Releasing several solo EPs in between stints as the frontman and guitarist of Sparta and working on alt-country project Sleepercar, Jim Ward (also the founding member of At The Drive-In), managed to dodge releasing a full length album in his more than 25-year career.
In between keeping his El Paso restaurant, Eloise, up and running and volunteering for a food bank during the pandemic in 2020, at night Ward escaped into music, breaking out of a desolate and depressive state, and into a more hopeful Daggers (Dine Alone Records).
Initially, Ward had no plans to release another solo album, and was set to tour with Sparta, following the band’s 2020 release Trust the River, before August rolled around, and postponed dates turned into cancellations.
“I just started kind of picking up the guitar at night, which is when I write, and I was just filled with anxiety and stress between the restaurant and music,” shares Ward. “It was certainly a challenge but what came out of it was the way I deal with things, to make music.”
Piecing together a narrative fused in anxiety, fear, frustration, and regrets, on Daggers, Ward tucks away from reality to reconfigure his present state. “I’ve always used music as an outlet for anxiety and frustration,” shares Ward. “When my world has upheaval, it becomes about doing the work in front of me.”
Originally set to release several tracks prior to the 2020 election, Ward’s label suggested putting out a full length album.
Daggers is a mixed bag of Ward’s emotions. Opening on “Day By Day” into the pulsing angst of “Blink Twice” throughout, Ward is mostly bare. Self-observant moments on “Paper Fish,” the track that helped Ward direct the narrative of the album, find the artist reflecting If I’m singing the same song / I’m gonna lost my voice… into a refrain of All I ever wanted… was to die a better man than I was at the start, while “Foreign Currency,” is a continued introspection into being honest with oneself.
“It starts out angry but I think that there’s a little more hope coming through on the record instead of just being mad,” says Ward. “The first thing I wrote is ‘I Got a Secret,’ which is the heaviest, angriest song, then sent it to Shawna [Potter], because if anyone can capture this with me, it would be her.”
Working remotely with collaborators, Incubus bassist Ben Kenney and Thursday drummer Tucker Rule, Ward started Daggers writing rifts at night in his makeshift studio, then sleeping on it. By the next day, the song would be finished in his head. “I didn’t see one human being while I made this record” says Ward. Tracking his vocals Ward would send it off to Rule and Kenney, who would return their parts, over a three-week period.
“This is my first big rock solo record, so like lots of guitars and big sonic spectrum, definitely, so one of the things I got to do that I normally wouldn’t get to do in a band is wear my influences a bit more on my sleeve,” says Ward. “When you’re in a band, it can get a little diluted by other people, and all those edges get knocked off. I love U2. I love the Clash. I love Fugazi. Those bands are why I play music, so if you can tell I love them, I don’t care.”
When the whole lockdown began, Ward began reverting back to his roots, which he says flushes throughout Daggers.
“I sort of regressed into a bunch of music that made me comfortable and went back to movies that I love, TV shows that make you feel good and music I grew up with that feels like a security blanket—all those bands that I looked up to that made me hope and dream,” shares Ward. “I think all of that sort of good vibe came with it into the record. There’s a lot more hope on this record than I think.”