If you’re like me, your range of 70s rock music ends and begins with That ’70s Show. There’s something satisfying about hearing, “WE’RE ALL ALRIGHT!” but rising rock star Ian Ferguson amplifies that feeling with tunes that blend Southern sounds with rock and roll. His album State of Gold, released this July, melts harmonies with a nostalgic Nashville vibe. He played every instrument, wrote every song, and sang every harmony on the album. Pulling from obvious genres – country, and also less predictable ones – doo-wop, Ferguson has tapped into something golden: a sound of his own. Hailing from a small town outside of Nashville, Ferguson spoke to FRONTRUNNER before his show at Union Pool in Brooklyn. With a cold beer in his hand, he talked about the song-order on State of Gold, the fear of missing out and why you can hear his dachshund on the album.
Your music has a gritty Nashville country twang. How has your hometown inspired you?
So I grew up just outside of Nashville in a pretty small town. All of my friends’ parents listened to a lot of country music growing up so that was definitely an influence on me as a kid. One of my best friends showed me all these great country artists when I was younger. I don’t really make country music but it definitely seeped its way into my writing and my guitar playing. I think that definitely affected my writing.
For State of Gold, you played all the instruments on every track and did all of the engineering yourself. What was this process like?
It was really exciting to do it all by myself because I started a band when I was about 15, and I had been in a band for most of my adult life leading up to this point. This was kind of my break away from that. It was really liberating to just go down to my basement by myself and not have any outside influences affecting what I was doing. I love my band still, but it was a whole new experience. It took a long time because of that. I would do the drums, I played bass, I played guitar and sang. So one song would take me way too long. It was a process for sure.
What were some of the more unorthodox or fun instruments you used?
In my basement, I had an old piano. Kind of an old rinky-dink piano. It was out of tune and had a lot of beer spilled on it, but it had this really cool sound. That definitely was a big part of making the record. I got a lot of percussion for the record. I had some finger symbols and little shakers and all this stuff. I would go out and buy them and put them on top of the track. Really, most of the record is a lot of guitar. I have a great 12-string guitar that was really special to me on this record. Just a lot of me by myself for like a year in my basement. Me and my dachshund, a miniature dachshund, and she was down there barking throughout the whole thing. She’s all over the record, you can hear it.
Your sound is so unique that it seems you’ve created your own genre. Growing up, what genres and musical artists were your go-tos?
That’s a great question. Of course I think the Beatles are a big inspiration to me. The Beach Boys. A lot of 60s rock music, I think, is what I pull from a lot of times. But there’s so much great music over the years. A little bit of 80s here and there. I don’t think it shows but I try to pull all sorts of genres in my drumming, from R&B to some Latin stuff, even, with percussion and so forth. Definitely with my harmonies and stuff like that. I’m definitely attempting to emulate Ryan Wilson and The Beach Boys and all those kind of 60s rock bands. That’s kind of my bread and butter.
I appreciate you saying that about the genre thing. That was kind of my intent. If you have enough influences and you put them together, you can almost create a whole new sound, which I hope I was able to do.
The album flows so naturally. When planning out the order of the tracks, what was going through your mind?
Another good question, because when you have a lot of different genres it’s important how you put them in order. If it’s too crazy from one song to the next, you’ll kind of lose the listener. But I think that you can go all over the place as long as you ease each song into the next. It took me a long time to pick the order of the record. I had it one way, then I switched it around. I took some songs out and put some back in and finally ended up with the way it is now. That’s a vital part for making a record for me, is what order the songs are in.
In “I Fell Asleep Before the Night Began” you sing, “While I was out, miles away, I had a dream of what exactly went on. It was hard to say. One thing I know, as the night went on, it was in that dream that I heard this song.” Do your dreams ever inspire your music or play a role in the music-making process for you?
Yeah, I think so. I think dreams are pretty wild. Sometimes you remember your dreams, and sometimes you don’t. I think that song in particular, I used to hate falling asleep early when I was a kid. It was the worst feeling. When all your friends had a good time but you fell asleep, and then you hear about it the next day. I don’t hate that feeling now, but I hate the feeling I felt when I was a kid thinking back on it. It was terrible. When you wake up and your friends are like, “That was the best night ever.” I did that a lot when I was younger. I’d fall asleep. So that song is kinda like FOMO–fear of missing out.
But I feel like I’ve definitely woken up with songs in my head. I’ve never really been able to write a song like that, but I definitely dreamt of a song. I’d think, “Oh, that’s really good,” then I try to remember it later and I can’t. I need to have a recorder by my bed. But dreams are amazing. I love sleeping too.
The theme of searching for gold is apparent throughout the album. What does “state of gold” mean to you?
As I said earlier, I was leaving my old band. It’s kind of about finding your own voice and your independence. Also, the “State of Gold” comes from California, because I took a trip to California. It was around that time that I was recording this record. So it felt like I was saying–not in a bad way–but, “Fuck you,” to my past. So State of Gold is about finding yourself. This record helped me channel that energy into something new. Going to a place you’ve never been before, just exploring everything.
You have some tour dates coming up. What are some of your favorite aspects about performing live?
I really like when you get a great band and you’re kind of feeding off of each other, and it’s people’s opinions you trust. They add their own flavor to your music, and I love that because I love to hear what other people make of it.
And the audience. We’re not playing in front of too many people every night, but when we have anybody there it’s special. It’s cool to just feed off of people’s energy, and I feel lucky that people want to hear my music, and I hope they enjoy it.
And I like traveling. I work regular jobs when I’m at home, and I hate it so much. I’d be touring 200 out of 365 days out of the year if I could right now. I just want to be gone all the time. I love traveling, meeting people, eating great food, seeing cool cities. It’s all great. It’s the best. I feel lucky to do it, for sure.