Rhode Island singer/songwriter Storm Ford opens up about her family, creative process, and plans for new music.
Ladies and gentlefolk, Storm Ford needs no introduction but her own:
“I’m the perfect mix between an extrovert and an introvert… I’m a perfectionist. I feel like there’s so many dimensions of who I am, and not everybody sees that. I’m not just some sad-ass little girl, you know, I can be happy and goofy… I’m a dreamer.”
Ford, a 19-year-old Rhode Island native, has the powerful and velvety voice of a ’90s soul diva and the lyrics of a poet. In fact, all of her songs start out as poems in her journal–“I know you don’t care, but I wrote it down anyway”–before she marries them to guitar chords. On her EP Highest Mountain, she sings about the highs and lows of her life, the heartbreaks, the family turmoil, and the discovery of identity that create the landscape of teenage years. However, Ford has a wise, serene take on this adolescent rollercoaster that makes her music feel timeless and ageless. “Highest mountain, Imma keep on climbing/’till I get over you.”
Writing songs is an exercise in emotional self-discovery for Ford, often bringing up feelings she didn’t even know she had. “I feel like it all comes from my subconscious, like I’ll write a verse and then I have to figure out who or what it’s about,” she says. Highest Mountain gained its material and perspective from its three-year-long writing process. Ford came up with the first song, the title track, at age fifteen.
That same year, her mother left her life for good. “I’ve never lived with my mom, my mom didn’t raise me. My grandmother on my dad’s side did. My mom would only come around for holidays, just to make it seem like she was a mom to her side of the family, so she was never really in my life,” says Ford, with no anger.
The EP is a letter to her mother, most explicitly in the song “Notes to Noi.” “Do I ever cross your mind?” she asks into the absence. “Do I matter?” Her exploration of familial loss and the wounds it can leave continues into the track “Second Hand Love” and the interlude “Déjà Vu.” Hope, disappointment, forgiveness, grief, and empty apologies ebb and flow throughout Highest Mountain. Yet, after the three years of work and the twenty-nine minutes of music on the EP, both Ford and the listener arrive at the same resolution. The songs weren’t about other people–her mother, her exes–after all. They were about herself, her growth and confidence and ability to love and let go.
Despite everything, Ford’s grateful to her mother: “She’s taught me a lot without being in my life. I think she loved me enough to know that she didn’t know how to love me properly.” The last words of the EP, addressed to her mom, share the same acceptance and forgiveness: “We’ve come this far without each other.”The Storm Ford on the sound waves and the Storm Ford in person are the same–warm, reserved but confident, open and poetic. She greeted me with a hug when we first met, and she spoke beautifully and eloquently (and hilariously) about her personal life and thoughts while apologizing for rambling too much. I sensed a strong personality behind her wire-rimmed glasses and curly hair, a tempest. Storm is actually her middle name. “I remember on my first day of high school, I told my stepmom, ‘I think I’m gonna have people start calling me Storm,’” she says. “I think it really represents me, Caroline doesn’t really do me justice or match my attitude.”
Born in Woonsocket, Ford has lived in various cities across Rhode Island and even spent some years in Florida. “But I rep Providence because I’m always here,” she says. Her favorite places, the ones where she has made memories and put down roots and watered friendships, are in Providence. A particularly special place is “the view”–Prospect Terrace, from which you can see the whole city laid out like a postcard. From that spot, looking out over the world, Ford has had some of her most meaningful conversations with friends. Another haunt is the Asian Bakery on Broad Street, her favorite place to get pho. Ford loves Thai food–“It takes like home, tastes like my culture.” Another intangible gift from her Thai mother.
Providence is also where she recorded Highest Mountain with the help of friends at New Urban Arts, a community arts studio and safe space for local young artists. Ford started going to NUA during her junior year of high school, and there she found a place where her music was encouraged, supported, and inspired. “I remember going in there the first day, and just singing them a song, and everybody went wild.” One of her mentors, Tom Van Buskirk, also recalls that day. “She impressed everyone as soon as she walked in.” He wanted to help her record the song she sang, so they did it. Then Ford wanted to record a whole EP. So they did it. Highest Mountain came out on Valentine’s Day 2018 after months of hard work and collaboration. The musicians at NUA contributed to the EP by playing in her backing band and helping to improvise a song or two; they all believed in the power of her music. “[She’s] able to hit on these deeper emotional touchstones and have it work both for other teenagers and for adults… She definitely has some universal musical language down at a young age,” says Van Buskirk.
Ford hasn’t released music since; she’s been busy. She just finished her first year at Manhattanville College, a small liberal-arts school half an hour outside New York City. She’s planning to study music tech, or maybe music business (“but music business needs a lot more credits than you’d think”), although her most important takeaways from the year are lessons about herself. In a poignant thought that echoes the simple poetry of her lyrics, she summed up these lessons: “I think you don’t really know yourself until you’ve exhausted all the ways to avoid yourself.” Her first year of college was difficult, often overwhelming, but Ford has emerged with new perspectives and plans for more music. A close friend that she met at the dining hall, Jxck Music, produced the beat for a song called “Ms. Unforgettable,” which will appear on her new EP In the Valleys this fall.
A new Storm is brewing. On In the Valleys, Ford is taking a different direction from her first EP, more upbeat and R&B. “Highest Mountain is for your headphones, and I want In the Valleys to be for your speakers,” she explains. “Something that people can really bump to.” The recording process will also be different this time around. She now has her own recording setup, and she wants to collaborate with Providence rappers Concept and Lily Rayne. “I’m sure there’s so much more magic that I can create with other people, and I wanna do that this summer,” she says. She wants to release a music video for every song on the EP. “To keep people off my jock, so I can work on an actual studio album.” Ford’s fans have been clamoring for new music, and she’ll appease them with the EP, but she likes taking her time to write. Her music is her way to tell her story and to remind people that they’re not alone in their emotions. “It’s important to me that when I release something, I’m saying something.”
For Ford, her success in music is not an “if” but a “when.” The years of writing Highest Mountain and performing her music around Rhode Island have given her belief and confidence, stoking a fire underneath her to keep creating, to get back on stage. “I feel like music gives me the voice to say whatever I want. Nobody can tell me that I can’t say it, and they can feel however they want to about it, but they have to listen.”
Keep an eye out for Storm Ford’s new songs coming out this summer and her EP, In the Valleys, this fall. In the meantime, you can watch her live session with WBRU when it comes out this week on wbru.com, YouTube, and IGTV (@iambru).