For Christopher Ford, aka Christopher the Conquered, writing, recording and performing original music is a way for him to process his own emotions, combat the darker parts of his soul and also help others to feel uplifted, enriched and entertained in a way that is both cathartic and satisfying.
“My goal is for each person that engages with the music, whether it’s recorded or in a performance, is to leave the experience feeling better about themselves. Whether that means they are having something reflected back about themselves that they don’t like and are committed to changing it, or just realizing the good things about themselves or just choosing to be more joyful with where they are in life,” he said, adding that his stage name ‘The Conquered’ was chosen deliberately.
“It’s the opposite of what you would expect. It’s the opposite of ‘The Conqueror’. And the reason for that is because of the kind of person I am. I like twisting words and it was kind of a funny thing to do and the reason I kept it is because it totally fits in with my songwriting. My songwriting is imbued with a certain sense of humility and a certain sense of wittiness and I think the name has both of those. It’s a little witty and a little self-deprecating, which is basically who I am.”
A native of Des Moines Iowa, Christopher recently released a tour de force of a new album: the clever, deep and emotive I’m Giving Up on Rock and Roll, through Maximum Ames Records. Both the title of the album and the title track represent Christopher’s belief that we should not allow our individuality, our identity or our spirit to be subsumed by a contrived persona, a career or a relationship.
“I wrote the song as an emotional response to experiences in my own life in music. And it’s meant to be a clever use of the language. I am not actually giving up on rock and roll. I love rock and roll, but I am giving up on the trappings, the false expectations and the persona I created around my music. But I also wrote it for the recent divorcee who has just been freed from an oppressive marriage, or the person who has left their church and their religion when their eyes have been opened to the glorious, weird nastiness of the world. It’s about feeling free to be yourself and finding out who you are. And maybe the answer isn’t always great but at least you’re being honest and you’re being present. I wrote that song for me when I realized I wasn’t being a real human being. I wrote this song because I eventually realized that there is not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the rainbow keeps going and the rainbow is really beautiful and the journey of following that beautiful rainbow is what’s important,” he explained.
“Making music authentically means more to me than anything else I have done before and if I can get even more real with myself and as sincere as possible through music, then that’s the best I can hope for. The album is about me, but it’s for everybody and the message is to just get rid of the things in your life that are keeping you from being a balanced human being and kind and present and generous and living a decent life. And to continue to follow your goals, your dream and your vision with your humanity and individuality as the foundation rather than having it be an afterthought.”
The songs on the album are truly compelling on their own merits, but are now getting a much wider hearing thanks to an unsolicited shout out on social media by Grammy nominated singer/songwriter/producer Ryan Adams.
“Last summer I played a show in Iowa City opening for Natalie Prass who is friends with Ryan Adams. I told her I appreciated her music and gave her an advance copy of my CD. I wasn’t asking for help, just to say that I respect her work and that if she had a chance to listen to it that I would appreciate her feedback. That’s all I was doing at the time was giving certain people the CD and asking for their opinion,” he said.
“She never emailed me back but the next time she saw Ryan she gave the CD to him and I guess he listened to it. I never got any message or anything about this and then he posted on Instagram and Twitter saying he really liked it. So that was cool. It was when the story became a big thing on Reddit that it kind of blew up and it exposed me to a lot of new people. And then Billboard did an article about it last year. So it was kind of a whirlwind.”
And there were tangible benefits from the entire episode for Christopher thanks to the endorsement of someone as respected in the industry as Adams.
“First of all we got a distribution deal for the record which helps me get it into more places. I pre-sold a lot more records than I would have to a lot more people. So that was nice and enabled me to create a bigger campaign for the record because I want to get it into more ears. And the press stuff helps from a career perspective as it’s helping me to get better shows. It’s not like I am playing huge festivals or headlining concert hall, but I am certainly doing better career wise than anything I have ever done before,” he said.
“And the validation from someone like Ryan Adams feels pretty good. Any working artist knows creating something new can be a painful process, especially if your attitude is mixed up by whatever is going on in your life. It can be painful because it involves a lot of self-doubt and a fear of taking risks. So having somebody who is respected specifically in the music business validating you helps.
“But you know what, I think if anybody takes the time to engage with the music and goes out of their way to say ‘I really love this, it’s great,’ it also means a lot on an emotional level for me.”
Christopher brings a wide ranging set of musical influences to his music, which as he has stated above, is filtered through his own unique take on life and take on himself.
“For me, Nina Simone is probably my biggest influence and has been for years, as well as Tom Waits. The music on his early albums is almost like the Great American Songbook. Randy Newman is a huge lyrical influence on me. I think I do have my own sound and generally my influences are musical theatre and the Disney films and things like that because they have been so ingrained in me from all those years of only listening to that stuff as a kid,” he said.
“And then there’s the music of Bob Dylan and the way that he makes everything he sings sound like it is the most important thing that has ever been said. I don’t so much reflect his sound or even the way he sings, but it’s his conviction that I admire. Nina Simone is the same way. And that’s what I hope is happening in my songs and my performances. So that’s why I resonate with those artists a lot more.”
His voice has a theatricality and malleability that is reminiscent of Queen’s Freddie Mercury – something which has been commented on by more than one reviewer. Interestingly, Mercury was not a direct influence on Christopher, even though in recent years he has come to a great appreciation for the late singer/songwriter’s talent.
“It’s obviously a compliment to even be mentioned in the same breath as Freddie Mercury. I don’t really consider the work of Queen an influence up until now because I never really listened to Queen until the last year or so, and I wrote the songs for I’m Giving Up on Rock and Roll back in 2012 and 2013. But I like a lot of Queen’s music now and feel that they are one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.”
Christopher the Conquered has an extensive touring schedule set for the summer, including a trek to Canadian’s east coast, including Ontario, as well as trips to Germany and throughout the United States.
For more information, visit http://www.christophertheconquered.com/
* Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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