Frazey Ford on Neil Young, D’Angelo, and More
Frazey Ford sees her two solo albums after departing from the Be Good Tanyas as very different works. The singer-songwriter, who had been one-third of the Vancouver, BC-based folk, country, and blues group, released her first solo album, Obadiah, in 2010 and followed with Indian Ocean four years later.
“Obadiah just came out in a way that felt somewhat effortless,” Ford says. “The songs were already there, and I’d had a vision of that album for a long time. Indian Ocean was a totally different process. It was a lot more scary. I really didn’t feel like I knew where I was going or what I was doing. I think Obadiah has more of a sense of generation and history and nostalgia. Indian Ocean is more straight up, raw, more about the process of coming through. Indian Ocean felt like a deep dream or a conversation. I really didn’t know what was coming of it.”
Since Indian Ocean was released, she says, “it’s been a wild 20 months” touring internationally “and raising my son. I’ve been back and forth to Europe a lot this year, as well as to Australia, the States and Canada.
“In my downtime,” she adds, “I spend time designing and sewing clothes, painting, doing pottery, swimming in the ocean, just grounding myself after all the travel. I’m always playing music, but I find I need a lot of different creative outlets. It frees me. I think if you make a living in one creative form, it’s helpful to experiment with other aspects of your creativity.”
Ford says her music has been influenced by living in British Columbia, an outdoors wonderland that is bigger than every US state except Alaska. “I spend a lot of time swimming in the ocean or being in the woods,” she says. “The beauty is intense. British Columbia is soothing and wild. It repeatedly brings me back to something larger than myself. I think being able to immerse myself in the beauty has a huge effect on me as a person and on the music I make.”
Why leave the Be Good Tanyas after the group received much critical praise for their first three albums? “I guess creatively I like to be moving forward,” Ford says, and I’ve always just followed my instincts toward what sounds and collaborations are inspiring to me. I love what we did in that band, and I was also happy to begin exploring other things. Going solo has probably allowed me to get deeper into my soul and probably pushed me as a songwriter.”
Numerous talented Canadian musicians — whether solo or in a group — have found it very difficult to break into the US market. “I think every artist has a different experience with this,” Ford says. “The Be Good Tanyas took off in the States in a way we didn’t expect, so we did a lot of touring there. More recently, U.S. laws have changed to make it fairly prohibitive for Canadians to tour there. There’s an extensive, stressful visa process and a huge tax. Promoters must take 30 percent of your gross, hence fewer Canadian artists are able to tour in the States. Most Canadian artists, myself included, are focusing less on the States and more internationally.”
Two Canadian artists who have influenced Ford are Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Other “favorite” Canadian musicians include the Weather Station, Bahamas, Jen Grant, and Terra Lightfoot.
“Neil Young has been a huge writing and production influence,” she explains. “The way he can layer images together and tell a story that leaves it open enough for the listener is masterful. He gets that perfect balance. Joni is just fearless. She lets go of all her previous selves and moves forward, innovating at every turn. She remains wild. That has always inspired me.”
Ford says the best and most influential concert she attended as a spectator was a performance by D’Angelo and the Vanguard at the Tivoli in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in March 2015. The show was part of a D’Angelo tour called the Second Coming and promoted the release of his Black Messiah album. His band, the Vanguard, was comprised of drummer Chris Dave, bassist Pino Palladino, guitarists Jesse Johnson and Isaiah Sharkey, vocalist Kendra Foster and keyboardist Cleo “Pookie” Sample.
“I had just that morning really gotten his album, Black Messiah, and then, coincidentally, he happened to be playing the same venue as me and my band that night. We rushed down after our set to catch his show. It was a religious experience. D’Angelo and the Vanguard electrified every molecule in the room. That show has influenced me profoundly. As a band, we are always interested in a laid back, subtle groove, and D’Angelo is the master of this.”
What’s next in the studio for Frazey Ford? “I’m not sure,” she says. “I’m looking forward to spending more time writing. The process is always pretty mysterious to me. I never know what’s next, and I never really have a sense of it until it’s near completion. I’ve seen some incredible performances this year and gotten to work with some amazing artists.
“I realized recently that I love making clothes, because it’s a similar feeling to songwriting. There is inspiration, and then figuring out how it all fits together. You’re mind is in that mode, and then things come through that you weren’t expecting. I know something wants to be recorded or written if it keeps popping up in my thoughts. I’m always writing lots of things, but the important ones kind of make themselves heard.”