Reed Foehl had just arrived in Nashville in 2017 when he found out that his mother, Linda, was sick. The 53-year-old singer-songwriter knew what he had to do, so he abandoned Music City and headed home to Massachusetts to help take care of his mom, who was suffering from lymphoma.
His mother has since passed on, and Foehl is now living with his girlfriend in a barn in Vermont. Having used Colorado as a musical launching pad for many years before returning to his East Coast roots, the tenacious tunesmith has done his best to adapt to what fate has dealt him.
His new album and fifth solo effort, Lucky Enough, drops on February 1. Westword caught up with Foehl to get the latest on his solo career, his upcoming release and how life is going after a series of tectonic changes.
Westword: When did you move to Colorado, and why?
Reed Foeh: Well, it's really simple. Around 1988, I started a band called Acoustic Junction. We were playing around Boston, where it was really tough to make ends meet. In Boston, you basically had to pay to play. In some senses, you still have to do that there now. But my brother Stewart was playing with us, and he got accepted to the University of Colorado at Boulder. He was a part of the band, so we all decided to go out there in 1989. We arrived there the day before the Boulder Mall Crawl [on Pearl Street]. It was crazy, and I was like, "Wow, this is a great place." The Mall Crawl was so nuts that it eventually got canceled.
But Boulder was amazing; it was a college town, and there were about five or six venues where we could play and grow and develop a following. Within a year, we were performing at Red Rocks with Blues Traveler and Widespread Panic. That was a great time.
So you had moved away from Colorado to Nashville when you received the news that your mother was sick?
Yeah, I finally left Colorado. My son turned eighteen, and I reared in and was like, "I can do it."
I felt like Colorado was getting a little crazy and expensive compared to 1989, when I moved there. So I figured, I'm a songwriter, I've had some success on the heels of a Grammy nomination for a song ["Fly"] that I co-wrote with Brent Cobb and that Lee Ann Womack recorded in 2014 [on her album The Way I'm Livin'], so I'll just go to Nashville and start writing with my Nashville people.
Brent Cobb is now really pretty big and has been opening for Chris Stapleton and stuff. But I'd been going there for years, and it was another avenue to try and make money and to try to write with people and get my songs played. I was there for about a month when I got the word that my mother wasn't doing well. So I went home to Dover to be with her, and her health got even worse, and she had to go into the hospital. After she got out of the hospital, she asked me to stay, and I did. I felt like it was the right place to be. Fortunately, I had the flexibility in my life to be able to do that. It was one of my prouder moments.
I was really lucky, because I was playing in Boston one night and ran into an old hockey teammate of mine who said, "Hey, if there's anything I can do, let me know." So I said, "Well, I was about to get a publishing deal in Nashville, but it's on hold, so I need to make some money." He agreed to pay me a salary during the time that I was taking care of my mom, with the understanding that we would split my record deal as soon as I recorded it. So we did that. He's a big part of the record and a big part of the reason I was able to stay there with my mom.
I was the main caretaker, and I was with her for about a year and a half until she died. During that period, I met a woman while playing a house concert at a barn in Pownal, Vermont, which is where I live now. It's a quintessential spot. It's fully renovated, and I inherited my mom's really nice piano, which I have here. My girlfriend Kate's brother actually hired me to play the show where we met. They hosted it out of her barn, so I literally showed up at her door. I've gotten to know her whole family, and it was just meant to be. It's a great place. I really like it, and especially with the crazy political climate and all the stuff going on in the world, it's nice to be in Vermont.
Were you living in Boulder when you left?
No. I was living in Lafayette, but I lived all over Boulder for a lot of years. I still go back to the area all the time, but I don't think I'll ever live there again.
How long did Acoustic Junction last?
We disbanded in about 1998 or 1999, and then I started playing solo around 2000.
Didn't you used to sit in on occasion with Leftover Salmon?
Yes, I'm friends with them, and I'd join them on stage for a few tunes in Boulder. We did fun covers of stuff like [Van Morrison's] "Tupelo Honey." In fact, I recently did an interview for the new book that's coming out about them, [Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival]. Vince [Herman] is a dear friend. We used to alternate playing on Tuesdays at J.J. McCabe's in Boulder, so we got to know each other and started a friendship. Whenever I was around, he'd call me up to do stuff, and now we're all over the country. It's great that they're still doing it.
I want to say Acoustic Junction also covered songs by the Waterboys...
We did "Fisherman's Blues." It was fun.
So you segued from being a band guy who played in more of a party vein to being something of an introspective solo artist. Am I right in thinking of your solo material as kind of alt-folk?
Yeah, I think that's probably a good assumption. I also have some country roots in there. But the first record I made, Spark, was actually kind of like pop folk. I wanted to do something totally different. I did loops and all that. It was just me with another guy making a record, but it was a different beast than what I'd been doing. After that, I got more into simple folksy, rootsy live recordings of my songs. But really, the whole thing is about writing and about being by myself out of necessity. For practical reasons, it was easier to make a living that way. With my first record, I was fortunate enough to get into the publishing world, and I got every song on my first record placed. That opened my eyes and got me into creating songs and records that could go somewhere eventually.
I saw that you have had some of your songs placed on a few television series, including Dawson's Creek.
Yeah — it was great, and I also got a song in a feature film, Just Friends, that starred Ryan Reynolds and Amy Smart. That still brings me money today. The movie became popular and is played on cable and all over the world. It's actually become kind of a Christmas movie staple now, so every year it gets played a lot.
What was the title of the song that was placed in the film?
"When It Comes Around," from my first solo album, Spark.
The song plays during a big moment in the film. I also just got a song called "Goodbye World" on a show called The Originals, which is a popular vampire series. The song is placed in the final season and the final episode, and there is no talking, just my song. So that was great, but there are also kids making videos of it and stuff and pushing it out on the Internet.
So, yeah, this is the way that if you're a solo songwriter you can try and make a go of things. It was really a breaking point when in 2001 I discovered that I could place work through writing and publishing. I'm still able to eke out a living, and my work is still out there.
Have you seen A Star is Born?
Yeah, it's great. Just saw that. I believe that Lukas Nelson helped write some of the songs in the film, including "Shallow," which is a popular tune now. That's the kind of thing that when people ask me, I say, "Yeah, be a writer." You could be a session person, and some people make great livings that way, but that's not me. For me, the only way I could really try to survive was to be a songwriter.
How do you get your inspiration?
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A lot of my early stuff was somber and darker and about love lost and family lost. My father died in 2001. I got divorced. It was really heavy stuff when I was younger. Life can be really heavy. And the band breaks up and your life as you know it is now not your life anymore. Everybody goes through it. It's what I channel. It's my journey, but it's sort of like everybody's journey. Maybe why my songs resonate is because these changes are universal. The title of my new album, Lucky Enough, draws from the idea that nobody gets out of here without heartbreak, pain or sorrow, and if you're lucky enough, you might get true love or success or whatever it is. But, yeah, my solo career has been marked by loss. I lost my father in 2001, and then my mother just passed away.
Can you tell me a little more about Lucky Enough?
It's my fifth solo release. I wrote most of the songs on the album during the time I was caring for my mom. I recorded it with Band of Heathens, who I've toured with. I went down to Austin on a hunch to record it with them, and it turned out great. I couldn't be happier with the end result, and we're going to be doing some shows together to promote it. It's great collaborating with a band. They are killer players who've been playing together for years, so it's a real treat for me.
Reed Foehl's Lucky Enough drops on February 1.