Marc Ford is brilliant.
Marc Ford is frustrating.
Marc Ford is not, however, easily shoehorned.
Welcome to his Machine.
One would be hard-pressed to find the proper stylus with which to illustrate a picture of Marc Ford’s career. On the surface of his seeming drought of activity, critics are quick to use the Crayolas. Fans, likewise, are all too eager to well-witch for the first sign of mud, anxiously waiting to Bob Ross the oasis they hope to find just beyond. Perhaps it is best to accept that both parties are wrong. After all, much like blues lore idolizations, some artists are simply rivers. And Marc Ford is a river.
To those who remain loyally upon his banks, Ford has never really stopped being creative or active. He has occasionally dropped from the purview of the less fanatical, and has certainly stayed closer to his Southern California roots. Yet, the last several years of his life have yielded a river bend or two, including a new daughter, while continually pouring downstream towards whatever delta calls him homeward.
Consider his last five years or so: three successful albums, two concert films, a Grammy and a NAACP Image award with Ben Harper; a lauded, successful tour with legend Booker T. Jones across Europe in 2009; three of his four solo albums were written, recorded and released; an international tour of his own in 2007; sit-in’s from Widespread Panic to Ivan Neville; around ten albums produced at his studio of choice, Compound Studio in Signal Hill- including Mescalito and Roadhouse Sun by Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses, which caught the attention of T-Bone Walker’s entourage. That pairing earned a double Grammy victory for the Crazy Heart soundtrack. There is more, but it watercolors the same impression.
As much as he is a river, Ford is also his own dam, and in this self-made contradiction, he has found peace and what he considers a deeper, more sincere connection to his own art. And as much as this drives his faithful towards a certain kind of brink, it allows him to open the gates and swim in the floodplains, fully vesting himself in whatever he chooses to do, and those he chooses to align with.
More pointedly, every river has an undertow, and Ford’s can seem unusually strong. The quality of soulfulness that has earned him fans for more than twenty years of nearly nonpareil guitarwork can succinctly turn into something else when he falls off the radar, creating a vacuum that is not easily filled. Whether one chooses to look at such situation as self-preservation, or simply selfish, it is not for Ford to say, or truthfully concern himself with. He simply follows where his banks lead. And so his river flows.
Streams of both frustration and brilliance, and the life lived fully aware of both, form the confluence that is Ford’s fourth album, Fuzz Machine. Equal measures of exploration, explanation and exorcism twist and gnarl into Ford’s biggest sounding, most closely personal songset to date. To read Jamband.com’s review of Fuzz Machine, click here
Ford’s creative process seems akin to a millwheel; steadily and continuously diving below the surface of the delta to pull whatever is waiting to be found. The delta constantly, rapidly changes, though the millwheel remains fundamentally the same. A good machine does what it is designed to do, after all.
BF: Fuzz Machine was first a limited release that coincided with your tour through Spain with The Steepwater Band in February 2010. The widespread release was then held off for nine months. As an independent artist, what has the process been like for you to bring this album to the public?
MFF: I didn’t really have plans to release it, honestly. Both times, I did it just ‘cause I thought I ought to. Going to Spain, they loved it, [and] it was an opportunity to have something to sell, so I had some copies made, kind of last minute. Even this time, it was because a TV show (FX’s Sons of Anarchy ) said, We want to put a link to your site so people can buy it”:http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/originals/soa/episode.php?season=3. “We’d like to link to it for a year.”
I love the record and I think in the back of my mind I wasn’t going to officially release it until I was prepared to go out and work and tour. And I really haven’t had the option to do that. I think the whole music industry is biting it, just like everything right now in this economy. But especially the music industry- it’s really trying to find its feet again. CD’s are going to be gone, that’s a reality. It’s a little bit daunting to see it all happening.
So, it’s a lot of work, and I haven’t found a good enough reason to go and do that. I had a daughter two years ago, and she’s way more fun than being on tour [laughs]. So I took some time off and decided I can be halfway home and halfway trying to do something, or I can be one place or the other. And that place is home.
BF: The Black Keys recently stated in an interview that 85% of their revenue comes from playing live. Do you see a point, maybe down the road, where most of your money as an artist comes from playing live?
MFF: I could see how that’s true. It’s a never-ending cycle, once you get going. You have people working, and they all expect a certain amount of income. You have families that you’re supporting. And then you can’t get off tour, because that’s where the money is. To try and build a thing on the road, and actually having a family… either they are going to live with you and be a part of [the road] or they’re just cool to have an absentee dad. That’s the reality of it.
I love to tour, but not when I have to, not when it’s the only source of income, because it becomes a drag, and it dominates your life. And I don’t want it to dominate my life. I want to be able to tour when I want to, and produce, and [do] so many other interests. Spending my life on the road doesn’t really seem quite so romantic in any way [laughs], because the reality of it is that it’s pretty rough.
BF: You toured fairly extensively behind your second album, Weary and Wired with the band Fuzz Machine, which included your son Elijah on guitar and bass. What was that dynamic like?
MFF: The dynamic was hard, man! Not only was it [about] getting to know my son, but it was also me running the band totally on my own, which was really the first time. In Burning Tree, the duties were kind of shared or fought over [laughs], but this was the first time it was all on my shoulders, every aspect of it. And so trying to navigate a relationship with my son as a father, as a bandleader, as a boss… I didn’t know what I was doing, but it was great!
He has since written me a long letter, thanking me for his life and how happy he is. Overall, it was rewarding, fulfilling and exhausting at the same time. And that’s why, until I was prepared to go and do that again, I wasn’t really thinking about releasing this record. It’s dear to me and I want to give it a really fair shot.
BF: Most of the songs on Fuzz Machine open almost in the middle of a dialogue between lovers. Is it fair to consider the album a statement on your love and relationships?
MFF: Yeah, the record was written on the road, and the upside of being on the road is that you get a lot of time to sit with your thoughts. You don’t really appreciate love if it’s in your face all the time- ‘hearts grow fonder’ and all that. And I was separated at the time from my wife. I [also] had Elijah with me, which I was building a relationship with him, which we never truly had, ‘cause I was on the road while he was growing up all the time.
So we were getting to know each other, while the same time I was realizing I didn’t necessarily want my marriage to be over. [The road] just gives you a lot of time to reflect, and there’s nothing more important than love, so you think a lot about it. Most songs are about it, one way or the other.
BF: You are the only connecting thread between your four solo albums, and the four bands that made them. Do you ever envision having one working unit that fulfills all your ambitions and needs?
MFF: No, I don’t think I’d want that. I think in a perfect world, these groups of players would be available to play every couple of years and to revisit. I get very interested in a certain kind of dynamic or style. Playing in a band is like a relationship. There’s limits, there’s freedom, in all of it. But if I start doing one thing for too long, I start to look for a little variety and I’m not at my best. I want to do something intensely, and then do something else for a while. You know, I don’t eat burgers all the time, and I don’t eat Chinese all the time. I like a lot of different food and I like a lot of different music.
If it was just a matter of calling somebody up and going “Hey, set a few weeks of touring”, I would do it in a second. But it’s like rebuilding a career every time I want to go and do something, mostly ‘cause I don’t stay on it. It’s probably not the smartest way to have a career, ‘cause you confuse people and it’s hard to keep an audience, and to keep a group of people together, but I don’t think I’d do any of those well if I could only do one of them.