Sea Change

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford discusses "Little Wars" and his fling with Lawrence

Johnathon Ford grew up with an appetite for movie soundtracks, Disney scores and classical music. Those obsessions inform his body of work as Unwed Sailor, an instrumental band that has routinely changed members and styles during its 10-year run.

Ford spent most of 2007 in Lawrence composing portions of Unwed Sailor's new album, "Little Wars." With songs dating back to 2002, the album marks a return to the rock-band format of earlier LPs like "The Faithful Anchor." By contrast, 2006's "The White Ox" was a sparse, ambient collection that took cues from Love and Rockets, Bauhaus and Brian Eno.

Ford and his new Unwed Sailor lineup will kick off a U.S. tour this Friday at the Jackpot Saloon. The itinerant songwriter phoned in from his current home in Tulsa, Okla., to discuss "Little Wars" and his experiences in Lawrence.

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Sea Change

Johnathon Ford grew up with an appetite for movie soundtracks, Disney scores and classical music. Those obsessions inform his body of work as Unwed Sailor, an instrumental band that has routinely changed members and styles during its 10-year run. Ford spent most of 2007 in Lawrence composing portions of Unwed ...

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lawrence.com: Your new record actually dates back to 2002, right?

Ford: Yeah. I started recording the songs in 2002, not necessarily with the idea that I was going to release them on a full-length : I got distracted with the album "The Marionette and the Music Box." Then I ended up doing the "White Ox" record, which sounds completely different. The reason I never used them until now is because they really didn't fit with any of the other records I was doing. With "Little Wars" we started writing more upbeat instrumental rock songs : A part of me felt like people wanted to hear more of a rock record, so I kind of wanted to give it to them : People have really been responding to the songs live. It's my favorite Unwed Sailor record-until the next one comes out.

Past Event

Unwed Sailor

  • Friday, May 23, 2008, 10 p.m.
  • Jackpot Music Hall, 943 Mass., Lawrence
  • 18+ / $6 - $8

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The song "Campanile" obviously has something to do with Lawrence.

Yeah. When I lived in Lawrence, everyone would say camp-uh-kneel. I actually got a sample of the bell tower, and I asked the lady how to pronounce it. She said the official pronunciation is camp-uh-kneel-e. So after that, I felt really stupid if I was talking about it. I thought everybody in Lawrence would think I was a dumbass for calling it camp-uh-kneel-e.

How long did you live in Lawrence?

Almost a year. I've always been a Lawrence fan : John Momberg from The Dactyls played drums for Unwed Sailor for a couple U.S. tours, so we would come to Lawrence to rehearse.

How is the next Unwed Sailor record taking shape?

It's going to be called "History." It's a 10-year retrospective record for our 10-year anniversary. We've always reworked songs for the live show, so I wanted to put out a record with the live versions. When I say "live," I don't mean that it's a recording from a club; we actually go into the studio : There will be songs from every one of our records.

We already have eight songs finished. I'm super happy with it ... It's a pretty heavy record-there's lots of distortion. We're trying to make it a double CD.

Will you rewrite the songs again before you hit the road in support of "History"?

The versions that are on "History" we're not playing anymore. So we have already rewritten them, I guess.

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Submitted photo

Johnathon Ford of Unwed Sailor.

How do you keep that creative renewal going? Is it something you challenge yourself to do, or does it just happen?

Both. Nobody really wants to play the same song over and over again, especially for 10 years. Another part of it is that there's always such a revolving touring lineup. I like for the new guitar player to be able to throw his own style into things, so he's not this frigid guy up there playing all the same parts exactly how they were played on the record. We did one tour where my lineup was from Louisville, Ky., and the guitar player was super influenced by the Rolling Stones. He had a wah pedal and he used those guitar techniques. By the end of the tour, it was sounding pretty awesome : It's fun to go to a show and not know exactly what you're going to see.

Like a Bob Dylan show-minus the Bob Dylan.

Yeah. But I think now everyone expects to go see Bob Dylan and not like it. My favorite records are his last three. I love it that he's just this old grumpy man. His lyrics are getting so sarcastic. I much prefer that to Bob Dylan in his early 20s : He's a little bit bitter and biting, like "I'm a bad ass; don't mess with me." But in a humorous way.

Kind of like the new Weezer record.

Not at all. What's that song called-"Hot Taco"?

"Pork and Beans."

Oh yeah. Much better. »

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