Kristen Ward defied expectations when she chose to record her fourth full-length album, Last Night on Division, with legendary hard rock producer Terry Date; as she had been categorized as an alt country singer-songwriter, but was aiming for a wider audience. The result is an album of breadth and depth that should serve to lift her career to the next level. The album, which features special guest Mike McCready, was released in October of 2012, less than a year after the birth of her first child. I tried to set up a face-to-face interview with Ward, but as one can expect, life with a one year old baby, the holidays and a new album to promote can be hectic, to say the least. So we settled on an email exchange, which befits the character of this modern woman, artist and new mother.
Rick J Bowen: Hi Kristen. Let’s talk about you new album Last Night On Division. It took two years to complete; take us through some of that process.
Kristen Ward: Last Night on Division was a record I have wanted to make for so long. The process really started years ago. With some albums, the songs are there and the timing works out. You just get your band and the studio time and make it happen. Making this album was a really different experience. I wanted to start recording LNOD back in 2010, but that’s not what played out. I was going through a tremendously difficult time, and instead recorded a collection of some of the saddest songs I ever wrote… named the project Charles, my 2010 release. In 2011, I was performing and working again toward putting this album together. My band hit some bumps. We made a few “personnel changes,” which set us back a ways.
It was spring of 2011 when I met Terry Date through mutual friend Duff McKagan. I showed him some demos I had put together. We began recording shortly thereafter. At the time, life was so incredibly tumultuous. I was almost six months pregnant. I was moving around from apartment to apartment in Seattle, crashing with friends, bartending on the side, and living like a damn gypsy… basically doing everything I could to scrape together enough cash to make this record. It seems the more unraveled my personal life became, the more focused I became on this album.
Terry and I recorded solid for the next two months. We were only weeks away from the album’s completion when he mysteriously left the project for personal reasons. It was so sudden and unexpected. It was a crushing blow. The project once again screeched to a halt. I was out of cash and out of time. I just lost it. I packed the duffel bag that I had been living out of for months and left Seattle, my hometown of 11 years. I moved to a rural town in Eastern Washington and had my little girl in the fall of 2011. It was spring of 2012, when the remarkably talented Glenn Lorbecki got on board. He mixed the album and did a terrific job.
RJB: What did Terry Date bring to the project?
Ward: Terry brought so much to the project. It was such a gift to work with such a talented producer. He really pushed us in ways we had never been pushed and was able to capture performances that amazed even us. He had a lot of great ideas and had an incredibly nurturing artistic presence. He got a drum sound like nothing I have ever heard before. Working with Terry was incredible.
RJB: You launched a successful Kickstarter crowd funding campaign, raising a remarkable $16,000 from 65 backers. Tell us about that experience.
Ward: THANK GOD FOR KICKSTARTER!!!!! People have no idea how much it costs to make an album. Being able to get my fans involved was so wonderful. I am endlessly grateful to them. I could not have done it without them. I would recommend Kickstarter to ANYONE with a great project who needs to raise financial support.
RJB: Okay, back to the album. You call it a “rock record,” yet it has a melancholy, romantic tone overall. Tell us about where the songs come from.
Ward: My songs come from my life experience. I absolutely love Seattle, but I think for a lot of years I longed for certain things from my upbringing… a more laid back country life with more freedom and room to think. There is simply a different feeling that goes with a rural life. I write a lot from that space… a city girl missing her rural home. My songs channel a lot of the nostalgia and longing that I felt living in the city. They also tell stories of love. The song “Until Now” is about my fiancé. He’s a farmer. We lived apart for over a year.
RJB: The title track talks about your hometown of Spokane, a song that feels like it wrote itself. When did that one come to fruition?
Ward: Thank you. The song “Last Night on Division” did almost write itself. It must have been around 2009. I was driving down Division Street in Spokane. I wrote the song in less than 10 minutes on receipts that were floating around in my glove box. Rather than feeling the warm fuzzy feeling one would expect when visiting the place they grew up, I felt depressed and out of place. I remember yelling out loud “My home town brings me down!!!” First line was born. I scrambled for a pen and paper and wrote one of my favorite songs… while driving. I still consider the song to be somewhat of an homage to Spokane, an anthem of love and hate.
RJB: So is the song “Rodeo” about your mother? Can you tell us about her music career and what she
taught you about the biz?
Ward: “Rodeo” is the one song on the album that I can say does not deal with my life directly. It’s a more of a “flow of consciousness” sort of song, painting different images of Western life. It is not about my mother, but about the mother of the character in the song. My mom was never a rodeo queen… unfortunately. Ha-ha.
My mother put out an album that she recorded in Nashville when I was a teenager. She sang to us all through my childhood. I don’t remember learning much about the music business from her, as my mother could never quite stomach the music biz… understandably. What my mom taught me was the art of self-expression. She was a fantastic songwriter. She exposed me to many artists who came to be great inspirations for my writing and performance, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris.
RJB: Mike McCready guests on a few tracks on the album, which must have been fun. Tell us how that came about.
Ward: Mike McCready is amazing. He first played on my album Drive Away (2008) and has been a friend and supporter ever since. We were so happy to have him come down to the studio and jump on a few tracks for Last Night on Division.
RJB: Tells us about your band; you have the incomparable Gary Westlake on guitar. How long have the two of you been musical partners?
Ward: “Incomparable” is the perfect word to describe Gary Westlake. He has been playing music with me for over seven years. He is an incredible musical force with a seemingly endless versatility that just makes him an absolute treasure. He has added so much to my sound and to the songs. He has written countless guitar hooks and come up with so many amazing tones and parts. He is such a creative and musical player. Gary has been my best friend and one of my closest confidants. He is very loved. As far as the rest of the band, I have amazingly talented Justin Davis (formerly with Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs) on guitar, Keith Ash (also from the Laughing Dogs), on bass and Simona Bressi on drums.
RJB: Lady drummers are rare and cool! Where did you find her?
Ward: Simona is an absolute power house. Yes, she is a girl… a hot Italian one, and she is such a talent. We use to wait tables together on Capitol Hill. We used to talk music all the time. She was in these metal bands. I would go watch her shows with other bands and scream my head off from the audience… never really considered that she might be right for my project. But when we found ourselves needing a drummer, we gave her a try, and it was a no-brainer.
RJB: Any touring plans for 2013? I am sure with a one-year-old that may be tough, or have to wait.
Ward: I’m hoping to set up some shows for the spring and summer of 2013. I admit it is much more challenging with a one-year-old. I’m trying to just enjoy where I’m at in life. My family is amazing, and I’m allowing them to be more of a focus these days.
RJB: Okay, one more question. Whose car is on the cover?
Ward: The car on the cover is one that I found on Monument Ridge. That is an arid mountain ridge just north of Ephrata, Washington. The car was on a piece of property I was considering buying. I drove up there, realized I didn’t want the property, but knew right away I’d found my album cover. Kismet.
Kristen Ward performs Last Night On Division off her new album by the same title at The Triple Door in Seattle on 2/01/2013. Kristen is accompanied by Gary Westlake and Justin Davis on guitar, along with Keith Ash on bass and Simona Bressi on drums