Migration Stories

Migration Stories

M. Ward’s 10th studio LP is inspired by the migrant crisis that’s gripped large parts of North America and Europe over the last decade. “I was discovering my own grandfather's movement from Mexico to California,” he tells Apple Music. “I found out that he paid, I think, five dollars to cross the border into El Paso, Texas, over a hundred years ago. And he moved himself and his family from Texas, through New Mexico and Arizona, finally into Southern California, where my mother and I were born. I have no photographs or journals to fill in these blanks about my ancestry, but I feel like that’s a place music can go for someone, if they want it to.” Recorded in Montreal with Richard Reed Parry and Tim Kingsbury of Arcade Fire—using vintage synthesizers that Ward had never experimented with before—Migration of Souls is meant to be a reflection of his family’s journey and others’, a folk album that evokes the sound and physical grandeur of the American West. “I was going for expansive space,” he says. Here, Ward walks us through every song. Migration of Souls “If there is a spiritual side to migration—whether it be humans or animals—it’s an interesting way to look at a subject for a full record. I like the idea that generations can be reunified—whether it takes life or death, it is an eventual thing that happens. And it's an unstoppable force. This song only has about ten words in it; I knew I didn't want to fill up any of these songs with too much imagery, and sometimes if you just put one unique image in a song and let that hang there, it can have more power than giving you 20 or 30. I think Bob Dylan was really good at that, giving you just hundreds of unique images in the span of a record, but my personal interest was trying to boil it all down.” Heaven’s Nail and Hammer “I always prefer other people's interpretations to the song than my own, because mine are a little more narrow, but I will say that I looked at it as an extension of ['Migration of Souls']. Generations have this common link that transcends or supersedes or defies life and death in a way that I feel even a small understanding of brings us a little bit closer to the rest of the animal kingdom.” Coyote Mary’s Traveling Show “I grew up in the Los Angeles area, so I grew up with a lot of Mexican stories. My grandfather's Mexican, and I loved books as a kid, so folk stories of the Coyote have always struck me as really beautiful. I wanted the character to try to come to life in a way that extends from some of those fables. I love a lot of the characters that the Coen brothers have created. My favorite ones, you’re not sure if you should laugh or cry at some of the things that they say or they do, and I think that I had those guys in mind a little bit with that song.” Independent Man “My co-producer Craig [Silvey] and I knew we wanted to create a lot of space. And some of the sound he found reminded us of some Stanley Kubrick scenes in 2001 especially, and so we went with that. It was a thrill for me to hear all these sounds from these keyboards that I'd never seen before. Craig and these Arcade Fire guys are real experts at keyboards, especially, I think, from the 1980s, that you don't hear much on records anymore. I have them to thank for a lot of the textures on this record, especially on that song. I think this character stepped into the unknown, and has the courage to make this leap of faith, and whether or not it's the wisest thing to do, it seems like the right thing to do. It seems like an extension of a song that happens later in the record, called ‘Torch.’ They both take up similar spaces on the record at the end of side A and the end of side B.” Stevens’ Snow Man “That song comes from a tuning that I discovered—it’s like an open B. And a lot of times, when I discover a new tuning, it can be the spark for a dozen or more new songs. I realized at a young age that when you change your tuning on the guitar, you're basically faced with a brand-new instrument, and any chord that you used to plunk out does not exist anymore. So you're left with these overtones that you've never heard before, and it ends up helping you create brand-new melodies. And ‘Stevens' Snow Man’ was an instrumental that seemed to fit with the record, and the title comes from a poem by Wallace Stevens called ‘The Snow Man.’ That’s a good poem to read if you are in the middle of winter and facing desolation.” Unreal City “It was inspired by growing up in LA and reading articles all the time about when the next earthquake is going to come and living with that and that fear. You come to some strange peace with it, and it's a little bit like coming to terms with your own mortality. There's so little we can actually do, because we have no idea when it's going to hit. I have dreams about tidal waves and earthquakes very often, and somehow it sinks into your subconscious, and I have found that the things that sink the deepest into the subconscious will turn into songs, if you let a few years go by. This was one of the many songs that I've ended up with, with some of these images that show up in dreams.” Real Silence “That, to me, goes with ‘Along the Santa Fe Trail,’ trying to create a paradox—singing a song about silence to me sounds paradoxical, and I like that idea. It’s something I feel when I am traveling in Arizona and New Mexico and Texas and a lot of parts of California. And every year that our lives get sucked into the internet, I feel like I crave more and more silence and escape from the news feed. And that overlaps with some of the larger stories that I talk about, with these kind of physical and spiritual migrations.” Along the Santa Fe Trail “I was driving in LA and I heard it on AM radio, and I had to pull over and listen to the rest of this song, because it was just so beautiful and I had never heard it before. I loved the space it creates with the words. I loved the melodies. I loved these images of the changing colors of the canyon, and in a way, it reminds me of having a kind of companion in a kind of space where there's nothing. Not necessarily a wasteland, but the song says it so much better than I'm able to explain it. It seems to me that the writer of this song is having this incredible discovery of this person that he's traveling with and discovering where he is at the same time. It's all happening at the same time. It's a beautiful story, and it's a story that I imagine my grandfather knew.” Chamber Music “That song is more of a meditation to me, as finding a healthy space away from the news feed. Except for a few minutes, maybe. Just for a few minutes.” Torch “I think a lot of the characters that are in the record rely on their own courage to make these leaps of faith. And when I see myself in that narrative, I have to think of when I was a kid. You and I are fortunate enough to live in a country where we're not persecuted against, and we're not living in a war zone that we need to escape. We have to use our imagination to have empathy and compassion for the people in the world who are making this passage right now. And there is nothing in my life that comes close to making those kinds of movements. But you can't help but have an emotional response to the headlines. And that's more where this record comes from, as opposed to having any sort of political answer to this problem.” Rio Drone “It's definitely an extension of ‘Stevens' Snow Man.’ It's a song written in the same tuning. I've grown up loving many Willie Nelson records that he will flavor with instrumentals, almost as intermissions. A song to create space or a mood—and that's where ‘Stevens' Snow Man’ and ‘Rio Drone’ come from. There's an excitement of discovery that I don't think the average listener cares about, really, or will notice. But when you change the voicings of the chords, you realize you're playing something that has never been played this way before. And that's an exciting place to be when you've been playing guitar for 20 years. I knew I wanted it to fit with the rest of the record and to be almost like a bookend in the way that the other instrumental on the record was. I love it when the final credits of your favorite film go by and they give you a song to ride off into the sunset with. It's a nice feeling.”

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