Now/It's: An Interview with Airpark (Ben Ford, Michael Ford, Jr.)

Airpark is officially comprised of brothers Ben Ford and Michael Ford, Jr.. Such a fact might prod certain writers to focus on some cheesy lede centered on some tired twist on Bobby Scott and Bob Russell's 1969 hit "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," (popularized by Neil Diamond and The Hollies) but in this particular instance, such perverse allusions will venture no further than they already have (still too far, probably). Anyway, Ben and Michael have a storied history in Nashville as members of now defunct groups, but have wasted little to no time in marking their territory in Nashville's burgeoning pop scene. As Airpark, the two create quality hi-fi pop songs that elicit sounds of Divine Fits and Dennis Wilson (listen to Airpark's "Dream Beam" for proof). The duo (along with their profound backing band) will begin to close out their year of touring one hundred shows by opening for Humming House at Cannery Ballroom this Friday, November 10th.

Now/It's met with Airpark at Three Corners Coffee, in the Nations neighborhood of West Nashville.

N/I - Is this spot cool with you guys?

Michael - Oh, absolutely! Dude this place is so cool. On the way here, we were talking about how neither one of us have made it out to West Nashville in a minute, and it’s just crazy to see the growth.

N/I - I remember that this part of town wasn’t much to ring home about until three years ago, or so.

Michael - It’s been crazy.

N/I - It’s cool, and it seems to be flourishing.

Ben - It definitely does.

Michael - I do wish the Stone Fox was still around.

N/I - True. It is a little bit of a bummer to drive by. I’m not too entirely sure what it is now.

Michael - I think it’s some kind of restaurant or something.

N/I - That was such a cool spot. Everyone that came through there was super cool.

Michael - They had some great bands, it was so cool. And the food was good, too. They had brunch for a while.

N/I - The food was good. And everyone from Alicia [Bognanno] in Bully, to Tristen, and everyone in between was linked to it.

Michael - William Tyler and his whole crew.

N/I - It was a tight knit crew.

Michael - So you grew up in this area?

N/I - Yeah. I grew up here.

Ben - One of the few. Every time you meet someone, they’re probably like “Wait, you’re from here?”

N/I - Exactly. It’s interesting. I’ve gotten to travel here and there for work and stuff, so that scratches that itch. It used to be, when I was in high school, I wanted to be as far away as possibility. I thought I was going to be a professional basketball player - and obviously, I’m kind of tapped out on height - but I was going to go to California, be a basketball player and go all over the world. I just wanted to get away, but now I love it, getting to go around town and meet to talk with people. Like you guys, for instance.

Ben - Yeah. Thanks for being up for it.

Michael - Absolutely man, cheers for that.

N/I - Well I appreciate you guys taking the time to do so.

Michael - Our pleasure.

N/I - I’m glad I was able to catch you guys with a little bit of time off the road.

Michael - We’ve been really hitting it hard.

Ben - Yeah. Since it’s the first year of the band, we’ve really been wanting to create some of our own momentum and some tour history, so we set a goal of trying to do at least one hundred shows this year.

Michael - We have releases out now - two releases, now. So it’s been great.

Ben - It’s been good, but it’s also been kicking our ass.

N/I - I would believe that.

Michael - Definitely.

Ben - But we’re thankful for it. There’s such thing as a happy sense of exhaustion.

N/I - Right. I would imagine at the very least, you both feel fulfilled as opposed to some sort of album slog. Granted, I don’t want to speak for you guys on that set - but not being a musician myself, I just don’t know if I could take the mental strain that comes with something like that.

Ben - I agree with you fully. It doesn’t make sense anymore, at least with us it doesn’t, because we’re a new band, and it’s more important to get more frequent smaller amounts of music out versus doing twelve songs and then not putting anything out for two years as a new band just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I think the attention spans are getting smaller and smaller.

N/I - Sure. To that point, you have the two EPs - and they’re both four songs a piece?

Ben - Both four songs a piece, and I guess they came out…. How many months apart?

Michael - About six months between the two. What’s been so fun for us with this quick release EP model was that during the winter, and even the summer, we were touring Early Works, Vol. One, the first EP, and during that time period, we were recording the songs for this EP that just came out, and finishing up writing here and there. It’s a very quick turnaround in terms of writing and then recording it while things are still fresh for us while it’s out in the world. And that’s just the way it goes, sometimes, but when you’re releasing full-length records, or just releasing something in general, you have to sit on things. I’ve sat on tunes for a year before their actual release, so right now things feel very immediate in a great way. Right as the songs feel fresh, we just recorded them, we feel inspired….

Ben - It’s good to be excited about songs by the time you put them out.

Michael - It’s rare. It’s a rare thing.

N/I - It seems to me that there would be some modicum of diminishing returns on both ends of the spectrum as far as having a song and sitting on it for a year, whereas for you two, the returns diminish by not getting to play a particular song as often, or people haven’t heard it to receive it in a live setting. But at the same time, if you were to be more expeditious about releasing things six months and chose to do, say, two songs each month, the first two are the bar, and everything else is based against those, no matter how good or bad the first are. They’re always referencing the same point.

Ben - I agree. It is important to find a balance, instead of being like “Okay, here’s the next two.” It becomes too routine.

Michael - And that can also wind up being too much.

Ben - But I do think you’re right, it’s all about finding a good balance. I do think that to the best of your abilities, you can get the most mileage out of the tunes that you do put out, if they go along with music videos and live session performances. You know what I mean?

Michael - I know what you mean.

[Both laugh]

N/I - Have you guys done a lot of that stuff?

Michael - Music videos and that?

Ben - Yeah. We did two music videos off the first EP.

N/I - Right. I saw those.

Ben - That was with Stewart Copeland - you mentioned Bully - he was fantastic.

Michael - He’s a brilliant, brilliant dude.

Ben - And then we actually just finished shooting a music video for “Le Tigre,” and we’re really excited with how it turned out, too. It should be out in the next couple of weeks.

Michael - Hopefully by the end of the month.

Ben - But for whatever reason…. Even when we were recording things early on - I always get a visual thing when we’re recording a song - the song’s really aggressive, but similar to the content, it feels very objective, it has a lot of depth to it. It’s not just a primitive description of anger. I kept envisioning fencers, for some reason, so there’s a big fencing theme throughout. We reached out to the Music City Fencing folks…..

[Drinks arrive]

Michael - Oh, wow. I love lattes. Thank you.

[All laugh]

Ben - You ordered one, so I would hope so.

Michael - You’d think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a latte.


Ben - Anyway, [the Music City Fencing Club] were up for it, and it wound up being this weird, sort of dark, twisted video, and they were willing to be a part of it, which I think was rad. It’s cool to have an idea early on like that and see it come to fruition. Plus, we were pretty involved in the entire process.

Michael - Did you mention Ry, too? I don’t want to forget that.

Ben - Right, sorry. The director is Ry Cox. He’s done some of other videos around town as well. He did “Blood Hunters” for Andrew Combs as well.

Michael - That was super cool.

Ben - A bunch of the Colony House stuff.

N/I - So that was more of a collaborative effort between the two of you and Ry? You guys obviously had the song and the initial vision, but where did he come in to help bring things to fruition? Does he help flesh it out, or does he provide dissenting opinions.

Ben - It was a good balance, because we would meet, and I told him I had this idea for fencing, and we also talked about the darker, more abstract visuals. We kept having ideas that went all over the place. We talked about Siamese fighting fish in a water glass, or having a Venus fly trap, but feeding it steak. Basically just weird, kind of disturbing imagery. He was really into it, but a couple of things we threw out, he was willing to say “I don’t think that’s going to work.” [Laughs]

Michael - Which was awesome, it was really give and take.

Ben - Right. He had some ideas that we really loved. It was really cool. He understood what we were going for. He referenced a Jay-Z video from….

Michael - “Onto the Next One.”

Ben - From the early 2000s. It’s black and white, and it’s a series of intense visuals. It’s not exactly clear cut in terms of a story arc, so we were like “Yeah! That’s the general vibe.” So it’s kind of funny that it took a Jay-Z reference for us to fully understand each other. I had never seen it before.

N/I - Was it funny because you had never seen the video?

Ben - Yeah….

Michael - I hadn’t either.

Ben - It goes back to what we were talking about, it just reminded us of particular vibes. It’s very much it’s own thing, but it was just funny that he totally got it, and referenced something else that totally nailed it. Because, we really dig collaborating with artists outside of music. It feels so much more depthful when you combine different art forms together. Even on our merch, we get really nerded out about it. We’ll research visual artists that we like, and reach out to them to see if they’re interested in collaborating. We like all aspects of it.

Michael - One of my favorite pieces of merch that we have right now is a design by a Memphis artist named Frances Berry, and Frances Berry’s artwork was something I was introduced to via the art crawl that Fort Houston does. This was probably two years ago, or so. It was January of either 2014 or 15….

Ben - We always loved it, but at that time, we were in a different band, and we didn’t feel like the aesthetic didn’t work quite as much, but we knew we wanted to do something with her at some point, and this time around it was like “Hey, we should reach back out to her.”

N/I - Serendipitous, in a way.

Ben - And she’s super cool, so we’ve been using that as well for a shirt design, and a banner.

Michael - Some set stuff.

N/I - Do you ever see - outside of music - artistic collaboration influencing you guys in the long term scope of the band? How do you approach the band on a daily basis? Is it “We have this long term goal of playing one hundred shows in a year?” Or is it day to day?

Michael - It’s a bit of both, honestly.

Ben - Yeah, I think it’s a bit of both. I think the bottom line for us is that we’ve always liked - it’s a broad category - but we’ve always loved quality pop music; high integrity pop music. Whether it’s Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue, or Elliott Smith, or Hamilton Leithauser’s most recent record has been really fantastic, in my opinion. We’re just trying to continue to push ourselves to make what we feel is the best quality, integrity filled pop music that we can. And that’s something that we’re always trying to force ourselves to do, even if it’s in uncomfortable situations, we’ll try different methods of writing out. A lot of times we find that songs don’t always come from the same process. I don’t know, does that answer your question [laughs]?

N/I - Absolutely. It was kind of a nebulous question in the first place.

Ben - We are inspired by other forms of art.

N/I - Of course. I guess the reason I ask is due to the fact that I’ve talked to a lot of people - and I’m sure you guys know a lot of people - that draw a lot from a painting, and they’re somehow able to glean aspects that provide an entire album’s worth of material. Or a single. Or whatever. So I’m just interested in learning how any given person’s creative process differs from the next.

Michael - You see, that’s funny, because for me in the past year and a half, or even the past two years, I’ve been starting mostly with a song title, and then I’ll work on something and a lot of times it’ll take me anywhere between three to six months before I feel like a song is completed. So for me, a series of words can be enough to be inspiring, then flesh it out and hopefully make it into a song if it’s meant to be. But when I was younger, I would write a song a day. That sort of shocking approach that is ultimately chaotic, but I think it’s super cool that certain people can be like that. I’ve never looked at a painting and thought “I want to write a song about this painting,” but I’ve definitely experienced other people’s art that wound up making me feel a certain way, and I hope that I can do that for someone else with songs I wrote. Maybe it’s just through an overall emotion, but still.

N/I - Sure, it’s a little more offertory in that sense.

Ben - That’s a huge latte.

Michael - [Laughs] Yeah, it’s like two lattes.

N/I - That’s a healthy dose of caffeine. So as far as your time on the road, headed toward one hundred shows in a year, have things been satisfactory?

Ben - Yeah. I think for our first year, we’ve been able to do some quality shows that we’ve been really happy with. We’ve been big about our approach. We get to see which cities we gravitate towards, which has been helpful, because we’ve found things like Baltimore being really responsive, which was interesting. New York does pretty well. So it indicates and highlights where we can focus our energy more, for next year, and moving forward. Overall, it’s been good. We were fortunate enough to do some dates with Tennis, which we’re really big fans of their music, and as people. One of those was an in town show, which was really nice. All three of those shows were a blast. We did a lot of dates with Liz Cooper, who we’re also big fans of, and those were great.

Michael - It’s definitely been fantastic, but I would say that the challenges that come with touring a first year band is that Ben and I are doing one hundred percent of the tour managing and one hundred percent of the driving.


Ben - We’re wearing all the hats.

Michael - All the hats. I’m grateful for the opportunity that we have, but the physical aspect of touring, for me is something that I feel a little bit more now. I’m twenty-nine now, so when you look at it when I was twenty-one, I could sleep on someone’s floor. So you feel stuff like that a little more, but in the end, it’s still “Man, you get to play music.” and like Ben said, see where stuff lands. You can feel some traction from that, and we’ve had some college stations playing some of the tunes, which has been really helpful for us. Maryland, WTMD, and some other stations as well. It’s been cool, man. I think for us, and being in the music industry in general, it’s all about little victories. I’ve never been in a band where it’s like an overnight thing, or “Oh man, that was crazy, it just worked!”

Ben - No instant celebrity.

Michael - Whatever it may be. I feel like everything is really hard fought. You go and slug it out one day at a time, and you build things, and that’s how we’re doing it now. It didn’t surprise me, it was definitely something I expected.

N/I - It’s like getting on the air - was is WTMD?

Michael - WTMD.

N/I - So in Maryland, there’s x amount of people that hear it, and they’re like “Okay, I want to see these guys,” and then they might bring a friend, and things begin to snowball there. That’s what you’re talking about, the small victories. But it’s interesting that you guys have noticed a city like Baltimore has responded well.

Michael - They’re into. It’s great.

Ben - Which has been cool, because there’s been a lot of cool music that’s come out of Baltimore.

N/I - Right. There’s Wye Oak….

Michael - They’re great.

Ben - Beach House.

Michael - Future Islands are from there, I think.

N/I - That’s right!

Michael - Or maybe they’re from Durham.

N/I - I think they’re originally from Baltimore, but it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to go somewhere like the triangle in North Carolina.

Ben - It’s really cool. People seem to have a lot of respect for it.

N/I - Well it’s home to a lot of acts that are, for the most part, in the same vein as you guys. Just different iterations of that sort of high quality pop music.

Ben - Complementary, for sure.

Michael - Thanks man. We’re just trying.

N/I - Of course. So how many more dates do you guys have this year?

Ben - It’s going to be around….

Michael - Probably around twenty?

Ben - Is it twenty? For some reason I thought it was more than that, like thirty or forty. Man, it’s sad, I have to go to my calendar and flip through stuff, sometimes I just don’t even know. So I’d say around twenty or thirty left. It’ll be good. We’re going to try and slow things down. I feel like things die down around Thanksgiving.

N/I - More or less.

Ben - We may do some in town stuff for fun in December, I’m not sure.

N/I - Well you guys are playing Cannery with Humming House, right?

Michael - That’s our next in town show.

Ben - It’s Humming House and….

Michael - Smooth Hound Smith.

Ben - That’ll be cool. For us, that’ll be the biggest room we’ve played as Airpark, which is rad. It’s very sweet of them to put it out there to us. That’ll be the next big in town show. We did the EP release show about a month ago. That was a blast.

N/I - With Good Buddy?

Michael - Yeah. Have you seen them?

N/I - I have.

Michael - They’re great. Really amazing.

N/I - Super cool.

Ben - We’re big fans.

Michael - That one also had Taylor Zachry.

Ben - Taylor, from Blank Range. He played first.

Michael - You guys did some stuff with Blank Range, right?

N/I - Yeah. We premiered a video.

Michael - That’s right.

Ben - They’re awesome dudes. We love those guys, and Taylor’s solo material is great too. I’m excited for him to get that out into the world. I’d say that’s pretty much it as far as the end of the year.

Michael - We’re going to keep touring throughout the next year. Keep releasing music.

N/I - Stay on the EP release track?

Michael - I think that’s our plan for now.

Ben - Maybe do a vinyl single, seven-inch, thing. I do think we’re enjoying the strategy of doing more frequent, small releases. I still think it would be a bit early to do a full-length at this moment. But we’re enjoying writing and recording. We did the last record with Ryan McFadden, who’s an awesome producer in town. We’ll use the winter to do some writing, and then get back out there.

Michael - That’s something I’ve been really excited about - things have been very tour-centric, and very promotionally centered for the two EPs that have come out back to back, so it’ll be nice to get creative for a little bit. And to get back into the studio. It’s good to have a balance of those things. You’d always have it, in a perfect world.

N/I - Well what is that like between you guys? Is it an equal, fifty-fifty? I would imagine there has to be some give and take.

Ben - It’s funny, Michael said he can spend months on lyrics, but I tend to think he’s a little more prolific. It depends, sometimes we’ll write together, other times he’ll show up with a song, or I’ll show up with a song. But if it’s just me by myself, I spend a long time. Probably too long on stuff. It’ll be interesting. It’s been exciting. The last track on the EP [“Blue Eyed Spaniard”] is a song that I wrote….

Michael - And sing.

Ben - And sing on. Michael was kind of elbowing me to put it on there.

Michael - I’ve been trying to get that song on a release for a long time. I’m really happy.

Ben - I was pretty hesitant about it, because I didn’t know if it would be confusing for people. On the first EP, Michael was pretty much all main vocals, but then I thought about it, and I realized, I like bands with different singers. So it was just like “Alright, let’s give it a shot.” Hopefully we’ll do more trading off. I think my favorite thing to do is harmonies throughout stuff, so we’ll probably do more of that, as well. But it comes in lots of different ways, we’ll present things separately, or write them together. We’re really good at editing each other’s stuff. Michael will say something like “Oh, maybe that bridge sounds a little weird,” we’re pretty blunt with each other, which is nice .

N/I - And is that a product of being brothers?

Ben - In bands from a long time.

Michael - Yeah. Bands and brothers. That helps with things.

Ben - It’s cool. It’s so important to me, because I think we both recognize that the end goal is the same. It’s not like we’re trying to do different things. We’re trying to make the best thing we can. And I think our musical tastes are so aligned that I trust him. It’s not like “I just don’t think you get it.” So we’ll understand each other and then spend more time on it. Sometimes you still don’t want to hear it, but it’s still a fantastic thing to have. It leads to a good end result. I’m appreciative of that, that is a rare thing to have in a creative relationship.

Michael - It’s honesty, straight up. For better or for worse.

N/I - Well I would imagine that relationship saves you guys a lot of time in terms of politicking.

Ben - Well there’s also the fact that you’re going to hear these songs so many times, so you need to love it as much as you can. It’s too much energy and work to settle. So you try to avoid that at all costs, for your own sanity.

N/I - That always helps. If you’re spending that much time together, I would figure things could stew and boil over and make for a very unpleasant dynamic, otherwise.

Ben - We always joke that we got all our fighting out. It’s not like fantasy land, we still have arguments about stuff, but it’s all very resolvable and treatable versus passive aggressive. So that’s the best part about it.

N/I - Plus, you guys already have a track record of other bands that I would imagine helped serve as the dry run of dealing with passive aggressiveness and everything. It got everything out of the way, which I imagine would help a lot.

Ben - It’s just very direct and easy. And on the business front, we are fortunate that we do different things pretty well. It never falls on either one of us to carry the load more than the other. Michael does better with coordinating the players and all that stuff, and I try to do more social stuff.

Michael - I’m also like the task manager [laughs]. I handle the emails. I’m a list guy, so that’s great. We balance each other out pretty well.