Interview: Christopher the Conquered talks current projects and upcoming Eastern Iowa shows

HD Harmsen (L) with Chris Ford – photo via Maximum Ames Records

Central Iowa staple Chris Ford (a.k.a. Christopher the Conquered) has a couple of shows scheduled for Eastern Iowa in the next week, one this Sunday at The Mill, and another next Thursday at CSPS in Cedar Rapids. He will be traveling with Maximum Ames labelmate HD Harmsen, whose recent release, Papoose, has generated a lot of buzz. (Listen Below)

I caught up with him over email and asked him a few questions about his current projects, what we can expect from him this weekend, and what projects he has in store for the rest of the year.

What have you been working on lately and what is your set like right now?

I am working on two things, a musical and a new studio album, which I’ll be recording with the band in Memphis next spring. Patrick Tape Fleming of The Poison Control Center is producing that. We’re taking a 4 piece band, including piano, drums, bass and guitar down for that, and may have some horns and added vocals, but this new album won’t be a horn album like the last one. Musically this will be a simpler album. The lyrics are maybe less in-your-face edgy than on The Fate of a Good Man, but I think on this new one they have more nuance. Hopefully I’m saying a lot more with fewer words. I’m learning, haha. The musical actually will use some of the songs from this album, but arranged quite differently. That’s a longer term project. The songs are written and now the “book” is in the works. A great playwright, Jerrod Jordahl, out of Ames, Iowa is working on that.

My set is more songwriter focused now, the songwriter being me. I’m stepping down theatrics a bit, trying to communicate more by doing less. I’m either playing solo on piano or with as a trio or quartet (drums, bass, guitar sometimes, in addition to me).

You’ve been really busy helping out with 80/35, the Maximum Ames Music Festival and the Maximum Ames label. With 80/35 behind you and a few great M.A. releases already in the bag this year, what are you going to be focusing on for the rest of 2013?

Lots more to do! I’m helping with everything the Des Moines Music Coalition (nonprofit behind 80/35) does, so we’ve got another festival and a music industry conference we’re working on. Max Ames has the festival in September that I’m helping with (we’ve got The Zombies playing, I’m so excited!), and the label has a few more releases planned, including a really interesting classical/jazz fusion record, some Gloom Balloon stuff (a group I play in with Patrick T. Fleming), and Mumford’s incredibly moving double LP. As soon as I get back from this tour, I’m going to start booking another for the fall, I’ll be hitting the road with Gloom Balloon and doing Conquered sets, too. Then of course prepping the band for the studio album we’re recording next March. Oh, and I will go to lots of shows and hopefully get inspired left and right.

In terms of future Maximum Ames releases, can you name 3 bands that are on your wish list?

I’ll name a few more than that: Brooks Strause, Old Scratch Revival Singers, Modern Life is War, Greg Brown, William Elliott Whitmore. My big dream that is a bit out of reach (for now) is to do an album of the Music of the Ioway. Those are the native people that settled in Iowa before any Europeans. They obviously had music, and I think there must be some oral tradition for the remaining few speakers that has passed down their songs and musical style. It’d be great to re-create that music and record it for an album. There’s a great documentary that I think was aired on IPTV about the Ioway. It really inspired me in a lot of ways. That record would be the best.

You’ve played almost every venue in Iowa, from living room shows to the 80/35 main stage. Is there anywhere in Iowa that remains on your bucket list?

Well yeah! I’ve never played The Busted Lift in Dubuque. I also really want to play at Briar Patch. That place sounds incredible, though I’ve never been. Not sure how to make that happen. Oh, and it’s pretty new, but I went to Seldom Seen Fest this year and it was amazing. I want to play that for sure. Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines is one I’d love to play, and hell, since we’re dreaming, the Civic Center in Des Moines. I think it’s possible…hm.

Your shows are always energetic and incorporate a lot of audience interaction. I know every show/setting/crowd is different, but can you share an on-stage moment when you became aware that — at that time, in that place — you were really living your dream?

Yes. New York City in 2010, opening for Leslie & the LYs at the Mercury Lounge, which is a pretty famous club there. Sold out show, and the air was electric because we were in New York City but it was like Iowa had taken over the place (all the New York residents originally from Iowa came out for Leslie). One of our sax players at the time, Donny Peterson, and Chris Lyng from Mumford’s had flown in to make a weekend of it since they weren’t on the tour, and Chris had somehow managed to become the lights guy for our set, and he knew all the songs so the lights were great. So the crowd is great, everything is pretty much perfect already, and then I play this funny little ballad of mine, “I’ll Stop Loving You”. Chris brings the lights down low, the crowd gets quiet, they actually get the song the way I meant it, laugh when I would laugh and all that, and at the end I’m holding out my hand and its taken by another in the crowd at the front of stage, and that person is waving a lighter (classic, right) and the lights come way down and they hold the lighter up to my face to illuminate it, now the crowd is really quiet, and on the last line of the song, I blow out the match, and Chris kills the lights. It was pretty magical. And then we got a $60 parking ticket.

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