Conrad Ford
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Conrad Ford

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Conrad Ford’s debut, Don’t You Miss Yourself, eagerly chases the country roots of American music. Plaintive violin, lap steel, and growly vocals paint the perfect picture of desolation. Andy McAllister and Jordan Walton effortlessly bridge the gap between wide-open landscapes and the intimacy of their sound, simultaneously making you feel close and far away from their window on the world.

It’s a quiet record, but austerity must not be mistaken for dullness, and besides, simplicity often speaks volumes: “Somebody painted my house a different color while I was out / And put people inside that I do not know.” The album art says all there is to say about Conrad Ford; bleak terrain mirrors the imagery in the songs themselves: AM Radio, skeletons, parking lots. A band risks monotony with a soft-spoken record. Fortunately, Don’t You Miss Yourself avoids the boredom trap. Perfectly suited to the approaching winter weather, it will help see you through the cold, dark months. When the sunlight comes back again, here’s hoping there will be a new album from this duo just as suited for the warmth. (Tarnished Records) - Ali Marcus


Shhh ... Conrad Ford's about to rock out.

There are some nice benefits to being a rock band that plays really, really loudly. For one, it can cover up the fact that you really don't know much about playing your instrument. And, if people figure that out and yell about it, they might not even be heard above the din. Not so with bands that play quiet, "introspective" music. Such bands had better know how to play. And you have to be pretty thick-skinned to go on the road as a "restrained" rock band. Conrad Ford, a Seattle four-piece in the vein of Eels and Iron & Wine, found that out last year.

"Even when we're trying to 'rock,' we're subdued," said Jordan Walton. "On tour, we had someone yell, 'Can you play louder? You're putting me to sleep!' " added Andy McAllister. "In Olympia, someone said, 'Play something poppier!' " At home, Conrad Ford has found a receptive audience, though even being heard above casually chatting fans — have you noticed how loudly people talk when they're drinking? — can be a challenge.

From a Georgetown rehearsal space below a motorcycle repair shop, McAllister strummed a new song, accompanied by Walton on banjo and April Sather on piano. (Drummer Nathanael Butler was not present.) It was an underplayed, muted song, with McAllister singing, "City blocks callin' a criminal I once knew ... he's a business card with no business to do." That's one of the songs that will eventually show up on Conrad Ford's second album. The first, "Don't You Miss Yourself," came out early last year. Phil Ek mixed the album, which surely is a big part of the reason this self-produced debut CD has such an assured sound, at once complex and easy on the ears.

McAllister and Walton started Conrad Ford (the band name is an amalgamation of director John Ford and director of photography Conrad Hall) as a duo, playing around Seattle clubs. "It was just the two of us juggling all these instruments, then we realized, 'This is ridiculous.' " Now as a foursome, the band brings to shows quite an assortment of music makers: acoustic piano, banjo, Wurlitzer organ, drums, omnichord (an electronic harp of sorts), pedal-steel guitar, "baby glock" (mini glockenspiel), ukulele, harmonicas various. Walton often will play two instruments on the same song, sometimes simultaneously. "He's kind of like a jack-of-all-trades," McAllister says with understated admiration.

The two joined forces when McAllister — who grew up in Seattle — was living in Texas, and captivated by the Townes Van Zandt sound (introspective country folk, emphasizing storytelling). He came across Walton's lap steel work on MP3s of Bosque Brown and sent Walton some of his own songs. The two eventually met, and Walton grabbed a banjo — rather than a lap steel — to flesh out some of McAllister's songs; McAllister liked it. The soft-spoken (big surprise), bearded, dark-featured singer-writer often brings new songs to the band's rehearsal space, and lets his bandmates toy with what they call "sprinkles" of sounds. Most often, the music strolls along easily in the background, with McAllister's pleasant voice sketching vivid scenarios. "He's a great storyteller," Walton says of the Conrad Ford singer. "We want people to hear the stories he tells." - Tom Scanlon


Before I begin this review, I would like to say that this album should be listened to by one person, two people tops. This album won't ever have a song that makes it onto a party playlist, and you won't find yourself playing this in your car with the top down in the summer. It is a somber, melancholic affair, but you should definitely give this record a chance. Here's why:

The first time I listened to this album, the first song's opening lines irritated me, which made me brush off the rest of the album, keeping it on a low volume while doing other things on the computer. The second time I listened to it I was sitting in the car with headphones on, and this time a brand new perspective opened up for me. By listening to it with no distractions, I was able to concentrate on the music by itself, and this focus on the music itself helped remind me why I listen to music. The whole album is a haunting, sometimes painfully emotional narrative of the speaker's life, all told by a ragged, tired voice that sounds like it's a hundred years old. There are stories of being out on the road (Radio Station), a fatherly figure in your life (Godfather), and others with meanings more obscured by the cryptic words that fill them. This homespun, highly personal style of lyricism is evocative more of the Beat generation's writers (Kerouac, Burroughs, etc.) than lyrics for songs. This genuine feeling, coupled with Andy McAllister's world weary voice, makes for a plaintive and thoughtful experience. I envisioned in my mind as the album progressed of Conrad Ford as some veteran hobo spinning tales of long ago on a run down street corner, he with his worn acoustic guitar, and I sitting rapt, absorbing as much of this grizzled old man's life story as I can. Experience is the word that best describes this album (or at least a near perfect imitation of it). Letting the tales of sorrow, youth, and loss wash over me, I found myself spending more time envisioning these tales play out in my imagination than listening to the music itself.

But after I'd listened to it for awhile, I started paying more close attention to the music and found that I enjoyed it even more. The main focus is on the vocals, no doubt, but the very subtle use of stringed instruments and harmonica work in unison on the same level, but a totally different plane. They all accompany, but never get in the way of, the words spoken and create an atmosphere that rivals that of the Arcade Fire's Funeral. Every banjo pluck, every guitar twang has a certain and distinct melody on each song that resonates with a quiet beauty that is equal parts folk, indie, and old time Western frontier. For example, Nitelite, a nostalgic country tune about that special someone and trying to get her back, using a small electric light as a wonderful allegory, employs harmonica, banjo, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar to evince Big Black Moon, the album's closer, is such an incredible end for this album that I'm not even going to try and describe it, my only hope being that you'll listen to it.

In short, I loved this album, and I genuinely hope that this review will convince you, the reader, to pick up a copy or download a few songs. The only song that I would consider skipping is the first, and that is the only one. The rest stand a cut above everything else: sorrowful, hopeful, endearing, musically tuned in, sincere. In fact, I can guarantee that if you take the time to sit down and listen to the music by itself with nothing else going on, there will be at least one part of a song that will move you in some way to go, "Huh" and then press repeat. I'm not saying that it will hit you on the first try, this album grows on you rather than instantly satisfying your ears, but over time, you'll find yourself in the mood for a little Conrad Ford, and it will be waiting for you. - Don't You Miss Yourself


There are few stretches of Seattle that hold as much stubborn and evocative sway as Aurora Avenue North, aka Highway 99. Even during the march of gentrification that swept the city, Aurora had surprisingly few casualties (the most notable and unfortunate being the loss of the legendary Twin Teepees restaurant), and remains dotted with time-warped diners, pawn shops, rundown used car lots, and seedy motels filled with perpetually lost souls. In the path of a certain gaze, it's an eyesore in need of sterilization or demolition; in the eyes of someone like local filmmaker and musician Andy McAllister, it's a revelation of twisted charm, class history, and a rich local wellspring of inspiration for an artist whose work is driven by character studies.

Courtesy of Andy McAllister

Conrad Ford: not your average A/V club.
McAllister currently works as a freelance film editor and fronts Conrad Ford, a hushed and ghostly Americana outfit cut from the same vintage fabric as Barton Carroll and Jesse Sykes. Though he was born and raised in Seattle, it took a detour to Austin, Texas, and the creative exhaustion from working on films full-time ultimately led him back toward music, something he originally became involved with in junior high.

"I went to Catholic school, so I was really into Van Halen," he explains, as if VH appreciation was a compulsory element of parochial schooling. "My older brother was this totally cool metalhead rocker guy [who also played in now-defunct Seattle band Medicine Hat], but I was pretty awful on the guitar at that time, and I was always in the shadow of this really amazing guitar guy." After high school, McAllister began dabbling in film, eventually writing and directing the Clerks-esque indie Shag Carpet Sunset in 2002, shortly before moving with his grad school–bound girlfriend to Austin.

"That's where I got bit by all things country and all things Austin. I was really into Townes Van Zandt and Daniel Johnston," he recalls. The unemployed McAllister spent much time engrossed by the local music scene, and frequently hung out at the Continental, a warmly gritty club on South Congress that he appreciated for its frequent free shows and $1 Lone Star beer specials. "That's where I really started writing songs," he says.

He returned to Seattle in 2005, and was weary of re-entering the film business simply because it had proved to be exceptionally draining financially and emotionally. Still, the power of a grant from 911 Media and the pull of a lifelong interest in making a film about Highway 99 were too strong to resist. "[Driving through] there as a kid had a really big effect on me. I love that area and always wanted to make a film about it." The result was Urban Scarecrow, a sordid and sorrowful tale about an aimless young man and his widowed, wannabe comedian father barely scratching out an existence under the sagging roof of an Aurora hotel.

The film was accepted to a number of prestigious film festivals (including our own Seattle International Film Festival and the Austin Film Festival), but McAllister knew he needed to find a less treacherous avenue into the industry and a way to execute the songs he'd been sketching in his mind since Austin. "It just got so expensive, and I'd go through this cycle of completely exhausting myself," says McAllister. "I made two films and pretty much had a breakdown on both, not treating my body well or being very healthy. So I started writing songs as little mini-movies. There are so many things I couldn't do [visually] with the 99 movie because of budget restrictions, but with songs I could explore much more. It was a natural transition and a lot more fulfilling." He began picking up less taxing freelance work as a film editor, soon making a more practical living cutting commercials and documentaries.

Now a markedly improved guitar player in possession of a voice strongly reminiscent of Beck, McAllister connected with musician and engineer Jordan Walton, who had previously worked with literate troubadours like Damien Jurado and J. Tillman. "He played pedal steel and banjo and sang three notches above me, so he had [a lot to contribute]," he says of Walton. The duo released their debut, Don't You Miss Yourself, in 2006, taking the name "Conrad Ford" from the compounded names of cinematographer Conrad Hall and director John Ford.

They soon added more players to their lineup, including McAllister's multitalented cousin, April Sather, who contributes shimmering washes of Wurlitzer, melodica, glockenspiel, accordion, and trumpet to the mix, while drummer Nathanael Butler adds the dry shuffle of brushed drums and other percussive elements to deepen the mystery. Secret Army (Tarnished Records), their recently released sophomore effort, is a disturbingly beautiful and absorbing collection of songs about aimless travelers, fugitive felons, and an array of margin-dwelling characters as romantically motivated as they are morally suspect. Conrad Ford's (ahem) cinematic live shows have resulted in the band opening for a number of notable artists, including Clem Snide's Eef Barzelay, former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell, and Firewater. You can catch them this Sunday, Nov. 23, when they open for twang-tinged garage siren Holly Golightly at Chop Suey. - The Art of Making Movies With Guitar and Vocals


Excellent effort from this local band of Eels inspired folk rock. Not a bad song on this engaging, emotional effort. - John Richards, Morning Show


“I’m headed where the grass is brown/you can have the riches of this town” sings Andy McAllister on “Golden Hearts”, the opening track of his band's debut album. Taking their name from director John Ford (for his big skies) and cinematographer Conrad Hall (Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid) (for the characters he filmed), Conrad Ford have crafted an album of delicate beauty that rejects the hustle, bustle and dubious delights of the big city in favour of the more subtle, understated and timeless pleasures of the rural life.

But this is no rose-tinted downsizer’s dream. It’s a lonesome life where the search for love is continuous and largely unrewarded. “You Are My Town” is a perfect description of the strangeness of life when a lover has gone (“Somebody painted my house/ A different colour while I was out/And put people inside that I did not know”). Similarly, sound-tracked by a spectral musical saw and plucked banjo, the title track warns that “there’s no comfort in what you were before” but offers a double-edged hint of hope (“Say your prayers with the lights on/you may just find your faith is gone”). Nor is it back-to-the-basics music. Alongside musical saw, guitars and just-at-the-edge-of-hearing steel and dobro there’s extensive use of an Omnichord, and the production is clear and clean.

McAllister’s voice is occasionally reminiscent of the impossibly deep bass of Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies, but generally simply low, quiet and thoughtful. It induces a thoughtfulness in the listener too, a space where they can contemplate and reflect on the choices they’ve made and their consequences. A rewarding listen. - Jeremy Searle


Conrad L. Hall was a legendary cinematographer, with credits including In Cold Blood, Cool Hand Luke, and American Beauty. And director John Ford made over 100 films, among them the seminal westerns Stagecoach and The Searchers.

Seattle duo Conrad Ford—multi-instrumentalists Andy McAllister and Jordan Walton—chose to cobble those two great film monikers into one, partially because it sounded cool, but also, as a reflection of their distinctive aesthetic. "I always liked the look of Conrad Hall's films," says McAllister (who is a film editor by day). "The name just seemed to fit in terms of the music we were playing, full of wandering characters in big, open, scenic places."

Don't You Miss Yourself, the debut full-length from Conrad Ford, features 10 evocative, sepia-toned vignettes that showcase McAllister's weathered voice and thumbnail-sketch lyrics. The material is reminiscent of Eels, Folk Implosion, or Sparklehorse. The project began taking shape back in 2004. McAllister had just wrapped up a spell residing in Austin, Texas, and, upon returning to Seattle, wanted to build on the music he'd experienced there. "Austin had this completely different musical landscape," he recalls. "I really got into Townes Van Zandt and Daniel Johnston. Both of those guys fueled a lot of the local musicians down there, so people were feeding me tapes of them." He also cites "the whole Hank Williams factor" as a new influence on his aesthetic.

McAllister knew he wanted to collaborate with a steel-guitar player, and Walton's name was familiar to him from session work. "It was a perfect fit when I came across Jordan. He played pedal steel and banjo, so many instruments, plus he can sing two octaves above me." The two quickly clicked. "I would come with a very sparse guitar part and some lyrics. And, from there, Jordan filled in the blanks. He built everything around that, and, grasping a mood or a moment, pushed the song in a certain direction."

The disc also features performances on the Omnichord (an oddball electronic instrument favored by Devo), ukulele, mandolin, melodica, and accordion—as well as guests contributing cello, trumpet, and, on "Don't You Miss Yourself," singing saw. Yet the album never feels kitchen-sink cluttered... and that was by design. "Sparse was the word we kept coming back to. We wanted the music to come from this very small space, and build around that, and give each song its own personality. We didn't want to over-bake anything."

Conrad Ford expands to a quartet for live performances, such as their CD-release party this Friday, September 8, at the Sunset. The overall sound, says McAllister, is a little fuller, and will undoubtedly color the material on their next record. But for now, the quiet integrity of Don't You Miss Yourself still hovers over the concert experience. "We're not kicking out any stadium jams just yet." - Kurt B. Reighley


What’s up alt. country? Apparently the indie world is fucking obsessed with your style! While the world prepares us for the new Lucero album that promises to out-Wilco Wilco, a little known outfit named Conrad Ford just might have beaten them to the punch with their “Don’t You Miss Yourself”. Using such great instruments as pedal steel, banjo, omnichord, bells, ukulele, accordion, lap steel, dobro, cello, saw, trumpet and melodica, the album isn’t missing a beat or sound at all. Engaging and catchy rudimentary tunes that breathe of earthy melodies and fantastic songwriting. - Jsin


*Borders Pick Review*
This debut embodies the spirit of every sad-sap folkie from Leonard Cohen to Sufjan Stevens. Northwest native Andy McAllister, with some help from Jordan Walton and his acoustic arsenal, has stepped away from the emotional weightiness of the aforementioned musicians, opting instead for effortless lyrics and swaying, airy compositions. McAllister's subtle rasp invites a picturesque setting of an old-timer rocking on the porch, toting life's recipe to all the neighborhood kiddies. While most of the record remains solemn in tone, hints of optimism ("Godfather," "Honest Friend") remain. "Stay Up" humbly yearns for companionship at the break of dawn: "Darling, wait up, wait up for me / Darling, stay up, stay up and see." Conrad Ford also takes cues from fellow lo-fi enthusiast M. Ward, adding the sound of a crackling record player to "Big Black Moon," the graceful closer to a focused, unassuming roots record. - Ben Guerechit


First off, Conrad Ford isn't a guy named Conrad Ford. Conrad Ford is a band headed by Andy McAllister. Confused? Don't be. Conrad Ford is named after the legendary filmmaker John Ford and cinematographer Conrad Hall. Conrad Ford, actually, would sound like something John Ford might have used on a soundtrack if he was still making movies like Stagecoach and The Searchers. He's dead though, Ford (Carr, too, actually), but Conrad Ford is as strong as ever with their spare, crisp new album Secret Army.

Used on a John Ford soundtrack, I say, because the music is like a vista of sparse scrubland, the vista being their music, the scrub their instrumentation. McAllister, a country-esque Damien Jurado (another local like McAllister), rustles through the songs like tumbleweeds; the strum of a guitar a quiet breeze over a desolate highway; the percussion like a quiet fall of rain on an old tin roof.

Conrad Ford is more than McAllister's voice, music, lyrics. It's Jordan Walton (pedal steel, banjo, etc), April Sather (accordion, the mighty glockenspiel), Nathanael Butler (percussion) and assorted guests on cello, harp, and what's this I hear? Saw? Nice.

Recorded in Seattle (their sophomore effort after 2006's Don't You Miss Yourself), the new album is a lean 30+ minute affair, each song a raspy grasp of music, perfect to get a little melancholy on. On Sinner Street, a jaunty ditty, he sings about sitting down on Sinner Street. Shadow Shade, is a simple slow ramshackle-y number with piano. Duet was just that. Sounding like they were in some empty long-forgotten warehouse, it's quiet, somber, and just a little bit sweet.

Perhaps it's the economic collapse, but each some is, to me, reminiscent of those images we see of The Great Depression. It's black and white, the music, a little gritty but crystal clear. It attaches itself to you like a blowing grit, gets under your nails. It's hobos riding rails; it's a migrant farmhand sipping on a jug over a makeshift fire; it's storytelling at the breadline; a little prayer before a meager meal. McAllister, and by extension, Conrad Ford, might have just made quite the timely album.

Even though Secret Army feels like it could have been sung years back, it's been created in the here and now, the sun high, the dust thick, the vistas obscured by clattering vagabonds.

-Bacon Master, January 14, 2009 - Three Imaginary Girls


Discography

Title: Don't You Miss Yourself
Type: LP
Release Date: August 22nd, 2006
Record Label: Tarnished Records
Title: Secret Army
Type: LP
Release Date: April 22md, 2008
Record Label: Tarnished Records

Photos

Bio

Andy McAllister's heart grew three sizes after landing in Austin, TX. His ears were washed with local heroes Daniel Johnston and Townes Van Zandt, and he soon filled his nights romancing downtrodden country songs into an ill working 4-track. After celebrating his two-year anniversary of unemployment, McAllister tucked his tail and returned to his native Seattle where he connected with jack-of-all-trades Jordan Walton.

Engineering recordings for the likes of Damien Jurado and Denison Witmer, Walton brought his own take on housegrown country - adding various instruments such as pedal steel, banjo, baritone and omnichord. The two hit it off and quickly began recording underneath a motorcycle repair shop in the summer of 2005 they emerged with their first full-length Don't You Miss Yourself. They handed the reels over to producer/engineer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes/The Shins/Band of Horses/Built To Spill) to mix and released the completed album on Tarnished Records in August 2006.

Most recently, they enlisted the help of multi-instrumentalist April Sather (Wurlitzer, trumpet, melodica) and drummer Nathanael Butler to bring their sound to a live setting. 2008 saw the release of thier second full length 'Secret Army', mixed by Tucker Maritne(The Decemberists, Thao Nyguen, Laura Veirs, Jesse Sykes).

Conrad Ford have opened for Firewater, Holly Golightly, Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide, Jason Isbell of Drive by Truckers and Josh Tillman of Fleet Foxes.