Published on August 17th, 2021
Unwed Sailor play Bumblefest

Unwed Sailor play Bumblefest

If hearing Unwed Sailor evokes longing or returns you to a cherished memory, founder and bassist Johnathon Ford has accomplished what he set out to do over 20 years ago. The instrumental band’s seventh and latest album, “Truth or Consequences,” is a lush accompaniment to recollection, from the peppy opener “Blitz” through seven more tracks delivered with aplomb and the severity of a guided meditation.

Unwed Sailor are headlining Bumblefest, which returns to downtown West Palm Beach on September 17 after two years away that included a pandemic hiatus. This year’s edition is also a celebration of PureHoney’s tenth anniversary. Ahead of his first tour and live shows since December 2019, Ford talked with PureHoney about the new record and his career.

Tell me a bit about “Truth or Consequences” — how much did isolation and the pandemic year influence its crafting?

”Truth or Consequences” wasn’t recorded or written entirely during the pandemic, some of those songs had been written a couple of years before so it’s a little bit of a hodgepodge. Some before and some last minute, but you know, I write a lot of stuff ahead of time and then I’ll kind of go through this catalogue of ideas that I have or songs that I’ve demoed and then just pick those out to place on records. I’ve got quite a database of songs to choose from.

That explains the large catalogue over the past 20-plus years.

And recently, the past two or three years. I seem to have gotten into this rhythm in which I’m able to write songs faster. They’re coming to me with more ease so that’s definitely accelerated the output even more.

You’ve gone through phases like that before. But even in the longest pause between records you still released singles and EPs.

Yeah, I just found my groove and just really went with it. I have found what I love and makes sense to me. I found that if I don’t play music, I simply don’t feel like myself and I feel like I’m going crazy so I should fully dive into this and put a record out every year and let nothing hold me back.

It’s a decision I made a while ago and it’s worked for me. I feel really creative, I feel like myself and I feel like I’m making good music. I also have a great team to work with, David Swatzell on guitar and Matt Putnam on drums. We write well together and musically we interact well together. Everything has lined up for that to happen and I’m just going for it, doing as much as I can.

Truth or Consequences

What would the 20-year-old version of you think about that?

Twenty years ago, I knew I wanted to play music and I was already playing in Unwed Sailor, I mean, when I started Unwed Sailor, I had already been playing music seriously, you know, touring and releasing records, so I knew I wanted to do it already. What I don’t think is that I would’ve been able to foresee the amount of music that I’m putting out now.

Things have changed in that time.

Yes, the music industry climate back then was different, when you put out a record it was a bigger deal, it was something that had a long shelf life. Now people forget about you a week later.

Well, you were on that cusp, that shift with the Napster era, but you’ve managed to create with your releases a tangible object that people want. The albums look good.

That’s important to me. I can always play music but if I can’t put out physical media, it would dampen my spirit and drive. I’m old school like that. I love vinyl, I love CDs, I connect to that. It’s important to me that the album art is just right — as much thought goes into the music, it also goes into the art, in my mind it’s a complete package.

Is there a correlation between the art and the feeling your instrumentals evoke?

One thing I’ve learned with Unwed Sailor is to not try too hard so I’m not out there on this hardcore search for album artwork. What I’ve usually done, and it has worked, is I just let things come to me. My mind is always open, and my eyes are wandering but I’m not really looking. If I find an image that connects with me, I’ll save it. Maybe it doesn’t work right now but two albums down the road it does perfectly. For “Truth or Consequences” I had an idea of fruit in a bowl that was rotting.

You think someone one day will sit with the record in their hand and wonder, ‘What’s this snail doing? Why is there a bug here? Are these cherry tomatoes? What does this fruit mean?’

Hey, that’s great! If someone wants to dive into it that hard, that’s awesome. It’s weird, I put a lot of thought and work into these records but at the same time I don’t think too much about it. If I think too much, then things don’t work as well. Maybe it’s more of a focus thing, more than thinking. Almost like a Buddhist thing you know, be in the moment, be in the now. Don’t think about the past or the future, just allow things to happen, to come to you. I don’t practice this in my life but in music, it’s what naturally works for me, so I go with it.

So now you’re hitting the road after a long time and getting back on stage, how do you think fans will react to “Truth or Consequences”?

I want people to connect with it like they’ve done with every other Unwed Sailor album. Number one, you want people to feel something when they hear your music and I hope people have a reflective feeling. I’m very nostalgic, probably to a fault; I just want to live in the 1980’s again to the point where I sometimes get sad knowing that I can’t again.

I want people to think back on times that really did it for them. Peaceful times, their best years when they lived in a great city and experienced awesome moments with great people, time they spent with people they love. That’s what Unwed Sailor songs are to me; they take me to another time and another place where I can forget about the worry of today. Like an escape route, like getting lost in a book or a movie for a while. That’s what I hope, get lost in reflection and have fun watching live music again.

Bumblefest, celebrating 10 years of PureHoney, is Friday, September 17 in the 500 Block of Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach, featuring Surfer Blood, Unwed Sailor and more. Admission is 18+. Doors open 5pm. Tickets are $20 at BUMBLEFEST.com ~ Abel Folgar

Coming to West Palm Beach from elsewhere and want to spend the night? The Hyatt Place Downtown WPB has Bumblefest guests hooked up with a special rate! Click HERE to make your reservations.

STAGES: Respectable Street (inside/outside) * Subculture Alley * O’Shea’s * Alchemy * BRK Republic


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