That British singer-songwriter David Ford is even a musician at all is kind of an anomaly. Neither one of his parents are musically inclined (“My father is clinically tone deaf,” he says) and he hasn’t had a shred of proper training on his voice or instruments. “I studied drama at university in Manchester,” he says. “But I was there less than a year. Drama students are some of the most infuriating individuals I ever had the misfortune to spend any time with. That’s not to say that I object to the pretension, but I guess I just like a slightly different brand of pretension from the one that they offered.”
On Wednesday, Ford performs at Joe’s Pub, including tunes from his latest album “Songs for the Road.” His style is often compared to that other British David — Gray — but Ford’s subject matter, not to mention song titles (including “Go to Hell” and “Cheer Up (You Miserable F—)” are decidedly more edgy. The singer sat down with WWD, just weeks before his 30th birthday. “I just hope I don’t instantly become Phil Collins on the day, lose all my hair, put on some weight.”
WWD: So tell me about yourself. You’re not that well known in America.
David Ford: I’m not that well known anywhere.
WWD: Have you always wanted to be a musician?
D.F.: I’ve never particularly wanted to have a career in music. I’m kind of an enthusiast more than, like, a driven career individual. Having a record deal and things doesn’t mean a great deal to me at all. It’s nice to be able to do that but…
WWD: Who did you listen to growing up?
D.F.: Tom Waits is my favorite artist in the entire world. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Band, Marvin Gaye and Motown records — stuff like that. I think there’s a truer spirit to a lot of those records. Nowadays, if I listen to a record, particularly on the radio, I can hear the A&R department, I can hear the marketing people, I can hear a desperate attempt to please radio programmers rather than a song that somebody thinks is going to affect people.
WWD: Is there anybody out today whom you like?
D.F.: There’s a band from upstate New York called The Fleece Brothers, who put a record out last year that was my favorite record of the year.
WWD: You swear a lot in your lyrics and sometimes sound angry or bitter.
D.F.: I’m not an angry individual. I think it’s very easy in the modern day to be — maybe bitter’s not the right word — I think disappointed is the word. I don’t consider myself to be someone who writes about politics. I’m someone who writes about things that mean something to me — I write love songs, sad songs, I occasionally write some angry disappointment anthems. But essentially I’m just trying to approach songwriting as a human being, rather than trying to be a celebrity and talk about all my houses and my hos.
WWD: But you must have dozens of hos….
D.F.: Oh yeah, you know…I’m blinging. I quite like some hip-hop music, but I don’t really understand why anyone would want to hear someone singing about all the money that they’ve got. It’s just boring.
WWD: Do you find there’s a difference playing for American versus British audiences?
D.F.: I’ve always found American audiences to be a lot more open-minded, which I really didn’t expect. A London audience will stand at the back of the room, with their arms folded, with this “come on, impress me” thing. American audiences will think for themselves. They don’t need to be told what gets to be cool and what doesn’t get to be cool. Which is really useful for someone who’s incredibly uncool.
WWD: Do you consider yourself incredibly uncool?
D.F.: I do in England. Over here I think there’s a certain mystique that comes with speaking differently. People sort of fill in your backstory for you even if it doesn’t exist. “Yes, I’m the 13th Earl of Marlborough and I live in a big house in rural Hertfordshire, with a butler.”