other,” she says with a laugh. “It can be really delicate working on each other’s stuff, although we tend to be pretty robust in our editing and constructive criticism of each other’s works. But it seemed like we as individuals and we as a couple had matured to the point we could handle this as a challenge.”
Having navigated her way through toddler-raising years when “it was hard to ever feel 100% present to the work,” Delmhorst says she’s learned to “get really good at flipping the switch a lot quicker” whenever creative space is available to “really submerge into music.” She’s currently touring with her home and band families, having piled into a Ford Transit van with Foucault, their daughter, drummer Billy Conway, bassist Jeremy Moses Curtis and pedal steel guitarist Eric Heywood. Not feeling divided between the road and home is liberating and reminds her of “being all in” as a younger artist: “Our whole life is here.”
All five musicians will be onstage at McCabe’s on Saturday for two sets: one fronted by Delmhorst focusing on “The Wild,” and one by Foucault that will introduce material from his forthcoming album “Blood Brothers.”
With so many years of artistic and personal relationship between the players, it’s a comfortable setup for transporting audiences to the evocative, subtly grooving zone occupied by Delmhorst’s haunting contralto and songs like “All the Way Around” (“I closed my eyes on the road last night, I was listening to the sound of the stars/ Listening to the song of night getting long and the music of the way things are.”) The rustic, autumnal feel of her natural imagery adds knottier dimension to songs about life’s passage.
“It’s kind of funny that’s how my writing’s ended up,” she acknowledges, her words tumbling forth in an energetic cadence reflecting her urban Brooklyn upbringing, though she takes a writer’s deliberate care in articulating thoughts. “Partly it’s just that’s where moments of stillness and deeper contemplation are prone to happen, if I get out in the woods with the dog or we spend a lot of time by rivers. Those settings take you to a place in your mind where maybe you’re going to start making connections and writing ideas. I’m not usually writing a story
song about events that happened; I’m digging into currents under the surface about what it means to be a person moving through life.”
Last month, Delmhorst blasted Tom Petty records to crack open her grief at his death and the Mandalay Bay shooting in Vegas. Touring the country at a historically divisive time, does she sense audiences seeking something comparable from live music?
“That’s a good question,” she muses. “At one show somebody mentioned something relevant to the news, and I said, ‘We’re not going to talk about that,’ and there was this ‘OhThankGod’ energy in the audience. [Laughs] This is a particularly trying time for most people, but even if it’s just daily life, everybody needs to be reminded of deeper layers of themselves. I compare it to the feeling of when you sit at your desk too long, and you stand up and there’s that feeling of, ‘Oh, I have legs.’ On a spiritual or intangible level, that’s our job, to give people that nudge. As busy as everybody is, it’s really hard to access that stuff sometimes. That’s one of music’s oldest roles.
“Our job is so weird because a lot of what we’re supposed to be able to do is wander around and think about life. [Laughs] We have this incredible luxury of a lot of time for reflection. But most people don’t. I remember when we had our daughter, and with a new baby you’re just dealing, dealing, dealing on a moment-to-moment basis with all these tangible little tasks.
“We were driving up to some gig in Vermont, and we put on a Greg Brown record that I’d heard 56,000 times and it just destroyed me; I bawled my eyes out the entire drive. It was because I had just been existing on this do-the-next-thing level, on this one little slice of who I am, who we all are. We live on that level so much of the time, and just listening to those songs opened all the passageways to the other layers of my existence. That for me was an incredibly useful lesson because it was the first time I really understood what it is that my music is for, the kind I’m trying to make. It reminded me how little what I do is about me, and how much it’s about offering this service to people.”
Kris Delmhorst and Jeffrey Foucault return to McCabe’s Guitar Shop (3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica) at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11. Tickets are $25.Call (310) 828-4497 or visit mccabes.com.