Interstellar Soul. Voice & Keys.
Leon Russell, Andrew Bird, Julien Baker, Sturgill Simpson, The Mountain Goats, Martin Sexton, Kimya Dawson, Madisen Ward & Mama Bear
Some of my favorite songwriters are Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats), Jonathan Richman, and John Grant.
Christopher the Conquered wants you to read between the lines. That said, he’s got a damn good reason for naming his full-length debut album, I’m Giving Up On Rock & Roll [Maximum Ames Records].
“I’m not referring to music,” he explains. “It’s the idea of Rock & Roll as a metaphor for misrepresenting yourself. Living behind a mask or a façade is not a healthy way to live. That’s what I’m giving up on. People love Rock & Roll, and I love Rock & Roll. However, the person I am onstage is also the person I am offstage.”
It’s this sort of pure honesty that defines the album’s nine tracks, and it’s also why Christopher made some serious waves in 2015. The Iowa singer, songwriter, and performer has crafted a declaratory musical statement that’s impossible to ignore. In the summer of 2015, he shared the stage with Natalie Prass and handed her an early copy of I’m Giving Up On Rock & Roll. She in turn passed it on to Ryan Adams who took to Twitter and Instagram calling the album, “Crazy and incredible.” Soon after, Christopher landed on the front page of Reddit and in Billboard as the title track and single “I’m Giving Up On Rock & Roll” quickly passed 60,000 plays on Soundcloud. This properly set the stage for the album’s 2016 release.
“I wanted this to be a cohesive experience that takes listeners on a journey,” he goes on. “This album strips everything back; this is me.”
Mapping out the skeleton of the record from the piano melodies to the horns in his Iowa basement, Christopher had architected a clear vision by the time he entered Ardent Studios in Memphis with producer Patrick Tape Fleming. As a result, they cut the entire album to tape in just nine days.
The music segues from pensive lyricism to heavenly horns and resounding keys on the likes of the elegiacally gorgeous “On My Final Day.”
“I always want people to really focus on the lyrics,” he says. “The song is about contemplating the way you spend your time and the one life you have. It comes out in a positive light asking the question, ‘What impact did I make?’”
Everything culminates on the delicate strings and guitars of “I’m Not That Famous Yet” where Christopher’s self-effacing philosophizing reaches divine heights as expansive as his vocal range.
“I was in a bit of a jealous mood,” he admits. “I was watching a band, and I wrote this in response to the silliness of the interplay between the audience and the artist. After I wrote the song, I sorta snapped out of it and realized that group worked their asses off up to that point and brought joy to every person in the room. Now, I get excited for another artist’s success because it means there are opportunities for me to do what I want to do.”
Christopher has known what he wanted to do since growing up in an Iowa town of just 1,300. Without even an antenna for the family TV let alone cable, he became obsessed with music through listening to Motown and classic rock & roll with his parents and repeatedly watching Disney classics like The Lion King and The Jungle Book on repeat. He taught himself drums, trumpet, piano, and guitar, even auditing a college Jazz History class at just 12-years-old alongside his dad. He also found music via faith. Living in a devoutly religious home, he spent a lot of time in church.
“Our church was full of music, and I even played for a while as part of a worship group there. The experience taught me the power of music to connect with people on an emotional level. That spiritual feeling is something that has stuck with me, and that I try to inject into my performances.”
Throughout, Christopher architected a sound that’s both poetically ponderous and theatrically bombastic. Now, he’s officially sharing it.
“This album isn’t for me,” he leaves off. “The art happens when you’re alone at the piano. I got my satisfaction from that part of the process. Now, I’ve created something for the world. I want people to reflect on their lives and what they’re doing when they listen to this and feel happy. There’s no reason to live under any pretense or obligations other than your own passion and love. The album is about that.”
Des Moines, Iowa's Christopher the Conquered (Christopher Ford) has been sitting behind the keys and saying what he can say since he released his debut album I Guess That's What We're Dying For… in 2007. In 2008, Christopher sat in on drums with The Poison Control Center for a national tour supporting The Apples In Stereo; when they got home, he and Patrick Tape Fleming (of The PCC and Gloom Balloon) went to work on a follow-up album, You're Gonna Glow In The Dark, which found a lot of love, with popdose.com writing "...let it come pouring through your speakers, and you’ll experience one of the most enjoyably off-kilter albums of indie rock you’re likely to find this year…". It led to The Conquered growing from a one man band to a 9 piece pop-soul outfit.
Christopher the Conquered & His Black Gold Brass Band went on to tour the country with Leslie & the LY's and play hundreds of shows, along with recording a couple of Daytrotter sessions. All that culminated in 2012's The Fate of a Good Man, Christopher's most sincere effort by far. In addition to its music videos being featured on Magnet Magazine's website and Consequence of Sound, the album received stacks of thumbs-up reviews (see Quotes).
Following the release of Fate, Christopher went on to work on a variety of musical projects, contributing original instrumental music to the production of the Des Moines Social Club’s original play ‘MethLab’, which the Des Moines Register called “absorbing” and “effective drama”. His song “Treasure Catcher” was used in the film Turtle Hill: Brooklyn, which received thumbs up reviews from a variety of critics, including Village Voice. The New York Times wrote: "The multicultural slice of Americana, the low-budget ethos and the reluctance to sell cheap pleasures are part of a commendable reach for truth."
Now, Ford is back to where he started to share his songs in their purest form, the way they were written: one voice and eighty-eight keys. And his efforts haven't gone unnoticed. His solo sets have impacted thousands of people with their intimacy and grace: The Lincoln Journal-Star noted his as the best performance at Lincoln Calling Fest 2012.
Christopher the Conquered also continues to perform regularly with a rhythm section and various arrangements of His Black Gold Brass Band, in addition to solo piano shows. He has toured the United States of America 5 times since 2010 and abroad in Italy, Ireland, and Canada. View upcoming and past tour dates here.
Over the course of 2013, Christopher the Conquered collaborated with dozens of artists to create just under 50 videos of performances covering some of his favorite songs, many of which are available to view on MaximumAmesTV.
In 2014, Christopher the Conquered was one of five Iowa Arts Council Fellows for the State of Iowa. This support in part enabled to produce his most ambitious album yet, recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, TN. I'm Giving Up On Rock & Roll will be released in early 2016, but received early attention in August 2015 when singer-songwriter Ryan Adams got his hands on an advance copy and posted about it on Twitter and Instagram, calling Christopher "the real deal" and the album "crazy and incredible". The accolades caught the attention of the online community Reddit, where a post about them reached the top of the front page. In the fall of 2015, I'm Giving Up On Rock & Roll made its radio debut as a CMJ Top 20 Most Added Album and breaking the CMJ Top 200.
Christopher the Conquered is Christopher Ford plus an ever-evolving team of most excellent musicians. The following contribute or have contributed to Christopher’s work:
Drew Selim, Dan Kreipke, Andrew Raes, Kyle Gowin, Adrien Logsdon, Gemma Rose Cohen, Anna Gebhardt, Devin van Holsteijn, Nate Logsdon, Derek Lambert, Brian Stout, Dustin Harmsen, Patrick Tape Fleming, Hannah Marks, Brandon Ruschill, Kate Kennedy, Donny Peterson, and C.J. Howard, and Caleb Swank.
Jennifer Leatherby, Anna Frederick, Skyler Prenosil, Graham Gardner, Bruce Bales, Avalan Wilson, Jerrod Jordahl, Alli Arnold, Darren Williams, Patrick & Ashley Tape Fleming, Josh Becker, Hillary Nelson, and Jon Pearson have provided beautiful visual accompaniment in various forms.