One gets the sense there's a lot happening in David Ward's head.
Golden Future Time, the ambitious new two-part concept album from the rising Vancouver singer/songwriter, is a densely layered collage of influences -- electronica, R&B, funk, prog, art-rock, disco -- all buoyed by Ward's ethereal, goosebump-raising falsetto, a voice that has already earned him his share of Jeff Buckley comparisons.
But while he mines a lot of territory musically, Ward draws from influences across disciplines. Art, literature, film and theatre all guide his musical vision. He began working on Golden Future Time after reading The Creative Habit, a 2003 self-help book by New York ballet choreographer Twyla Tharp, whose Princess and the Goblin was presented by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 2012.
Her creative process, which includes plenty of observational work, resonated with Ward.
"I started the project the same way she starts her projects. Everything I was reading or watching or listening to was filtered into it. (The record) deals with the fear of loss and the idea that we need things that are bigger than us to preserve our hope and innocence. And that was interpreted through many different lenses," he says over the phone.
Works by everyone from Quentin Tarantino to George Orwell informed the expansive, cinematic Golden Future Time. The album's title is a reference to Animal Farm, a lyric pulled from Beasts of England, the revolutionary song Old Boar teaches the animals to sing as they prepare to rebel against the humans: "Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland/Beasts of every land and clime/Hearken to my joyful tidings/Of the golden future time." The anthem promises a better life -- in this case, an animal-controlled society -- before it is outlawed after Old Boar's death and the farm is taken over by Napoleon.
In the title track, Ward sings: "I'll dream of the day you keep saying awaits me, in our golden future time."
"There's a darker undertone, but there's also a beautiful innocence and naiveté, and it connected to that idea that we need something bigger than us to preserve our hope," he says.
Ward's creative process is a cycle of output and input. Now that the record is out, he's in an input phase, collecting all manner of pop culture fragments to assemble into something new. "It's January, so I've been going through all the Top 50 lists and listening to and watching a bunch of stuff. Erykah Badu called it her downloading phase. Honouring that is hard when you feel like you should be creating," he says.
He certainly found joy in creating Golden Future Time. Recorded with vinyl in mind, the record is composed of two distinctive halves -- overseen by two different producers -- that somehow come together as a cohesive whole. It was an adventurous, ambitious project.
"The recording process can be agonizing, but it was pretty rewarding this time," Ward says with a laugh. "I was working with a lot of great people. The first part of the record came together very quickly with Tom (Dobrzanski, the Zolas) at the helm. The second half I co-produced with my drummer Andrew Peebles and we experimented a lot more. He had three or four vintage synthesizers we worked with."
Though primarily a singer/songwriter, Ward does work in other media "with music at the core." He's currently co-producing a documentary for Vancouver's Redbud Films that takes the pulse of the independent music scenes in the U.K. and Canada.
While touring in the U.K. -- where he's built some serious buzz -- Ward interviewed a ton of key industry players, including Martin Mills, the founder of heavyweight British record company Beggars Group, and Mercury Prize-nominated rapper Soweto Kinch. During his current Canadian tour, which stops at the Folk Exchange on Jan. 31, he plans to sit down with representatives from influential indie label Arts & Crafts, Rheostatics founder Dave Bidini and CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos, among others. The doc doesn't have a release date yet, but Ward is excited to get it out there.
"My story runs through the centre -- I represent the everyman indie musician," he explains. "It's about how to navigate a scene that's always changing and how all these various players make up a scene. It will shed light on the importance of supporting an independent music scene -- and what a supported music scene can accomplish."