The Ford Theatre Reunion: Saints and Monsters

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Listening to The Ford Theatre Reunion conjures such images as a house on fire and a flock of mad raving priests hailing an Elder God. They are the bedtime stories your grandmother told from the old country and a wild west town with no laws whatsoever. The Ford Theatre Reunion lurks in the dark recesses of your bedroom at night. They are your mother’s loving embrace.

They may be known for their vivacious and infectious energy but when it actually comes to describing the sound, it is rather hard to peg down. Hailing from Lexington, Kentucky the five piece band brings to the stage the clarinet, banjo, and accordion as well as the keys, guitars, bass, and drums. An odd orchestration coupled with a complicated arrangement madly thrown together with lilting driving vocals and the result in chaos incarnate. Fun and explosive. The band plays like a bomb blowing up in a beer factory. Full of foam soaked merriment.

Joe Harbison, the vocals and banjo man likens it to “Gutterfuck Circusnozzle, or maybe ‘The exciting sounds of tomorrow’-core.” The Ford Theatre Reunion is both atavistic and futuristic like hosting The Worlds’ Fair at Bartertown. Joe Harbison, Łiuk Harrington, Alex Johns, Eric Myers, and Will Chewning are very good what they do. And that is to entertain. They tell stories and transport to an entirely different place, time, and frame of mind. The Ford Theatre Reunion accompanies you as you explore your darkside. Dedicated to their craft touring is as involuntary as breathing as they roam about the countryside propagating their music. After each show you attend or just listening to one of their albums The Ford Theatre Reunion will leave you feeling enriched albeit a bit befuddled.

 

Jessica Hopsicker: Please tell me The Ford Theatre Reunion has a zany back story.

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Eric Myers

Eric Myers: It’s all pretty mundane really. One day, in the summer of 2008, a delightfully verbose wizard descended from Valhalla. He came to each of us in turn, handed us an instrument, and bestowed on us a sacred quest to seek each other out. By random happenstance our quest came to a glorious conclusion at a kegger. We’ve been seeking the wizard ever since.

Joe Harbison: Pretty much what Eric said, except it wasn’t a wizard, it was Santa. And he didn’t so much hand us instruments as give us a shopping list. Also, I wasn’t at the kegger because I was acting president for the South American Peg Board Gaming League and had to attend the annual meeting.

Łiuk Harrington: The back story is basically the fact that I was born underwater, Alex and Joe were fishing off of a pier and caught me while using an old boot as bait. Or maybe they caught the boot and it was accidental bait. But, back at the tackle shop, they put me on a scale and decided, I was exactly the correct weight to be a player in the gypsy roadshow. You see, they were looking for something pretty specific. I packed some bubbles and decided that it was a terrain life for me from then on.

Alex Johns: All I can say is liquor was involved. But that may not be much of a shock.

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From left to right: Will Chewning, Joe Harbison, Alex Johns, Eric Myers, & Łiuk Harrington.

Jessica Hopsicker: If Ford Theatre Reunion was a drink, what would be in it?

Alex Johns: I’d like to think of us as a gin and tonic. No one thinks it’s their favorite drink until being persuaded to have a gin and tonic night. it’s inevitable that everyone has a good time and a few of them make questionable decisions.

Will Chewning: I don’t think it could ever be just one… First a nice Scotch to get the night started right, then probably a 30+% ABV Imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels for show time. Lastly a round of gin and tonics to wrap it up. ‘Cause when was the last time you saw someone in the band with just one drink?

Eric Myers: Ancient Age 90 bourbon, New Amsterdam gin, Barefoot Merlot, and a Schlitz tallboy. Hard to swallow, and you’ll never forget the way it made you feel.

Joe Harbison: We’d probably be the most inappropriate drink for the context. Like, shotgunning a PBR at a blue blood gala event. Or single malt scotch in a gutter somewhere. I think I’ve done both, actually.

Łiuk Harrington: If FTR were a drink, it would be something strong, bitter, effervescent, in your face, yet delightful and wonderful. You’ll have a hard time getting the taste out of your mouth and you’ll totally want another one. Something outrageous, like cask strength whiskey, or a bomb of an imperial IPA, like Three Floyd’s Permanent Funeral.

 

Jessica Hopsicker: How do you personally describe your type of music and what drew you to that particular genre?

Joe Harbison

Eric Myers: In describing our sound to others, I typically pass the buck and quote someone else. Some of my favorites have been “Tom Waits gets into a dirt-clod fight with The Dresden Dolls at a carnival”, “The bastard-child of The B-52s and Mastadon”, and most recently “I don’t know what the fuck that was, but it was awesome!”. I do this because I just don’t have the vocabulary to describe our own music. And that’s what draws me to it. The fact that we all come from such wildly different backgrounds, levels of training, influences, yadda yadda results in a very strange hodgepodge of sounds and ideas. Being fond of strangeness, this works out nicely for me.

Joe Harbison: Eric apparently can’t spell “Mastodon”, which is a shame. I would describe our music as Gutterfuck Circusnozzle, or maybe “The exciting sounds of tomorrow”-core. I was drawn to it by the inescapable flow of time and because it’s the only band where I can play a one note solo and nobody gets mad.

Alex Johns: Oh jeez, I hate trying to describe how we sound. I’m so bad at it.

Łiuk Harrington: I like to say that our band is Post-hippo-core. We’re like the rattle in an unbalanced fan, making inconsistent squeaks, sounds and patterns over top of predictable and organized chaos.

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Jessica Hopsicker: As musicians, who are your influences?

Eric Myers: I’d have to say my primary influence as an instrumentalist would have to be Yngwie Malmsteen. His bold originality and soulful, spirited musicality had a profound effect on me in my college years. As a vocalist, I’m striving daily to be more like Paula Cole.

Joe Harbison: I like radio jingles and pop music from impoverished countries. The mad lib for my musical influences would look like this (country) (noun)-(genre). Exempli gratia: Finnish Tree-Waltzes. Or South African Blender-Doom. Korean Bucket-jazz. I’m striving daily to be more like Paula Dean.

Will Chewning: My biggest influence as a musician would have to be The Weather Channel. As a young child I can remember being mesmerized by the seductive stylings of smooth jazz greats such as; David Sanborne, Larry Carlton, George Benson and my personal hero Bob James. So having lived my musical life by Local on the 8’s, I feel that no other path could have better prepared me musically to play with FTR.

Alex Johns: The driving force of creation in our band I think is a sense of freedom and exploration, like one of those jeep commercials, you know? My primary influence musically is probably my cat, Artemis. You should hear him play the keys. I’m striving to be more like Pauly Shore.

Łiuk Harrington: At first, influential music to me was like heavy metal. Stuff a kid can break things to and wreak general havoc. A friend of mine ended up buying the CD store I walked to most days out of the week. So I was exposed to a lot of new and old, but the real epiphany was the National Geographic whale sounds discs. When you speed the same sounds up, it sounded like birds chirping.

 

Jessica Hopsicker: What is your songwriting technique? Or do you even have one and they just happen?

Łiuk Harrington

Eric Myers: We have two basic methods. Often, we play a carefully selected combination of Barbara Streisand, Bill Cosby stand-up, Motorhead, and The Big Bopper simultaneously to a focus group of eight-year-olds and ask them to sing it back to us. The other method involves certain things that I’m not at liberty to discuss publicly. It may or may not involve the ritual sacrifice of live bacteria.

Will Chewning: The way we write music reminds me of a video I watched about making moonshine. We take everyday household ingredients and ideas and refine and distill them down to a product that will knock you flat on your ass or even kill you if you’re not careful.

Alex Johns: I would liken the writing process more to throwing food at a wall and seeing what ones stick the best, then scraping those things up and making a casserole or pie or a little fry house out of them.

Łiuk Harrington: Band practice starts with booze, and then we work on something in an odd time signature, like 5/8, and then try poly-rhythms on top until we get something really uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s best to add extra beats or measures, frantic moments of chaos, or sudden suspended silences. Just kidding, we channel all the music during a seance whenever we want to look productive.

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Jessica Hopsicker: You maintain a consistent level of badassery, visually, musically – and just about everything else you do, what kind of work goes into that level of achievement?

Alex Johns: I’d say the biggest part of our process is making one another laugh. If one of us has an idea that makes everyone laugh we tend to do that thing. Whatever it may be.

Will Chewning: We all have busy schedules outside of our FTR shenanigans. So whenever we get together to practice, everybody is ready to start throwing ideas around and putting the pieces together. Sometimes it works out better than others, but everybody knows when we’ve come up with something that is going to be special. You can just feel it.

Eric Myers: Ancient Age 90 bourbon, New Amsterdam gin, Barefoot Merlot, and several Schlitz tallboys. Also countless hours of planning, booking, promoting, designing marketing campaigns, practicing thoroughly and then throwing everything out the window just before showtime and doing whatever the hell we feel like.

Joe Harbison: Here’s a long answer. I think much of whatever success we have has to do with our approach. We put a lot of consideration into what we do. As an example: I differentiate fairly strongly between “improv” and “jamming”. When some folks get together to jam, most of the attention is directed at literally fitting in (staying in key, in time, etc). It’s an exercise, but it’s usually accidental and the success of any particular passage or aesthetic is often serendipitous (and ‘success’ doesn’t happen often in jamming, in my opinion). Ideally, the jammers would be ‘together’ with one another. On the other side of that coin, when some folks get together to improvise over a piece (i.e., much jazz), they usually have more knowledge of what they are working to create (the themes, both musically and aesthetically, the intent, motifs, etc). The goal is not to be ‘together’ necessarily, but rather to work together towards the same end, regardless of whether the outcome is even pleasing or cohesive. I hope that makes sense. To put that in context with us, we talk pretty extensively about our songs and show, in various senses. We do talk about the key and time signature, but we also talk about the history and function of the rhythms and melodies. We do talk about the lyrics in terms of content and melody, but we also talk about the themes and implements present in it and how it fits into the album/show/our universe. We all know the vibe (if you will) of the song, we know the kind of effect we hope to create with it. Because of this, we can usually all recognize if something isn’t working and, more importantly, why. Likewise, when we play live, there’s no rules regarding the stage show or even if we decide to ‘improv’ around our songs – we all know what the end goal is. Our stage personalities and our songs rely more on understanding the themes and intents rather than the hard structure (in comparison to most bands as structured as us, that is – I’m avoiding the far-reaching experimentalism), and so we can be ourselves and interact with each other and the audience naturally while still maintaining an effective presentation. It is a dialogue rather than a pre-fab presentation.

Łiuk Harrington: A lot of focus. We never seem to be doing easy things, we’re always pushing to make crazier, bigger and better things happen. The right amplifier has a bit to do with getting the sound you want. Basically, we start with a concept or an idea, and we go to whatever lengths we really need to make it happen. If the sound we want comes from a bassoon, then we make a phone call. If the show needs more spandex, we thrift extra hard.

 

Jessica Hopsicker: How do your stage personas’ differ from everyday life?

Will Chewning

Eric Myers: Who I am on stage is very much me, but totally unfiltered. Strangely, it’s a state I’m only comfortable being in when I’m totally by myself, or performing in front of a whole bunch of people. Or (as is often the case), very few people… It’s amazing what people will let you get away with when you put it on a stage and charge them to see it.

Joe Harbison: On stage I like to break things and yell at people. I’d like to be scary like Danzig, for different reasons. Off stage is basically the same, but I can’t do most of those things because of laws and such.

Will Chewning: Being on stage has always come relatively easily for me. I usually prepare for shows by meditating for at least six hours beforehand while watching Gallagher stand-up. Then once on stage I imagine my drums are made of a large assortment of fruits and veggies. I find it very effective.

Alex Johns: The difference between being on stage and off is like the difference of being awake or dreaming. I haven’t figured out which is which yet.

Łiuk Harrington: My stage persona is most like Mega Man when he’s kicking a lot of ass. I jump quickly through small passageways, attack my enemies or any other questionable entities, and move really fast. Sometimes I imagine that I’m a small blob in a big, vast melting pot full of assorted blobs making blob things, and everything is just blobbly-obblies.

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Jessica Hopsicker: The band seems to have a hard and heavy touring schedule, does it ever get to be too much and what do you like to do in your off time?

Alex Johns: The touring is never enough. As exhausting and frustrating as it can become, we always come back wondering about the next turn in the road. The thing is, the road is home. We’re not really home anywhere else.

Will Chewning: We love being on the road. I think its hard in the sense that our lives are so much different from when we are touring compared to when we’re at home. The most difficult part is adjusting between the two.

Eric Meyers: With us managing every single facet of the band ourselves, constant touring can occasionally be a bit overwhelming. But all the tedium, the day to day rigamarole that can grind us down over time, all goes away every time we walk on stage. As far as our “off time”, we usually spend the majority of it at work, trying to make up for taking two and three weeks off at a time.

Joe Harbison: TOUR FOREVER. In my off time I work as much as possible so I can tour more. So there. #roaddogs

Łiuk Harrington: It’s usually not enough. Weeks pass like days. I love to travel. When I’m not on the road with the band, I also travel for other things. I do love my living situation, lots of people in huge house keeping active all of the time. I seem to be perpetually in the midst of a handful of projects. I’ve been working two jobs, mostly to make all of the traveling possible. Tour life is amazing. It’s also not what it seems. We milked goats once, we spent more time broken down on the side of the road than on stage for an entire tour, and more often than not, you have no idea what you’re going to do, where you’re going to sleep, or what to eat. It always ends fine.

 

Jessica Hopsicker: Please, tell me about your adventures in New Orleans.

Alex Johns

Alex Johns

Alex Johns: If this band were to break up, it’s likely you’d find each member in New Orleans, eagerly starting new projects with each other. New Orleans is home, in a way you can only understand if you see no shame in a shower beer.

Will Chewning: New Orleans is somewhere everyone should go at least once in their life. I could tell you our stories, but the story you want to hear is the one you can make for yourself. It’s an amazing place with just about everything you could ever imagine doing. And when I say everything, I really mean EVERYTHING.

Eric Meyers: It would take a novel to detail the time we’ve spent in NOLA. Suffice it to say, it may well be my favorite city on Earth. It has the most incredible, friendly, creative population of freaks and weirdos I’ve ever seen. Not to mention piles of truly remarkable art and music at every turn. We try and get back there as often as possible.

Joe Harbison: There is no way to even begin to describe New Orleans. It is the perfect city for those of us who are willing to drop everything and adventure. If you have any preconceived notions about how your day or night is going to go, you are going to miss the best parts. Part of this experience is helped by being friends with some of the most interesting and talented cats out there (lookin’ at you, Kali), but it is still an experience everyone should have.

Łiuk Harrington: One time in NOLA, a friend we just met wanted to have a fire in his backyard, and along we went. The fire consisted of a huge piece of particle board leaned against a metal chair, random pieces of plywood from the sidewalk and front yard, and some siding from the house that was falling off. When we left, their four dogs jumped out the window and tried to leave with us.

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Jessica Hopsicker: I’ve also heard some fun stories about the after parties after the shows, what are those like?

Alex Johns: Each town or scene has its own feel. partying, like most fine things, changes from region to region. each scene has it’s own merits; we have the fortune of sampling many.

Eric Myers: Actually, a pretty typical after party for us on tour consists of cooking dinner, having a drink with our hosts, and going to bed. We’ve met some of the most interesting people in the world crashing at their place after a show.

Joe Harbison: As Eric said, most after parties involve sleep and food….so not a party in the trad sense. That said, I’m a fan of the occasional debauched evening, particularly when it involves the holy triad (sex, drugs, and rock n roll). You’d probably do better to ask the brave souls that venture out on those nights that one of us – they might have some stories.

Łiuk Harrington: We’re a drinking kind of band. We like to get wild. It’s also nice to bed down after a long night, or several long nights in a row. The best party is one with food.

 

Jessica Hopsicker: What are your favorite monsters?

FTR 3Alex Johns: Monsters… Oh. Well I fear the Mr. Hyde. the monster that comes from within. I’m terrified by the thought that mayhap you hold within you a villain that stands antithetical to your own wants and uses your own facilities to destroy what you most hold dear. I’m afraid of that a lot.

Will Chewning: As far as monsters go, the 1990 classic Tremors tops the list for me. The best type of monster is the one you know is there but can’t see it.

Eric Meyers: I like any monster that shows the world it’s own ugliness. That forces us to look inside and acknowledge the things we never allow ourselves to think about.

Joe Harbison: I like monsters of folk tale. They reflect (sometimes in a grand sense, and sometimes very specifically) the society and community they came from. If you ever want to realize just how deep the cultural gap can be, look at the monsters from another place. While I like monsters from all over the world, I find myself endeared to the ones from the good ol’ North America. It’s sort of my form of patriotism. These are our heritage. In that vein, I’m particularly fond of the newer-school American folk monsters (the jersey devil, moth man, etc). Very, very few people actually believe in them, but it speaks to our intrinsic desire to maintain and add to our cultural, communal story – and what is a good story without a good villain? That’s kind of what the song “Famous Monsters” is about. The whole “you can’t whistle past the graveyard if everyone survives” line is directly referencing that; that point in the ongoing series where you realize that they’re just not going to kill off that character that everybody likes is the worst. Danger is part of the play – you gotta have both sides to appreciate either. And while we as a community (of any size) applaud our heroes, I’m pretty sure we might silently hold even closer to our monsters.

Łiuk Harrington: My favorite monsters are the ones that win at the end.

skull flourishes - goth dark tattoo style art- cling stamp by cherry pie art stamps-f06622

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