The Ford Theatre Reunion dedicates its new album, Legends & Landmarks, to its junky old band van, which adorns the CD cover in all its incompetent glory.
The van's operation on the road was as unpredictable as Ford Theatre's kinetic concert antics and bizarre eclectic sound.
"It was the worst vehicle there ever was," says Alex Johns, Ford Theatre singer, clarinet and keyboard player.
The Lexington-based band spent much of last year touring, and the van broke down several times.
"We did one 3,000 mile tour that we spent more time on the side of the highway than we did on stage," accordionist Erik Myers says.
Despite the hardship of dealing with an unreliable mode of transportation, the trials involved with the lousy van inspired Ford Theatre to think about travel in the context of life passages everyone goes through.
Three songs on the new album, each titled Legends, explore this concept in the framework of Norse mythology and the end of the world, among other themes.
Johns says people often long for her risk-taking lifestyle as a musician, while she generally wishes for financial stability and a regular place to sleep, eat and shower.
But, this is the life she chose, just as everyone has to pick a path to take.
"It's really not all that wonderful but you keep going," Johns says.
The album, in contrast to the three previous ones, takes an autobiographical angle detailing the life experience of the band members, Myers says.
"We've always done songs about fictions, stories, folktales and things that are interesting and meaningful to us, but this is, as far as personally for us, is much, much deeper," he says.
Ford Theatre bassist Luke Harrington says the band approached songwriting in a more aggressive and musically complex manner.
The songs on the album sound unique from one another and those of previous albums. But the diversity of the music works and is characteristic of Ford Theatre, Johns says.
"Something we really pride ourselves on is that they all sound like Ford Theatre Reunion songs, but what that means I don't know that we know," she says.
The band identifies itself as neo-carnival rock 'n' roll, though its music transcends categorization in its exploration of diverse sounds and styles, often making Ford Theatre a difficult band to pair with another group in concert.
It often performs with heavy metal bands, though it's played with folk, ska and punk groups.
The sound is the result of the diverse musical backgrounds of Ford Theatre's members.
Harrington met Joe Harbison, Ford Theatre guitar and banjo player, in high school where they came up with the idea to play circus-sounding music.
The rest of the members met at various concerts, most recently adopting Will Chewning, who used to go to Ford Theatre shows, to play drums.
"What I was always really impressed with was just the raw energy on stage conveyed into the audience," he says. "And it looks like everyone is just having an absolute blast."
Myers enters a state of "total abandon" while on stage, in which he dances as if he's jumping around in his underwear to the stereo at home, he says.
"When we've got that kind of freedom on stage and can really just let go and act ridiculous, it gives the audience license to do that too," Myers says.
Johns says the concerts are fun because the band doesn't take itself too seriously.
"We're not cool," she says. "We are super un-cool. We're nerds."
Ford Theatre's CD release party Friday at Cosmic Charlie's will transpire as "chaos," Harbison says. But, it's the kind of chaos the band members would want to experience themselves at a concert.
"We've tried to put together what we think would be a really great time, curated for what the people in town want to see," he says. "It's the kind of show we'd want to go to."
"We've always strove to make it more than just walking into a bar and hearing a couple bands play some sets," Myers says.
After the CD release, Ford Theatre will embark on its longest, busiest tour to date, performing 27 shows in 38 days all over the country.
The band's main goal right now is to continue on and keep going, Johns says — hopefully, in a new van.