“I tend to exist in the darker parts of the psyche, Jim Ward admits. “That’s where I’ve always been.” And yet what makes the musician so unique and downright compelling is that when the work decides to join him in this darkness – the ultra-challenging year that was 2020— it’s then Ward is able to claw his way back into the light. Every night during the pandemic, armed with a guitar as well as a bit of time and purpose, this prolific musician was able to churn out several riotous riffs that ultimately transformed into one of his most personal and profound albums to date.
“I’ve always used music as an outlet for anxiety and frustration,” notes Ward, who has played in a slew of monumental bands, from the iconic post-hardcore band At The Drive-In to Sparta, as well his alt-country project, Sleepercar. In fact, it’s this healing power of music, Ward offers, that led him to Daggers, the lauded musician’s new solo record set for release in 2021 via Dine Alone Records. “When my world has upheaval, it becomes about doing the work in front of me,” he adds. “And this record was pure joy: talking to my friends on the phone, swapping ideas with them, going into my head for a while, coming out with something.”
For Ward, Daggers – which he describes as “very from the hip,” was his way of shutting out the outside world, retreating inward and digging his way out via a batch of new songs. It was his version of freedom, in 2020. It was also the ultimate release. “For whatever reason it seemed to be super-natural and without a plan,” he says of constructing the LP and almost breathing it into existence.
It was also a cathartic form of healing: all the pent-up frustration and anger and longing and desperation that Ward, like so many of us, felt this year, came bursting forth via the new batch of songs.
Ward admits that for a not insignificant amount of time, creating music had become a source of anxiety. And yet, in recent years, he has finally found a healthy balance of enjoying music while being fruitful at the same time.
Daggers is officially credited as a solo work, and Ward never entered the room with any of his collaborators due to the COVID-19 pandemic, yet he’s effusive in his praise for them: notably the twin team of Incubus bassist Ben Kenney and Thursday drummer Tucker Rule, both of whom took Ward’s guitar riffs and helped propel them into fully fleshed-out songs. “My friends did this for the pure love of making music with a friend,” he says of Kenney and Rule. “There’s no higher compliment. I don’t know how I’ll repay them.”
“There were 100-percent zero constraints,” Ward continues of the back-and-forth musical exchange between he and his two longtime friends that ended up forming the foundation of Daggers. “And it was a blast. Without a plan there was zero stress. In fact, it was stress-relieving.”
Ward admits he’s had a recent knack for writing songs resembling more genteel material — “I know my trajectory looks like it’s heading towards Springsteen and the plains of America,” he says with a laugh.But in the early stages of Daggers, most notably when he wrote the slingshot riff for what would become the gut-check of a riotous cut, “I Got A Secret,” with its machinegun drum fills and choir-gang vocals, this post-hardcore icon realized he was hardly finished penning epic rock riffs.
“This would be the time you would expect to make the alone-in-my-room acoustic folk record because I’m locked in my house but it didn’t happen that way,” he says. Instead, Ward wrote some of his most pummeling, pulsating melodies yet. “It’s almost like having a temper,” he says of the genesis of several whiplash cuts on the LP, including “Blink Twice and “Polygraph (Attack).” “I’m mad at what’s going on right now. So it’s gonna come out in the way that is therapeutic for me, which is playing loud, aggressive guitar.”
“Once it started it just had a life of its own and it took off really quickly,” Ward notes of the album’s creation. The results include “Foreign Currency,” a standout song and a highly reflective one at that, strewn with needlepoint, echo-laden guitar and anchored by barreling drums with Ward repeating the mantra ‘It’s a lie.”
The musician specifically points to the track “Paper Fish” however as the one that allowed him to see the album most clearly. “All I ever wanted… was to die a better man than I was at the start,” he sings on the loping, effortlessly melodic track, and “that’s my whole concept of life right there,” Ward notes proudly. “That I’m making improvement. I can’t go back and say, “Oh I wish I didn’t do that” or “I regret that happened or “I wish this band had stayed together.” All of those things to me are part of the journey. I just wanna die the best man I can be.”
To that end, Ward calls Daggers his most hopeful record to date. “Reality is OK,” he says. “You can’t change the past, but you can take those lessons and you can do better.. I’ve always considered songwriting as a journey. It can guide me in the way I’m going forward.”
As for what lies ahead for the always-inspired Ward? Endless possibilities. “This record gave me invigoration,” he says. “I’m just stoked right now. I look forward to returning to the road. I look forward to playing music for people again. I look forward to making more records.”www.jimwardofficial.com/