I had the honor of asking Johnathon Ford a few questions before they go out on their brief four show tour in December. A master-class musician and a member of such famed groups as Roadside Monument, Early Day Miners, Suffering and the Hideous Thieves, and so many others, Ford‘s prolific career now sees the release of Unwed Sailor‘s incredible Heavy Age and I, for one, cannot wait to hear the tracks live. Ford answered questions about what he’s been up to the last couple of years, gear, and much more.
December Tour Dates
12/12 – Louisville, KY @ Kaiju
12/13 – St. Louis, MO @ Foam
12/14 – Chicago, IL @ Subterranean (Downstairs)
12/15 – Nashville, TN @ The 5 Spot
Hello Johnathon. The last time Somewherecold Interviewed you, it was 2004. Can you talk a little bit about what’s been happening with you musically in the last decade or so?
I’ve been living in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the past decade or so. I bought a 1921 craftsman bungalow house in an old neighborhood and ended up being the dad to two adorable rescue cats named Voodoo Roux and Veruca Salt.
Musically speaking, I’ve been all over the place. Looking back over the past decade, most of it was wasted time except for playing music with my friend Dave, playing a Roadside Monument reunion show, touring with Unwed Sailor, and releasing a handful of Unwed records.
As an artist in general, how to do you approach your own work? I mean this in a general sense as a musician, or when you are thinking conceptually, etc.
I let the inspiration for new music come to me. Thankfully it just does. I don’t have to search for a song, or make myself be creative. I’m super thankful for that. I just allow myself to be open, pick up my bass, and let the songs and ideas flow.
I wanted to quickly ask you about Take a Minute and how it came about. What was the genesis of that EP and why did it take almost a decade to release some new material out into the world under the Unwed Sailor moniker?
I had released the 2011 Tour Ep and a Sufjan Stevens cover song prior to the Take a Minute EP. Those two releases have gotten a bit lost in the shuffle over the last 10 years or so, but they do exist.
The Take a Minute EP was an interesting chapter in the Unwed Sailor discography. I ended up experimenting with new age, modern classical, industrial, and dance elements on that recording. I was also visiting New Orleans a lot during the creation of that record, so the artwork became a reflection of my time spent there. The EP represented the idea of taking time for yourself, believing in yourself, and acknowledging your power in creating your own art. It’s a realization in understanding your musical worth.
So Heavy Age is an incredible piece of work and I’m so incredibly happy Unwed Sailor is back. Why the 11-year break between full lengths and what prompted the need for a new Unwed Sailor album?
There wasn’t really an 11 year gap. I had released the two EP’s and the cover song during that time-frame. However, I was itching to release a full length album on a grander scale. Heavy Age is the longest album I’ve ever released. Clocking in at around 56 minutes. I felt like it was time for a big release with a lot of meat on the bone.
Can you talk a bit in detail about the recording and writing process of this album?
Some of the songs had been slowly put together during the time period between Little Wars and the recording of Heavy Age. Other songs on the album were written right before we went into the studio. I wanted a big, slightly ominous, “heavy” sound for the album.
I am a fan of Kevin Ratterman’s engineering work, especially his work with a band called Strike City, and with the band Young Widows, so I thought it would be a good idea to record at Kevin’s studio, La La Land, in Louisville, Kentucky.
To further the big, heavy approach, I used two drummers (Matt Putman and Colin Blanton) playing at the same time on the recording.
This was David Swatzell’s first time playing on an Unwed record as well. He gets a massive wall of shoegaze guitar sound, and that contributed a lot to the heavy approach on the album.
The album was mostly recorded live with all of us in the same room playing together. I wanted a live / humans feeding off of each other’s playing energy on the album.
I find the album to be apropos of the times, especially politically and with world events. The title really does say it all to me. Was this your intent and what is the story behind this album in terms of “narrative” that you are trying to tell sonically?
The album represents “heaviness” in various forms. A “Heavy Age” can be a personal period of heaviness and turmoil or a political period of heaviness and turmoil. For me it was both.
“Heavy Age” also refers to getting older, going through turmoil, but also going deeper within yourself and coming through a more realized, centered person. The songs are chapters in the particularly tumultuous sections in the journey of life. This album represents the dark, unstable times, but also looks ahead to the light on the horizon.
I like to ask artists to expound on two tracks I find to be most interesting to me or stand outs on what they’ve recently released. Can you tell me about the writing and recording of “Moon Coin” and “When You Want Me There” with it’s wonderous “hidden tracks” included?
“Moon Coin” came together quickly. It was one of the first songs that was written with guitarist David Swatzell. My Peter Hook bass influence really shines on this one. This seemed to be an especially challenging one in the studio with two drummers playing at the same time. The drum parts are fast and intricate in some parts, so for Matt and Colin to be on was like walking a tightrope. They pulled it off magnificently though!
“When You Want Me There” might have been the last song written for the album. It started with just the bass structure of the song. It reminds me a lot of my old band, Roadside Monument. It feels a bit more like math rock in some spots, but then it lets loose in a free form rock way during the ending. Matt Putman put together the reprise hidden track with unused sounds from the original “When You Want Me There” track.
What’s it like playing live once again with Unwed Sailor and how has the touring been going?
Unwed Sailor has been touring pretty consistently since we first began in 1998. There might have been a couple of off years, but we’ve been out there since the beginning.
For our gear heads, can you talk a bit about your set up both in the studio and live?
Amp wise, live I was using an Ampeg Rocket Bass B-100R and an 8×10 Ampeg cabinet with an Ampeg SVT head for years. I recently switched to using the Ampeg Rocket Bass along with a Aguilar 2×12 cab and a Traynor YBA 200 bass head.
In the studio, I’ve been using the Aguilar cab and Traynor head, and also an Ampeg SVT – 2×10 cabinet with an Ampeg SVT Micro VR head.
As always, I use either my 1978 Fender P Bass, or a recently required Fender Jaguar Bass.
What’s up next for Johnathon Ford and Unwed Sailor?
We are doing 4 shows in mid December in the midwest, and we are finishing up our next record to be released in May/June of 2020. Once the new record is released, we will be back out on the road touring.