By Rachel Narvey
Frazey Ford joins me on the phone a week into the new year. When I ask how 2016 is going, she confesses that for the past few days she’s been in bed with a cold. “I’m just coming out of it,” she says. “I feel a bit like a newborn.”
Hearing her voice, you’d never know she’d been sick. Ford speaks with a warmth that instantly suggests her signature musical blend of folk and soul. You only have to play the first minute of a Frazey Ford song before someone in the room turns to you, a little bit in awe, and asks “who is this?”
Ford has released two albums since she began her career as a solo artist: Obadiah (2010) and more recently, Indian Ocean (2014). To Ford, the newer of the two feels a lot closer emotionally. The songs on Indian Ocean took her two years to write, a process she describes as intensive and tricky. It’s a testament to her proficiency that the album sounds so natural, with lyrics that flow one after another with a breezy certainty.
“I probably have hundreds of unfinished songs,” Ford admits. “It seems like the ones that want to be born will pester me. Sometimes I’ll start writing a song and I’ll get nowhere with it, but then six months or a year later I’ll realize that I had to go through something in order to figure out where the song was going. I had to grow, I had to evolve.”
Growth is a strong theme in Ford’s music, whether it’s reconnecting with the natural world, or casting off a past love who’s been nothing but trouble. Ford recorded Indian Ocean with the Hodges brothers, a group of musicians whose sound Ford idolized from an early age. For the songwriter, the opportunity was immensely exciting, but also the source of a lot of anxiety.
“I was really stepping into an unknown situation for myself,” Ford says. “I’ve been able to retroactively be like ‘Holy crap that was an amazing experience,’ but at the time I was so scared that I found it difficult to relax into what was going on. It was terrifying, but in the end there’s an artistic kind of voice that makes itself known. A voice that has a clear path and its own trajectory no matter how much doubt I felt in the process.”
Ford mentions that she has many fond memories of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, having played there more than once. She’ll never forget one particularly muddy day back in 2010 when she brought her son inside for a nap and ended up spending a few hours hanging out with Emmylou Harris.
“Because I’m a mom and my income depends on this, when I make an album I have to like, knock it out of the park,” Ford laughs. She admits to perfectionist tendencies, but she also allows herself to goof around at times. “I have this policy where I let myself write cheesy songs too, just because if you believe it has to be great, you’ll never write anything.”
To really get close to her work, Ford knows that she has to forget some of her expectations. “After a while,” she says, “you realize there’s your ego, and there’s your idea of how awesome you think these things are going to be. And of course, underneath all that crap, there’s something that’s actually real.”