M. Ward has been releasing consistently brilliant albumssince his debut, Duet for Guitars #2,in 2000. Ward's music is instantly recognizable: just listen for his smokyvoice (though he doesn't smoke); lyrics that can move from deeply affecting towisely humorous in the space of a song; and his quick work across a guitar'sfretboard. End of Amnesia, Ward'ssophomore album, appeared in 2001, followed by Transfiguration of Vincent, which landed on many critics' best-oflists for 2003. Transistor Radio—atribute to the independent radio stations of yesteryear—came in 2005 and wonWard further praise from fans and critics. Ward's latest album, Post-War, is his first recorded with afull band and offers further proof that this indie folk singer/songwriter is amongmusic's most gifted young artists.
Ticketmaster recently spoke with M. Ward about the newalbum, his upcoming U.S.tour and his many other musical projects.
Ticketmaster: Yournew album Post-War just came out onAugust 22, and you have a U.S.tour kicking off very soon in September. Are you excited to get out and playthese new songs for a live audience? M. Ward: I am. You know, I've had a year's break fromtraveling and my batteries are energized, so yeah, I feel ready to tour. I'mespecially excited about this one, ‘cause I get to tour with the band that Imade the record with. So, yeah, it's exciting. It's the biggest band I've everbrought on tour. A bunch of novelties for me.
TM: You recorded thenew album with a full band, which is new for you. How do you think that hasaffected the music? MW: Well, I wanted a more grounded sound than the way thatthe Transistor Radio record sounded,which, to me, is a little bit floaty and maybe sentimental at times. So havingthe drums as a foundation was part of the point for this new record...to goagainst the record that came before it.
TM: Who were yourcollaborators on the album and how did you get together with them? MW: Uh, let's see. Well, Jim James came into town, becausehe was playing a show with My Morning Jacket. We scheduled a few days so wecould just play around in the studio. He's always great to work with. I've beenworking with him off and on for the last three years, I guess it is. And he'sjust somebody I look up to, somebody who's capable of doing anything. He's incredible.
TM: Who else were youplaying with? MW: Let's see. Adam Selzer, who engineered most of my firstcouple of records and engineered a couple of these new songs. Mike Coykendall, whoengineered most of my last couple of records, engineered most of this one. RachelBlumberg, who's a great drummer that I've been working with off and on for thelast couple years. She just left The Decemberists. And there's a guy named JordanHudson, who just recently left this band called The Thermals. They're all Portland bands. So I feelreally lucky to be able to have them on tour with me.
TM: The new albumdeals with war, loss and change. What got you thinking about these themes? MW: The headlines of the newspapers. Books that I've beenreading. Songs that I've been hearing - ever since I was a kid really. Youknow, the biggest inspiration is and has always been older records and olderproduction ideas...songs that have some of the greatest production in the world,by people like Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. And the records that came out ofSun Studios were a huge inspiration.
TM: On past tours,you've played both solo and with a backing band. You mentioned for the upcomingtour you will be playing with a full band. How would you compare playing soloversus playing with a full band? MW: It's like apples and oranges really. They really don'thave anything in common.
TM: What are the prosof playing solo? MW: Well, the pros of playing solo are you don't really haveto worry about other people's schedules to rehearse, you don't have to worryabout waking up the neighbors, and you don't have to write a set list. But thepros of having a band are the obvious ones. The camaraderie, I guess you couldsay.
TM: I'm interested inyour early days as a musician. You're a phenomenal guitarist, so when did youfirst pick up the guitar and become interested in playing? MW: I picked up the guitar when I was about 14. And Ilearned how to play by reading chord charts in Beatles books, and that was theway I learned how to play really. That taught me every guitar chord that I willever need to learn. If you go through their catalog and you're a guitarist,you'll be pretty hard pressed to find a chord that they didn't put into one oftheir songs - except if you're getting way out there, and I don't really getway out there that much. Thelonious Monk chords, you know, which are hard forme to incorporate into (my songs)...you know, I've never tried to incorporate a TheloniousMonk chord into an old folk song or something, but maybe one of these days. (laughs)
TM: I know you lovethe Beatles, but who were some of your other early influences? MW: Well, the first live band that I ever witnessed was Firehousein Los Angeles.And Mike Watt's been a really big inspiration, and it's especially exciting forthis tour, because he's going to be supporting the California shows. So that just freaks me outhow great it is.
TM: I know you werein a band before you went solo called Rodriguez. What kind of music was theband playing? MW: You know, we were ripping off fIREHOSE. It was a trioand (we were) listening to fIREHOSE and Sonic Youth records and eventually morecountry-influenced music.
TM: Is the Rodriguezmusic available anywhere? MW: No, but I don't think you're missing much. (laughs)
TM: Let's talk aboutyour songwriting process. Do you start with lyrics, a guitar riff? MW: There's no formula. The only formulaic thing about it isthat it starts on the four track.
TM: Did the fact thatyou were working with a full band for the new record affect the songwriting atall? MW: The composition I do alone with the four track, so Ibring in the band and the full arrangement when it's time to flesh the songout. So that's how all songs start. Every record I've made is a combination ofold four track recordings with new four track recordings.
TM: Does writing anew song come quickly for you or does it take shape over a long period of time? MW: There's no formula for that one either. Sometimes theycome like a lightning bolt, and sometimes it takes years to finish.
TM: I really loveyour cover songs. There's a Daniel Johnston song on the new album ("To GoHome"), and you've done several other covers in the past. How do you choosewhich songs to cover? MW: You know, it's really as simple as you just like thesong and it gives you a certain joy playing the song. And that's about it, youknow. You try songs out and if they feel right then you continue to play them.If it doesn't make you feel very good, then you stop right away.
TM: I also want totalk about your production work. You co-produced Jenny Lewis' solo debut. Canyou describe what it was like working with her and how you two hooked up? MW: We've known each other for a few years because RiloKiley was my backing band on a tour back in 2002 or '03. And we've just beenfriends ever since. She came into the recording process with her songs alreadywritten and having some production ideas. We just batted ideas around and justhad fun in the studio. It was a blast.
TM: Has producinganother artist's work affected the production on your own album? MW: Well, learning other people's songs always changes your ownunderstanding of music and that's the way I learned how to play, learning otherpeople's songs. Eventually everything that you learn turns into one big, giantstew, and basically that's the stew that the records come out of. So it's hardto put your finger on exactly what influenced what with any exact precision.
TM: Do you have plansto produce more albums in the future? MW: I'm producing a friend of mine. He was in a band calledFor Stars. His name is Carlos Forster. And that should be out next year. I'mreally excited about that project.
TM: What kind ofmusic does he play? MW: His songs remind me of a cross between Big Star andBrian Wilson.
TM: Are you going tobe lending any guitar work to the album or just production? MW: Yeah, a bunch of guitar on it. It's been a blast, andit's almost done.
TM: You have a new,animated video out for "Chinese Translation." I don't think I've seen a videofrom you before. How did the video come about? MW: A friend of a friend turned me on to this animator whois from North Carolina,and I always loved the idea of doing a music video where I don't have to doanything. (laughs) So I was hooked, you know.
TM: So you're happywith it? MW: I love it. I love it. I didn't have to wear one ounce ofmakeup, you know. (laughs)
TM: You recently playedThe Late Show with David Letterman. Ifound out too late and missed it. Maybe you can fill me in. How did it go? MW: It was great. It was a blast. It's on YouTube. I justgot an email that it's on YouTube.
TM: I'll have to lookfor that. What song did you play? MW: "Chinese Translation." We had a great time. It was myfirst time doing Letterman. It was really great. It was at the tail end of a UK tour, so itwas just the perfect way to end that tour.
In-depth Biography Portland, Oregon-based singer/songwriter M. Ward (born Matthew Stephen Ward) grew up listening to gospel and country, two genres that figure prominently in his breezy, West Coast take on Americana. After a six-year stint with the folk-rock trio Rodriguez, Ward began sketching out songs deeply rooted in the classic traditions of American country-folk. Ward's first solo effort came in the form of Duet for Guitars #2, which was written and recorded while he was living between Chicago and various locales on the West Coast. Eventually, the album was placed in the hands of the ever enigmatic Giant Sand mastermind Howe Gelb, who released it on his own Ow Om Recordings in the fall of 2000. The record enjoyed favorable reviews and a considerable amount of attention in underground rock circles, and Ward supported it with a handful tours throughout the United States and Europe.
Released in 2001, End of Amnesia helped to further develop Ward's penchant for dusty, timeless narratives and bluesy, back-porch ballads, but it wasn't until 2003's Transfiguration of Vincent that Ward would begin to penetrate the mainstream. His first release for indie darling Merge Records, Vincent cashed in on the Great Depression obsession of the post-O Brother, Where Art Thou? gold rush, paving the way for 2005's Transistor Radio and 2006's Post-War, both of which firmly established Ward as a major player in the burgeoning indie folk/adult alternative rock scene. In 2008, after collaborating on a song for the film The Go-Getter with actress Zooey Deschanel, the unlikely duo released a well-received album of covers and Deschanel originals called Volume One under the moniker She & Him. Ward returned to the studio later that year to begin work on his next full-length offering; 2009's Hold Time, which featured guest vocals from Deschanel, Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), and Lucinda Williams, arrived in early 2009. 2010 and 2011 saw the release of two more She & Him outings (Volume 2 and A Very She & Him Christmas), followed in 2012 by his seventh proper solo outing, A Wasteland Companion, which was recorded in eight different studios and featured contributions from 18n different musicians including Howe Gelb, Bright Eyes' Mike Mogis, Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley, Devotchka's Tom Hagerman, and Deschanel. ~ Nate Cavalieri & James Christopher Monger, Rovi