David Ford is a singer songwriter who honors the tradition of the punk and DIY attitude of Joe Strummer, infused with off kilter, often dark, lyrical content. Songs for the Road, which was warmly praised by the folks at the New York Times and a dozen other reputable rags has become a frequently listened album on my iTunes library, fitting nicely between Glen Hansard solo/Frames stuff and Ray Lamontagne. Ford’s use of looping technology and the one shot/one take video intrigued me initially, doing all that filming and performing live takes some serious coordination. I recently sent a handful of questions to Ford which he graciously answered, albeit in a quicker manner than I have posted this. Enjoy.
[Some other singer/songwriters I highly recommend are Steve Poltz, Liam Finn and Tim Barry.]
1. What is the biggest difference, creatively or conceptually between Songs for the Road and I Sincerely?
I think all the clichés about the difficult second album are true. It’s easy to create something honest when nobody cares what you are doing and that was certainly the case when I recorded my first record with no thought given to its place in the competitive music market. Trying to maintain a spirit of independence was difficult when it came to making a follow-up. Where the first record was given space to develop an identity, the second had to fight like hell for its own. I definitely wanted to make a bigger record, to put more into arrangements whether they are sounding like a band or an orchestra. I like to think the songs are in charge of the record and as a performer or producer, I just want to do right by them.
2. Did you find yourself utilizing any new or different techniques to compose the songs?
No, I have my way of writing, which I have found to work best for me. Essentially, I ignore the process of songwriting and allow it to happen accidentally. So I never try to write, never set aside time to write, never co-write. Instead, I trust that I will be inspired and that ideas will arrive and take musical form. It’s a pretty reckless foundation upon which to build and it means I am less than prolific but it also means I do not doubt the sincerity of my songs because songwriting has never felt like it is a job.
3. How do the songs begin, melody, idea, lyric and where do they go from there, melody then lyric, chorus then concept? (I’m interested in the process and realize there may not be just one way you compose the pieces.)
Mostly I start with a tiny piece of the song, a line of melody with a lyric. Often it will be a line of verse, which feels to me like it perfectly captures a mood or sums up an idea. I then use this as a foundation from which to build the song developing the ideas and characters but hopefully staying true to the spirit and essence of that first idea.
4. Both vids I’ve seen for “Go To Hell” give the impression that they are ‘One Shot, One Take’ compositions, how much ‘editing’ goes into post production of these videos?
I have always liked making one-shot videos. I like the realness and honesty of it and also the challenge of keeping a film interesting without relying on clever editing. So the aim is to use no edits at all. There is one cut in the go to hell “buried alive” video, which is used only to avoid me actually being killed-although we were considering risking it anyway.
5. How the hell are you doing all that looping in “Go To Hell”? How much of this technique do you think will eventually develop into your own composing style?
There are a number of different methods and machines I use for looping. At shows I use the electro-harmonix 2880 and boss RC-20 loop stations. In the studio environment, the looping is done by the pro-tools recording software. Essentially it’s like any normal recording session; everything gets mic’d up/plugged in and recorded, the only difference is that each instrument track repeats every 4 bars and i have to get it right the first time, every time. For me this is only a performance technique and forms no part of composition. Writing songs should be all about art, inspiration, romance not technical dexterity.
6. Is looping a product, style or tool?
I think part style/part tool. You can use looping as a tool for enhancing the live arrangement of a song, for adding texture, harmony and rhythm. Alternatively it can be part of the fundamental fabric of a song. When I play “State of the Union” live, the loop station contributes as much to the intensity of the song as the lyric or melody. Mostly, I see the loop machine as a toy and a friend.
7. Who shoots the vids?
My best friend (who goes by the name ‘Cock’) and I have always made videos together. He points a camera better than most and it’s always easier to work with friends. Since I have been spending all my time in America, we weren’t able to work together on the last shoot. A guy called Wes shot the “Go to Hell” live film.
8. What do you use to put everything together once the shot is complete?
The beauty of the one-shot video is the lack of editing involved after filming. Setting up and planning the shot can be time consuming and often we end up shooting the same thing several times before getting it right, but all that we do, post shoot, is to line up the audio and apply any treatment to the video; often black and white, high contrast with added film grain for a little grit and grime. Mostly I use Final Cut Pro software but for the more straightforward films iMovie is so easy to use and gets the job done.
9. The song “Go To Hell” is great but how all those elements come together, visually, make the song more intriguing, do you feel that the visual medium combined with the music/performance aspect of things adds or detracts from the standard listening experience?
I think “Go to Hell” the song and “Go to Hell” the live video exist as 2 pretty different things. I don’t think the film casts any particular light on the meaning of the song and as such could be seen as inappropriate. It was more an exercise to see how far we could take the live loop technique and the spectacle of that rather than enhancing the emotive nuance of the song…but we have another film to do that. This is all part of the creative liberation that comes from not being tied to the one-size-fits-all marketing machine of a major label. I get to make videos as an extension of the creative process rather than as a desperate sales tool.
I prefer this one shot/one take version of “Go to Hell” even though the other is captivating.
Here is the artsy version of the video for “Go to Hell”