"It really is a mystical process," Johnathan Ford said when discussing the writing process for his band, Unwed Sailor. "I just have to be open to ideas and inspiration and let it flow at will. I can't look for it. It's just got to come to me."
For the man who departed Roadside Monument roughly a dozen years ago to start his own project, you wouldn't think anxiety would play a part in the writing process but that's hardly the case.
"With every record, after I finish working on it, I start worrying what's next," Ford said. "I'm afraid of losing ideas. It never fails, though, in 12 years, I'll inevitably have a guitar line, or album title or artwork come to me. One thing that makes it all start and that takes the fear away."
Ford has been able to rest easy as of late, or at least his conscious has. Although he's a busy man with three currently active projects in Unwed Sailor, Native Lights and Broncho, his mind is constantly at work with Unwed Sailor, and he said that within the past couple of months, new inspiration has hit.
With an album title and artwork in his head, writing has begun for the new Unwed Sailor record, and he's feeling great about it.
"The songs are very consistent in sound, but they don't sound like any other record I've done," he said. "It still sounds like Unwed Sailor, though, so I know I'm on the right path."
Those familiar with Unwed Sailor know that the band's signature is a layer, ambient instrumental vibe. Ford and his band mates traditionally build a wall of sound that envelops and encompasses you and drifts you into another world or state of mind. With the new record, however, Ford's focus is now on simplicity.
According to Ford, it's not really a new concept. If you delve into his more complex sounding records, he claims that most of the songs aren't really that complex, but merely a layering of multiple parts to create an orchestral effect, even if the individual parts themselves weren't that intricate. This time around, however, Ford is looking at making a more direct and stripped back record.
"I've been thinking about the new songs, and it almost feels like the earlier Unwed Sailor material," Ford said. "It's very simple, with two or three parts. The melodies and guitar parts are simple, with only one or two hooks and it doesn't go off on a math rock tangent."
Currently inspired melodies and simple pop songs and obsessed with writing simple, but unforgettable bass lines that stick in your head, Ford said that he's currently tired of being complex. As such, listeners can expect a more relaxed and spacious tone with the new songs.
"I'm not necessarily writing R&B bass lines," Ford said.
"I'm just trying to write something that's so simple it's timeless and memorable. That's what excites me right now."
When Ford gets excited about something, it's a good season for his fans. In fact, those fans can look forward to getting a glimpse of the band's new direction as Ford takes the group out on a spring tour that kicks off on Friday, April 2 at The Marquee. Prepared with three new songs, the band will be road testing the new tunes and tuning up with some road work before finishing the writing process and going back into the studio.
After rotating band members throughout the years, Ford has finally settled into a lineup that he's comfortable with as old friend Bryce Chambers (formerly of Ester Drang) takes over guitars and Nathan Price sits in on drums. It's the same lineup Ford has been playing with for a couple years now and the group that he's most comfortable with. The new addition of Philip Phillips on guitar has added a new dimension to the band, however, and Ford has been incredibly happy with his contribution.
"He's worked his ass off already, learning 14 songs plus the new ones -- and he's already jumped right in and started contributing to the songwriting process," Ford said.
That in and of itself is a big step, as Ford loves to collaborate, but is very careful who he works with. When discussing the process, Ford said that he has to inherently trust the people he's writing with and be on the same page with the same vision in order for it to work. That's why he's so happy with the current Unwed Sailor lineup as he's reached that level of comfort and trust with his musical compatriots.
Of course, this is the same group of players that also inhabits local group Native Lights. According to Ford, as well as the other members, however, the bands are definitely two different musical entities.
"For me, it's an outlet to write heavier bass lines," Ford said, "and my goal when writing is to have a heavier movement but still be melodic."
Overall, Native Lights is just a bigger, heavier-hitting band. With Bryce Chambers taking center stage with his vocals and bigger, more melodic guitar tones, it truly is a different direction for the players and an outlet that allows them to perhaps express themselves more clearly and freely in a different vein or avenue.
"Unwed Sailor is definitely a rock band when it plays live," Ford said, "but Native Lights gets to be a lot bigger sounding rock band."
Even so, each band has found its own distinct sound and fans base, part of which diverges and part of which overlaps. Whether veering into the layer and atmospheric instrumental wanderings of Unwed Sailor or the heavier shoegaze induced indie-rock of Native Lights, these are still the players that have kept local audiences buzzing.
You can catch both bands performing together as Unwed Sailor kicks off its spring tour Friday night, April 2, at The Marquee. Tickets are $8 at the door and the show will start at 9pm with ...And There Stand Empires, followed by Native Lights.
Fiawna Forte will even be showing up to share the stage with Native Lights for the first time, performing "Black Wall Street" with the band before Unwed Sailor closes out the evening. If you're looking for the indie-rock show of the week, this is it.
Road Trip Anyone?
Anyone who loves reggae will want to consider a little road trip to Bentonville, Ark., this weekend as Elisha Israel & Az-One perform a free show in the Bentonville Downtown Square Friday evening, April 2. Focused on more traditional and socially-conscious based reggae, the group has shared the stage with Mickey Dread, Andrew Tosh, The Skatalites, War, Jimmy Cliff and many others. A free show with a band this good is worth the drive, especially if you didn't get your fill with last weekend's Wailers show at Flytrap.
As luck would have it, just as the weather is starting to liven up, the local music scene is laying fairly low. Even so, we've still got some great music floating around if you're willing to look for it.
Enjoy the calm before the storm, however, because the local schedule will be getting hot and heavy in the near future with both local and national acts filling the clubs and halls all over town.
On Thursday night, April 1, you can always kick off your weekend (and the month) by chilling out with one of our local, standing gigs. Cairde na Gael holds court at Arnie's, while Dustin and Jesse's Higher Education is now a staple to the Eclipse schedule. If you're in a blues mood, however, you can check out Joe Mack laying it down at The Colony.
Friday, April 2, is plenty busy, especially on Main Street in the Brady Arts District. Not only is the aforementioned Unwed Sailor tour kicking off at The Marquee with Native Lights as well as ...And There Stand Empires, Cain's Ballroom hosts the return of G. Love and Special Sauce with Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. Just down the sidewalk at Soundpony, Ptiaradactyl rules the night's indie scene with JorDan, The Way It Was and Across Tundras.
If you're looking to sit back and hit an honest local groove, however, you need to settle in at The Colony for the evening and chill with Paul Benjaman Band.
Perhaps the most interesting touring show in town on April 2 is at The Marquee as Copeland makes a final stop in Tulsa on its Farewell Tour with I Can Make A Mess Like Nobody's Business, Person L and Deas Vail. Copeland has always had a loyal following in Tulsa, whether playing bigger rooms like The Marquee or Cain's or a small room like Crush Lounge. After a decade of writing, recording and touring, however, the band is finally hanging it up with its latest disc, You Are My Sunshine, and making the rounds for one final show in each of its key markets before packing up for good. This one promises to be a memorable, yet bittersweet show for Tulsa fans.
Looking elsewhere around town on Saturday night, Brandon Clark Band rocks Mercury Lounge, Steve Pryor conducts blues class at Arnie's and Panda Resistance and Dead Sea Choir share the stage at The Colony.
If you're looking for a good vibe, interesting tunes and a chance to dance, however, you need to look up Moai Broadcast at Eclipse on Saturday evening.
The weekend wraps up with Berry, Student Film and Popular Culture stepping up for the indie rock crowd at Soundpony, Pilgrim's standing gig at The Colony and Cody Clinton and Desirae Roses at Hunt Club.
Finally, the week wraps up with a pair of cool shows on Wednesday, April 7. Of higher profile is the Shooter Jennings show at Cain's Ballroom with Lucero. If you haven't experienced Shooter yet, you might be shocked: He's got a little more of a rocker attitude and delivery, but it's obvious that he's Waylon's kid when you see him. He's all attitude, spit and vinegar. Dad would be proud.
Finally, Ego Culture wraps things up locally with an extended jam session at The Colony on Wednesday evening -- yet another reason why The Colony has become a local favorite.
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