David Ford is a singer-songwriter from the South Coast, about to release his fourth solo studio album, Charge. David Brown from Louder Than War met up with David on the steps of Islington Assembly Hall to find out more about the album, the financial difficulties of putting out your own records and his unique approaches to touring.
Your album is called Charge and it has a battle scene from Scotland Forever on the front. Where’s that concept come from?
I think it’s just the idea that when I make records, the world isn’t waiting for me to do so, there isn’t the expectation like when someone like Bowie makes a record, so getting anything done is a bit of a fight really. There’s no great machinery behind what I do, so it becomes like a military operation to put everything together and make a record and then the moment comes when you put it out into the world and it feels like you’re going over the top into No Man’s Land and putting yourself out there. Not emotionally in the songs, although I do get accused of that a lot even though that isn’t the case actually, but when it’s your job and when you do it and you have a business than runs pretty close to the bone, there is a certain self-sacrifice that goes on in making records. This one particularly felt like an almost defiant thing to do in the modern era; to put out a record into a fairly hostile and not very responsive marketplace and doing it knowing it’ll probably end in tears. In a way, it’s like the Charge of the Light Brigade. It’s a noble charge and we’re all probably going to get slaughtered, but let’s do it anyway.
So what makes you keep doing it?
Well the stock answer is that I’m really fucking good at it. I like doing it and I don’t know what else I would do. As long as I’ve got songs to be sung, it kind of doesn’t matter to me whether there’s an audience for it or not. It’s something I want to do. I think it’s important that I keep doing it because who else is going to do it.
That comes out in the songs, doesn’t it? Every Time is a story of looking like you’re going to break through then it all comes crashing down and you get up, brush yourself down and carry on.
That’s the point really. Ten years ago, when I was in a band, people would talk about songs and influences and about where things have come from. These days people are very interested in career and status and stature and people don’t tend to talk about the songs any more. I really don’t have any interest in my career, it’s like a by-product of being a musician, making my music and doing it to the best of my ability. It’s the fact that I’m doing it at all that motivates me. I find the music business very fascinating, but I don’t see it having a lot of bearing on what I’m doing.
You do put out a lot of material and on a fairly regular basis in the form of EPs, two or three in the last twelve months. Some of those tracks have made it on the album and some of the ones the fans expected didn’t. How do you go about choosing the tracks for the album?
There’s no particular science to it, I choose what I think are the best songs. When you put an album out, it’s a format that’s dying in the traditional sense. I could have just put all the songs I have on the album and had eighteen tracks on there. For me it’s important that they all hang together and support each other, that there’s a line you can trace in the rises and falls. Tracklisting an album is something I really enjoy doing.
Your albums are not like a lot where there’s two or three singles at the front and then a lot of filler.
Yes, a lot of dross. For me, it’s always been the case that the last song on the album is the most important position. I like to think, and it’s probably not true, that if you’re going to listen to my album, you’re going to listen to it from the beginning to the end so I want to leave you with something that in a way sums up what’s been happening for the last forty minutes.
It’s different with gigs though where bands keep their big songs for the end, you mix your sets up quite a bit.
I suppose it makes sense in the live scenario. One of the reasons bands do it is to keep people in the building. There are some bands that have one song that everyone wants to hear and if they play it first then people lose interest.
When you play live, you have a lot of different set-ups. Sometimes it’s just you, other times you have Hannah (Peel, who plays violin, trumpet, music box and backing vocals) and others your friends from Eastbourne. What’s the thinking behind that?
I like to keep it different for my own mental well-being. I enjoy playing shows on my own, but if you keep playing tours on your own, driving round in a van, it can get pretty lonesome. I’m fortunate that I have friends who are musical and who are willing to help me out. Essentially, it tends to start off with me deciding what sort of show I want to put on. If I’ve been slogging around on my own for a bit, I like to mix it up and have other people around and it allows me to do different things musically, to do the songs in a different way and opens up the possibility to do songs that I wouldn’t be able to do on my own. It means over the course of a year I can go into the darker recesses of the catalogue.
It also makes it more interesting for those who come to see you on each tour.
I’m in a position, and I recognize this, that the people who come to one show do tend to come to the next one on the next tour. I think it’s important that I don’t just give them the same thing.
You’re touring in March and April. You’ve dropped hints that it will be something different again? Can you give anything more away?
I can give everything away, it’s no particular secret. It’s based on an idea I’ve wanted to do for a long time, which is to have a number of solo artists on the bill, but rather than one person getting up on stage playing their songs and then another person getting up and playing theirs, essentially everyone’s on stage the whole time and everyone backs everyone else up. You get a bunch of solo artists together and effectively form a band for the duration of the tour.
I’ve got a couple of musicians who I met in America who are coming over. I like Americans, I think there’s an attitude to music that I guess is a bit more like my own. There’s more reverence to the greats and classics, whilst in Britain there’s more of a tendency to what’s new and what’s fashionable and I have no great interest in what’s new and what’s fashionable. I want to put on a show for the ages. I find a lot of the American artists I’ve met or played with have a real grounding of where their music comes from.
What plans do you have when the album comes out?
After the UK tour, I go out and tour America in June. After that, I have no plans whatsoever. This is how we do it now, you make plans a short way into the future and beyond that you have no idea. I may never play another show or make another record again. I like the fact that it’s not a constant process, that you have to get back in the studio the minute the tour’s finished, because that’s the job. When I’m done, I’m done and I’ll be quite happy to call it a day at some given point.
How do you record with the financial constraints that artists have these days?
I just did it myself at home. My wife and I moved house. Back when times were slightly more fair and I had a record label and a budget, I would rent a studio, well a room that I could fill with equipment and recording gear, but now I do it all at home. We have a little room in the house that’s crammed full of instruments and recording equipment and over the course of a year and a half, I write songs and record them as they come together. It’s a very nice, very pleasant way of working.
Without time pressures of a studio too, I guess?
It gives me the advantage of not having deadlines, the whole way of working, it’s ready when it’s ready, done when it’s done. It doesn’t have to tick any boxes of commercial appeal or radio play-ability, because there’s nobody who has that interest in it to make it a hit.
Charge is released on March 18th on vinyl, cd and download and is available from David’s official shop.
David plays the following shows in the next few months :
March 20 Southampton Cellars
March 21 Bristol Tunnels
March 22 Oxford O2 Academy 2
March 23 Holmfirth Picturedrome
March 24 Manchester The Deaf Institute
March 27 Edinburgh Electric Circus
March 28 Newcastle Cluny
March 29 York Fibbers
March 30 Norwich Arts Centre
March 31 Cambridge Portland Arms
April 3 London Scala
April 4 Birmingham Hare and Hounds
April 5 Nottingham Rescue Rooms
April 6 Ratoath The Venue
April 7 Belfast Empire Music Hall Belfast
June 1 Windsor University, Essex Hall Theatre
June 6 Cambridge Club Passim, MA
June 7 Northampton Iron Horse Music Hall, MA
June 9 Piermont Turning Point Café, NY
June 11 New York Rockwood Music Hall, NY
June 12 New York Rockwood Music Hall, NY
June 13 Asbury Park The Saint, NJ
June 14 Philadelphia World Cafe Live, PA
June 16 Arlington IOTA Club and Café, VA
June 19 San Francisco Hotel Utah San Francisco, CA
June 26 Los Angeles Bootleg Bar, CA
All words by David Brown. You can see more of David’s work on Louder Than War here