Joel Ford is one of the most fascinating and difficult-to-define characters in the relatively new-ish American outsider synth movement. Ford and sonic cult colleagues Laurel Halo, James Ferraro, and Daniel Lopatin, like Octo Octa and Ital from the 100% Silk imprint, occasionally pop out of their underground microcircus when invited to the indie mainstream party by heavy hitters who love their outsider sounds. The throughlines of these concentric circles of artists include their reverence for the late ’70s and ’80s (the period during which many of them entered the world), a preference for analog synths (or software that approximates such tones), and the mysterious veil that surrounds them all. But none are more mysterious than Ford, an avatar of all-over-the-place whatness.
“I’m mostly a pro football guy,” Ford says; he and childhood friends Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never)and Al Carlson, engineer for Mexican Summer imprint Software, all grew up in a small town outside of Boston, listening to music (obviously) and watching sports (less obvious). “I’ve been living in Asheville, North Carolina, for the past year when not working in NYC or elsewhere, but the South is so college football heavy,” he continues. “I watched BC [Boston College] as a kid, football and basketball. I went to state school, but the UMass teams sucked.” So consider him geeked out on that. Hip-hop has been a huge influence on Ford, and true to his East Coast roots, he cites DJ Premier as the alpha and omega of ’90s producers. “Primo and Prefuse 73 are the reason I bought my first MPC,” he says. And going back to the ’80s, he name-checks some oft-forgotten pioneers, like Marcus Miller, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and the System.
But sports and deep-bin ’80s anti-legends are only a fraction of the story. Ford also caught the techno (or Electronica, as it was lamely rebranded in America) bug. “The Hackers soundtrack was big for me,” he fondly remembers. “I was in fifth or sixth grade at the time and was starting to get into computer programming and techno at the same time, so obviously it hit me hard.” While some of his music has been licensed for films or commercials, he has yet to actually score one. “It’s a dream of mine,” he says.
Ford’s ecclectic taste is exactly what makes his music so multipurpose; you can fuck, blaze, or fight to any of it (and you should). Recently, he released the EP Trust as Airbird, one of his many, many projects and aliases. This December, he’s working with Leanne Macomber of Neon Indian on her solo album (“that retro-futurist vibe”) and producing work with both Lopatin, for Autre Ne Veut (“freakazoid R&B”), and Brooklyn-based artist Patrick McDermott, on a project called North Americans.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” I say before I ask Ford if he’s ever gotten into a fist fight. “I was at a bar in Brooklyn,” he says. “These dudes ran out of the bar and then we noticed that my buddy’s girlfriend was covered in blood, so we assumed that she had been assaulted by them. We chased them down and fought them. It was pretty ugly. Lots of nerdy punches. The guys got arrested, though. And everyone was fine in the end. There have been some scenarios on tour in Europe where I’ve gotten up in one or two guys’ faces for whatever reason, but I can never bring myself to throw a punch. Probably a good thing.”
Ford is neither a meathead with a sensitive side nor a dork with a mean streak. Actually, he’s living proof that you don’t have to be the result of what you listen to. Fuck conforming to Breakfast Club shorthand for personality types. The future is fantasy football and fantasy film scores.
Trust by Airbird is out now on Software
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