Copper Islands

by Unwed Sailor

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Unwed Sailor was founded by Jonathon Ford in 1998. At various points Unwed Sailor has included Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan, Sufjan Stevens’ James Mcallister, and Lovedrug’s Matthew Depper and Matthew Putman. Unwed Sailor’s nine albums include Little Wars and The Marionette and the Music Box. — Matthew Baker

Baker: The only place words appear in your albums is in the titles of your songs, but these titles often do a lot of work for your pieces.  In The Marionette and the Music Box, for example, you use the titles to create a narrative in your otherwise wordless album: the opening track “Morning in the Forest” sets the time and place; other tracks detail the setting, like ”The Marionette’s Cottage”; then a plot emerges with verb-clad titles such as “In Search of the Music Box,” “Behold! The Unicorn,” and “The Separation. A Hopeless Pursuit.”  How do you arrive at the titles for each of your pieces?

Ford: The Marionette and The Music Box was the most planned-out Unwed Sailor record. It was like writing a movie or directing a play. Each song title was part of the storyline, so it had to all fit seamlessly.

When the listener saw the song titles, it was my whole goal to make it flow like a movie soundtrack or a play program. It was a storyline unfolding through the music and the titles. I grew up listening to movie soundtracks, so presenting everything in that way seemed very natural for me.

On other albums, most of the song titles come to me randomlythey just pop in my brain, come onto the TV while I am in a pizza parlor, jump out at me on a billboard or a street signit really is just random, but I know once I see it or think of it, if it’s right I know. Something just clicks in my brain, and I say, “That’s it!” Having the right title is as important as the music itself.

Baker: Which instruments have been used in the production of your albums?

Ford: Unwed Sailor has mostly been two guitars, a bass, and drums. I have experimented with different instrumentation throughout the different releases. There are usually some sort of keyboards added into the mix, some records more than others; The White Ox and Circles are obviously heavy on the keyboards, while the Firecracker EP is more organic with the basic guitars and drums lineup.

The Marionette and The Music Box is the most experimental record as far as instrumentation goes. We literally created our own sounds and instruments for that record. It was very much like creating a movie soundtrackjust being in a room with a couple of random objects and using them to create the sound another object would make. Like spinning quarters on a table to get the sound a clock would make if it was being wound, or rolling an old toy car across a picnic table to simulate the sound of an old windmill. I am fascinated with that kind of thing. I would love to do it again someday.

Baker: Which of these instruments are featured in “Copper Islands”?

Ford: Copper Islands is geared more in the Unwed Sailor rock song category. There are the standard guitar, bass, and drums, mixed with a little keyboards. A formula you cannot go wrong with.

Baker: Can you talk about your songwriting process?

Ford: The songwriting happens fairly quickly. It also differs a bit with whomever I am working with in the studio. I like to keep things moving quickly in the studiousually going with the first idea and letting it fly. In the past, most of the songwriting has been done in the studio, while we are recording. I usually come up with basic guitar ideas and bring that into the studioit just goes from there. It is really important for me to work with musicians that I completely trust in the studio. Musicians that can feel the vibe and vision of what Unwed Sailor is.

There is a new record in the works, and so far a lot of it has been written in practice sessions or on the road. This is a whole new approach for Unwed Sailor. It looks like the songs for the new record will already be written and road tested before we go in the studio.

Baker: Who do you see as Unwed Sailor’s influences?

Ford: I have a lot of influences. Some I probably don’t even know about yet. One bass influence has always been Peter Hook from New Order. His melodies just kill me, and I know that seeps into my playing from time to time.

I am a very nostalgic person, so I feel like nostalgia is also an influence on me. I love music that makes you reflect back on other times or experiences. Unwed Sailor is an extension and expression of something inside of me, so everything I come across seems to eventually come out in the music. Maybe not everythingjust the things that really move me or inspire me in some way. I’d like to think that I have control over Unwed Sailor, but the more I go into it, the more I feel like it really has control over meand I am happy about that.


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