On a pre-High Water I tour, Marc Ford digs into a custom-finished Fender Telecaster. About practicing guitar, he says, “At this point, I’ve put in the hours. I’ve held the thing enough in 42 years that my body is actually deformed from it.”
Photo by Jordi Vidal
The Magpie Salute recorded a live album and did some touring before committing to an album of all original material. Was there an advantage to playing live first, versus making the album, and then touring?
Rich Robinson: That definitely gave us an advantage, but what I like about the whole thing is everything was just organic. We got together for those shows in Woodstock in 2016, which was cool. And that was all it was going to be. I went on and finished my solo tour and Marc went on and did his thing and Ed went on and did his thing. So, it was never meant to be anything other than that. But we all felt something really special in that studio when we were playing.
Many of the guitar solos on High Water I, especially on songs like “High Water” and “Mary the Gypsy” sound unscripted—like an exploration, like you’re searching for something.
Marc Ford: That’s exactly what it is. That’s the organic bit of it—be brave enough to stand in any situation and respond to the circumstances. I’d never heard “High Water” before. Rich brought it in that morning and I was like, “Wow! That is bitchin’!” And he handed me a guitar that I never played before and was like, “Go for it.” And that was my response in the moment. I did it one time. If I’d sat and thought about it, I would’ve driven myself crazy and nothing would’ve happened, probably. Eventually you get so used to looking like an asshole that it doesn’t scare you anymore [laughs], and therefore you’re brave and you get fearless. And we all know that the most beautiful things come from these accidents where you’re really saving yourself from total disaster.
It’s refreshing to hear someone play with such abandon on an album. It’s very old school.
Robinson: That first solo on “Mary the Gypsy” is Marc. I think one of the first things he played on Southern Harmony was the solo on “Sometimes Salvation,” and it was one take and he was fucking winging it and it’s brilliant. Marc still has that fire. And this whole record is that. The songs are that and that’s what’s amazing about this band. It has that abandon, like “Fuck it, let’s just do this thing.”
The songs do seem like moments captured in time and that you guys will, maybe even intentionally, never play them the same way again.
Robinson: I’ve never done months of preproduction, because the way that I work, and the way that I think we work best, is off the cuff. It’s more about feeling, instead of obsessing over a part that you’ll play exactly the same way every time you play it. It’s always been about the excitement that comes from that moment of creation. Rock ’n’ roll is supposed to have an abandoned quality, like all shit could go wrong at any moment, but when it doesn’t, it’s brilliant.
You could say the album is organically psychedelic in that way.
Ford: Yeah, we’re not trying to trip you out; we’re just playing this really bitching stuff. And we’re discovering this record just like everyone else. It’s just pure joy to discover this record. Like “Sister Moon,” for example: It’s an incredible song and I don’t even play on it. I love it and I’m not on the thing. I learned a little while ago that, really, it ain’t about me.
How do you guys split your guitar duties?
Ford: For the most part, whoever brings in the block of the engine dictates mostly what’s going on. But there have been instances where Rich brings in a song and I end up playing his part and he ends up making up another part—however it works out, that’s why it’s so much fun now. We don’t have anything to prove [laughs]. This is pure gravy. This is the shit. We’re free to do whatever we want to and not be fearful of being competitive or about what anyone’s thinking. We’re all for one, one for all—the greater good. It’s really a pleasurable experience and I think the music is showing it.
Marc, I understand that you don’t necessarily practice the guitar anymore. Can you clarify that?
Ford: At this point, I’ve put in the hours. I’ve held the thing enough in 42 years that my body is actually deformed from it. I don’t need to practice anymore. I need to stretch and limber up, like anybody does. You don’t want to go bowling without bending over a couple times. But now I do the things that mentally and physically and spiritually allow me to be able to go to the places I want to go. I want to keep myself open to be able to learn and experience new things at all times, and I can’t do it continually sitting and doing the same thing I’ve done over and over and over in my life. I learn much more about guitar by doing something else, like watching somebody paint a picture or going down to the beach and watching people surf, than I do by practicing anymore—because it’s not really on a physical realm. It’s all outside.
Marc, a moment ago you said it ain’t about you. So how do you keep your ego out of the creative process?
Ford: You put out your arms and you try to catch it the best you can, but it’s going to show up the way it wants to show up and it tells you how it wants to be. This music that is made when Rich and I get together … it wants us together, because it’s only made when he and I get together. It’s incredibly humbling to be part of something that requires more than yourself and is special to that relationship. You need to steward the relationship so that the gift can come out. The stewardship part of me now is to keep my heart and my mind open and my spirit open. My hands know what to do.
How do you keep your mind, heart, and spirit open?
Ford: Keeping a clean house [laughs]. Going through rehab stints will teach you, seriously, like, “You better check your shit out before you say a word about anybody else’s thing.” It’s better just to shut up and get going with it. Unforgiveness will fuck you up. And taking offense—you’re locking yourself up. You just gotta get over it.
Watch the band's Rig Rundown from 2017