Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lou Ford interview, 1997

Lou Ford: The Tangents Interview
Originally published in Tangents Magazine, summer 1997
written by Daniel Coston

From beneath the chrome-shaded sky of Charlotte, N. C. has emerged the quartet
known as Lou Ford, a band that has followed in the footsteps of many of their
musical heroes, yet have forged an identity and sound all their own.

The band’s beginnings stretch back several years, to when brothers Alan and Chad
Edwards first began to pick out Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson songs on
their guitars. As the years wore on, the two kept in touch by mailing tapes of
their newest songs back and forth to each other, no matter how far apart they
were separated. After playing for a short time with the New York City-based
band Chocolate U.S.A., Alan relocated to Charlotte, where he evantually met up
with veteran musician Mark Lynch. With Chad soon moving up from Atlanta to
join the band, and with Lynch now playing an upright stand-up bass, the trio
quickly found a drummer and recorded their first release in early 1996, a mere
two weeks after their first rehearsals.

Mixing many country and rock-based influences into what the band describes as
"rural pop," the four-song casette soon earned numerous accolades from fans and
criticsacross the Carolinas. The quartet also found the inspiration for their name
within the pages of pulp novelist Jim Thompson’s 1949 novel The Killer Inside
Me, in which a murderous sheriff by the name of Lou Ford poses as a country
bumpkin to deceive his evantual victims. This deception of being something
other than what people thought of you had special meaning to the band,
which viewed expectations about their "country-rock sound" in much the
same way.

After playing with two different drummers, the band completed their line-up last
October with the addition of Shawn Lynch, a versatile musician that once professed,
"I’m not a drummer, but I play one in this band." With the group now complete,
Lou Ford returned to the studio in January of this year to record their latest release,
the six-song cassette, I Am Not A Prize.

The future of Lou Ford now looks to be more promising than ever. The band was
featured in the November 30 edition of Billboard Magazine, and Charlotte Observer
writer Kenneth Johnson proclaimed them to be "the best new band of 1996." With a
ever-growing legion of critics and fans, and a planned CD release in the near future,
Lou Ford promises to be the band that you’ll soon be listening to, and one day be
saying that you listened to them before everyone else did.

Tangents: Alright, Standard Question number one. How did the band come together?

Mark: Chad and Alan knew each other a long time ago.

Shawn: They had the same mother. They met in her house one day. [laughs] "Hey, I know you. You’re in the room next to me."

Alan: [Chad and I] started in about ‘92. He lived in Athens, [GA] and I moved to Athens, and we started writing. Not necessarily together, but trying to get something going. I then started playing with this band, Chocolate U.S.A., in Athens, and we moved to New York, and [our stuff] kind of fell by the wayside.
I played in New York for about a year, and we sent four-track tapes back and forth to each other. I left Chocolate U.S.A. in ‘94, and moved around a lot. Moved back to Athens, then moved back to New York, moved to Virginia. I ended up here, and met Mark at a Backsliders show, ‘cause I thought he was in a band. We then started playing, and Chad moved up from Atlanta, and we [later] met Shawn through a mutual friend.

Mark: After two lovely drummers left.

T: Speaking of that, let me ask about the drumming history of Lou Ford. [band groans and chuckles nervously] Did any of them ever spontaneously combusted? What happened with that?

Mark: Just lack of...

Alan: [to Mark] Be careful. [laughs]

Mark: Interest. They didn’t dig it as much as we did, and they wanted to do other things. Wylie [Stewart] didn’t have the time. He had other things he had to do.

Alan: I think he enjoyed it, and wanted to do it, but it was just a matter of not being to do the things we were wanting to do.

Mark: He didn’t feel like he could go out of town if got to that point, couldn’t get around his commitments here.

Alan: I look at it as Shawn’s our first drummer. For the first four months [as a band], we were just getting shit together, getting used to playing with each other...

Chad: ...and finding out who we were as a band. When we were starting out, we wanted a ‘60s pop, Ringo [Starr type of] drummer.

Alan: Those first few months, we settled for anybody who could keep time.

Mark: Those first couple months, I probably would’ve quit us too. We were ragged, and I couldn’t play bass.

Alan: I don’t think that any of our drummers fit, until we found Shawn. Neither of them were really right for us. They were good drummers, but they weren’t exactly the right drummer for us.

Chad: We didn’t know what we wanted. Well, we kinda knew, but at the same time, trying to find one in Charlotte. Just hearing the songs with drums behind them was cool enough at first, and then you start realizing that they’re not sounding like what they could.

Shawn: So now, they’re stuck with me.

T: Alan, has what you did with Chocalate U.S.A. influenced your work with this band? The music between the two are very different.

Alan: Yeah. I’d like to say it didn’t, but it had a huge influence on me. I don’t know if I’d be doing what we’re doing now, if I hadn’t been in that band. It’s a totally different thing. I think the way that I approach songwriting is the same way Julian [Koster] does, but you wouldn’t hear that from listening to his records, and or listening to our records. I have high respect for Julian as a songwriter, but I think that what we’re doing is much better. [laughs]

Shawn: So do I.

T: How do you put together your songs?

Shawn: One of us will direct the others with a big whip and chair. [laughs]

Alan: Until I met Mark, Chad and I had always written. We haven’t really ever sat down and written together, but he’s added things to my songs, and vice versa. Then I met Mark, and we’ve written three or songs together. Shawn’s a songwriter as well...

Shawn: But I have yet to employ it [with this band].

Alan: When I left Chocolate U.S.A. and decided I wanted to start a band, when I worked with people in the past, it’s been like, "I’m the songwriter, and you’re gonna play these parts." I wanted to find people that each had their individual input, because I don’t think that you can have a great band with one person [leading], and three people standing behind him who are playing just what that person wants to play. You have to put your heart into it. It’s gotta be an overall effort.

Mark: I believe every little nasty note I play. [laughs]

T: How much did the recent mainstream resurgence in country-rock music influence your decision to play this style of music?

Alan: I didn’t even realize it was happening until we were doing it. We grew up in Georgia hating country music. Not really hating country music, but hating what it represented to us back then. When Chad and I moved to Boston, and when I was living in New York, we were made to feel ashamed of the way he sounded. I worked in a drugstore, and when I’d talk, I’d hear people laugh, because of the way I talked. You get to the point where you’re like, well, I’m from the south, and I’m gonna be proud of being from the south. You can still write intelligent songs.

Chad: Gram Parsons. That’s what did it for me. The guy wrote some amazing songs. Over the course of the year that I lived in Boston, I heard Gram Parsons for the first time. I heard Willie Nelson’s Stardust, and that record just floored me. I was still getting comfortable writting songs, and listening tothose songs, and it was a lot more comfortable writing in that direction. I guess ‘cause that’s where I’m from, that’s what I’ve heard my whole life.

Alan: That’s exactly it. For me, when I started writing songs, I never thought, "I’m trying to write a country song." I had all these songs, and when I’d play them for people, they’d say, "You write country songs."

Mark: You fight it as long as you can, and then you realize, "Hey, that’s what I’m doing."

Chad: It was kind of a surprise from the first demo that we did. "Move Up To The Mountains" is the only remotely country song on that demo, yet everything that’s written about that tape has been refered to it as "roots-driven country-rock." Certainly none of songs were written as country songs.

Alan: We’re just country boys. Whatever we do, we’re honest about it.

Shawn: It’s gonna have a little twang to it.

T: Many writers have used the band Son Volt as a reference point for you, which I don’t hear. Although they’re a good band, does it bother you that Son Volt keeps coming up?

Mark: Yeah. Here’s the way I look at it, and it’s not to put down the writers who’ve said that, but I think that it’s shorthand for a rural-rock type band. And if that’s what they have to say to feel to make their audience feel at ease, or give them something to grab a hold of, that’s okay by me, but I don’t hear it.
It’s like comparing the Kinks and the Beatles. They’re totally different bands, but they’re kind of a brit-pop thing. So if you have to describe the Kinks by invoking the Beatles, then I don’t think it’s a slight on the Kinks, or makes the Kinks sound like the Beatles or anything else. I think it’s just shorthand.

Shawn: Another thing too, is that there isn’t another band doing what we’re doing around town, and it’s taking people off-guard. They don’t know how else to describe it, besides describing a popular sound, and saying, "Oh, that’s what it sounds like."

Chad: We’re just a Woody Guthrie tribute band. [laughs]

T: Alright then, Standard Question number two. How would you describe what you sound like?

Chad: Rural pop.

Mark: I wouldn’t. We do so many different things. It’s hard to say we’re a british-influenced pop band, but we certainly have songs that fit that cateogory. Then we have songs that are definitely drawn from late ‘50s, early ‘60s country, but that doesn’t make us a country band. We’re Lou Ford. It may sound pompous to say that, but we do a lot of different things. We’re working on a rave thing now. [laughs] You should’ve told us you were doing a rave story. You should see Alan’s platform shoes. We’re gonna bring ‘em out next show.

T: Yeah, you can wear the John Travolta "Saturday Night Fever" outfit. Put out the disco ball over the stage...

Shawn: I think that’s going a bit far. You can put the disco ball over yourself. Actually, I’d think you’d look better in the John Travolta outfit.

T: Oh, I don’t think so. Next Standard Question...

Shawn: Which Standard Question is this? Number five?

T: Three, sir. Where did the name Lou Ford come from?

Mark: It’s from a book I’ve always enjoyed by Jim Thompson called "The Killer Inside Me." This character in the book, Lou Ford, I’ve always liked him because he’s not what he appears to be. As a reader, you get a glimpse inside his head, and you see how incredibly twisted he is, but on the outside, everybody thinks he’s just a bumbling goof. I liked that character, so I thought I’d like to be in a band that had that sort of depth. And the name had a nice ring to it, and we didn’t think we’d run into anybody else with that name.

Alan: We’ve heard that Val Kilmer’s film company is making a movie about the book, so our name could end up being the name of a Val Kilmer movie.

Mark: So we’re contemplating changing our name to Val Kilmer. [laughs]

Shawn: That’ll show him.

T: Do you get a lot of people asking which one of you is Lou Ford?

Mark: Yes, and I’ve finally got the answer. Lou Ford is too sick to be any one individual, so its all of us at one time or another. One of us can’t carry the baggage of Lou Ford.

Shawn: We always say that we are. "Well, who’s Lou Ford?" "I am."

Mark: It’s a four-headed man.

Alan: I think it’s cool to have Lou Ford be the name of a person that’s not there, but we, as a whole, make that up as individual songwriters. It’s like, Lou Ford wrote all these songs.

T: When you did that first demo tape, the band had only been together for two weeks.

Mark: I think that Chad had been in town for two weeks, and Alan and I had worked up some songs, and there were a lot of things that Chad had already heard.

Chad: From me and Alan swapping four-track tapes, I had worked up harmonies to pretty much everything he had written up to that point. Also, he’d be doing acoustic shows out in Mt. Holly, and he’d call me up, so I’d drive up that day, and play for the show unrehearsed. So over the course of the few months before I moved up, I’d come up, do a show with him every few weeks, so over that time, we’d kind of learned the songs together.
Pretty much, when I’d come up, I’d play the same thing that Alan was playing, or just sit there and sing harmonies with him.

Mark: I think you can hear that on the first demo, too. Things aren’t arranged. It’s just more there to present the songs, and not the arrangements of the songs.

T: How do think you’ve progressed from that demo to your new tape?

Chad: We’ve gotten a lot more comfortable playing together. I think Shawn has done wonders for just filling things out, and making things sound the way they ought to, and I think Mark’s a lot comfortable playing with Shawn than he has been with any other drummer.

Alan: Mark only picked up the upright bass a year ago. I’ve watched him from the day he got it to now.

Mark: I think March 1 was the day I brought it home.

Alan: He hadn’t even played it yet.

Mark: I had played electric bass a litle bit. I knew how to tune it. [laughs]

Alan: I think Mark has listened to more music than the rest of us combined. [Mark’s record and CD collection is quite impresive. -ed]

Mark: And this is only a quarter of what I had before I moved back here five, six years ago. I couldn’t afford to pack and ship everything, so I pulled out the stuff that I couldn’t live without, and get rid of everything else.

T: What kind of musical influences do you think you bring to this band?

Mark: I don’t know. People look at me, and they say, "He’s a rockabilly guy." And sure, I like rockabilly, but when I sit down to listen to something, nine times out of ten, it not going to be rockabilly. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I listened to a real rockabilly record. I’m big into power-pop stuff. L.A. punk scene. The british punk stuff, the more melodic stuff.

T: That’s another thing that’s come up in writeups about Lou Ford. The rockabilly thing.

Mark: Well, shit. I’ve got a pompadour, and I play an upright bass. What else are they gonna say? [laughs] It’s my fault, but still, it kinda smarts when they keep saying that all the time. That’s kind of a one-dimensional cut-out kind of thing. "Oh, he’s the rockabilly guy."

Alan: Everybody always says, "We’re influenced by the Beatles," or this, that or the other, they’re all just trying to be Woody Guthrie, in some form or another.

Shawn: We just go ahead and give ‘em a shortcut. We’re not going through that other jazz. We’re just trying to be Woody Guthrie. That’s all there is.

T: Is there currently a scene of country-rock music in this area?

Mark: Not in Charlotte. In the Carolinas, there’s certainly a burdgeoning alt-country scene, but not here.

Chad: But that’s another thing that goes along with what Alan said, about the whole growing popularity of country-rock. You never really realize that either, until you start playing in a band that gets lumped in to that cateogory, and then you start hearing all these other names.
Before I moved here, the only "country-rock" bands that I knew of were Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, the Jayhawks, Wilco. The ones that everybody has heard of.

Alan: We never listen to those records. Write that down. [laughs]

Mark: You can rummage through my record collection. You won’t find any Son Volt. I’ve got some Black Oak Arkansas, though. Maybe we are alternative-country, if this tent is big enough to hold all of these bands. If you gotta put us somewhere, maybe put us there.

T: Has this whole alternative-country thing already gotten overblown?

Mark: I don’t think so. Can you name a alt-country band that’s a household name, and is on regular rotation on MTV? I think it’s just starting to happen.

T: On your web site, there’s a picture of you that I took at the Milestone Club, and it has the caption, "From our first, and last, show at the Milestone." What’s the story behind that?

Mark: Uh-oh, here’s the hard one.

Alan: We were invited to come play there. They called us, and asked us if we would do the show. There was a decent crowd, the cover was a little bit higher than what it should have been. And we did the show, and they told us we made a dollar, after our $12 bar tab. A dollar, so I kind of showed my ass.

Shawn: That was my initiation into the band.

Mark: We told him to keep the dollar, and which pocket he could tuck it into. [laughs]

Alan: And I told that the Milestone is, was a great club. I’ve heard it said...

Mark: You ain’t got to heard it said. Take it from the source. I was there in the beginning. I’m not tooting my own horn, I’m just old. I was there, and it was incredible.

Chad: I’ve heard the problem with getting national acts to come to Charlotte blamed on the Milestone, and the Milestone’s history of dicking bands over on money.

Alan: Print that. That’s exactly my problem with that night. People complain about not having any music in Charlotte, and you have club owners that treat bands like that. He walked away that night with quite a bit of money.

Mark: I don’t know if any of the other two bands saw any money. I doubt it. He charged an exorbanent rate for the sound system, which he didn’t even tend.

Chad: He was sitting at the bar flirting with the bartender.

Alan: There was a point when the monitors were feeding back, and I said something, and I looked up, and there was nobody behind the board.

T: What kind of response have you gotten from your writeup in Billboard Magazine a few months ago?

Mark: We had quite a few phone calls, and we sent out quite a few tapes, and a couple dozen press kits, and mostly favorable responses from the folks. To prove that alt-country is not that big a movement, a lot of people heard it, and said that it was not what they were expecting.

Chad: If that Son Volt comparison is as prominent as the writeups would lead you to believe, and if country-rock was really the big up-and-coming thing, you would think that all the record labels would be looking to sign the next Son Volt.

T: Are you looking to play more outside of Charlotte in the coming months?

Chad: Yeah, definitely. Then we’ll never play Charlotte again. [laughs] No, we love Charlotte.

Mark: We moan a little bit, but I think people have taken very good care of us here.

Chad: Being new to Charlotte, from what I’ve heard around here, people aren’t generally as supportive as they seem to have been for us. People don’t seem to go out to listen to bands much. They go out to drink, and whoever happens to be playing there, that’s who they listen to. But it’s been real cool.
And as the crowds have grown the more we’ve played, that’s where I’ve made most of the friends that I have in Charlotte. If we play, and there’s 50, 80 people or whatever, they’re all people that I’ve met over the course of the last six months, so they’re pretty much all my firends in Charlotte. So it’s not like, "Wow! Look at all the people that came," it’s, "Hey, our friends came."

T: Finish this sentence. What the Charlotte music scene needs is...

Shawn: Period. [laughs] You want us to finish it with words?

Chad: Local radio.

Mark: "90 Minutes" [on 106.5 FM] is a beautiful thing, but you’d think that...

Shawn: ...It could be more of an everyday thing.

Chad: You go to Atlanta, and they have WRAS, WREK. There’s at least three or four good local stations where you can hear good local music, and good alternative bands.

Mark: A band like Sebadoh coming through that city is gonna get an interview the day before the show. And they don’t get that here. So, therefore the show isn’t promoted as well as it could be, the numbers aren’t as big as they are, and it gets hard for a band like Sebadoh to come down here.

Alan: This is nothing to do with any of your questions, but I want you to print this. I have a big problem with all these bands trying to sound British. [laughs]

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