D//E Interviews: Unwed Sailor // Track Premiere: Retrograde

Not showing any signs of tiredness these last couple of years, veteran post rock act, Unwed Sailor, will be releasing their new album, Look Alive, this week. Retrograde is the fourth single unveiled off the new LP (fifth, including Gone Jungle of which a different mix was released a year ago as a standalone), and another clear indication of the band's aim for more animating sound. As expected, the driving instrumental is also pretty forceful in the matter of instrumentation and production, and it streams for the first time ever below, following the interview with Johnathon Ford in which the accomplished musician talks about the new record, and more.

Unwed Sailor have postponed all touring until 2021 when they are expected to return, as they also bring up the possibility of more new material.

Look Alive arrives June 12th, 2020 by Old Bear Records via Light In the Attic distro.

There is a considerable change of mood between last year's Heavy Age and the upcoming Look Alive. How different would you say the two albums are? 

You are correct in noticing the considerable change in mood. Heavy Age came out of a longer drawn out writing process and was written in a time of introspection and struggle. Look Alive happened spontaneously and the songs reflect a heightened mood and a confidence awarded from coming out of a heavy time with a more secure headspace. Look Alive has a dance element to some of the songs. The first three songs on the record are more upbeat and move forward at a faster pace refusing to stop for anything. Heavy Age had a more plodding sludgy attitude with moments of sparkle sprinkled in. Look Alive is more sparkle, positive introspection and outlook, and a willingness to let go and acknowledge and celebrate the experiences that have brought you to the place that you are in your life.

Before the last two full lengths there was a ten-plus-year gap between album releases. Although there have been a couple of EPs in between, it now feels like there is an uptick in Unwed Sailor's creativity with two albums coming back to back. What sparked that boost? 

I feel happier now and more grounded. I have more confidence in what I can do with music and my ability to write a song. I also feel like I have a more laser focus on Unwed Sailor. I’ve come to more of an understanding of my relationship with Unwed. Unwed as a musical entity has been in my life for so many years, and I think it was just waiting for me to catch up and embrace it with all my strength and heart. I also have had some really inspiring conversations with my friend Dave Bazan from Pedro the Lion. I admire his work ethic and songwriting power so much. Our conversations definitely gave me a push to embrace who I am musically and to keep creating consistently.

Now that the band has entered the third decade of their path, how do you feel about the earlier releases, and how fondly do you remember the band's earlier days?

Unwed Sailor has been a true adventure for me. It’s taken me all over the world and introduced me to so many wonderful people and musicians. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without it. I’m proud of all the Unwed releases. They were each snapshots of a certain time in my life. The albums actually help me remember periods of my life by being signposts pointing to different experiences or feelings that I was experiencing. I have so many cherished tour memories. Some insane, some comforting, some embarrassing , but I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences.

You started Unwed Sailor in Seattle in the late nineties, and have moved to a few other places over the years. How have the different surroundings influenced the band's sound? 

The different cities and places have definitely had an effect on the feel and sound of Unwed Sailor. A specific memory I have is when I was living in Little Rock, AR, roaming around sleeping on my friends floors and couches. I was putting a tour line up together, and I could not find any guitar players to be in the touring band. I still can’t believe that. No guitar players! But, I was able to find three keyboard players! So, I ditched the idea of having guitar players, and we transposed all the guitar parts to keyboard parts. The lineup for that tour consisted of me on bass guitar, three keyboard players, and a drummer. To this day I wish I could hear a recording of what we sounded like on that tour.

You have built a strong reputation as a live act. How would you characterize the band's live presence? 

A live show is so important to me. I grew up seeing bands that put on a live show that you would never forget. Fugazi, The Jesus Lizard, Unwound, Lungfish, Polvo, U.S. Maple, Jawbox, Jawbreaker, to name a few. Those live performances are seared into my brain, and they put a certain standard in my mind that I felt was important to attain and to convey in a live show experience. People can not like Unwed’s records, and that’s okay with me, but for someone to walk away from an Unwed Sailor show and not be moved or feel anything, that’s something that I would have a hard time dealing with.

You have directed videos for a couple tracks from the new album alongside Charles Elmore. How did you approach that creatively? 

I had a pretty clear idea in my head for both the Camino Reel and Look Alive videos. Charles has a great way of being able to interpret the ideas in my head and help me achieve them visually. He also has great input in expanding the ideas so that they can be conveyed in a better way. Those videos were influenced visually by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, R.E.M., and David Lynch.

Describing the new album you have talked about honesty in particular. How important is that to you as a musician? 

It’s crucial to me. I don’t know how to do it any other way. I believe in every song 100%. Unwed is my creative outlet and my voice. I need it to express the things that I can’t express in any other way. The music comes from my heart and is the most honest expression that I can give.

Which are some of the main influences behind the coming album? Musical or otherwise. 

Musically speaking, I would say New Order, Killing Joke, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Johnny Marr, The Grateful Dead, Jawbox, Joy Division, etc... I was also influenced by the idea of trusting your musical output to be a true expression of who you are. I’ve always celebrated that idea in Unwed Sailor. Each Unwed Sailor record sounds different and has a different vibe, yet there is always that thread that interweaves between the albums and locks them together as Unwed Sailor albums. I hold that influence close for every album.

What comes next for Unwed Sailor? 

We are rescheduling our tour dates for this record for the fall of 2020. Let’s hope that will work amidst all the instability right now. If not, we will be back out on the road as soon as possible. I am also working on the follow up to Look Alive, and I am hoping for a 2021 release for that album.

Artist photo by Clay Flores


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