Kristen Ford: A queer alt-rocker driving forward in uncertain times
By Timothy Rawles, November 2020 Issue.
How does an energetic rock musician like Kristen Ford stay sane during a pandemic? She makes music of course. But that’s the easy answer. Beneath her spirited façade the queer artist is re-evaluating some things during this time and it’s making her music better than it ever was.
“I feel like a completely different person,” she told me during our interview about her latest EP No Plans now available on music apps or directly through her website.
I was at a little disadvantage honestly. I had never heard of the singer which is a shame because immediately after listening to her song “Happy” for the first time I went through her catalogue on iTunes and fell in love with her sound and lyrics. “Well, welcome aboard the Kristen Ford wagon,” she laughed over the phone.
Ford is based in the music capital of the world, Nashville Tennessee, and until recently performed 100 live shows a year. COVID put her on hiatus which she explains later was probably a blessing disguise.
Described as an alt-rocker I asked the singer what exactly that meant to her and if that moniker aptly describes her new EP No Plans.
“I consider alternative rock to be like…it’s a willingness to be heavy and I think it speaks to instruments like real drums, bass, electric guitar, and song structure that is sort of that tried-and-true first chorus,” she explains. “Maybe there’s a solo, maybe not. I think that pop music—popular music---has increasingly gone electronic and increasingly gone less and less chords; it’s the same loop repeating. I love dance music, I love seeing the direction that pop makes through its evolution. I used to love early Radiohead and Nirvana and Jagged Little Pill. I think in a way it’s easy for my music to sound like it came out of the early 2000’s or the late 90’s. That was really neat to work with Rachel Moore, the producer on No Plans because she, I think, really brought it into 2020 and incorporated synthesizers and having restraint to allow the story of the song to speak.”
Perhaps her song “Bulletproof” from her 2004 album Dinosaur best exemplifies that sentiment. In one layer the instrumentals are driven by percussion and guitars to a steady beat but the lyrics, add an additional charge: “All this bullshit that we’ve been through; we were just learning to be bulletproof.” The delivery is calm and serene, even though the narrative takes the listener into deeper storytelling.
Kristen chuckles at my assessment, “I love that you use the words ‘calm’ and ‘serene.’ If you spend like five minutes with me on a personal level I’m a pretty high energy person and it’s almost to the point of mania,” she says. “I’ve been out since I was eighteen and I’m a queer artist, that’s my thing, I play Prides. I don’t want my songs to lead out like, ‘she’s so beautiful’ or ‘we’re so queer together’ from the jump. I want to write songs that are universal, and I want to connect with people and if I create a hook that is stuck in your head then that’s amazing. I think I want to write songs that help people understand their human experience. If I can reach anyone that’s going through something and they can find themselves through a song and feel a little bit less alone then I’m super-stoked as an artist. And in terms of creating social change I think you almost have to be super-clever to not just be preaching to the choir.”
But Ford knows that the messages she sings about aren’t going to change many minds. She says she found that out with her song “American Dreams.” She wrote it for her brother who lives in Germany.
Her brother adopted two orphans from war-torn Syria. “Their homes were burned and bombed and their families, some of them died,” she explains. “He took in these kids. And then seeing the rhetoric with the election of Trump then the xenophobia just running rampant; I wrote the song ‘American Dreams,’ but the people who liked it that were liberal really liked that song. But I don’t think I changed anybody’s minds because it was too on the surface. Whereas, maybe a song like ‘Bulletproof’ is a little bit more universal.”
There is a shift happening in the world and people are dealing with a lot of different important things. Ford says she has some apprehension about promoting an album or a crowd-sourcing campaign when so much is going on.
“It’s like how dare you go on making art?” she asked herself. “But I think we have to because that is our humanity. There’s something amazing about connecting with people and sharing songs, sharing a moment, even sharing a groove seeing someone dance while you play.”
With her adventurous life on the back burner at the moment Ford is finding time to find the light at the end of the tunnel even if it’s dimmed with some self-imposing guilt about being so busy.
“I’ve traveled and I am so blessed to be a fulltime musician, that’s my whole job. But, I was a bit burnt out on doing sort of the same thing over and over and just wondering what else there is. I think COVID has taught me, ‘okay, who are you if you’re not a touring musician?’ If you’re just a human being in your house, there’s no audience, there’s no comparing who has more people at their show, there’s no constantly hustling for the next thing. And the No Plans EP was kind of a fluke that wasn’t a fluke. They say luck is opportunity meets preparation.”
Even with all the pressures of making an album like No Plans she says it was the most fun she’s had in tracking one. It’s high-pressure for sure but it was, as she puts it, “totally chill.”
She adds: “I really kind of thought about how do I want to be a creator in this world? How do I want to show my art? I actually just did two songs for a movie soundtrack, music videos and got a small part in this independent film, and I’ve decided, actually I want to be an actor; that was my dream when I was five.
“Also, my whole approach rather than just grind, grind, grind, is just to trust that I’m going to do things that bring me joy and that bring me satisfaction. It is so freeing. It is so liberating. Even wearing a mask, even not getting near people. I have hand sanitizer in the car ready to go.”
As Kristen goes forth and conquers the world remotely, she doubles down. I told you, she is a force to be reckoned with.
“Well, I’m actually sitting on 14 songs that are fully produced and finished,” she says. “I did a Kickstarter at the very tail-end of 2018 and then a bunch of stuff happened in my personal life and I was resetting and the plan was a big release over summer 2020 … It’s also kinda for the best.”
The singer is an alloy of many talents. Whether forged in songwriting, music composition or making music videos in her apartment, the end result is a formula made entirely of passion and existential appetite. Maybe that’s the true meaning of alt-rock.
“It’s alchemy to record music and capture emotions and spirit,” she says. “It’s freeing to let go of the oars and see where this stream of life is going to take me.”
You can listen to Kristen Ford’s latest EP No Plans on music streaming services or download it through her website kristenfordmusic.com. Her new video “Happy” is now available on YouTube.