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Cultural Shorts

Unwed Sailor still have 'Faithful Anchor'

4UnwedSailorPhotoCreditCharlesElmore.jpg
Charles Elmore
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Musician Johnathon Ford formed the band Unwed Sailor in the late 1990s.

In recent years the band has issued a string of acclaimed albums and is now getting ready to re-release its debut album, The Faithful Anchor.

Unwed Sailor performs at Kirby’s Beer Store on Tuesday evening, Nov. 16, on a bill with Endless Chasm and Pops Junior.

Unwed Sailor’s founding member, Johnathon Ford, formed the mostly instrumental band in the late 1990s, issuing a steady stream of influential EPs and LPs between 1998 and 2008. The recorded output slowed somewhat for nearly a decade with just a few recorded tracks making their way into the world.

But, since 2019’s “Heavy Age,” Unwed Sailor has kept up a remarkable pace of recorded output and touring, culminating in 2021’s “Truth or Consequences.”

In addition to the new material, the band’s debut full-length, “The Faithful Anchor,” is being reissued Nov. 19, a milestone Ford says he never quite expected.

The group's current series of road dates last until Nov. 21 in Birmingham, Alabama. Then, after the winter holidays, Unwed Sailor will return to the road opening for Me Without You on that group’s final concert dates.

Ford, who lives in Tulsa, recently spoke with KMUW on the eve of the band’s tour launch from its rehearsal headquarters in Birmingham.

Interview Highlights

Each Unwed Sailor album is a step forward from the last. What were some things that you did differently on “Truth or Consequences”? 

I tend to compare the last three records, “Truth Or Consequences,” “Look Alive,” and “Heavy Age,” as having distinct sounds. “Heavy Age” is a kind of a heavy album, kind of big, more shoegaze-y, dark. “Look Alive” had almost some punk elements and dance elements; Killing Joke and Joy Division influences with some ambient influences, too. “Truth or Consequences” is a melding of those two. But I also drew out old influences, like “Faithful Anchor” or “The Marionette and the Music Box.” I’d say “Truth or Consequences” is the record that has the most diverse elements of Unwed Sailor stirred together in a pot.

“The Faithful Anchor” is about to be reissued. It came out in 2001 and there are a number of records I love that I know were directly influenced by that one. I imagine that when you made it you weren’t thinking there would still be an Unwed Sailor 20 years down the road. 

I’m thankful that it’s gone this long. I would be miserable without it. I love Unwed Sailor so much. It’s definitely my outlet and my voice. And it’s a friend, too. When I was doing “The Faithful Anchor” I didn’t think, “Oh, I’ll do this for 20 years.” That would have been wild. That would have kept me up at night, trying to fathom that.

It's kind of crazy how Unwed Sailor has been there even when I've tried to ignore it, when I've stepped away from it. It's always been there still kind of patiently waiting for me. We've gotten to know each other for over 20 years now. We know each other pretty well, the songs and the band and I, how we interact with each other. I'm so thankful that life gave me this.

There were a number of indie rock bands that started around the time of “The Faithful Anchor” that were amazing. They toured and made records and then ended after maybe one or two albums. You can’t really plan on longevity. Was there a point where you realized, “Hey, we’ve come this far, and I don’t think the band’s going to go away anytime soon. I’m stuck with this now, no turning back”? 

I feel like the moment I realized, “OK, this is with me for the rest of my life” was when we did “Heavy Age.” Because there was that break between “Little Wars” and “Heavy Age.” It was like a 10-year or nine-year break. But the thing is, we toured during that time, and we released two EPs and did some songs compilations but there was no full-length record. With “Heavy Age” it all just worked so well and made sense. I thought, “OK, this in my DNA.” We followed it up with “Look Alive” and that worked [well] and then “Truth or Consequences.”

Unwed Sailor has never been busier in the 23 years that I’ve done this. Over the past three or four years it’s started to hit me that this is my lifelong thing. I’ve started looking at it more that way, too. There’s not going to be another 10-year break between full-lengths. It’s full-on now. I’m getting old enough now that I can’t afford another 10-year break. I’m just really driven.

There’s a lot of touring activity for the band right now and given the reputation your live shows have I wonder if you’ve considered doing a live album or DVD or combination of those two?

I'm just one step ahead of you there. We're releasing one in January. It’s going to be an EP, a live EP with one studio song. We’re going to have some video with it as well. We filmed the live session, so there will be audio and video. That’s correlating with our tour with Me Without You in January. So, yeah, you had some kind of psychic energy there, calling it before it’s announced.

[Laughs.] You’ve been touring since the ’90s and when you first started the internet wasn’t what it is today. Cell phones were not as prevalent. I wonder if you miss any of the old ways of doing things?

There's a lot of them. Working with an atlas. Finding your way on a map. Pulling into a town and going to a payphone and calling the promoter to get directions to the venue. Having CDs [to listen to] in the van was kind of a luxury. Usually, there would be 8-track players in the van because you were driving something that was 15, 20 years old if you were in a punk or indie band. A couple of the vans we had early on just had 8-tracks. So there’d be a Johnny Cash and a John Travolta 8-track to listen to. When we finally put a CD player in the van we were, like, “Wow! This is amazing!” I do miss the innocence of those little things. But now is nice, too. You’re less likely to get lost and be an hour late for a show. But, maybe for this tour I’ll buy an atlas. I bet if I opened one and tried to find directions from city to city I’d be struggling.