Multi-instrumentalist David Ford returns with Animal Spirits in May, an album about economics. Ford explains “I became distressed at my ignorance on such a significant subject and so I began reading up on it. I soon became perplexed at how a scientific field populated by some of the most brilliant minds might arrive at such a disunited set of very well-reasoned opinions”. We speak to Ford about his musical journey up to recording Animal Spirits, and how he turned these themes into songs.
After making two albums in seclusion, I was keen to invite some kind of human interaction into the process to help broaden my horizons and provide the occasional loving kick in the artistic backside.
First up, tell us bit about yourself - what first got you into music?
I always loved songs. Not music so much. Music is good, but songs are really my thing. When I found that a simple combination of words and melody could communicate a feeling to me with a depth and clarity that other art forms couldn’t touch, I became obsessed with learning how that process happens and am still working it out, enjoying the journey.
Were there any particular bands or artists you took inspiration from to form your musical and thematic style?
Yes, but the evolution of a musician’s style is a messy business. it’s a constant process of building, burning, learning and re-building so the foundation stones may not be visible in the finished tower of song.
Some important influences that may or may not appear in my sonic palette are: Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, REM, Neil Young, Ryan Adams, Fleetwood Mac, Little Feat, Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, The Carpenters, Weezer, Allen Toussaint, Bob Dylan, Phil Collins, Jeff Buckley, Bruce Springsteen, Etta James, Queen, Marvin Gaye… oh, and possibly The Beatles.
How would you describe your style?
I wouldn’t describe it. This is one of the perks of being a musician. I get to just do it and let others describe it. Then I get to complain about the insulting inaccuracy of those descriptions.
You won France’s Victoires de la Musique award for ‘Original Song of The Year’ in 2014. Which accolades have you been most humbled by in your career so far?
Chubby Checker once told me that he liked my song “State of the Union”. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Tell us about your new album Animal Spirits. What’s it about?
The short answer: It’s about economics.
The not-so-short answer: The central premise of the album Animal Spirits is the suggestion that the economic landscape is shaped more by human psychology than it is by hard science and mathematics and that as a consequence, the frailties and shortcomings of the global economy stem from our innately emotional, erratic, often irrational human behaviour.
So the challenge in writing these songs was to find more emotive human stories and settings to parallel some of the quirks of economics which, although fascinating, would make for some confusingly dull songs that no sane person would want to hear.
You worked with James Brown (Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon, Interpol) on the album. What did they bring to the production?
James is an old friend. We first worked together 16 years ago and he’s probably the only person I can record with and actually enjoy the experience. The studio has been a difficult environment for me in the past which has led me to some solitary recording methods.
But after making two albums in seclusion, I was keen to invite some kind of human interaction into the process to help broaden my horizons and provide the occasional loving kick in the artistic backside. James had a great creative input into the album and his studio knowledge and experience has made for the best sounding record that ever carried my name.
It’s your first album to be recorded in the US. Why is that and when did you record it?
It was recorded back in 2016 during the curious months between Brexit and the election of Trump. I had the opportunity to work with James in the studio at his home in the New York countryside which is the kind of comfortable, low-pressure environment that suits my particular brand of studio neurosis.
How does Animal Spirits differ from your previous work?
The writing is more focused. I feel like as an album it’s more coherent and purposeful than my previous records, while continuing a streak of eclectic recordings. And with James Brown pressing the buttons, it sounds bigger and better.
What are your hopes for Animal Spirits?
My hopes for any album are realised when the record is finished and I’m satisfied that it meets the exacting standards upon which I insist. The commercial or critical performance of the record doesn’t really bother me. I’ve learned over the years that of all the factors contributing to the commercial success or otherwise of a record, the quality of the music contained within is only one of a great many, and possibly not a major one. All the other factors are largely out of my control so I don’t let them worry me.
When and where can we expect to see you on tour next?
I will be on tour in the US and UK in May and June. A full list can be found at davidfordmusic.com. Just hit the button marked ‘tour’.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
I’m not really much of a collaborator. I prefer writing to be a lonesome pursuit and I’m probably too controlling to enjoy a fully collaborative project. But I love singing with others so to find great voices to sing with would be my favourite kind of musical meet-up. I particularly love voices with age and experience. To sing with someone like Mavis Staples or Harry Belafonte would be an incredible.
Finally, if you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
Some time around 2006 I was presented with what I now recognise to have been some once-in-a-lifetime career opportunities, but a combination of stubbornness, inexperience and ignorance led me to squander them in the name of some misunderstood notion of integrity. While I don’t regret being a principled young man back then, I have since come to understand that having drawn a line across which I would not step, I had left no room for anybody to join me on my side. So I think I would probably grab myself by the shirt and say: “Dude, lighten the fuck up, these people aren’t trying to kill you!”
But I wouldn’t have listened. I really was that much of a dick that the sight of a time-travelling vision of myself from the future wouldn’t have shaken my resolve.
Listen to ‘Why Don’t You Answer Your Telephone?’ on YouTube below. For news and tour dates go to davidfordmusic.com.