M. Ward seems to approach a new project like a retro-fitted troubadour unearthing long-lost folk treasures, and on his latest album Migration Stories, he’s recounting 11 traveling tales with his own timeless spin.
Inspired by the countless artistic works and secondhand experiences surrounding flight that he’s gathered over the years, along with his own lineage as the grandson of a Mexican-American immigrant, Ward weaves the sprawling set of far-flung scenes into a unifying journey with his coarse, smoked leather vocals casting out evocative and stirring spiritual imagery.
Now making its landfall in a world that has effectively become sedentary, the album gains a sense of wistfulness as Ward explores the innate drive for mobility and desire for community ingrained in the human condition.
Check out M. Ward’s track-by-track breakdown of Migration Stories, out today (April 3), below.
“Migration of Souls”
This song came together overnight in London after discovering a new open guitar tuning in B — inspired by the possibility of a spiritual element to human migration beyond life and death. It was the last song recorded in London with Craig Silvey. I was happy to have my Irish friends The Lost Brothers as guest singers. They were passing through London on tour at the time. Also my first collaboration with the great Jimmy Simms from London on bass.
“Heaven’s Nail and Hammer”
This song is an extension of “Migration Of Souls.” The words come from a place where the reunification of generations is impossible to stop or slow down. It’s a dream in a deserted place. It was recorded in Montreal in two takes with [Richard Reed Parry] singing the falsettos at the end.
“Coyote Mary’s Traveling Show”
Written in Asheville, NC. I think this song was inspired by Hank Williams Sr., and I had some of the early films of the Coen Brothers in mind, and characters who make you not sure if you should laugh or cry. I think my favorite makers are able to make dream-like observations of life but in a waking-life way, not using their art to get something heavy off their chest. This song was recorded in Montreal in one take.
A lot of experiments with textures I’ve never used before on this one. The challenge was to create as much space and stillness as possible but still remain in motion. I enjoyed relying on the instincts and knowledge of Craig Silvey and Tim Kingsbury for their vintage keyboard and synthesizer wisdom. My old friend Rachel Blumberg drove from Rhode Island to Montreal to play drums on this song.
“Stevens’ Snow Man”
Here’s a poem I don’t have permission to share with you in publication but maybe I can pass on to you as a link: Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man.” It may be useful in the middle of a drought or winter or pandemic. This song was recorded during the last session for the record with my friend Pierre DeReeder in Los Angeles.
The story of every city, as I see it: the artist / adventurer finds new space… the Great Migration… years later the brokers move in and break it. The title ‘Unreal City’ is lifted from a T.S. Eliot poem and the rest of it comes from various articles I’ve read about immigration and earthquakes in the Los Angeles Times.
Written near Chimayo, NM, I see it as a second part of “Heaven’s Nail And Hammer.” I don’t make it a habit to talk too much about the interpretations of the songs. I like to hear other peoples’ takes before spilling mine, but I can definitely say that capturing the place was a big influence and finding a line between meditation and music which is in a lot of instrumental places on the record, especially this one and “Chamber Music.” Equally inspiring are the stories and old paintings that still exist of an old mission near Taos called San Francisco de Asis.
“Along the Santa Fe Trail”
Another song inspired by New Mexico. This is an old song I first heard from a Jimmy Wakely recording. It came from out of the blue on AM radio one day driving near Joshua Tree and hooked me. I like thinking about my grandfather’s migration from Durango, Mexico to California via El Paso in the 1920s and 1930s.
This is a meditation song. It wasn’t named after the James Joyce book but definitely inspired by it.
This song was written in a day and born from a high strung guitar tuning I’d never used before. I see it as an extension of “Chamber Music.”
Companion to “Stevens’ Snow Man” — both written in a variation of open B. Sometimes inventing a new tuning can feel like a clean slate and turn the guitar into a completely new instrument. Very different from discovering a new scale on piano or wind instruments. It erases the chords and scales you learned as a kid and you are left with a new mystery to solve.
Migration Stories is out now. Stream it below.