For David Ford, success has been measured not in devastating bar tabs and sold out arenas. The English singer-songwriter has seen record deals come and go, but on his own he has been able to put out record after record of heartbreaking ballads, punchy social criticisms, and raw beauty. The humble but honest musician has found a new home at Razor & Tie just in time for the physical release of his latest album Charge.
First of all, David, Iâ€™d just like to say thanks for agreeing to talk to me today and happy birthday.
Oh, thanks very much.
So, your new album Charge has some ties to New York. James Brown (Sound City, Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon) mixed and produced it in Brooklyn. Could you tell me a little bit about how that came about?
James is an old friend of mine. Weâ€™ve worked together a lot in the past about ten years or so. Heâ€™s a lovely guy, and he really gets me, and we get on very well, too. Whenever I have a record to make, heâ€™s arguably the first call I make. What happened was I made the album myself at home, and I think he was over the phone or the the Internet or whatever, thatâ€™s how that thing works, to help out, back me up if I was going in the right direction or telling me off if I was going in the wrong direction, or both. Once Iâ€™d done that, I sent the whole thing over to him, and he fixed it.
In your book (I Choose This) you described how easy or difficult it was actually coming about your solo albums and your work with Easyworld, so how did Charge compare to your last album in terms of effort getting it out?
It was very similar, getting it out because my circumstances havenâ€™t been changed. Iâ€™m still basically outside of the music business. Nobody puts any expectations or pressure on me to come up with any commercial goods. Essentially Iâ€™m in the luxurious position of being able to make music that I want to make with no constraints, no time or having to come on a radio program or anything like that. Itâ€™s a joy to make music. I feel very privileged Iâ€™m able to do that. I donâ€™t have to have that desperate need to please people who are just trying to make you famous. Itâ€™s a joyous thing, my process.
With this album, the lyrics seem to be less political than your last few and far more personal. Was that a conscious decision on your part, or did it just come out of whatever songs you happened to write at the time?
Yeah, I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever concentrated or focused to say this albumâ€™s going to be about this or Iâ€™m going to lean away from politics and towards personal matters. I guess as I get older, and I think itâ€™s what happens to everyone really, you become less revolutionary and enraged by political matters. When youâ€™re young, you think you can change the world, that you can put out music and make a difference. Iâ€™m not saying Iâ€™ve given up on that, I still am an idealist, but you kind of reach an age where you try and win what battles you can. I guess I definitely realized that weâ€™re actually not going to win the big fight. I think the direction that weâ€™re going in the world, that doesnâ€™t please me, obviously. Weâ€™re a very greedy species, and that bothers me. Iâ€™m pleased to write songs now that talk about other things. Iâ€™m taking on battles now that I think I can face.
Youâ€™ve released several EPs as well as albums, so how important is the format of the LP to you?
To me, Itâ€™s very important. I know itâ€™s me being entirely self-indulgent. I understand the world doesnâ€™t want the album as a format anymore, that itâ€™s an archaic, outdated way of presenting music, but I still love it in the same way as itâ€™s still very valid, very artful, and people should still do it. I understand by making albums as albums, two-sided LPs and really understanding the direction of the album and how that comes together, that it should have a common strand running through it. I understand that by doing that Iâ€™m not helping myself as far as career or anything. I think that for me, thatâ€™s the way that Iâ€™ve always liked songs to be presented, all of that writing to be presented in 45-minute time slots. I hope to keep making them forever.
For you, what was the easiest song on the album to come together lyrically and musically and the most difficult for you?
I think the easiest one was the penultimate song, â€œThrowaway,â€ which I wrote and recorded maybe in a day, which is very rare for me because I like to really obsess over things. I like to process it right, to make it really traumatic and abscessed. Iâ€™m not afraid of dark places, and Iâ€™m really happy just to get it right. For that song, itâ€™s surprising since it is a sad song with a very happy process. It came together recorded in a very simple manner, and I was very happy with it. I put it down live in my basement in about two takes.
As far as difficult ones, â€œEvery Timeâ€ was a bit of a mammoth undertaking. Working away from the field without musicians, without producers and attempting to make a song as grandiose and pompous as I wanted it to be is a bit of a challenge. Itâ€™s quite a lot of working out how to get all the technical stuff. Thatâ€™s definitely a lot of work.
Well the song certainly came out really well, and that reminds me of how you decide to translate these songs live. Are you keeping that in your head when youâ€™re recording, or are you trying to record the most perfect version and then work out the live version later?
Yeah, thatâ€™s definitely the way it is. When Iâ€™m recording, I donâ€™t give any consideration to the fact that I have to perform it live. Thereâ€™s no way I could ever recreate some of the live range. Some of them have parts of an orchestra on them. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m going to be able to bust out the London Philharmonic any time soon. I just try to make the best recording I can of how I think the perfect, definitive recorded version should be. Thatâ€™s not to say that the live version is a poor imitation or a crappier version. Thereâ€™s something magical about playing live. You can do a lot more with less. I really enjoy the sense of it being liberating.
So youâ€™re getting ready to tour America soon, and when youâ€™re going to be in New York, youâ€™re going to be at Rockwood Music Hall for two nights in a row playing a completely different set both nights. How did you decide to break it up like that?
It came about because I played Rockwood last year and really, really enjoyed the gig. As far as venues go, I think itâ€™s one of the best Iâ€™ve seen anywhere in the world. They wanted to have me back again this year, so it was actually their idea to book two nights. I kind of thought if Iâ€™m going to do two nights, I donâ€™t want to do the same set two nights in a row. The way some people who come to gigs, theyâ€™re a bit crazy and want to come to both nights, so I figured for anyone paying to see me two nights in a row, at least make it interesting, so I just kind of thought Iâ€™ll break it up. I havenâ€™t quite worked out how itâ€™s going to work. I think one nightâ€™s just going to be with a band and one night Iâ€™ll be on my own. Iâ€™ve got different openers each night who are going to be part of the show, part of my show as well as their own sets. Itâ€™s going to be pretty complicated and hopefully a bit exciting and dangerous. I like the opportunity for things to go wrong. I think those nights should hopefully be full of disaster.
Well, Iâ€™m looking forward to it regardless. What are the differences between touring here versus back in the UK?
There are practical differences. Itâ€™s much easier over here in Britain because I have all my stuff here, I have a car here, I know my way around, and also our countryâ€™s really tiny. So itâ€™s much easier for me being British and being based here just to get around. In America, obviously I kind of have to live a bit like a hobo, whatever I can pull around, whatever I can get on the plane goes there. Apart from that, theyâ€™re similar apart from the exception that I think, I feel American audiences maybe appreciate me a bit more. They appreciate that I made the journey. Whenever I show up in American towns, theyâ€™re really very warm and welcoming.
Charge is available on iTunes now and will be released physically on June 4th. He plays Rockwood Music Hall on June 11th and 12th.