Ben and Michael Ford, brothers, are making sound waves together again with their newest project, Airpark. The duo recently released their second EP, Early Works, Volume 2, and have been on the road in support of it this past year, already hitting their goal of 100 shows with no plans of slowing down. Along with Airpark, Ben and Michael are co-founders of Eugenia Hall, an intimately vibe-y rehearsal and event space south of downtown.
We had the pleasure of catching up with them at Eugenia to chat about Airpark, their newest EP, thoughts on "starting over," and how they're changing the business of music in Music City. Read our conversation with the Ford brothers below.
All photos shot at Eugenia Hall by Emily Quirk.
Well, for people that might not know what you guys have done in the past, how would you describe Airpark? What was the approach going into it? Where are you headed with it? What’s the direction of this new band? What are you guys trying to accomplish this year? It’s a lot of questions in one.
Michael: Yeah. That’s great. Our goal is to put out two releases this year—which was Early Works, Volume 1 and now Volume 2—and try to hit a hundred dates. So far, we’ve been able to do both of those; by the end of the year, that’ll be done. I think, for us, our goal starting out, musically speaking, was the first EP [be] made with the intention that Ben and I could pull it off just the two of us. So, the first EP is a much more minimal take on things.
You mean live?
Michael: Live, yes. So, that’s kind of where the vision for the band started. We just really liked the idea of keeping it small.
Ben: It also felt like an interesting challenge to us because previous bands we’ve been in, which we loved, there were a lot more members and there was a lot going on. I think we liked the idea of the challenge of having to work with a lot less—seemed creatively refreshing. And I think everything has to count a lot more that way. There’s not as much to hide behind, or as many layers. So, it seemed like a cool box to work within.
And that was the first EP?
Michael: That was the first EP.
Interviewer: Did you change it up for this next one?
Ben: Yeah, which is funny—so, we’ve done a lot of touring since the first EP came out in March.
Ben: —3rd, 2017. And we started taking out our buddy Mark Sloan to play keys and a drummer to play, as well, just to fill the sound out a bit more. Even though we’re playing a lot of unison parts, it just seemed to fill out in a way that felt better to Michael and I live. And then, of course, we started incorporating new songs into the set that hadn’t been recorded, because there’s only four songs on that first EP. Michael and I would bring those songs to the two guys playing with us, and they would just naturally start adding parts to it—adding their own melodies. [The songs] just grew on their own. By the time it came to record—you know, we love those parts—the idea of removing [them], just to be legalistic about it, seemed detrimental. It naturally did its thing, and I don’t think either of us wanted to really fight that. So, we allowed it to grow a little bit more on the second EP.
So, you started with this concept of it being something that just the two of you could do.
And then it organically grew into this, it wasn’t intentional?
Ben: No, it naturally happened. We try to keep in mind when we’re writing and creating, sometimes things just happen—evolving. And that’s another reason why we really like [releasing] EPs to start because we really liked that—at least in our minds—I feel like EPs allow you to have more creative flexibility, and it’s more a grouping of songs versus an album. Which I think, to us, feels more like a statement of this cohesive, more thematic collection. [The EP] feels more like some of our favorite songs we’ve been working on, and we just put them on our record together. And I think that also shows in the second EP, in the stylistic range. The first song, "Le Tigre," is pretty aggressive and rock & roll. By the time you get to the end of the EP, there’s a song called, "Blue Eyed Spaniard," and it’s much more—it almost has more of a world-music vibe. There’s a lot of three-part harmony stuff going on, so it is kind of like a cross-section of everything that the band does. It’s not just one flavor of it.
So, who all’s in the band right now, at this point?
Ben: Well, Michael and I are the, I guess you would say—
Michael: —official members.
Ben: Yeah, official members. And then we are fortunate enough to have Mark Sloan playing keys with us right now—keys and synth bass. And he’s been playing with us almost since day one.
And then our buddy, Gor, is playing drums. He’s a new addition, and he’s been really fantastic. We are prepping fall tour right now, so we’ve been rehearsing the last two days. And, yeah, getting it together. It’s kind of settling into itself nicely.
Who is involved with the recording process on the second EP? Where did you all [record]?
Ben: We tracked it here at Eugenia Hall.
Michael: It was fun.
Ben: We were the first to attempt [recording here]. We brought in a bunch of recording gear, and we did it with Ryan McFadden, he produced it with us—he’s worked with Tony Joe White. He did Torres’s first record—it’s amazing, his range and the artists that he works with. We’ve worked with him for years on other projects. So, it felt like a very comfortable and reliable angle to go while we were introducing other new things, like the fact we were in a new space. And you’re trying to keep elements as stable as you can, because there’s already enough new ones every time you go in to record. At least that’s our take on it. So, it kind of felt like we were in good hands with him, and we’ve always just…
Michael: You trust him a lot.
Ben: Him and Michael have a pretty special creative relationship.
Explain what [Eugenia Hall] is for people who don’t know.
Ben: Yeah, it’s a rehearsal space—an intimate event space—in the Berry Hill area that Michael and I had a vision for a few years ago. Our family wanted to be involved in the industry as well, so it’s something that we’ve kind of done with them. We just felt like there was a need for a private and vibe-y place for artists to rehearse in town. It’s not something that we had experienced in our time in other bands, since we’ve been here. It’s mainly used, as I said, for rehearsals and small events, but in-between rentals, we were able to sneak in and do some tracking here, and we learned a lot. The room sounded great.
Michael: It was fun. Because of the size of it, we were all able to record live in there. So, most of what you hear on the EP is just of the band playing the songs down together in that room, which is something we really wanted. Our first EP is very much pieced together, like here’s the drum track, here’s the guitar. And this one felt like it would benefit more from us being together.
Ben: Yeah, and we were really fortunate. We had Dom Billett playing drums, and Mark played keys on it, and Josh Minyard did some percussion. We were really happy with the players. We used a lot of the same folks from the first EP, another thing that we were trying to keep consistent. It was really great. I think we learned a lot. We hope to do more recordings here in the future when time allows. But I think overall, it was mission accomplished.
What sort of gear did you have to add that wasn’t already here?
Ben: Well, because we strictly focus on rehearsals, our audio equipment is mainly live audio. So, we ended up bringing in more recording-based gear. We brought in a small tube console that we use for most things. Ryan has a pretty nice mic collection, and then we rented a few [preamps] from our neighbors over at Blackbird. And that was it. It really didn’t require much. We didn’t go crazy. There’s not a lot of over-dubbing, or layering, or anything. We didn’t need a whole lot to get it done with this formation.
Michael: One of my favorite things to do is make records in my basement or in my house. It’s the same kind of feeling when you’re recording here that you’re not so much on the clock, like you would be if you were to go to a recording studio here in town. So, that was nice to be able to feel like we were in our space, we had the time to do it the way we wanted to do it. And we had people that we trusted working on it with us.
What’s been the hardest thing about this band, so far? Or the recording process? Has it just been smooth sailing
Michael: No, no, no.
Ben: No, there’s been—I mean, there’s been many challenges, for sure.
Michael: Yeah. We’ve been doing all the booking in-house. It’s been me, Ben, and Jon—Jon handling the brunt of the booking. Jon Nowak, that is, [who] also helps run Eugenia.
Just putting together bills on a national level, that’s challenging. It takes a lot of time, especially if you’re trying to play a hundred in a year. [Laughs] Very DIY.
Why was that the number?
Michael: We’re trying to make sure that each release has a lot of push behind it. And we feel like if we can do that amount of shows with two releases, it’ll get what they need to, hopefully have some legs, and we’ll try to gain some traction.
And being the first year of the band, we feel like that was a really important thing to try to assess.
So, what looks promising right now?
Ben: Randomly, Baltimore.
Michael: We got lucky enough to open up for Tennis there, and they sold out the show. We just had a couple really great shows in a row there.
Ben: Yeah, we played some dates with Liz Cooper there. It seemed to take, so we’ve been trying to make a point to hit [Baltimore].
We’re fan boys for Beach House and Wye Oak. There’s a lot of rad music that comes out of [Baltimore], so it’s pretty cool. Philly’s been good, too. That’s another city that I’m like, “Man, everything coming out of there I just seem to love right now.”
Have you guys been to the West Coast?
Michael: Not yet. We really want to.
Ben: Yeah, we definitely want to. I feel like we really [have] to make it count the first time, so I think right now we’re keeping it to this side of the country. But it’s definitely on the list. I think we’d probably want to set something up; do like a support slot with another band that already had some more infrastructure going on out there.
Michael: Yeah, that’d be great.
Who would be your ideal band to tour with?
Michael: Just off the top of my head right now, Spoon. I would love to open for Spoon. That’d be fun.
Ben: Yeah. We’re pretty big Spoon fans.
I think the new record’s really cool. I don’t know another band that’s making that quality of consistently good rock music—pop music, whatever you want to categorize them as. I just feel like they haven’t had a weak record for as long as I can remember. I bet that’s just really hard to do.
What’s your favorite one?
Michael: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.
Michael: I think it’s five “gas.” Ga-Ga-Ga-Ga-Ga.
Ben: That one’s amazing.
I think They Want My Soul is really strong. I really, really like that record a lot.
That’s our goal, it’s just so hard to do, integrity-filled pop music. There’s so many fine lines that you’re walking and so many inherently opposing elements to it. You’re trying to do something that’s really fresh and creative and unique, but it’s also listenable. And you can see it in every generation. I think that’s just really hard to do. But Brian Wilson did it, and Bowie did it. And Cass McCombs. That’s what we try to do. That’s what we’re going after. I don’t know if we’ve done it, but we’re trying.
How much of it is like you guys have a fresh start and you can take everything you’ve learned from experience and try over? There’s something envious about being in that position. There’s so much I would do differently if we just were like, “Scrap Original Fuzz. Let’s start over.” That's appealing to me.
Ben: I feel like you all nailed it right out the gate.
You always want a fresh start, and you guys are at the beginning of that.
Ben: Yeah. There’s a lot of ways to look at it, for sure. I think that there’s a creative fresh start. But, in a lot of ways, we’re starting over and it's that first-year grind where some of the shows are great, and some of them are not. But, creatively, it has been extremely liberating. And we’re very thankful for it.
Michael: Very liberating. I know more of what I want now than I ever did throughout my entire twenties, which is a great feeling to have when you’re creating, being able to do that with a fresh start. But, it’s like Ben said, even though we’ve had a little history doing music in this town, we still have to pay the exact same dues that we did when I was 19 and 20 years old.
Did you realize you were doing that at the time, back then, when you were twenty?
Ben: No, no. And that’s the beautiful part about it.
Michael: Yeah. It’s like when you’re a kid and you’re going on a road trip, when you’re going there, it takes forever…you’re not really anticipating something. Now, I know exactly the steps along.
But, I just try to think of it as one day at a time and a show at a time.
Ben: To what you’re saying, I think we do feel very lucky to be able to continue pursuing it. It has been really refreshing and exciting. I think it’s definitely different stylistically than what we were doing before, which has been fun for us, but also it’s not like there was a lot of carry-over either. It’s definitely not within the Americana spectrum, I would say. Whereas Apache Relay definitely was. It’s been exciting and refreshing doing something different.
But you definitely know the steps ahead.
Ben: [Laughs] Yes. Yeah, there’s so many lessons you just learn, and sometimes you’re not even conscious of them. But when the situation arises, you’re like, “Oh, yeah. I remember this. I remember how to deal with this.” You just learn. And also, like Michael said, you learn to know what you want and what your standards are for yourself and for the other people playing with you. We’re pretty laid-back dudes, but we like working with people who come in prepared, and are excited, and want to do the damn thing—like tour, and get on the road, and want to do it. You just know yourself more and what you want.
I’ve got one more question about that. What do you look for in a label these days? Or do you even want a label? Or what do you see as a role of labels being in 2017?
Ben: That’s a big-picture question.
Michael: I think one thing that labels provide that is hard to do on your own—and there’s so much that goes into it—labels add a legitimacy to an artist. [Labels] help open up doors that you may not get otherwise, like with radio, or now it’s all about Spotify playlists. Some of these larger companies have the ability to put you places that maybe you wouldn’t be able to do on your own. I love the DIY thing, and I love going about it that way right now. But, I think that’s probably the added benefit of a label.
Ben: Yeah. I would agree with legitimacy, and a lot of them have in-house Spotify reps, or they’ll have PR, [but] it’s not like they’re the gatekeepers to those. It’s one of those things where I feel like you need it most at the start, and as you get going, you need it the least. That seems to be the inverse of the label’s interest. So, it’s a very interesting thing to navigate. As Michael mentioned, we did a few shows with Tennis, which was fantastic. They just released Yours Conditionally, their most recent record, on their own label. And they were just saying how beneficial it’s been for them.
Michael: That was inspiring.
Ben: It sold better than any of their previous records, and they had more control of when it came out, and all the logistics that come along with handling it. They were just really pleased that they had made that decision the way it went. For Michael and I, it was inspiring to see, and it’s something that, I think, every artist strives for.
I like that there’s more opportunity for people—if it was the 70s, you’d have to be accepted by the gatekeepers, signed to some label that the Rolling Stones were on…
Michael: Yep, or you wouldn’t exist.
You have that, or you wouldn’t have a band.
Ben: Yeah, I agree.
Now there’s like this middle-ground where people can grow it for 20 years, like Spoon.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. It’s really nice in that regard. I think we agree fully on that. It’s nice to have that freedom for sure, so I think there's also a lot more folks taking advantage of that. There are so many more bands now.
So, it’s harder to break through.
Ben: It’s harder to get above the noise because there is so much of that. The artistic side of me is also like, “That’s really great, though, if people make the effort that they can do that.” So, yeah, we’re DIY-ing the hell out of it for sure right now, and it’s been really good. We’ve learned a lot.
Michael: I think the cool thing about it all is they’re showing an unpredictable quality. Labels, or whoever else in the music industry—you can’t ever predict how someone’s going to react to a certain song, or a certain band, or music. There’s always anomalies and all these things that come out of nowhere. And I think that’s what’s really exciting, because it’s all really based around how a song moves someone. And it can never be predicted. I love that aspect of the music industry.
You can’t even predict it as the creator.
Michael: All the math equations in the world—all the algorithms—they can never account for that.
Thank you Ben and Michael for your words and art. Listen to Airpark's newest EP, Early Works, Volume 2, out now. Keep up with Airpark on Instagram and Facebook, and see where they're playing next.
This feature is brought to you by Original Fuzz, the creativity outfitters. We believe it's not what you do, but how you do it. Read more articles in this month's magazine.