By Cady Colosimo
Christopher the Conquered, AKA Christopher Ford, wears a lot of hats. Figuratively and literally: as his hat collection is one to envy. Ford is the Program Manager of the Des Moines Music Coalition, hosts his own podcast “Conquered 4 Life,” and has been involved in a myriad of musical projects over the years. In recent years he’s become most well known for his solo work as Christopher the Conquered and as one half of Gloom Balloon.
Ford’s first musical experiences go back to when he took up the trumpet in 5th grade, and really picked up with percussion in high school jazz band at Dallas Center-Grimes High School in Grimes, Iowa. He used to spend his spare time at school in the music room where he taught himself drums and piano. After his high school’s drummer quit jazz band the teacher asked him to fill in “out of desperation.” It was here he met Scott Yoshimura of Canby, who played percussion in the jazz band at nearby Waukee High School, where they became jazz band rivals and later friends.
“We’re still competing, and he’s winning!” Ford laughs.
In 2006 he moved to Des Moines, where he is now. But it was in 2003 that he met Patrick Tape Fleming of Poison Control Center; who is now a frequent collaborator, his partner in Gloom Balloon, and close friend.
“He’s my producer in music and in life,” Ford smiles.
Tape Fleming has been involved in nearly all of Ford’s musical endeavors and also helped inspire Ford’s impassioned performances. Seeing him live is an experience in the truest sense. He doesn’t stand in one place and play or sing, he’s all over the stage and often spends bouts offstage in the crowd. Audience involvement is a big part of his act; letting attendees play his instruments (resulting in his now broken trumpet) and encouraging crowd surfing are common components. He casually explains that it’s about being in the moment. “I just don’t want to waste people’s time,” he says flatly, and he doesn’t. Usually when his set ends he’s drenched in sweat, not unlike an athlete after a big game.
Ford’s new studio album title “I’m Giving Up On Rock and Roll” is misleading, because Ford is no way giving up. He has issues with listeners taking everything musicians say at face value because he’s more dedicated than ever, with not one but two album releases coming up. This Saturday he will be celebrating the release of his live album “A Passing Melody” at the Salisbury House, which was recorded at there on its one-of-a-kind Steinway Piano. The piano was commissioned by the house’s former owner Carl Weeks and was built with the same wood as the room it occupies, the construction of which was overseen by Henry Steinway himself. The name for the album was actually taken from a painting in the room with the same name.
With the exception of one song, “A Passing Melody” is all previously released material, but “I’m Giving Up On Rock and Roll” is all new material. This album is particularly special to Ford because it’s the first time he’s done an album solely for himself. “I didn’t know what I was doing, or where I was going, or what I wanted out of my art for years. I followed a lot of paths with dead ends and sort of became a caricature of myself, of what people liked the most about me,” he said. Breaking free of these previous constraints has served Ford well. In doing so the result is a powerful album that evokes great singer/songwriters and piano players of the past. He has repeatedly been compared to Elton John, Jeff Buckley, and even Queen: all for good reason. The end result is an album with soaring vocals and powerful piano ballads. It’s the rare album that is both accessible and timeless; it’s also destined for greatness.
Greatness isn’t just a word to throw around, it truly has that element and people are taking notice. The album doesn’t come out until 2016 and it’s already seen an insane amount of hype, mostly due to Ryan Adams and the Reddit Community. Ford has eloquently documented what happens when someone like Adams tweets about your music and a community like Reddit embraces you. His numbers have gone up, way up. In the immediate aftermath of the “Ryan Adams Bump” and the “Reddit Hammer” his website saw the most traffic, received the most Facebook likes, gained more Twitter followers, and recorded more pre-sales than ever before.
As the social media numbers go back to a normal level, Ford continues his journey. After “A Passing Melody” is released he will immediately embark on tour, hitting Los Angeles, New York and everywhere in between. Once he’s played as many shows as he can stateside, he’ll take a brief break to Texas to write and visit his father before touring Europe for the second time in as many years. His goal is to play as many shows as possible all over the world.
Back in Iowa, many in the local music community see him as an icon and it’s well earned. Ford has been active in the scene long enough to become a pillar of the scene at just 30 years old. His reputation as a hard worker and top-notch performer are what got him there. Mentioning this to him, he seems unaware and genuinely flattered. He is humble about the topic, but the music speaks for him.