If anyone thinks that the collaboration between Portland musician M. Ward and Hollywood workaholic actress Zooey Deschanel was simply a hobby, they must not be paying attention to the material She & Him have produced in its short time together.
Formed in 2008, the two are currently celebrating the release of their third full-length album, aptly titled “Volume 3.” It’s slated to hit stores on May 7 and marks another chapter in a musical marriage that some thought would never last.
“People have seen the project as a whole and not just a one-off,” said Ward. “I think the project still continues to surprise people and you hope that you can continue to surprise people (with each release).”
Deschanel and her singing voice have become as synonymous in Hollywood as seeing Rob Schneider in an Adam Sandler movie. Whether you’re talking about her role co-starring alongside Will Ferrell in “Elf,” or starring in the TV show, “New Girl,” you know that at some point, Deschanel is going to sing.
In fact, She & Him was born from a film which starred Deschanel and employed Ward to handle the soundtrack duties. It was 2005 and a tiny independent flick called “The Go-Getter” was doomed to net a whopping $12,000 in three days of distribution. Deschanel, naturally, was asked to sing a song to close out the movie and Ward offered to help produce it. The film was a dud, the resulting collaboration between artists certainly has not been. As Ward recalled from his first meeting with Deschanel, he knew she was vocally capable from witnessing her sing on the big screen but was more than blown away by her in person.
“I first heard her singing voice in the movie ‘Elf,’ and I remember thinking this is somebody who probably has a few records under her belt and is an accomplished singer,” Ward recalled. “She has a voice that’s very hard to forget. That was my first impression was that she’s an incredible singer.”
Still, Ward was the musical expert in the relationship and it was still up to Deschanel to convince him that there was also a capable songwriter behind the voice. It all started when Deschanel showed Ward some songs she had been working on in her spare time.
“I knew that there was a great record inside of these demos because the voice was unforgettable and the songs were great and if you have those two things, as a producer, it makes making a good record pretty easy,” said Ward.
Oddly enough, the actress who had performed on the big screen and on stage since she was a young girl was initially a bit apprehensive about exposing her musical abilities for the world to see.
“After the initial shock of letting someone hear the songs (wore off) it actually became quite effortless,” said Deschanel. “As far as my demos go, I have always approached them as a little bit of a dress rehearsal where I can try out harmony parts and play with the songs a bit.”
“I for one was really surprised when I first heard Zooey’s demos and that she was such an incredible songwriter and it’s been great to be part of that process,” added Ward. “So much of it was curiosity to see what was gonna happen if we tried to record these songs.”
“Volume 3” features eleven original tunes and three covers and shows a mature growth between the two musicians. They’ve only been together for five years but there have been great strides as they’ve learned to play off each other’s strengths.
“The things that Zooey loves to do in the studio are different from the things that I love to do in the studio,” said Ward. “We’re both doing what we love in covering a lot of bases between the two of us because we can. We divide up vocals and piano is mainly Zooey and as far as guitars and production and strings and arrangements, these are things that I love to work with. Arranging the drums and the backdrop. Because of this division of labor, we’re able to, I think, accomplish quite a lot pretty quickly.”
If the debut took people by surprise and “Volume 2” was meant to prove to people that it wasn’t a fluke, then “Volume 3” is a statement that shows the band is a serious and legitimate project.
“We have an infrastructure to support us now that makes things run smoothly, but with each new step we take there are new challenges and hurdles to overcome, but that’s what makes it fun,” Deschanel added.
Deschanel admits her dream would be to sing harmonies with The Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or the Everly Brothers. The actress has starred alongside Jim Carrey in “Yes, Man,” Will Ferrell in “Elf,” and Mark Wahlberg in “The Happening,” but is most excited to have Ward be her leading man in the music business.
“Matt always has really exciting production ideas that bring out the best in the songs. I feel incredibly lucky to work with him,” she said.
There’s a unique retro sound to She & Him and it’s by design. Look at the web site (www.sheandhim.com) and the album covers and you’ll see and hear a steady flow of ‘70s-era innocence. It’s not just She & Him as numerous bands are tapping into retro decades to, oddly enough, make their music feel fresh.
“I do feel like whatever it is we experience growing up, whether it be music or books or fashion, it comes around when we’re older and you wanna relive those (eras) because it feels good and it hits home in a way that nothing else can,” said Ward. “I guess it only makes sense in some weird way that we’re constantly wanting to relive our childhood because that’s how the feeling of discovery stays with you forever.”
“Volume 3” is another notch in the duo’s belts as they continue to prove to naysayers that there is cause for respect. Naysayers are common when the face of your band is an actor or actress trying to prove their chops as a musician. Ask Kevin Costner or Jeff Bridges or Steve Martin. At this point in the band’s evolution, there’s no reason to worry about uneducated detractors, according to Ward.
“It really doesn’t matter who you are or what you do for a living, there’s always going to be some doubters,” he said. “They come in all different kinds of shapes and sizes and flavors and in my opinion they never completely go away. I think they’re sort of necessary in the equation to keep it real. Any time somebody comes along and doubts what you’re doing, I don’t see that as necessarily a negative thing. I see that as an opportunity to convince people of what you’re doing. It makes you work harder and maybe it changes what you do.”
“I think it would be strange to live in a world where artistically whatever you do is golden,” he said with a laugh. “I’m very proud of the fact that She & Him are able to put the songs first.”
She & Him offers a stress free workplace for Deschanel and Ward as both artists are very comfortable with their respective day jobs. If people like the music, great. If not, it’s not like the band is paying the bills.
“Neither of us are putting any unnecessary pressure on the project,” said Ward. “Neither of us are in a situation where we need to go on tour for the next 24 months. It’s just not something that we need to do as opposed to a lot of younger bands that need that. I think we’re both inspired by getting our hands dirty in different kinds of projects whether it would be acting or producing or playing guitar on someone’s record. I think we’re both inspired by that change in atmosphere. That ends up coming into play on She & Him in ways that are sort of hard to measure.”
by Patrick Douglas