Apple Music’s Matt Wilkinson joins the producer James Ford in a career spanning interview. James discusses the early days of his career, the break up of his first band Simian, being introduced to the Arctic Monkeys, working with Damon Albarn and the story behind the making of the Klaxon’s debut album.
James Ford on his early years…
I grew up in a little town and it was quite a musical little town. I played in pub bands from the age of 11, 12. It was pretty peak district, not a lot going on, cider and mushrooms, and playing The Boys Are Back in Town, basically. Then went to Manchester University, got in a couple of bands there. I was going to do music, but I didn’t end up doing that. But my first professional gigs as a drummer was playing with 808 State. I played in some clubs and met Graham through that.
James Ford on Simian breaking up…
So there was a bit where it wasn’t working very well. We had quite strained interpersonal relationships within the band. On the end of an American tour, I think at South by Southwest, I think I’ve said it before, but in a fish restaurant, I seem to remember it came to blows and there was crayfish flying everywhere, and we decided to call it a day.
James Ford on being introduced to the Arctic Monkeys…
Test Icicles was definitely an important one for me ’cause that got me introduced to Domino. Actually, Lawrence, who runs Domino, was so impressed by the job I’d done on that, he introduced me to the Monkeys in that year. This is pre-first album.
[Matt Wilkinson] That’s how it happened? Wow.
[James Ford] I remember having the demo, going up on the train to meet them and stuff. The famous demo of their first six songs. It had Mardy Bum, and all those ones on it, and just being like, “Oh my god, this is something.”
[Matt Wilkinson] Was that with a view to working on the debut Monkeys record?
[James Ford] Yeah. Me and Mike Crossey started work on the record in Liverpool. It was called Motor Museum. That’s the first time I properly hung out with him. Jamie didn’t have a passport, everyone was super green. It was a pretty heady time. Their hype was just starting to accumulate.
[Matt Wilkinson] It’s the only time that I can really remember it where I’ve been alive and the hype has overtaken the amount of music that’s been out there. Everybody knew that the songs were there because of bootlegs and demos, but none of it was actually available. It’s weird.
[James Ford] Yeah, it was quite odd how much steam it gathered. Andy was still playing bass at that time. We did some versions of some of the songs that got lost to the ether, and I thought it was great. It got deemed to be a bit too… Some of the songs were too fast, or it was a bit too punk-y or something, and so it got wrestled off at the later stage and finished off by someone else, which again was another huge setback for me.
James Ford on Alex Turner and Damon Albarn…
I feel very lucky to have been in the room with both of those guys. They’re both brilliant in quite different ways. Their approaches are quite different. Damon is a very hard worker, but he’s quite chaotic, and he’s constantly generating, but moving on quickly. Alex is pretty fastidious and he, more than anyone, will drill down into a lyric, or reworking a line so it lands better, or even a guitar part. He will spend a lot of time, to the point where sometimes in the studio it’s like, “Oh, you’re going to be working on the guitar part for three hours, aren’t you? I’m just going to go-“
James Ford on recording the Klaxons second album…
Yeah. Still, to this day, I’ve had a few mad recording experiences, but that second Klaxons album, this one particular bit in France… We did a bit in Italy as well, but then this one bit in France. Obviously, they were on a high from that record. It had gone down really well. The Mercury, and all that stuff. Which, the Mercury curse is another thing we could get into. But they decided, quite foolishly, which is something I had very rarely done, I was nervous about doing, but they convinced me it would be okay, it was to go in without all the songs being written. So we turned up in this studio in Brittany called Black Box, beautiful little place.
One of them had bought this big bag of stuff they were calling five star, which was a mix of five different chemicals. It was pretty psychedelic stuff, I’m not going to try and list what was in it. But proceeded to pretty much do this stuff all day every day. Cut to two weeks in, we basically thought we’d made Dark Side of the Moon. To be fair, there was some great moments in it, actually. Maybe could have been executed a bit better with a bit more focus, but they went back, basically. They were out in the field, there was this bit they were calling the dip, and they were burying stuff because that was the alien landing site, and they were communicating with aliens.