- Photo by Valerie Paulsgrove
Celebration are a special band. When Katrina Ford sings, I believe it. I believe that what they’re doing is honest, real and straight from the heart. They are one of my favourite bands, and one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen and this week, the band share two new songs – ’Tomorrow’s Here Today’ and ‘Blood Is The Brine’, their first since releasing Hello Paradise in 2011.
In this interview Katrina talks about the history of the band, Baltimore, parting with 4AD, the music industry, the band’s new record and love of music.
When did you start playing music? Can you tell us a bit about your earlier bands?
JAKS: When I was a senior in high school (April 1991) I was living part time in my car. My best friends and I created what we called a “garage band”. It started as all things do, at first as a dream. Also kind of a joke.
It was Jessica, Sean and John and I. We chain smoked to Jesus Lizard and Big Black in graveyards, cornfields and parking lots.
We drank Colt 45 from a paper bag and collected crystals and read tarot. We were a small gang. We had our own language and mythology. The world seemed like a limitless place of joy and mystery. As all kids are at that age, we were breaking away from the illusions that our parents and our culture had created, and it was the most liberating feeling.
Our music was but upbeat. Punk roots mostly… but with more complex time signatures. Like a goth math-rock band if you can imagine! Lots of surprises. We had the energy and the hubris to pull it off. I screamed all the ridiculous words. It was my cathartic break from my poisonous childhood.
LOVELIFE: Two years after JAKS broke up, Sean and I found ourselves in Baltimore. We created Lovelife with Anthony Malat (ex UOA, ex The Great Unraveling).
We had a hellava time finding a drummer. Whilst working at Whole Foods, Sean and Anthony saw David, who worked in the deli . It was quite magical, he had a t-shirt on that said “percussionist” so they approached him. Musically, we had a hard time making anything happen in this band. During this time we met Dave Sitek, he encouraged us and recorded us, gave us the self confidence to keep giving. The music that we made was this dirge rock depression. Long winded and unsatisfied. Vocally I screamed and grunted my way through it. I never wanted the vulnerable feminine side to be exposed. I had the ability to fool the listener into thinking I was male. Ultimately as a band, we were lazy and unfocused. It was always the potential that lured us but never the outcome. So eventually, we self destructed.
BIRDLAND: Sean and I had been making music as a duo all along but never devoted ourselves fully to the idea until Lovelife was through. We were creatively driven at the time by being newly wed. It was romantic playing as a two piece. It was just him and I, against the world. That was about 9 years ago now. Ex-Lovelife drummer David would come to our shows and watch, all puppy eyed. We all wanted to play together again, so he eventually joined the band, and that’s when it started to really take off. When we signed to 4AD they advised us to change our name, apparently there was another Birdland (from the 80s, a band with a reputation for being ridiculously bad and corny); so we found Celebration after many trial names that I can look back and laugh at.
What makes Sean and David important to the band?
They ARE the band – they are everything that makes me want to sing and dance. As unique creatures they each have personality traits that make us a good family tribe. David is an old soul with a huge heart, he is my measuring stick for a lot of situations. Sean is our resident genius, he can fix anything, he has the will and the way.
Can you tell us about Baltimore?
It’s a little big town. I call it a geode city. It looks rough and dirty but if you crack it open you’ll find something beautiful and sparkling inside. Because it’s inexpensive, there are many artists and musicians. A huge underground where it seems everybody knows each other. Everyone is very prolific, competitive and collaborative. It’s very inspiring.
Are there any local bands you have been admiring lately?
Rod Hamilton: beautiful meditation music. The Pilgrim.
You’ve mentioned before about being put through challenges and that your principals have kept you away from the business side of the music industry – can you explain about this at all?
The long and short of it: working with a label as large as 4AD was a challenge…
Did you initially feel any bitterness?
Yes, I took it very personally…
With Hello Paradise everything felt very free, exciting and loose. I saw it as a creative project existing entirely in its own right, and not tied to any templates… and I really loved that. It was very refreshing.
Can you tell us a bit about the concept? Are you happy with how it turned out?
Yes, I’m happy with the music and the art, but I wish more people knew about it. After the fiasco with 4AD, I dropped out of everything, even life. I went into a deep depression. The only saving grace was love. Love of music, love between us as a band.
As therapy, we began slowly to write again, just to get back down to the basics. I decided the only thing I could control was the music. Everything else seemed against us. I thought to myself, if my shit was tight and right this would have never happened. So we continued to pursue the one thing we knew how to do and set out to improve our expression and proficiency.
In recording, we felt we had never been able to capture what people really seemed to respond to in our live show. The kinetic magic of being on fire together. In the past we had tamed ourselves for the tape. So our challenge was to try to get that feeling in the studio. But we were coming from a different place. Our egos crushed, it wasn’t as triumphant as you’d think. The songs were the blood that had spilled in the room. They needed expression, ultimately it is a sad record. Those feelings needed a place to go.
Life had taken us for a ride, and it shows. I’m proud of it. It’s true – it’s us.
The end result was NO COMPROMISE, NO CONTRACT. A dream record with only love. No head for business, we find ourselves back at square one. We gave it all away online for free. Our decision has improved us as musicians but it has isolated us into obscurity. I’m afraid we’ve painted ourselves into a corner.
Who created the artwork and what were the ideas behind the imagery?
I did. The cover is marker drawing, originally a doodle. The paintings inside were created for the songs , each one being a tarot card. When we went into hiding/writing mode we emerged with twenty-two songs. Twenty-two is a significant number to the tarot. Upon further inspection I realized coincidentally they matched, each song could be linked to tarot theme. So it was born.
The Internet cultivates ‘barrier free exchange’; what is your viewpoint on the ‘constant’ culture it also nurtures – through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Tumblr etc etc? How has it affected you with Celebration? And personally, how do you feel about, and interact with, the Internet?
I have love/hate with these things. I quit Facebook a couple of years ago. I believe the CIA uses Facebook literally as a book of faces, an up to date, minute by minute, dossier on all users (99 million people and counting). The potential for commercial and political exploitation, scares me to the core. I am very careful.
On the other hand, I love the idea that people can share instantaneously. More often it’s with pictures/video. But everything is becoming a symbol and a meme as if some futuristic fourth dimensional hieroglyphs. So instantaneous in fact, we’ve a global case of ADD, a flash of this and flash of that and “what next”.
I feel like humanity is drunk with information. Our ancestors, to my knowledge, have never been so exposed to each other and the world. But, the caveat is that it’s not REAL, it is a “virtual reality”, not tangible but fallible and manipulatable . Sometimes I believe past the corporate sludge, it’s just a din of narcissists building ego shrines. That’s the dark side. The bright side, is seeing and connecting to the beauty and humor of life and experiencing a by proxy empathy resonance with others, well outside our physical limitations.
Personally I really don’t like album or single reviews, or live reviews. Elvis Costello once said writing about music is like dancing about architecture. I struggle with the way people dissect somebody else’s creation. And with the internet, it can happen so instantaneously, with little/no thought. Do you read reviews? How do you feel the Internet has impacted music journalism?
Yes, I read reviews of my work: it’s like watching a car crash. You helplessly cannot look away. As an insecure artist I’m always looking for confirmation. It is my weakness. If I didn’t give a damn what others thought, it would never leave my basement. People sometimes genuinely take the time with an open heart and listen. Other times I’m not sure if they made it past the first chorus. All in all we have received some pretty good reviews, but the bad ones hurt . Anyone with internet access has the power destroy or deify your hard work with a few keystrokes. Now whether that person has any weight or not can be the defining factor. Who are these people? Are they music lovers? Witty antagonists? Frustrated journalists? High school kids? Cointelpro? We’ll never know really.
What do you love about making music?
I believe that music is the most powerful expression of communion with creation. Physically I love the escapism from the mundane. Spiritually it makes I feel connected with “the other”. Singing is my life.
Do you have any other creative outputs?
I write. I take photos. I love making art, painting, paper sculpture, video, collage. I dabble in many mediums. I don’t dedicate enough time to any one thing to master it, sadly. I just have lots of ideas/feelings and a need to express.
Have you ever thought about calling it quits with Celebration? If so, why?
Yes. We’ve felt like the world was against us so many times. We have a long history playing together, we are a family. Sean and I are married. We’ve been together 20 years. Life is a balance of light and dark forces. It’s the good things that have kept us together.
Your live show is amazing. Do you enjoy playing live?
When it’s on and everyone in the band is connected, it’s energizing and emancipating. When I get my spell broken or rather my illusions shattered by an unsuccessful connection to the audience it’s distracting and forced. The key is to not be tugged on by your ego either way. Your ego shouldn’t be attached. That’s the hard part. The ultimate goal live is to become a channel or conduit for the collective spirit. Sometimes it happens.
I am really excited to hear you are working on a new record – can you tell us a bit about this?
This is the second installment of the Electric Tarot (our musical tarot deck). We’ve been recording it in pieces over the last six months. Some at home, some at High End studio. We want this to be the most intimate, experience of Celebration. It’s all over the place really. We have a children’s song. A song that’s a psychedelic take on French folk style. A seven minute dirty rock song with a FUCKING GUITAR SOLO (I never thought we would indulge/cross the line… just a pinky toe). A wartime lullaby. A 50′s doo- wop shaman song. A song that I can only say sounds like Scooby Doo in a Clockwork Orange.
New Track: ‘Tomorrow’s Here Today’
New Track: ‘Blood is the Brine’
These themes seem unrelated but I assure you we will tie them together. The key will be when we sequence the record. We are now in the final tracking, just the cherries and frosting. We have been having a blast. As to how anyone will hear it? I don’t know. We need someone to believe in it. But nobody’s heard it, we haven’t “shopped” it around. So I’m not sure how that will happen. Crazy I just don’t know how to self promote, I’m not a marketer. No one in the band is.
How do you feel about the time we live in?
Happy to be alive. Sitting here next to my cat, having a nice cup of coffee, in my beautiful house and having the privilege to communicate to a person (you) on the other side of the world, who cared enough about my creative expression to ask me some heartfelt questions. I am LUCKY! I sometimes get depressed. There is so much corruption and suffering in the world, always has been. But I believe we are experiencing the growing pains of evolution.
If you could move 1000 years into the future, would you?
Yes. If humanity is still around it will be incredible to see. If not, I’d enjoy some peace and quiet.
What are some things that influence your creativity?
The love and the fear involved with living on this planet in this day and time. Being bipolar, I feel my creativity is greatly influenced by my sensitivity to the world. It’s a way to get out of my head and into my heart. I was born into chaos. My parents were very young when they had me. They were outcasts in the deep south in the 70s. My father was a pool shark/drug dealing/ engineering student. My mother was a schizophrenic cocktail waitress/artist.
Key points from my childhood that shaped me :
- Everyone in my immediate family, besides myself has found a dead body. The stories behind each are intense and chilling.
- When I was two years old, I was in a horrible car wreck I was thrown through the windshield of a car and landed in a construction site; I had plastic surgery to reconstruct the right side of my face.
- When I was three and a half, two men broke into our house in the middle of the night and hog tied my mother and robbed us….
- My father listened to music constantly (mainly: Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Doors)
- My mother’s slow decline into madness and addiction, seeing her act like an animal.
- By the time I was 18 years old I had moved twenty-two times. I lived out of a suitcase, I missed a lot of school (ie: programing).
I’m looking at this list and thinking “damn this is dark!”. Woven throughout the chaos were weird, happy and beautiful moments; most of them from non traditional experiences. My imagination and ability to escape through art and music was my saving grace. It was my constant in a life of surprises.
What inspires you?
The patterns in nature and man. The magic and mysteries of life and death. Human spiritual ritual song and dance. Collective Consciousness, Dreams
What fascinates you?
If you could have all the secrets to the universe – how it was created, is there a boundary, when will it end, etc etc etc OR $100million in your bank account, what would you choose and why?
The secrets would be cool. It might blow my mind up. I don’t think humans have the ability to understand infinity. If we could, we wouldn’t be human.
Purchase Celebration’s latest tracks, ‘Blood Is The Brine’ and ’Tomorrow’s Here Today’ via the band’s Bandcamp page.