Five years since his debut release Bad Taste, four years after he signed to Shogun Audio, two years in the making: Joe Ford’s debut LP Colours In Sound is finally upon us. And, as he’s hinted at with the recent run of early releases from the album, it’s remarkably broader and explorative than anything he’s done before.
From metal-infused Hacktivist collaborations to big vocal drama with Memtrix via emotional techno, psychotic halftime, grizzly glitch-hop and delicate vocal pieces, Colours In Sound is a genuinely full spectrum affair that positions Joe among Shogun’s most impressive album alumni. We called up the young northerner to find out how it took shape and what he’s already planning on following it up with…
Your debut album… Releases don’t get much bigger!
Yeah you only get one chance to release your debut. I guess I’ve been building up to this since the first release. I hope it’s received well but I know I’ve done my best on it. I wouldn’t have put it out if I wasn’t happy with where I’d got it to.
There’s a lot of pressure. How much of it is self-imposed?
Almost all of it. It’s a case of constantly bettering yourself. You’re always trying to make sure each release gets better and moves closer towards what you want to achieve. Basically if you’re not feeling it, then can you expect anyone else to?
Amen. So when did you feel yourself go into album mode?
I guess around two years ago when I started gathering ideas. I generally write tunes first without a specific project in mind then tie them together but with an album you do have to think about a wider picture and think about a collection of tracks that will work well together. I also went over some older demos and ideas, some of which ended up on the album, too.
How old is the oldest track? Did the past Joe Ford impress the current Joe Ford?
He did actually! I think the oldest tune is like three or four years old but yeah there were some interesting things. Some of the things I listen to made me go ‘how did I do that? I don’t know how to do that now!’ So there are things that I wouldn’t do now which I did do then which is kind of a shame.
You know too much now!
That’s exactly it. There’s so much creativity in not being aware of the confines. There’s always so much to bear in mind with production and there’s only so much information I can hold in my head at any one time. I get it a lot when I’m teaching people – they asked how I’ve made a certain bassline and I really don’t know! I have to go back and work it out again.
You teach as well?
Yeah when I was in album mode the releases weren’t coming out so the bookings were a little quieter and I put the feelers out to see if anyone wanted tuition. I was really shocked by how many people want me to teach them!
I bet that changes how you produce now
It does actually. Production is a silent process, you don’t sit there talking yourself through the steps. So you have to think about how you’re doing and how you can explain what you’re doing. It solidifies what you’re doing. I’ve actually come across things in lessons where I’ve thought ‘oh cool, I’m going to do this on my own track!’
What did you learn about yourself as an artist during the album? You cover a lot more ground than previous releases in terms of vocals and other styles and genres
Writing music for vocals has been a learning curve for sure. Just the whole idea of creating space for vocals has been new for me. My music has been very intense and in your face so that’s been an interesting challenge. Working with other genres and tempos has been really enlightening too.
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants stands out on that tip. It reminds me of Booka Shade a little…
That’s the oldest tune on the album! I wrote it for an EP but it didn’t quite fit within the context for four tracks but it’s the sound I’d been listening to loads – artists like Booka Shade and Jon Hopkins – but didn’t have the time to explore as well as drum & bass. That was a brief sketch to begin with, but the album gave me time and an opportunity to develop and finish it. I think I started it on my mate’s piano. It’s my favourite track on the album actually.
Do you start many tunes on a piano? Are you musically rooted?
I started off as a drummer and I’m confident-ish on guitars and pianos so quite musically rooted. But that’s more of a level for jamming and no writing music doesn’t usually start on a piano. I’m not that deep into the theory and chord structures. But I have become a lot more musically minded in that sense as I’ve progressed.
There’s a fine art to balancing the techier side with a musical side isn’t there?
Definitely. It’s the one criticism I have of harder stuff. I became more of aware of it when I started playing lots of shows. When the music gets too hard for too long you see some of the crowd switch off. After hours of it I start to switch off. There’s a lot of power in blending that musical side and aggressive side to create that dynamic and scope.
That feeling you need to make stuff to bang hard is definitely a trap of the touring DJ. Sounds like it pushed you the other way, though?
For sure. Playing out has a huge affect on what you make and how you make it. But I have always thought the best dynamics come from having really musical intros and really heavy drops. That contrast is really cool.
It’s what D&B has been founded on. That ability to bring styles together. Like a liquid tune with a jump-up double drop for example.
Yeah most genres that have that scope are too different to bring together but in drum & bass you can do it. The same goes within one tune as well.
How about the Colours In Sound concept? Do you have synaesthesia?
It’s not something I’ve had all my life but when I started producing I found it easier to understand when I visual it. Loudness is height, stereo is width and moods of sound have different colours when I imagine them. It’s not a condition, but it is how I understand it and how it’s portrayed in the artwork. When you take the four pieces of artwork from the singles you see how the tunes look like for me. I’ve always been quite a visual learner so that’s made sense.
Give us a chips-down story when you thought you might give up drum & bass forever
The biggest struggled was the tune Adrenaline with Hacktivist. I came from a metal background so to have a tune with them was just sick. It started three or four years ago and I had the intro written but I couldn’t get the drop right. I went through so many different ideas and versions but none of them quite hit hard enough for me. It was getting close to the end of the album cycle and I needed to hand it in and I felt I’d like Hacktivist down then literally a week before I had to submit the album I dragged over the wrong sampler into the sampler and it sounded sick straight away. The penny dropped and I finished the tune in days. Panic over.
Now give us a chips-up story!
Oh that would be when the first songs from the album started coming out and the feedback was really positive. I hadn’t released anything for so long that I was worried what people would think or if they’d remember me but peers and people I respect were really supportive. You can get pretty down when you’re not releasing music so to have that response was really cool.
Yeah you have to be super on it all the time or you start to worry, right?
Oh totally. That’s the longest I’ve gone between releases in my career and you do start to wonder if you’re relevant any more. There’s a lot riding on it. But every time I’ve come back after a gap between releases the response has always humbled me. What’s important now is that I don’t want to lose momentum and I’ve already got some things ready to go post-album. I didn’t take a break.
Have you ever taken a break?
No I haven’t actually. As much as that’s what I’m required to do as a career now, I’d be doing this regardless. I did take a few week off in Thailand over Christmas but every day I was itching to get back into the studio. I love it.