That’s another reason that the [new] songs sort of sound older, because they are older.
story by Phil Forsyth
While waiting to speak to M. Ward on the phone about his new album A Wasteland Companion and his role as an all-around indie rock guru, I saunter around the driveway to the cabin in the woods where I’ve been house-sitting and rock Ward’s beautiful warm analog sounds digitally through a cheap pair of earbuds attached to my coin-sized iPod shuffle. And with the sunny, cool northern Michigan air complimenting these sounds beautifully, I can’t help but wonder what I might be missing…
Then the phone rings.
Chicago Innerview: It seems like there’s a lot of consistency in your music, at least with the She and Him stuff and your own records. Is there anything in particular that you reach for in production?
Matt Ward: Well, the She and Him [albums] and my own records have a lot of similarities in production, but the songwriting process is very different because [She and Him bandmate] Zooey [Deschanel] writes the songs for She and Him and I write the songs for my records. But you will hear a lot of the same percussionists and bass players and I’m always recording them analog and I’m writing and arranging strings for both projects, so there’s definitely some similarities because the songwriting style is so different and because our vocals are so different.
Chicago Innerview: Why do you think that it is so appealing, that old sound, when there is so much else in pop music that seems from my position so sterilized and dead…
Matt Ward: Right. Well, there are a lot of great musicians making music right now. I think half of it doesn’t really sound very good because it relies so much on digital recordings and on digital technology and I don’t have as much patience as the rest of the world does to use digital technology to fix vocals, to fix drums, and fix guitars, et cetera, et cetera.
CI: Are there some elements of the music that you work on more than others?
MW: Well, I’m happy to say that I’ve never spent 10 years on the production of a song. That would drive me insane. But I’ve spent 10 years working on the composition of a song because I write a lot of music and I forget about songs and I’ll play an old cassette tape and it’ll remind me that, ‘yes, there’s a bridge in here that’s worthwhile’ or there’s a lyric that I like that I’ll repurpose and put into a new song. So that’s another reason that the [new] songs sort of sound older, because they are older.
CI: Going back to the other projects, is it easier to fill in the gaps or compose for someone else’s work?
MW: I treat Zooey’s demos the same way that I treat my own. That’s the process of listening to them over and over and over again until you start getting production ideas. Really that’s how I make all the records that I make. It all goes back to the demo and trying to get it as close as possible to the inspiration or the emotions of the song, trying to take away as many barricades as possible that come between the listener and the idea or the listener and the inspiration.
M. Ward :: with Lee Ranaldo Band :: The Vic :: May 22.