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Norman pop songwriter crafts album with help of all-star cast



Compelling art comes from the kind of experiences most ninth graders haven't have had to deal with yet.

But Norman songwriter Ford Chastain's early introduction to tragedy has helped him create a "If I Leave," a six-song EP that showcases the young musician's relaxed vocal delivery, impressive ear for complex and engaging melody, and working knowledge of pop music ranging from The Beatles to afro-pop revivalists Vampire Weekend. 

The album's surprising maturity in both theme and composition are rooted in Ford's family, specifically his father, freelance writer and poet Jim Chastain. It wasn't just his dad's taste in music that helped shape Ford's growth as a musician, but also Jim's seven-and-a-half-year struggle with cancer.

"That had a big impact," Ford said. "My dad opened me up to a lot of music, which really helped. He gave me a Beatles album back before I had any idea who they were. When we started recording 'If I Leave,' the cancer started up again. Right now, it is looking really bad. He went to the doctor not so long ago and they said he had months to live."

Despite the dire times, the songs on "If I Leave" aren't dragged into a depressive mire. Ford manages a textured collection of styles and tones, including the swelling, orchestral track "Everybody's Here," rich with tempered sincerity. The buoyant breakup track "Differences" is the standout single, with a habit-forming melody that is the stuff iPod commercials are made of.

Ford will perform 7 p.m. tonight inside the Cox Convention Center's during the "Opening Night" New Year's Eve celebration.

Taking a step away from Refuje " a local band filled with other young musicians he once fronted " Ford pulled in a who's-who of the Norman music scene to help with "If I Leave." Allan Vest of Starlight Mints, Matt Duckworth of Stardeath and White Dwarfs, and Dave Spindle of The Rounders each provided instrumentation for the EP.

Any tours or long-distance shows promoting "If I Leave" are going to have to wait, Ford said " plans he'll temporarily shelve to spend time with his dad. Because the public has been reading Jim's work for years, his fight against cancer has also become public.

"Right now, it is just trying to stay alive," Jim said. "A lot of this writing that Ford has done is a way of processing what he has had to go through since he was 7 years old."

The insight that comes with dealing with these heavy issues at such a young age has helped refine Ford's talent, making "If I Leave" a glimpse of a musician that is already surpassing peers several years his elder. He has high hopes for the album, but Ford's focus is on his father and family.

"It can be positive, too, because it makes me write, it makes me creative," Ford said. "Even though it is a very bad thing, art is coming out of it." "Charles Martin

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