Quarantined Artists is a new FUV feature that includes online Q&As and on-air conversations with musicians dealing with life in Covid-19 lockdown.
It's strange poetry indeed to release an album called Migration Stories while travel is virtually impossible during the current Covid-19 pandemic. But M. Ward's empathetic, eloquent, and often exuberant tenth album is an ideal remedy to restless days of uncertainty. The vivid stories that Ward tells and the variable moods he explores in this new album, released on April 3, reflect what it feels like to face life-changing circumstances with courage and hope.
Matt Ward, whose non-solo projects include She & Him and Monsters of Folk, was preparing to tour behind Migration Stories, but like most musicians, he's temporarily grounded from hitting the road, cancelling his North American tour (a UK tour is optimistically scheduled for late October). When WFUV caught up to Matt for our new feature, Quarantined Artists, he was safe at home in Los Angeles with his family. He chatted about the record and also sent along a "Crisis Playlist" of ten songs that have buoyed him through these dark times, including requested selections from Migration Stories:
It must be disconcerting to be releasing Migration Stories at a time when the world has ground to a halt. But it seems as if you intuited this moment of time — you've said that these songs "help to process bad news" into something new we can build on. Can you explain a bit more?
I think everyone has their own way of processing bad news into something that allows them to sleep at night—like a survival instinct to protect our nerves from complete annihilation. I feel fortunate that I started some isolation habits when I was a teenager of just spending a good part of everyday writing and editing and experimenting with guitar. Music as a listener and writer is a therapeutic release. It’s kept me out of the psychiatrist's sofa so far (laughs).
Songs like "Unreal City," "Migration of Souls," and "Real Silence" all stem from your storyteller's eye to the immigration policies in this country. These are compositions of mood and momentum. Was there a defining song on this album that informed the songs that followed?
The first song that pointed the direction of the record was "Migration Of Souls". I’m interested in the idea of limbo spaces—transitional areas where you might negate your identity and become someone new. I see these grey areas in terms of people moving from one life to another, transfigurations of one soul to another in life and death. And also in music—how the most powerful songs belong in limbo without genre or easy identities.
You headed to Canada to record the album with Arcade Fire's Tim Kingsbury and Richard Reed Parry. What did you discover with that partnership that felt so right for this album?
I’ve been a fan of their sound and energy for a long time. It seemed interesting to me to see what would happen to give them more downtempo songs. They brought in textures that I could never have thought of on my own. Especially when it comes to keyboards and vintage synthesizers.
Is there a particular migration/immigration/refugee story that resonates for you and informed a particular track on the record?
Not one specific article, no. More like a wave of them. I remember talking to some friends in Denmark about the European crisis and how basically most citizens want to help people in need no matter what, but for one reason or another the governments aren’t able to see it that simply. I definitely don’t have any political answers for the crises on any continent — the songs come from more of an emotional reaction to individual stories and visualizing how the stories could end. And I can’t help but tie these stories to my grandfather’s, who immigrated here from Mexico in the 1920s.
Where are you spending this lockdown period and how are you taking care of yourself and your family? How are you keeping your spirits up and looking after your mental health?
I’m lucky to have a studio connected to my little garage here in Los Angeles. It’s tiny (just room for a few guitars and amps), but it’s a good little hideout. Since the tour has been cancelled there’s been a lot of unexpected hours writing and editing and listening to music.
On the other side of this Covid-19 experience, how do you hope the world and humanity might change?
I think every world crisis creates a new era. The next one is starting right now with our reaction to suffering. I hope that some of the millions of people who are stuck indoors will take this time to write, whether it’s a book or a blog or a short story or a poem or a letter to Congress. Netflix is fine, but I don’t think the world needs more spectators right now.
Bye for now, love to all, and viva FUV
- Matt Ward, March 30, 2020
(In addition, M. Ward will livestream a Migration Stories performance from his home which WFUV will carry on Wednesday, April 8, at 2pm EDT via our Facebook page.)
M. Ward's Crisis Playlist (Spotify playlist compiled by Matt Ward, March 2020)