Written and recorded during confinement, Jim Ward’s new album Daggers is far from introspective listening, even though it was – almost literally – written in the corner of her bedroom.
The Sparta, Sleepercar, and former At the Drive-In guitarist have been throwing incendiary riffs for over 20 years and still manage to continually draw inspiration from an incredibly, er, spartan setup. His crankset is little more than a custom overdrive, two Boss DD-7s and a DM-2W, replacing his original DM-3 that was stolen on tour.
Besides what one can learn from Jim’s songs and life experience, in an era of endless new material releases and social media demos, it’s refreshing to see a working musician staying focused. about the output of the music, not just the tools used to create it.
We caught up with Jim to discuss his new record, a silver lining for him in a grueling and unprecedented year.
How would you describe Daggers, as part of your discography?
âI just call it my first solo rock record. This is the easiest way to explain that it’s electric and loud. I think rock is the most important genre you can belong to [as a guitarist]. You can live in so many spaces in this word that it’s comfortable for me to say it because it easily explains everything I’m doing on it.
When did you think it wasn’t, for example, a Sleepercar record? Some tracks could fit well into this project.
“I would say that for this record, the first thing I wrote was the riff of I have a secret, so I knew from the start that it was going to be different from anything I had done on my own, that’s for sure. Usually what happens is I get out of a [record] cycle for a band, and I want to do something that’s not like what I was working on. [That] That’s why all the solo stuff and the Sleepercar stuff is so different from the rock bands I’ve been in. This time, I don’t really exist in a group anymore.
In which way?
âEven with Sparta, there’s only Matt Miller – he’s the only other member of Sparta now. So when we made this last record [2020’s Trust the River], it’s mostly my songs, and one of his songs. So I think I’ve been moving towards this for quite some time. Even geographically, I’m the only one living in El Paso, out of all the bands I’ve been in, you know? Everyone has somehow evolved. I don’t go to band rehearsals – I work from home.
What do you think was the main influence on the record?
âI think when I was writing this stuff it was a direct meditation on the time. I felt anxious and worried about the world, alone and isolated and needed to blow the shit up a bit.
You mentioned El Paso before – how important do you think it is to the music you make?
âI think being from here and living here – we’re a landlocked port city, you know? We have a ton of commerce running through our city, and the characters that go with it, and the attitude that goes with it. It is a truly unique place. It is the brackish water between the First and the Third World, between American exceptionalism and Mexican humility. All of these things come together and it builds you up in a way.
âThe fact that I haven’t evolved and that influence has sort of dissipated … has allowed me to grow, all these years, in the same environment. I think there is a freedom to be from here – there is a freedom for West Texas in general – but there is an isolation in the freedom and there is a belief in “let me go.” calm “. We’re independent people – I don’t want to be told what to do, and I usually struggle with that. If people tell me I need to do something, it pisses me off.
A lot of creative people probably feel that way, especially when it comes to their art.
âMaybe that’s one of the reasons I can’t live in LA, in the recording industry, because it drives me nuts, to be honest. Because there is always an end goal to this, isn’t there? âYou have to do this radio festival to be on this radio station in Atlanta. I don’t care if I’m on radio in Atlanta – that’s not how I want to live my life.
âSo it’s part of who I am and where I’m from, and the people I surround myself with. Fame and fortune have never really been history for me. It’s not a dog-eating dog world here when it comes to music … for me it’s freedom.
As a guitarist or songwriter, what do you think are your biggest influences?
âI would say, for the record, that I always consider myself a guitarist before anything else. That’s what I love the most, it’s just playing the guitar. It gets me writing songs, and I happen to sing in my own bands, but it’s all secondary to being a guitarist.
âAt first it was the Subhumans – British, not Canadian – Pixies, Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys. I took an instrument, oscillating between bass and guitar at 12, 13, 14 years old. I didn’t learn the songs, because I hate learning other people’s songs – it was never my thing – but just imitating them, I think the best way to put it. That’s what I wanted to look like: I didn’t want to be them, I just wanted to be inspired by them.
âOnce I hit 14, it was The Clash and U2, then Fugazi and Jawbox and Discord. Once I discovered the most melodic, what I consider to be songwriting deeper into this stuff, I was really hooked for good.
Clash’s influence makes a lot of sense.
âI love Joe Strummer as much as anyone. I like a guy who plays rhythm guitar and who sings about his beliefs. This is who I wanna be when I grow up [laughs]. “
How important was the message to you, compared to the music alone?
âI have always leaned for social and political activism; if not activism, then awareness. I really liked bands that talked about what I thought were important things. From The Clash to Bruce Springsteen, including Rage Against the Machine. All the bands that say, “I got this megaphone, I wanna do something with it,” rather than trying to fuck. It’s cooler, for me.
What particularly speaks to you about the guitar?
âIt touches a lot of things for me. One is the ability to create on it, which is sort of my first and foremost desire as a human – to be a creator. Whether it’s music or [anything else]. I own a restaurant with my wife and I built the bar – I love to do things. So part of that touches my inner geek as well when it comes to tech and mechanics and the way things work. All my life I’ve loved taking guitars apart and fucking with them, you know?
âThere’s also an extension that allowed me, like all awkward kids, out of a safety net or cape, to be the social person I wanted to be, but I wasn’t good at it. to be. I think guitar and music in general have given me the opportunity to have the confidence to say that I have something to share.
Coming back to the record, how did the writing process go?
âI write on electric, unplugged. I’ve always written like that. I usually write late at night, in the corner of a room to keep it coming back to me. That’s why I play a lot of bombastic stuff with a lot of open strings, because it fills the room when I write. I started doing this when I was young, and always have.
How does that change as you develop the songs?
âThen you have to plug in and then put on a really loud amp, which looks like a physical movement of air. It physically seems something to me. So I can stand in front of an amp, and I can feel the air moving, and I can get feedback, and I can hit a delay pedal and start doing stuff, and I can use a volume pedal to make huge swells, and atmospheric things.
âThese are my things: a good amp, a good guitar, a delay pedal and a volume pedal, and I’m pretty happy. In these four things, I never found the end – I never ran out of ideas, I never ran out of inspiration. I have no reason to look for something else, I’m pretty happy.
It feels like there’s a lot of Springsteen-y single-coil action on Daggers. What guitars did you end up using?
âI like a good single coil, that’s for sure. I have a couple of Teles that I go between, and I have a few offsets – a Jazzmaster, a Jaguar – and a Tele Deluxe. These are my main Fender stuff. Occasionally I’ll still use SGs with P-90s, which is kind of my start [sound], especially a lot of At the Drive-In was the ’61 Junior with the P-90. So I have a big place in my heart for the P-90.
âThen I had an Abernathy last year – he built me ââa guitar with an arcade cutout in it. If you listen to the beginning of I have a secret, all that loud guitar going in and out, it’s the switch on the Abernathy, and it’s a fucking great guitar.
âI use the Tele Deluxe for the big humbucking stuff, but my main thing is being a rhythm player. I like to sit in the middle of the sound where it’s saturated, but it’s not distorted. You know, that’s kind of what I like about the P-90. It’s a big, beefy sound when you want it, but it can also be hot. It’s so versatile.
Last question: what do you like about music?
“Everything. That’s the simplest answer. When it comes to real music, there’s nothing I don’t like about it. I love the way it connects people and I love it. loves that he can convey feelings without words. He can convey feelings better than words. He can express emotion, at least for me, better than I could tell. He can inspire and transport you through times that nothing else maybe could. I think music has saved my life on several occasions, and I don’t know of anything else that has done that except my wife. ‘is special.
- Daggers is out now via Dine Alone Records.