For seven years, Jim Ward tinkered with an Americana album.
The guitarist for defunct post-hardcore band At the Drive-In and lead singer of alternative rock outfit Sparta finally saw West Texas get pressed this spring.
Sleepercar is Ward’s very own project. He recruits a band to play on tours and gathers musicians (including his father) to play in the studio. Whether the group lives or dies depends on him. “It’s the band I get to have forever,” Ward explains. “Nobody can start or stop it, except for me.”
Ward eases fans of his other work into his roots-wrapped debut. West Texas is only partially deep-fried, with plenty of alt. stirred into the country. But unlike Sparta or At the Drive-In, it comes as no surprise the man behind Sleepercar hails from the Lone Star State.
Pedal steel, deep breathing melodies and unrestrained fervor form the backbone of the record. Female vocals are always welcome, and Ward can play the hardboiled cowboy and the mushy malcontent equally well.
Ward spoke with the Alibi about completing West Texas, playing with his father and his hidden confidant.
What influences got you into playing Americana?
I don’t initially know what made me want to start doing this. I guess the Old 97’s were kind of my gateway drug, and then from there, it went on to, like, the Flying Burrito Brothers and stuff like that.
What about that brand of music attracts you?
There’s a point where you start maybe getting a little burnt out on what you’ve done. I’ve been in bands since I was 12 and I’ve made a lot of records. I sort of got to this point where I found writing these songs was exorcising some sort of demons inside me.
Do you ever find Sleepercar influences coming into Sparta songs or vice versa?
It’s pretty hard to contain any of me from me. Stuff spills over. I don’t really put too many limitations on it. There were songs I showed the guys in Sparta that they were not into. So I just kind of left the tape on the shelf and went back at it later.
During the early recording sessions for West Texas, you played with your dad for the first time. What was that experience like?
It was awesome, man. It was as emotionally connecting and wonderful as anything could be. It’s something you get to share with somebody you look up to and has been a huge part of my life. To be able to share something and have him be so stoked about it is great.
It took seven years of working off-and-on on the album before West Texas was finally completed. How did it feel to finally get it done?
The first time I listened to the final product, it was very emotional. The first notes were written when I was 23 years old, and here I am at 31 finishing a record. That’s a long time.
What kept you coming back to it?
It’s my safety. It’s my friend and my confidant. It’s a place where I can go and not feel like anyone’s gonna get pissy at me, or judge or whatever. Before it was released, it was great to come home from tours and chip away at this thing nobody knew anything about.
Do you think Sleepercar is still somewhat private, even though people are now aware of it?
Sure. Sure. It’s private in the sense that I have this limitless control over how much I let people see.
Do you think people are surprised by what Sleepercar sounds like?
People see my name attached to it, and assuming they know who I am, they sort of assume what it sounds like. If people even cruise by the MySpace, they’ll realize that it’s really a completely different bag of tea or whatever. That’s not the right term ... cup of tea. I don’t even know what a bag of tea is.