Marc Ford’s Fuzz Machine Interview
(Everyone Wants To Go To Heaven, But No One Wants To Die)
By James Calemine
“People are crazy
Times are strange
I’m locked in tight
I’m out of range
I used to care
But things have changed…”
Born in Los Angeles, California, on April 13, 1966, Marc Ford ranks as one of the world’s most talented guitar players, and his songwriting proves beyond formidable. In the late 80s he formed Burning Tree—a power trio. In the early 90s, Burning Tree opened shows for The Black Crowes on their Shake Your Money Maker tour. Ford’s soulful guitar virtuosity cannot be taught…
In late 1991, The Black Crowes asked Ford to join the band, and they recorded The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion in Atlanta during early 1992. That spring, The Southern Harmony debuted at #1 on Billboard. The Crowes were flying high, and Ford’s guitar playing certainly added a snakebite to their songs. Anyone who ever heard The Crowes’ Rich Robinson and Marc Ford play together understand the potent dynamic of their musical chemistry.
Ford recorded Amorica (1994) and Three Snakes and One Charm (1996) with the Crowes. When Ford was a member of the Black Crowes, the group opened for the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, George Clinton and the Allman Brothers in different cities across the world. Before departing the Black Crowes in August of 1997, Marc Ford experienced every zenith, illusion and excess that a member of a world renown rock & roll band endures. He would soon also experience the underbelly of rock & roll…
Marc Ford recorded his first solo album—It’s About Time—in 2002. I met Marc in Atlanta during his rehearsals for the tour behind It’s About Time. Those new Ford tunes verified he could write timeless songs. Ford’s guitar talent never stood in question, but It’s About Time proved he was no one trick pony.
During this era, Ford performed and collaborated with Federale, The Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers, Gov’t Mule, Blue Floyd and Ben Harper. Ford earned an NAACP award—bestowed on few Caucasians—for his work on Ben Harper & The Blind Boys of Alabama’s There Will Be A Light disc in 2004.
In 2005, Ford rejoined The Black Crowes for their ‘All Join Hands’ reunion tour. I remember Marc and I hung out when he was in the Crowes in March of 2006 at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. By the fall of 2006, Ford quit the Crowes. In 2007, Ford released his next solo project Weary And Wired. I spent some time with Ford and his ‘Fuzz Machine’ band in Athens, Atlanta and San Francisco. In 2008, Ford assembled a new band called The Neptune Blues Club, and recorded another batch of songs. I remember in the San Fran article, I referred to him as “Clint Eastwood with a guitar”, and I feel that description still remains true.
Ford also played an instrumental role in discovering Texas songwriter Ryan Bingham, and recording his first album Mescalito. For the last year and a half or so, Ford remained at home in California with his wife and children playing very few gigs aside from his various producing jobs at Compound Studios. In November 2010, Ford decided to release an album he recorded in late 2007 called Marc Ford: Fuzz Machine.
In December 2010, we caught up and conducted an interview about this latest Fuzz Machine release. Songs like “Cool Heads”, “Bolero In Red”, “Next To Me”, “Long Gone” and “Future Too”—which is featured on the FX television series Sons of Anarchy—contend as some of Ford’s finest compositions. In this new year of our Lord, 2011, Ford booked five Texas gigs that commence in two weeks. We interviewed again last Wednesday about latest Ford plans afoot. In this Swampland interview, Marc Ford discusses Fuzz Machine songs, his low profile, songwriting, touring, recording and future plans.
At one point, during our off-the-record-conversation, Marc mentioned shallow folks who aren’t willing to pay the price that their art--or life--sometimes costs, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.” I knew exactly what he meant. This is a perspective from a rare individual…
December 13, 2010 Interview
James Calemine: The Fuzz Machine songs were recorded before the 2007 tour? Or after?
Marc Ford: No, after the tour. The songs from this record were recorded on the road for the most part during that tour. We were touring on the Weary And Wired record. By the time the end of the year got around and we went to Moscow and played Europe a couple of times the band was functioning at a very high level. I had written the songs and I really wanted to get them down because I knew the band wasn’t going to sound any better than that, and I didn’t even know what would happen with the band.
We were in Italy, and I told the guys when we get home, take a day off and give me two more days. I paid them to come down and record these songs we’d been playing. I was writing them and we’d play them at soundcheck. It took us a whole day to record one song (laughs), and then we recorded nine songs the next day. I wanted to get it down because it was all so fresh. We recorded Fuzz Machine in two days, and mixed it in one day.
JC: The Neptune Blues Club band already started coming together around that time, right?
MF: Yeah, well…I went out with Ryan Bingham to get the songs for his new album, Roadhouse Sun, and that was going to be the pre-production. Just playing the new songs with him every day for three weeks on the road. The Neptune Blues Club had been going on a little bit because we were jamming and having fun. We talked about a blues record. That was another record where I had to be in Nashville in three days. So, we had to knock the record out. I only had a few musical ideas, but these were the best of the Long Beach area players: John Bass from the Blasters, Stephen Hodges, whose played with Tom Waits, and he’s the drummer Mavis Staples’ band. The Mavis record Jeff Tweedy just did is the closest thing I’ve heard to those old Staple Singer records. Anyway, in another couple of days I wrote the songs for the Neptune Blues Club. We recorded a bunch of music, and then I had to go home and write the lyrics. I woke up with all these sheets of paper around me with what I’d written.
JC: How did it come to pass that you decided to release Fuzz Machine on November 30, 2010?
MF: I really love that record for a lot of reasons. First, I love the songs. My son Elijah was with me the whole time. I was stepping away from playing with The Crowes, and made a record. Those Fuzz Machine songs were a launching point at the time. With the Neptune Blues club record ready to go, I didn’t feel the need to put the Fuzz Machine songs out.
For the last year or so, I’ve just kind of put everything down. It got to be where it’s more work than it is fun. I’ve done a couple of things around town with my wife, my friend Chris Lizotte and singing with neighbors…I’ve got a new baby and it’s just one of those things. So, what happened was a friend of mine in the TV industry and my song “Future Too” from Fuzz Machine got played on that FX Network show Sons of Anarchy. It went on the air a week or two ago. They told me they may have it on there for a year. So, we came up with a way people could obtain the music and we decided to put the entire record out.
JC: What’s on the horizon for 2011?
MF: I don’t know. I don’t really have any plans. I don’t feel the need to do anything right now. I produced a great band called Phantom Limb last year. They’re sitting on that record and shopping it around. There’s something going on there and I’ve recorded with some folks. I haven’t had a real urge to get up and sing anything for anybody. I don’t have anything to say right now. So, I’m going to wait until I really have something to say.
Interview Conducted January 12, 2011…
JC: So, you’re going to Texas…
MF: Yeah Elijah (his son, Ryan Bingham’s bassist) and Matt (Ryan Bingham’s drummer) have some time off, and they said come to Texas and play some shows. It’s just a glorified excuse to have a good time and play together. Elijah’s is going to play bass. We’re going to be a three piece. I want to play Fuzz Machine songs because Elijah was a big part of that record. He played guitar and piano on “Future Too” and “You’re The One”.
JC: I didn’t know he played piano…
MF: Yeah, I didn’t either (Laughs)! He sat down and played piano chords to “You’re the One”. 'When did you learn that? Ok, that sounds good.' He never ceases to amaze me. He going to sing some songs in Texas...
JC: When do these January-Texas shows begin?
MF: I leave for Texas on the 23rd. I come home the 31st of January. I think there are five shows in Austin, Houston and the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
JC: So, you decided in the last several weeks playing some shows might be a good thing…
MF: Yeah, it’s Elijah’s birthday as well, but in general there’s nothing to scream about. I’ve haven’t been playing for anyone, but I’ve been playing around the neighborhood for fun. The thing about trying to make a living and being on the road—it consumes your life.
JC: I’m sure you’ve got some songs stashed somewhere.
MF: Yeah, that stuff comes in waves. There are times every time I play guitar all these songs come out. Then you get dry for a little while, and you know it always comes back around. I really don’t have a great desire right now to go out and play. I want to take care of family instead of being halfway between both. So, I’m at home with my new baby, wife and ten year old son. If I don’t have an absolute need to go out and do it, then it’s gonna be half-ass. I won’t be totally into it, and it takes me away from home. So, if I’m going out…I gotta be all in. I just want to be fully present at whatever I’m doing, and not half-way between two worlds.
JC: You could go to Texas and come home with seven songs…
MF: Yeah, you’re a writer…you understand. You can panic when nothing comes, or the juices aren’t flowing, but it always comes again. It’s a peak and valley sort of thing. I’ve been helping other people get their music together. I’m helping a guy named Jake Hamilton get his thing together. He’s a preacher who plays music. It’s a loud, giant sound. Also, I produced the Phantom Limb band. Yolanda Quarty is just a great singer, one of the best. I can’t wait for people to hear that record, and Atlantic is thinking about picking it up. It really is just about the music though…this Fuzz Machine record was written and recorded a couple of years ago, but it’s still brand new to me. I love that record. There’s a lot of heart in it. There are no overdubs with the band still hot from touring for months. Even though I’m not playing it live…records are still really important.
JC: I really like “Cool Heads”, “Future Too”, “Next To Me”, and man—“Bolero In Red”…
MF: Yeah, “Bolero In Red” has some romance on it. Some of the songs when I played them live were in existence on some of these sites where you can download music. People are getting free music whether anybody wants to admit it or not. I have a lot of songs recorded at home as demos, and I’ve used Pro Tools. I’ve thought about putting a record out of home demos just to get the tunes out of my hair. I flip flop on recording them for real. I’ve got a lot of material I’m sitting on. And that’s the thing with the Fuzz Machine record, until I get in the zone and go—and work it out on the road—for a year to promote something, which is really what it takes--I’d rather wait. Then do it when I’m ready.
JC: It’s a conundrum…
MF: (Laughs) Yeah, but I’ve still got time. I’ve recorded a bunch of songs, and they’ll always be there and documented.
JC: Well, I wish I could be in Texas for your shows in two weeks.
MF: I’ll give you a full report...
JC: Then I’ll talk to you soon.
MF: Until then, take it easy James…
(All Photos Courtesy of Coy Koehler)