Interview: David Ford is excited and terrified

David Ford and his Orchestra by Bobby Townsend

Award-winning singer/songwriter David Ford is taking his new record on a tour of the United Kingdom with a string quartet and an acclaimed Australian support act. We find out more:

Hello David. Where are you at the moment and what can you see right now from where you are sitting?
Hello to you. I am at home, sitting on a sofa and I can see my own feet which are arranged right-over-left and supported by a wooden trunk of what I suspect to be pine construction.

You’re soon to release a new record. What prompted your decision to want to work with a string quartet on it?
Recording and touring with a string quartet is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. I have always tried to challenge myself by taking on projects near, or occasionally beyond, the limit of my abilities and being a string arranger is a new experience I have embraced with the giddy zeal of an imbecile.

How did you assemble your orchestra?
I was pretty cavalier about the recruitment process. Cellist, Nicole Robson came recommended by friends who knew her work from the Bat for Lashes touring band. We met up and devised a plan for making it all happen, she assembled a quartet (pictured above with David) and I met the others for the first time on our first day in the studio. As luck would have it, they are all magnificent players and thoroughly fine human beings.

Ford recording with Strings by Bobby TownsendTalk us through the writing and recording processes for this EP. Presumably they were different to your usual way of working…
I wrote the songs using my standard process of neurosis, layered upon panic and self-loathing interspersed with brief moments of clarity spread over 18 months. I knew I was looking to record with the quartet so was inclined toward the more sweeping, dramatic end of the pool than the fat-ass rock and roll end.

Can you tell us a little about the finished songs or do you want to keep your powder dry?
No, I’m happy to moisten my powder for your pleasure:

The record opens with a song called “This Will All Count for Nothing”, a succinct examination of life’s elusive sense of purpose seen through the eyes of a man negotiating one of those great crossroads moments.

Then comes “Fireworks”, a song about one of the least hailed qualities in that sack of emotions we have come to package as love; endurance. As “straight” a song as you’ll ever hear from me.

Next up is “Devil Come Take this Town”, a black shanty for the age. This is the latest installment in my ever-growing list of grievances with the modern world and features some truly fucked-up fiddle playing by Jordan Hunt.

“One of these Days” is a duet I’ve been singing for a while now with New Jersey’s sweetheart Emily Grove. It’s one of those sad songs of lost love and uncertain future.

Most of my favourite songwriters are either Jewish or Canadian. Or in the case of Leonard Cohen, they’re both. As somebody with no musical training and no clue when it comes to the complexities of music theory, my ignorance allows me to become fascinated as to why some melodic movements just sound so unmistakably of their origin. The kind of melancholy to be found in the melody of Jewish song is like nothing else. I don’t know the technical terminology but the melodies comprise notes that have no business existing in the key of the song. “Morning is Broken” is my gentile attempt at a Yiddish lament.

“The Snake” is an old song from the ‘60s. I really liked it on first listen because the story is so weird, like a parable from a strange and funky bible. A woman takes pity on, falls in love with, and is ultimately killed by a snake who then points out that rather than being devious, he was in fact, just being a snake. It’s a shit-hot metaphor and one maybe lacking in political correctness but I still love it.

The record is rounded off by “O’Sullivan’s Jukebox”, the reflections of an ageing drunk who decides on balance that he could have made a lot worse decisions than dedicating his life to drinking in the same bar every night.

caitlin park uk tourAnd you’re taking the quartet on a tour of the UK this month. Will you be bringing any other musicians along with you as well?
I will be bringing my trusty drum-hound Joey Love but insisting he limit himself to orchestral percussion and strange rhythmic devices. Just to piss him off. I have also enlisted the myriad talents of Caitlin Park (pictured, left) who in addition to opening the show, will be singing, playing and hitting things during my set.

Presumably touring with a string quartet is a completely different beast, logistically, to your solo tours. In what way will you have to do things differently in terms of preparation and the actual shows themselves?
Hell yes, it’s a different beast. Until we begin, I won’t know for sure just how different it will be so right now I’m both excited and terrified. There is a lot more preparation involved. Parts have to be written. It’s not like a four-piece guitar band where you can just get a bit drunk and trust your luck. There are a lot more boring logistical details brought about by this more elaborate setup but the hope is that it will all be worth it when we put on the greatest show the world has ever seen. Anything short of that will be a disappointment.

Have you started making plans yet for 2015? Will we see a new album? More tours?
Probably not a full album but I’m thinking about something a bit more raucous and filthy after studiously writing string arrangements for what seems like most of the year. I’m feeling the need to make some godless racket. And I’ll tour the UK and North America a bit, the usual.

Have you had any thoughts on writing another book? Your last one was very popular…
Yes, I think about it a lot. I am feeling that another book about me would start to make me look alarmingly self-obsessed, although a delightful new platter of bizarre events have unfolded in my life since the last one. I don’t feel I’d be short of material. It’s tempting to try my hand at fiction since I like to tell stories in song but the discipline is nothing like the same. A song can tell a story in broad brushstrokes or describe an idea in tiny detail. The kind of sustained focus required to tell a complex lie over the course of a couple of hundred pages is something quite impossibly daunting to contemplate right now.

What are you going to do now that this interview is over?
Read it back several times, each time asking “Does this make me come across like a massive shitbag?”, then re-draft, edit and re-read a few times before muttering “fuck it” and sending the damn thing anyway. Everybody needs a process.

Catch David, Caitlin, Joey and the string quartet attempt to put on the greatest show the world has ever seen at the following venues: 

Friday 28 November – Union Chapel || London
Saturday 29 November – Epic || Norwich
Thursday 4 December – Oran Mor || Glasgow
Friday 5 December – Sage Gateshead || Gateshead
Saturday 6 December – Gorilla || Manchester

Keep up to date with David at his website and on Facebook.

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Interview and David Ford photos by Bobby Townsend