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'Great Players Play Like Who They Are': Marc Ford Returns With 'Holy Ghost'

Monday, 07 April 2014 Written by Simon Ramsay

You can count the number of genuinely gifted, soulful guitar players to emerge during the 1990s on one hand, and former Black Crowes man Marc Ford is definitely one of them. On his new solo album, 'Holy Ghost', he eschews noisy southern-fried rock to deliver a slice of timeless Americana that's comfortably one of the strongest releases of 2014 to date.

Following his bow in 1990, with Burning Tree, Ford joined the Black Crowes and played on three of their finest albums, most notably ‘The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion' in 1992. Drugs took their toll and Ford left the group in ‘97, before rejoining for a short period in 2005 and 2006. That time he walked, worried that being back on the road would affect his sobriety.  

Along the way he garnered a healthy reputation with projects like Fuzz Machine and the Neptune Blues Club, as well as releasing three solo albums and producing artists such as Ben Harper and Phantom Limb, whose very own Stew Jackson returned the favour on ‘Holy Ghost’. After taking a few years off to recharge his batteries, he's back with the defining album of his career. Stereoboard caught up with Ford to talk about the confessional nature of his new record.

Some of the songs on 'Holy Ghost' have been around for a while, so why was now the right time to bring them together and make this album?  

Certain songs make sense as a whole thing and some of these songs hadn't found a home yet on other things I've done. Hopefully, if it's a good song it's not going to get dated. The only thing that can be dated is how you record it or what you make it sound like. But they sit around and wait for you. They have more patience than I do.

You’ve described 'Holy Ghost' as a reinvention of you as an artist. Is that still how you feel about it?

Yeah, I guess. I didn't set out to reinvent myself, I just took some time off.  It wasn't fun anymore to be running around and trying to push against something that didn't want to move. I had a daughter and figured I'd be home the whole time for this child. In that time I've changed. They say great players play like who they are, so my music changed because I have.

There's a lot of different textures within the album. Did you want to draw all your influences together?

Yeah, all the influences from my entire life. I spent a lot of years collecting records and buying different types of music. All those years of riding in the bus, all we did was play music and turn each other on to different records, and so there's a wealth of influences rattling around in there. I didn't do it on purpose, it just came out from different things I've loved.

Did stuff you grew up with seep into it?

I mean, it all seeps in. When I was a kid I listened to a lot of Elton John, and out here on the west coast there's a great love for Gram Parsons and that whole west coast sound because of the environment - it's entirely beach on one side. I think I got more into the lifestyle because I moved to the beach, the pace here is slower so everything slowed down.

You chose to open the album with quite a slow acoustic cut in If I'd Waited.

A lot of this is love stories, making terrible mistakes and the redemption of it all.  So I just had that little song laying around and I think it wraps up the record and introduces you to what's coming.  

With regards to that, you've said the record is 'hopeful, in a dark way sometimes'.  I was curious where that hopefulness comes from?

Well, the alternative is grim. You have to believe there's better than whatever situation you may be in, or else you're doomed.

Was it difficult to write so honestly about yourself?

No. To me the greatest thing ever is to be honest and transparent. As an artist you have to be. You don't get to protect anything if you're doing it right, because if I'm not feeling it no one else is going to. A couple of times it has been hard to sing these songs because it brings up stuff, but I've done them enough now so hopefully everything will be okay.   It's therapy in a way.

I'm Free sounds very liberated – does that relate to you breaking free from the demons of your past?

Yeah, it's freedom from anything. From our own things that keep us locked up, insecurities or identities that people put on us from the past. It's just kind of like 'look I'm not living this way any more, I'm gone, I'm out and you can come too.'

You've used Phantom Limb to back you after you produced them, why was that and what have they brought to the album?  

They're fantastic musicians and a couple of them are big jazzers. Part of the thing that makes them incredible is their ability to not play on something, their restraint. They listen, leave room and really play to the song. So it was a great marriage and was real natural.

Why did you want Stew Jackson of Phantom Limb to produce the album as opposed to doing it yourself?

The main reason for a producer is an outside perspective that you trust. It gets too hard to do everything yourself. I've done it and could have done this, but I just wanted to be the guy in the band and not worry about anything else.

You're quite a spiritual man, what does the album's title mean to you?

I spent a lot of down time focusing on the inside and getting to know the holy spirit and that is probably the essential reason why most of these songs came and the reason why my life has turned around.  So I just wanted to tip the hat and say thank you.   

'Holy Ghost' is a classic album in the sense it's a journey from start to finish.

I'm glad because Stew actually picked the order. If it seems that way it's wonderful as it wasn't really meant to be. Maybe Stew heard it that way. The only thing I knew was that If I'd Waited needed to be first and Call Me Faithful the outro, it's such a beautiful sending off.

These days many groups make hit singles to be bought from iTunes and don't sculpt an album as many did in the past.

It's still important to me, it's still a whole piece. That's the way I grew up listening to music and it should say something. To me, it's a snapshot of my life right now. Things are changing and who knows maybe I'll change, but for now albums are albums and it's a package deal. The outside has to look like the inside and the inside has to sound like the outside.

You've said you want to change the minds of people who only see you as a guitar hero, so are your rock ‘n’ roll days a thing of the past?

No, no, no, no. I still love to play big, loud, ugly rock music, but at the same time I've written a lot of songs. I love being a side man and guitar player, but it's is a whole lot more gratifying being able to write a song and sing it for people. It just happened to be this time in my life right now.

Many believe that the Black Crowes were always better with you in the group. Would you consider going back for a third stint?  

I don't know. I would have to cross that bridge when I came to it. I don't really think about that, I'm thinking about other things.

You're touring the UK in May, so will the shows be in the style of your new record or will there be things from your past?  

We're going to do some stuff from the other records. We're definitely out to promote this record and I don't think it's going to be quite as laid back and mellow live. There'll be some surprises.

What musicians will be playing with you – anyone from Phantom Limb?

Yeah – all of Phantom Limb and My son Elijah. He's going to open all the shows acoustically and then join us and do the rest of the evening. I believe a couple of the guys from Phantom Limb are going to join him to finish his set and then there'll be a break and we'll all come out together.

What do you hope to achieve with ‘Holy Ghost’ and what would be success for you?

This record has got legs of its own. I've never made a video for one of my records and never had this much support in a tour. There's talk of Japan and Israel and stuff keeps growing out of this thing, and honestly it's already a success. I get to go on tour with my son and to be able to work, get these songs heard and out there working for me.

Marc Ford Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue April 22 2014 - LONDON Jazz Cafe
Thu May 22 2014 - PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms
Fri May 23 2014 - COVENTRY Tin Music And Arts
Sat May 24 2014 - BIRMINGHAM Temple
Sun May 25 2014 - BRISTOL Fleece
Tue May 27 2014 - SHEFFIELD Corporation
Wed May 28 2014 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Thu May 29 2014 - EDINBURGH Voodoo Rooms

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