Interview by Dee Massey
With today’s seemingly disposable flash in the pan bands, it’s a breathe of fresh air to come across an artist whose seems more interested in creating beautifully constructed, intelligently written and simply produced songs that the pomp and glory of the industry.
Hailing from Eastbourne, David Ford is home grown talent at it’s finest. With his second studio album making waves on both sides of the Atlantic, he is one of the few UK artists to crack the US, signing to Columbia in 2004. His annual Milk & Cookies charity tour is one of the most sought after tickets in town, treating the audience to hours of his own tracks and covers, with cameos from other artists including Fran Healey.
His song writing has provoked flattering comparisons to Ryan Adams, Ben Folds, Damien Rice and even the great Bob Dylan to name but a few. His tracks have a dark, brooding resonance to them, creating emotional depths that listeners can identify with – but are they the key to the real David Ford, or merely a brilliant disguise? David took some time out on his current UK tour to chat with Dee Massey about it all, and once thing was for certain, in twenty minutes we barely touched the surface of this talented song writer.
So David, I know you’re on tour at the moment, so whereabouts are you today?
Right now I’m just walking into Sheffield Memorial Hall, a nice little place in Sheffield unsurprisingly!
And how the UK tour going so far?
The tours been going fantastic, it’s been a very pleasant experience! I’ve been playing a lot of nice little, sit down theatres, so it makes it all a lightly more intimate, not so much a rock ‘n roll show, it’s been a bit more of a performance thing.
Sounds good. To go back to basics – you’ve been solo for a few years now, having left Easyworld – what do you prefer, being in a band or going it alone?
I definitely prefer not being part of a band, the whole democracy of being in a band is something I miss, but someone’s always got to be in charge. But at the same time you have this pretence of equality. It always kinda means that creatively you have to compromise in ways that you don’t necessarily feel are justified. I’m glad to not have to do that anymore. Also being solo give you more options – like the kind of show I’m doing at the moment where there’s only three of us on the stage, we get to be a bit more creative in the way we perform the song. The last time I toured there were nine of us in the band, and sometimes I can tour alone. It …keeps it fresh for me, and hopefully for the audiences, so they can come see a show on one tour and come to the next door without seeing the same kind of show.
You’ve had some really flattering comparisons to Ryan Adams, Ben Folds, Tom Wait ad even Jeff Buckley – how do you feel about those kind of comparisons?
I’ve also had some less than flattering comparisons as well! [laughs]
Let’s just forget about those..
Yeah, well I think it probably pays not to take notice to any comparisons at all, I’m not really bothered. People will always try to say one things like another thing when it really isn’t.
So who are your major influences?
I don’t really know what the difference is between stuff that’s influenced me, and stuff I really like. I listen to Tom Waits records pretty much all the time; he’s one of my favourites. I tend to listen to old records; modern music is in a pretty shabby state. I don’t think it’s for a lack of potential talent, I just kinda think the industry is not designed for the production of great work, it’s all part of this very disposable culture that we’ve ended up with, whereby people have a huge hit for one week and then they can go to hell after that. I really like records from the 1970’s because they feel like they have a much more solid foundation, they’re well written and they were built for the right reasons.
Talking about song writing, all your songs seem to have a confessional feeling towards them, do you have a secret formula for writing them?
That’s entirely an illusion, the songs aren’t confessional, they’re not personal – not to me anyway.
But I’m sure there’s plenty of people sitting at home reading huge depths into your lyrics?
Oh no, I mean – I definitely do pore over the lyrics, but it’s not me pouring my heart out, I find that quite vulgar, the thought of that. I do try to write songs to cover the subject matter the best I can. Obviously at some point the songs will have some kind of emotion or intensity I hope, but it’s not necessarily my raw emotions, but hopefully it’s more of a universal human thing that other people can identify with as well. I mean [pauses] there’s no point in writing songs just for myself…. I hope that other people can identify with what I write, otherwise there’s no point in sharing. You might as well just sit in your bedroom and stay there.
When you go into the studio to record, do you have all your songs demoed and ready to roll, or it the recording process a more creative one, where you write as you go?
I write incredibly slowly, and I think I have a very strict quality control regime. I very rarely have that jamming style of writing, where you just come up with stuff and write a song in an afternoon. Most of my tracks take months to create, and even then sometimes I’ll get right to the point of it being finished and I’ll decide I don’t like it anymore and no one will ever hear it [laughs]
A perfectionist! Do you enjoy the recording process, actually being in the studio laying down tracks?
To be totally honest I don’t spend that much time in studios, I prefer to record at home.
So how much of the last album [‘Songs For The Road’] was recorded at home?
I did about half the tracks at home, and then we went into the studio to finish it off, but that was kind of at the behest of my label, who got to the point where they didn’t feel they could trust me to deliver a commercially viable record at home.
So what kind of set up have you got at home? It is all straight to tape and simple, or are you pro-tooled up?
Yeah, I do use pro-tools, but I don’t like to get into all the trickery of it. I essentially use it as a tape machine and editing box, I don’t go crazy with wild plug-ins, I like to keep everything as organic as possible, and use real instruments as opposed to digital things.
I understand you mostly produced it yourself? Would you ever bring in an external producer to oversee a whole album?
We did use a producer for some of the tracks on this album, again, it wasn’t necessarily my idea, and I absolutely hated it. I’m wouldn’t want to be produced again. That’s no detriment to the producer that we used, it’s just not something like I like. Maybe I’m a control freak, I consider it part of my creative remit for making records, I want to have an involvement in the sound of the record.
That said – would you ever want to produce someone else’s record?
I’d love to at some point. I think that could be a really interesting challenge because, not having to be so close to the material, it’d be very different recording and producing someone else. I’m not sure I’d have all the skills to pull that off [laughs]. Essentially the way I produce my stuff is just to record it, and I’m really not interested in trying to get something that sounds great for radio and stuff, and I think the making of a great record just isn’t enough these days – I mean it is for me but not for the industry.
What do you think about bands just releasing material digitally, without a hard format?
I’m a bit of a traditionalist, I like to have a physical thing you can hold in your hand, I like to read the inlay notes, I like to buy records and LPs. But I do think in this day and age it’s useful, it empowers the artist a bit more. It gets to the stage where bands like Radiohead are able to bypass the need to have a record deal and bypass that machine, I mean obviously it’s easy for them because they’re one of the biggest bands in the world and could get away with anything they like [laughs]….but I think it’s good that any decent band with a decent sound is in the position to do their own thing without labels.
Not that it is some horrible big conspiracy, I just think if record labels do find themselves with a fantastic record, I think mostly it’s a happy accident, because mostly they’re trying to find something that they describe as ‘competitive’. I don’t think music is a competition, it’s not a sport, there are no medal ceremonies, you don’t get to win the world cup in song writing, I think good work should be rewarded, I think it’s a great shame that people who actually write music and make records have to consider its commercial potential when they’re doing it rather than just saying I’m to make the best record I can possibly make.
Now I’ve got a few quickfire questions for you, and then I’ll leave you in peace. I hear you got robbed on tour…
Yep, in Philidephia…whilst I was asleep!
Apart from that what was the worst thing to happen on tour?
Well on this tour we’ve have three parking tickets! [laughs] That’s not that bad, but slightly irritating, I’ve not had a parking ticket on tour before and now I’ve had three!
But bad things happen in threes, so least you’re in the clear now! What three essential items do you always take on tour?
Well, I could do the really obvious one like a guitar, a piano and an amplifier…but that’s kinda dull isn’t it? If I’m going over to America, the amount you can take in your luggage and the amount of stuff I need to take just to make the show work means that I literally just take essentials undies and a load of instruments! [laughs]
What’s the most shameful CD that you own?
I have no shame in anything I own, but I’m sure that some people might say that my copy of Face Value by Phil Collins is a little misplaced. It’s a great album! I think in the mid 80’s Phil lost his way somewhat, but I feel his debut effort is an album of great worth…[laughs]
What album should everybody own, apart from Phil Collins obviously..
I think Blue Valentine by Tom Waits is a wonderful record. It’s very rewarding once you get past his strange singing voice.
What’s your poison? What’re you drinking when you get off stage?
Well on this tour I’m driving so I’m on the fruit juices at the moment!
Well I was going to ask you what the best hangover cure was..
I can’t really tell you what the best hangover cure is …[laughs]. But obviously it’s a fry up and a cup of tea, it’s tried and tested never fails.
What was the first gig you ever went to?
It was Dire Straits! I was about nine, my dad took me.
Did it help mould you into the songwriter you are today?
You know what, I think it doesn’t hurt! I grew up in a fairly shitty little town, and we weren’t on any gig circuit , we didn’t have cool bands coming to play in our town and I was never really exposed to lots of bands, I grew up in the 80s – I never heard The Smiths ever – but I did hear Dire Straits and Phil Collins [laughs] – in a weird sort of way, I feel it gave me a certain grounding in uncool song writing and I think it’s a valid thing these days, I think there’s a lot of importance placed on being cool as opposed to actually making music of any kind of quality, and songs that actually mean something.
What’s your worst personality trait?
I forget people’s names, the second I meet them I forget their names – it’s not because I’m self important or anything. I’ll meet someone, and they’re say hi, my name is so and so, and the second they’ve said it, it’s gone, and I always have to ask them again. That’s quite a bad trait isn’t it? I’m just forgetful in general, I forget things I’m meant to be doing, I get caught up in particular individual things I’m supposed to be doing and I forget all the other things.
Where would you most like to go on tour?
Well I’ve never been to Japan, and I always quite fancied the idea of Japan. But I feel like I’ve been everywhere else that I wanted to go to. Touring in America is really weird but very enjoyable.
And you’re off on tour of the US again soon?
Yes, I’m going in a couple of weeks, can’t wait!
Well David, thank you so much for taking the time to chat, good luck with the tours – hope to catch a show soon.
It’s been a pleasure!