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Ford Madox Ford: from left, Matt Littell, Chip Kinman, Dewey Peek and S. Scott Aguero
Ford Madox Ford: from left, Matt Littell, Chip Kinman, Dewey Peek and S. Scott Aguero
Shots by Morrison

Cowboy Nation's Chip Kinman Has a Case of the Blues

Guitarist-singer Chip Kinman, with his brother Tony, roared through late–20th century rock & roll with an assiduous, seditionary zeal. For more than 20 years, their series of defiant, highly influential bands — arch punk rebels The Dils, Americana architects Rank & File, techno hellions Blackbird and weaponized folk duo Cowboy Nation — brilliantly exploded and reconstructed the pop music idiom, until the siblings suddenly disappeared from music over a decade ago.

Chip is back again, kicking over the table anew with his blues-tinged, enigmatically monikered Ford Madox Ford (aka FDMDXFD). The February release of debut album This American Blues signals another off-center sucker punch to rock’s business as usual, and Kinman deflects queries about the beast’s nature with a characteristically breezy disregard: “The band name? I just liked the way it sounded” he said. “It’s kind of like the Lynyrd Skynryd effect.”

Touted as punk blues, FDMDXFD's is a highly idiosyncratic sound, with oddball lyrical symbology and weirdo, interstellar song arrangements that are far more bangingly psychedelic then moanin’-after-midnight trad. Thanks to brother Tony’s high-octane production, the crunch and bite are definitely punk, loaded with elemental hints of commanding Dils guitar declarations, mutant barrelhouse and a twist of avant-glam casting deeply atmospheric shadows across the proceedings. At core, it’s pure Chip: redolent of his characteristic mix of offbeat, oblique passion and an almost opaque, oracular metaphor that rates the album as a full-blown attack following a decade’s retreat as a family man.

“I did lay off [music] for a long time, and that was all about raising the kids,” Kinman said. “Doing it right and getting them out into their lives. It was Lisa, my wife, who finally said, ‘You have to get out and play. Do it. That’s what you are.’

“I said, ‘What can I do next?’ And I‘d never played black music because I’m white and I am also not an asshole,” Kinman said. “I mean, what am I going to do, play reggae? We are a self-described blues band in the same way Rank & File was a self-described country band. But when people were listening to Sundown in 1982, they didn’t call it country. They only called it country because we said it was. Ford Madox Ford is the same thing.”

While best known for collaborations with his more circumspect, philosophical elder brother, Kinman now extends the blood ties in a filial union, prominently featuring the walloping guitar of 23-year-old son Dewey Peek.
“I didn’t want the sound of my generation,” Kinman said. “I mean, who wants to listen to that again? So, enter Dewey Peek. He is a phenomenon. And that’s why I wanted him in the band — he can really bring it.”

This is no exaggeration. Since his teenage start, leading The Peeks and his current Katellas, Peek’s startlingly emphatic natural originality and high-flying, creative approach to an individualistic, melodic brand of punk ka-pow has been consistently stunning.

“I was always really hands-off with him,” Kinman said. “I got him a guitar, showed him a few chords, but that was all. He had the smarts, he knew what to listen to and what not to listen to, and he developed all by himself. He is fearless, just goes up there and does it and makes it look effortless. Which is the opposite of me — I’ve been doing this my entire life and still get nervous. It’s ridiculous. I’m the opposite of Dewey, which is why it works.”

The band’s mix of primitive clangorous repetition and delirious lysergic filigree allows Kinman to swarm through a low-lit spectrum of peculiarly marvelous proportions, and his lithe, persuasive vocals jolt each number in vibrant life, while Peek’s audacious, rampaging guitar runs gleefully amok. It’s a hissing, hell of a sound that’s at once focused on a threatening present while hunting through the blues jungle for submerged, mysterious truths.

“The lyrics, that’s where the blues come in, and at the risk of sounding like an asshole, I’m just trying to keep it real,” Kinman said. “The songs are pretty much either things that have happened to me or big-picture stuff — but I want to leave it open enough that people can fill the blanks for themselves. Like 'Dark American Night' is about Trump and how screwed we are — ‘Have you heard the news? There’s no rockin' tonight’ — or is it about Hillary and how badly she fucked everything up? Others, like 'Promised,' that’s a true story of something that happened to me, and it was a bad deal, personally, so i'ts told from my side of the ocean; or 'Quicksand,' an old Blackbird song, I turned that into a song about me and mistakes I’ve made, things that you just can’t keep up with after all these years.

“We’re a big loud rock band, that exactly what we wanted.” Kinman said. “It’s not a boutique band, it’s not a fucking ‘project.’ And it was a challenge — I’d never sung an entire album before, and I can’t sing like I used to. ‘High as an elephant’s eye?’ Forget it. Physically, I can’t do it. I had to adjust to what I call ‘my new confident vocal style.’

“Tony was instrumental in the whole thing, he was really important, contributed musically, threw in a few lines and made it all cohesive. He’s got really great ears, so when Dewey goes in and lays down 30 tracks, he hears it all, remembers and knows which ones and where they go. Same as with my vocals. Tony is a true taskmaster. At one rehearsal, we went through a song and I asked him, ‘How was it?’ And he says, ‘That was fine. Now play it so it sounds like music.’”

[Ed. note: This post originally said This American Blues would be released in January. It's scheduled for February. We regret the error.]