Somehow, every word that David Ford sings feels so personal that it hurts me to listen. I need 30-second breaks in between tracks. Lucinda Williams does this to me. So does Matthew Ryan. I try to relate, but I end up going numb, only because I have no idea of the pain they speak of in their songs.
I start to think about my most horrific moments, like choking away an important soccer game in high school, and the best I can do is laugh. It doesn’t add up, even using my hack math skills.
Inside Ford’s songs, everything is going wrong. Lovers are screaming, “Go to Hell!” Skies are falling. People are trying to cheer up. The way Ford sings, with such suffocating passion on songs like “I’m Alright Now” and “State of the Union,” the hurt feels real—the kind that could have only made his blood pressure rise by the strategic use of deadly personal triggers.
I asked him about this. Turns out the serious British musician just knows how to write a song—and it’s not all about him.
“I very rarely will write in literal first-person,” Ford told me by phone. “If there is an ‘I’ character in the song, it almost certainly isn’t me. But at the same time, I do take on some kind of emotional involvement in characters, just because I want to write about relevant things in the human experience, rather than focus on the shallow. I have to be able in some way to identify, sympathize, and empathize with the individual in question.”
That explained a lot to me, not just about the songs, but about the kind of musician Ford strives to be. If you’re going to understand and enjoy his music, you’ve got to be willing to sign on for a long road trip, only stopping for gas, with meanings revealing themselves slowly and mysteriously along the way. While listening to a David Ford album, you’re always the night watchman.
“I think the records I make, they require a little bit more involvement from the listener,” Ford says. “I think they work best if someone is paying attention. Consequently, I don’t make records that are designed to work on radio or to be big hits or anything. To sell my records, people kind of want to re-work them and change them, essentially homogenize them to sound like every other thing on the radio. It’s frustrating and saddening, that in order to achieve commercial success, you can kind of have to make what you do as unremarkable as possible.
It seems completely outwards of the reason people want to get into music in the first place—which is to be something amazing to you, something maybe confrontational, or thought-provoking, or something meaningful, or something poignant, all those things that I think are important to music. I’m more up for the hard work, and the idea of not being a millionaire anytime soon. I consider it very important that somebody tries not to make records that sound like every other record.”
His newest album, Songs for the Road, is filled with the edge that he speaks of—unwilling to surrender, wrapping your arms around integrity, and having a unique vision of success. The songs are rewarding, so much that, I’m excited to have a seat in his unyielding vehicle, wherever it may stray. Always, of course, caffeinated and alert in the passenger side.
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