The veteran artist (aka, ‘PsychoSongs’) officially releases his new album Friday, with upcoming release shows in Ferndale, Clarkston and Grand Rapids. Local Spins has an exclusive song premiere.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Our series spotlighting artists from the east side of Michigan — helping bridge the gap between east and west — continues today with writer Lori Stratton profiling singer-songwriter Mike Ward. Scroll down to listen to a track from his new album.
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For Mike Ward, love’s restless spirit evokes a sense of urgency and change.
It prompts people to forgive a longtime partner, preserve a friend’s fading memories or celebrate a parent’s legacy while processing complex emotions.
Amid that emotional examination, Ward found the inspiration for his contemplative new folk album “Love Never Rests,” which releases via Bandcamp.com on Friday (April 7) and on other streaming sites April 14.
“Whether it’s my specific love, the love we should have, the love that somebody had for another, or love that didn’t happen for one reason or another … those are the kernels that I started with,” said Ward, a Detroit folk singer-songwriter.
“When I looked at all the songs, love was the common denominator; it either pushes on, pushes you, or pushes someone. It doesn’t let you rest. There was something about that phrase, ‘Love Never Rests,’ that I thought hit it.”
Ward strongly hits that sentiment on the head across the 11 introspective tracks on Love Never Rests. The album’s perceptive lyrics and earnest instrumentation allow Ward to share thought-provoking and life-changing observations about love’s unexpected trajectory.
Those personal observations first surface on the album’s tender opener, “The Currency of Forgiveness,” which reflects on a lifetime of love and accepts the challenges that come with it.
Alongside fingerpicked acoustic guitar, sentimental violin, and layered vocals, Ward sings, “Worth all you have … and nothing less / Life keeps you up at night but love never rests / Isn’t this why you both said yes / No IOUs … no repaid debts.”
LISTEN (LOCAL SPINS EXCLUSIVE): Mike Ward: PsychoSongs, “The Currency of Forgiveness”
“It’s about what it takes to balance a relationship and balance the good times, the tough times, and the not-so-tough times,” said Ward, whose album cover features him and his wife Angie Ward on their wedding day in 1980. “And at the end of the day, it’s making sure you remember what’s important.”
Next, Ward tackles the tough side of love on “This Old Life Goes,” a somber ode to a friend’s struggle with dementia and the race to preserve cherished memories.
“The opening verse stems from going to see a friend of mine who had early onset dementia,” he said. “I was there with my friend Judy Brown, and she was there with her dad who was going through the same thing. She came in and sang on that … and when we do that song together, it’s fairly emotional and cathartic.”
After reflecting on a friend’s hardship, Ward honors his late father’s legacy on “Smile,” which commemorates the big, toothy grin Ward and his siblings inherited from him.
“He had an infectious smile right up until he died,” said Ward, whose daughter Emilia Ward sings backing vocals on the track.
“You wanted to make him laugh because you wanted to see that smile. We did this huge family portrait at his funeral because it was one of the few times we had everybody there. It’s a charming family portrait.”
“Smile” also beautifully highlights Ward’s late father’s love of photography and how he caught special family moments on film.
“I started looking through old photographs of my dad’s because he was an amazing photographer,” he said. “Looking at those photographs after all these years … the spontaneity, the love, the joy, and all of that that was happening in our family, he just captured all of it.”
Finally, Ward closes Love Never Rests with “Sunday Morning,” a warm acoustic ballad based on a poem that Ward’s late mother wrote about the family’s weekend morning routine.
“She always played piano, and she always encouraged us to be musical and be creative. She would send us to art classes on Saturdays, and there was always creative stuff around,” said Ward, who features a photo of him as a baby with his late mother on the album’s back cover.
“She taught herself late in her life how to use an Apple IIe with the floppy disk. One of the floppy disks that we found had recipes on it … and a whole file of poems. ‘Sunday Morning’ was this poem that was about our regular summer Sundays going to mass and going out on the boat.”
TIRELESS DEVOTION, PROLIFIC SONGWRITING
As his fourth album in five years, “Love Never Rests” showcases Ward’s prolific songwriting and his tireless dedication to his craft. The album features four holdovers from last year’s “Particles to Pearls,” which originally included 21 recorded tracks for consideration. (Scroll down for a video of a song from “Particles to Pearls.”)
“We made choices on ‘Particles,’ and we thought, ‘Well, let’s hold those songs for later.’ One of those songs was ‘Something Anything’ because it’s so big, and it’s really different sonically than anything else I’ve done,” Ward said.
“I just had a blast with the production on that one, and Dave [Roof] did too. We had Amy [Petty] and Michael [Shimmin], and it just kind of went from there.”
Ward started recording “Love Never Rests” late last year with producer Dave Roof at Grand Blanc’s Rooftop Recording. The two opted for a more stripped-down sound with fewer layers compared to “Particles to Pearls” and “The Darkness and The Light.”
“Every track had importance in this case, and there’s no fat,” Ward said.”Dave was great about that, and we would run things by him. If he felt it wasn’t gonna improve it, he’d say, ‘Let’s try it, but let’s keep an open mind to broom if it feels [like it’s] too much.”
To find the right sonic balance, Ward assembled a talented team of collaborators, including Larry Labeck (pedal steel guitar), Dave Feeney (lap steel guitar), Grant Flick (violin), Lucy Little (violin), James Anthony (mandolin), Bill Sadley (harmonica) and Michael Shimmin (percussion).
Backing vocalists Alison Wiercioch, Tessa Wiercioch, Amy Petty, Jill Jack, Judy Brown, Emilia Ward and Annie Bacon bring rich harmonies alongside Ward’s emotive vocals.
“When Annie [Bacon] came in for ‘The Currency of Forgiveness’ that was really the separating quality for that song. She’s just masterful at vocals — not only her own, but she just adds so much. She has a distinct vocal quality, and she’s like a bright light.”
To celebrate the album’s release, Ward will perform several live shows in Michigan, including Friday (April 7) at the Ferndale Area District Library in Ferndale with Sara Gibson, April 22 at Wiltsie’s in Clarkston with Chain of Lakes’ Kyle Rasche, and May 13 at The Stray in Grand Rapids with Kait Rose and Jeff Troutman.
“I’ll probably do quite a bit of the album,” Ward said. “But then there are still songs from ‘Particles and Darkness’ that I really enjoy playing and will still mix in.”
Besides playing live shows, Ward continues to write new material but doesn’t plan to do any new recordings later this year.
“I’ve got about eight or nine songs now that I feel like I could record, but I kinda want to take some time away from that and consider doing something like a John McCutcheon where it’s just me and guitar,” he said.
“Or doing something like Kyle [Rasche] just did where he went into the studio with a band and recorded the tracks live.”
VIDEO: Mike Ward: PsychoSongs, “Time” (from “Particles to Pearls”)
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