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Music » Sound Stories & Interviews

In Love with Language

English major Tory Ford turns honest literature into song

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Thirty-five-year old San Francisco singer Tory Ford isn't sure whether the songwriting she takes on with her band Upstairs Downstairs would impress her old English professors.

Clearly, though, the firm grasp of poetic dialogue in the songs she comes up with would at least make some of their heads turn.

Take the lyrics for "Parkas Indoors," the lead single on the band's self-titled album due out next month. They paint an uncomfortable late-night conversation with broad angst-filled strokes of dark prose.

"Let's try to stay up all night and listen to the Minutemen/I see you grip that bottle tight, the closer it gets to 1AM./Let's share the comfortable chair wearing parkas indoors./Apprehensive's too negative a word, for how you touch my hair like it will break. 'It's more sophisticated than that.' You said and leaned toward me in judgment./'No it's something more obscure... and true.'

'You know we did all this before.' – that's half the truth.' 'Remember I slept on your floor?' – til Sam got Miles killed. 'He ran off after his girl...' – he got shot off the Tunnel Top/'She didn't love him anyways...' anyways.../It's no more complicated than that. And now that all these clocks are blinking 12, there'll be another 5AM. But this will never happen again."

"Parkas Indoors is literally just recounting a night I had with one of my friends," remarked Ford during a recent phone interview. "Just a friend-relationship kind of thing in conversation."

At its core, the song is the backbone of what Upstairs Downstairs stands for musically; quasi-morose lyrics that percolate inside distressing hazy pop rock sprinkled with precocious amusement. And as the band's name indicates, the sound is conditioned by English influences. The song "Rotten Driver" even channels more than a hint of British pop group Allo Darlin'.

Ford admits that she has long been obsessed with English period dramas, including the band's namesake. However, more than just Ford's love of that show led to the band taking that moniker and running with it. A fortuitous—and wildly appropriate—living arrangement was also at play. One that unfolded in a nondescript Edwardian house in San Francisco near Golden Gate Park.

"[The house] was so generic. It was really weird," said Ford, who at the time had been dabbling in music with her friend Amy. "I had a flat that was upstairs from [guitarist] Kyle [McGraw]'s flat. We sorta knew each other from mutual friends. Kyle said 'You should start doing your songs on your own.' He had a band with his friend James, and he said 'We'll help you do them.' They gathered their friends for me and we started working on some songs. Then it fully evolved into a more serious project. We literally lived upstairs and downstairs from each other."

Though Upstairs Downstairs has been around since 2008 in some form or another, this record will be the band's first full-length offering. And while the album turns in a litany of saturnine rock songs, it's unquestionably first and foremost an exercise in lyrical academia.

"It is somewhat dark," explained Ford. "I think that often there is a strain going through these of accepting the things you can't change. They are a bit conversational, as though it's not necessarily me talking in the song. There might be two different people who are on opposite sides of a problem."

Upstairs Downstairs

9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21

Volcanic Theatre Pub

70 SW Century Dr.

FREE

About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...

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