Kickstand Productions Presents
Unwed Sailor, Ands
For more than two decades, Johnathon Ford has led the post-rock band Unwed Sailor.
Throughout the years, Ford has steered the band—an ever-evolving collective that’s included
members of Pedro the Lion, Fleet Foxes, Danielson Famile, and more—through a searching
series of albums, incorporating the influences of ambient music, shoegaze, math rock, and
drone into its body of work along the way. Led by Ford’s singular bass playing and melodic
overview, Unwed Sailor has built one of the great under-recognized discographies in indie rock.
Despite the lack of vocals and thematic scope, these are direct and often brief transmissions.
Inspired by the new wave sheen of New Order and the zoned-out slowcore of Bedhead, Ford
remains as interested in crafting recognizable melodies as he is grandiose moods. “I’m
interested in writing pop songs with hooks that speak to me,” Ford says.
With 2019’s Heavy Age, Unwed Sailor released its loudest, darkest, and perhaps poppiest,
release yet. Bolstered by the guitar touches of Dave Swatzell and two drummers, longtime
member Matt Putman and Colin Blanton, the album finds Ford layering bass and keyboards to
expand on Unwed Sailor’s already wide sonic range. Opener “Indian Paintbrush” blends
psychedelic guitars with swooning new wave synths; “ACAXAO” recalls the lushness of the Cure.
Meanwhile, songs like “Jealous Heart,” “Disintegrate,” and closer “When You Want Me There”
throb with distortion—these are among the heaviest songs Unwed Sailor’s ever committed to
Unwed Sailor’s ability to morph and fold in disparate elements is crucial to Ford. He formed the
band in Seattle in 1998, after the dissolution of the beloved math rock band Roadside
Monument. Ford had begun playing in Pedro the Lion, led by songwriter David Bazan, and
found himself drawn increasingly to quieter sounds, a sharp contrast to the violent and
deafening artistry of Roadside. Inspired by Louisville minimalists Rachel’s and Chicago
experimentalists Tortoise, Ford began writing new material. It retained the kinetic propulsion of
Roadside Monument but showcased a new reflectiveness. Mostly wordless, the grandeur of
early Unwed Sailor positioned the group among the vanguard of independent and mostly
instrumental bands loosely grouped together under the “post-rock” banner.
“I didn’t know what ‘post-rock’ was or meant at that point,” Ford says. “I grew up on classical
music and movie soundtracks; my thinking was already based instrumentally.”
In 1998, Unwed Sailor debuted with Firecracker EP (released the same year as the final
Roadside Monument album, I Am The Day of Current Taste, and Pedro the Lion’s debut LP, It’s
Hard to Find a Friend, both featuring Ford), following it up with the full-length The Faithful
Anchor in 2001—which includes one vocal performance by Ford on the “The Quiet Hour.” A
soundtrack collaboration with Early Day Miners, Stateless, came in 2002. In 2003, Ford
embraced a chamber pop approach—forgoing drums entirely—on The Marionette and the
Music Box, a concept album based on a children’s story Ford created. The White Ox appeared in
2006. Featuring art by James Marsh, whose neo-surreal paintings also graced the covers of Talk
Talk’s legendary albums, the album was steeped in mysticism, inspired by new age music, the
sophisticated pop of Blue Nile, David Sylvian, and ‘80s-era Madonna. 2008’s Little
Wars returned to a rock-based sound, and a string of self-released EPs and tours preceded the
band’s return with Heavy Age more than a decade later.
Even as Unwed Sailor has shifted its sound, it’s retained Ford’s distinct point of view. His vision
serves as a connecting thread, and while tone and mood constantly swirl, his original intention
remained fixed. “When someone hears Unwed Sailor, I want them to be able to reflect in their
mind,” Ford says. “To reflect on things they’ve been through, beautiful places they’ve been, and
experiences that have shaped them. I want their lives to be reflected in the songs.”
Ford’s own life is reflected by the music too. Looking back, he sees the last 20-something years
of Unwed Sailor’s work as something of a travelog, documenting his time spent in Tulsa, DC,
Chicago, New Orleans, and Seattle, and his touring abroad. I’ve always had a wandering free
spirit,” Ford says of his reluctance to put down geographic or stylistic roots. That willingness to
keep moving is at the heart of Unwed Sailor. The locations change, the surroundings morph.
Motion serves as a unifying force.
“I feel like Unwed Sailor makes good driving music; I want to write music for that person who’s
always moving. I want to make the soundtrack for their journey to the next stop on the road or
the next stop in their life.”
From their 1998 debut ep release, Firecracker(featuring Dave Bazan from Pedro the Lion, and Casey Wescott from Fleet Foxes, The Vogue, & Seldom) to their 2001 full length release The Faithful Anchor(engineered by Dan Burton/Early Day Miners), the band strived to create side door studies into the pictures behind sound, while opening multiple avenues in the creation of reflective, legitimate, sometimes instrumental music. In 2002, these studies also produced two short film soundtracks for independent film maker Chris Bennett - Stateless (a musical collaboration with Early Day Miners), and For Jonathan, a multi-genre compilation featuring artists as varied as The Album Leaf and Mikael Jorgensen to Jessica Bailiff and Her Space Holiday.
In 2003, the shape of Unwed Sailor changed dramatically as the sound became less a standard suite of instrumental rock songs, developing instead into a full scale storybook tale presented through classical baroque and nursery rhyme melodies, overlayed with organic/toy like percussion. The resulting album was recorded and released as The Marionette and the Music Box; music set to tell the painted "story-book" story of a lonely little marionette in search of a cherished, lost music box. With this change in musical direction, Unwed Sailor composed pieces just as suited for concert halls as they were the hot, impassioned stages of dark night clubs.
In 2006 the band introduced two brand new recordings with Dan Burton(Early Day Miners) once again behind the soundboard, the ambient/Eno-esque EP "Circles", and the atmospheric and brooding full length "The White Ox". These two releases ushered Unwed Sailor's sound into a dark, minimalistic world of Native American imagery, and soothing meditative moods.
These releases were supported by national tours with Me Without You, Murder By Death, and The Appleseed Cast, as well as an extensive 5 week tour throughout Europe.
In 2008, Unwed Sailor combined its instrumental rock roots, with the experimental/ambient sounds from its recent previous releases to create Little Wars. Little Wars features energetic and highly melodic instrumental rock songs, gently colored with layered synth keyboards and percussion. The album moves along steadily with danceable rhythms, melodic distortion, and delicate ambience. Little Wars is truly a unique, progressive, and challenging, addition to instrumental music. In the years since the release of Little Wars, Unwed Sailor has toured consistently throughout Europe and the U.S. promoting the release.
On March 17, 2017 Unwed Sailor will release the Take A Minute EP.
U.S. and European tours will follow the release....