Actress & Guitarist: She & Him
SOMETIMES, IT SEEMS like M. Ward is noticed based on the company he keeps rather than his six solo albums. Recently, all talk of Matt Ward has been accompanied by actress-turned-songstress Zooey Deschanel. And together, he and she make She & Him.
The two met through the 2007 film "The Go-Getter," in which Deschanel had a starring role. Ward was working on the movie's soundtrack and he and Deschanel ended up recording a cover of Richard and Linda Thompson's "When I Get to the Border" for the film's end credits. From there, Deschanel began sending Ward her own personal demos — one of which, a cover of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," shows up on She & Him's first album, "Volume One" (Merge Records).
Ward and Deschanel began working on the album during the fall of 2006 and winter of 2007. She took on songwriting duties and he handled the arrangements and production, a division of labor that Ward says they've stuck to: He doesn't have a single writing credit on "Volume One."
Ward pairs Deschanel's sweet but at times sultry voice with an organic array of guitars, strings and the actress' own piano playing. She & Him recalls Linda Ronstadt, 1970s AM radio and Phil Spector-produced girl groups with relative ease.
"Volume One" came out in March, and two weeks ago Ward and Deschanel began the first proper She & Him tour, which wraps up Sunday at Virgin Mobile Fest in Baltimore. Express talked to Ward via the magic of e-mail about the band's first tour, plans for "Volume 2" and his array of activities outside of She & Him.
» EXPRESS: How do you think Zooey is coming along as a musical performer on her first proper tour?
» WARD: Zooey is a natural talent who doesn't need any advice.
» EXPRESS: Has this tour offered opportunities for you and Zooey to work together and write?
» WARD: We haven't written much on this tour — it's been filled with press and soundchecks and shows, but it's all been great.
» EXPRESS: You've said in recent interviews that you want to take a more hands-off approach vocally on the next She & Him record. Does that mean we'll hear more girl-group-based stuff like what we heard in "Sweet Darlin'," with layers of Zooey's voice, strings and horns? It seems like that would be a logical — and exciting — direction to go in.
» WARD: Not sure what will happen with "Volume Two" yet as we are just starting to talk about it, but we're excited about it. Half of the production of every song happens at the moment in the studio, so it's pretty impossible to predict.
» EXPRESS: Do you enjoy the more reserved role you have in She & Him, being the man behind the boards rather than up front?
» WARD: I love having the new perspective of leaving the main vocal parts to an incredible vocalist. It allows me to focus on guitars and arrangements.
» EXPRESS: Do you expect to continue She & Him as a touring act, perhaps touring sporadically when both of you have breaks?
» WARD: Zooey and I are both balancing all our projects to make room for She & Him — it is a huge priority for both of us.
» EXPRESS: Speaking of recording, you're also rumored to be working on a project with My Morning Jacket's Jim James and Conor Oberst. What can you tell me about that? Have you guys done any sessions? Are any planned? When we eventually hear that record?
» WARD: Yes, with [Bright Eyes'] Mike Mogis, too. That project is in its infancy and should be out in 2010. In short, it is very difficult to find the time to get the four of us into the studio, but we are all great friends and love working together.
» EXPRESS: You're also working on your own solo album; how is the progress on that?
» WARD: My new record is almost done and will be out in the beginning of the new year. No dates or details quite yet as it is still being formed.
» EXPRESS: Again on collaborations, you're once again on the new Jenny Lewis record, "Acid Tongue." How much do you contribute to that album?
» WARD: I added some guitars to Jenny's new record — it is the greatest record Jenny has ever made.
» EXPRESS: Do you vary your recording process based on who you're working with — say, cutting a She & Him album versus cutting your own album or producing someone else?
» WARD: The songs dictate everything. They tell you where to go and how quickly you should go there. Songs are built from an immediate and inspired moment in time that I can't explain but those are the moments every great record is built on. They are impossible to explain in an interview.
» EXPRESS: Lastly, what have you been listening to lately?
» WARD: The Louvin Brothers and the new M.I.A.
Written by Express contributor Rudi Greenberg
Photo by Autumn De Wile