M. Ward is the guitar–playing, music–arranging half of She & Him. Ward is Him; She, of course, is actress Zooey Deschanel, who was radiant in Almost Famous, Elf, The Hitch–Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, (500) Days of Summer and so many others.
The March 27 She & Him concert in the Trustees Theater was the second Savannah Music Festival show to sell out (Wilco, naturally, was the first).
Deschanel is the songwriter and lead singer; Ward (whose first name is Matt) does all the arrangements, plays guitar and other instruments, and sings a bit of background.
Out this week is Volume Two, the second She & Him album. Like its predecessor (you can guess the title), it’s wall–to–wall with sweet pop music that deliberately echoes the golden era of late ‘50s, early ‘60s AM radio. Ward is clearly influenced by both Brian Wilson and Phil Spector, as well as a half–dozen other record–crafting immortals.
Or at least we think he is. Following is the full text of our short e–mail interview with Ward – not the most talkative fellow, as you will see.
The music that appeals to me most isn’t obviously derivative, or on the other bizarrely original. It evokes something – a feeling, a spirit, in some cases a memory, and takes it somewhere. I get this feeling with your stuff – there are echoes of late ‘50s pop records, of barstool country, of Roy Orbison, and the Beach Boys, and of the Brill Building songwriters and girl groups, with specific, Beatle–esque guitars. Can you tell me what your goal was, sonically, and if you knew exactly how to achieve it before you went into the studio together?
M. Ward: I knew I wanted the new record to go in the same direction as Volume One – I just wanted to take it farther – I think the new record has more emotion in the production and the vocals.
Your production, in fact, has a Wall–of–Sound vibe to it, as if every inch of space has something carefully laid in. Am I over–analyzing this? How much of the sound of this record – the lushness and the complexity and the echo – came about through spontaneity, trial and/or error?
M. Ward: Half of every recording means relying on the strength of the composition. The other half relies on the moment with the musicians, engineers, the gear, the instruments and the architecture of the room.
The piano in “In the Sun” reminds me of Emmit Rhodes. It’s a very specific, compressed pop sound, very spot–on for that track. What’s your process like for arranging instruments? Do you listen to a mix and go, “No, that needs more piano, or a banjo or a kazoo or something”?
M. Ward: Most of the work is done while listening and re–listening to the demos and imagining the arrangement.
Tell me about the “In the Sun” video. I think everybody who went to public school fantasized about swinging down the hallways, singing and dancing gloriously. So thank you for that. Did the song – or the production on the record – suggest the video? Was it your idea that you should play the cool guy?
M. Ward: Zooey had the concept and created these characters – it was a great experience.
I understand that Zooey was apprehensive at first about sharing her songs with you (or with anyone!) Has that significantly changed now – does she call you when she’s starting a new one and sing it to you over the phone?
M. Ward: No, she records her demos on Garageband and then sends them to me.
Were you apprehensive then – or are you now – about working with an actor who’d done very little music before? Of course, there are track records, we all know that – but what was it about Zooey and her songs that made you think “OK, this is not the Bruce Willis ‘Bruno’ project, or Keanu Reaves’ Dogstar”’?
M. Ward: The foundation of the project is based on the songs and not our reputations or audiences’ pre–conceived ideas about the project – so it’s easy to focus on what’s most important, which is making good music.
What would you like to see happen down the road for She & Him?
M. Ward: Volume 3.
She & Him
When & where: At 8 p.m. Saturday, March 27, Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
Tickets: Sold out