M. Ward comes off in a phone interview a lot like he does on his albums: laid-back, good-natured, earnest and reflective — all words, by the way, that Allmusic.com uses to describe the indie-folk troubadour's sound.
When GO! Magazine spoke with him Tuesday about his highly touted recent album, “A Wasteland Companion," he was in his childhood hometown of Los Angeles.
Ward (born Matthew Ward) still keeps an apartment there, but he was preparing to fly back later in the day to Portland, which the 38-year-old musician makes his primary home.
Merge Records, Ward's longtime label, released “A Wasteland Companion" in April, and the bulk of touring for the album is largely complete.
“We are now in the time where we just do festivals and weekends here and there, so we've been getting good time off," said Ward. Tonight, however, is not one of those times off: Ward and his four-piece band will perform tonight at the Domino Room in Bend (see “If you go").
Ward, who steadily built his career over time by recording, touring and collaborating with other musicians including Bright Eyes, has been busy the last several years.
In 2008, he launched a well-timed duo with actor and winsome singer Zooey Deschanel (star of TV's “The New Girl"), with whom he's released two studio albums as well as a 2011 Christmas album.
In 2009, Ward, as part of the supergroup Monsters of Folk, which includes members of Bright Eyes and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, released the “Monsters of Folk" album. He's also worked as a producer. Like we said: busy man.
Given the many hats he wears and the musicians he's worked with, it may come as no surprise to learn that “A Wasteland Companion" was recorded sporadically over three years, in eight studios, with 18 guest musicians.
Getting the album to sound as cohesive as it does was a challenge, Ward said. “That was one of the challenges of the mixing and the mastering process, but we managed to find some happy ground between all the songs."
Asked about his songwriting process, Ward replied that playing the guitar daily, along with experimentation with guitar tunings, is what “turns into songs."
For instance, the earworm “Primitive Girl" grew from “a lot of different things, but it began with that melody that starts off the song," he said. “Normally, the way I write is I'm either on piano or guitar and a progression presents itself, and then a melody presents itself and then lyrics start just mysteriously happening. I don't really understand the process, to be honest."
“Primitive Girl" will likely be on the setlist tonight, as Ward said it's a favorite to play live and he had planned more uptempo songs for the Domino Room. Fans will request songs from as far back as 2003's “Transfiguration of Vincent," he said.
If you're planning on holding your cellphone up all night, know that Ward had some interesting things to say about the role of cameras and video in the music realm, be it from audiences and their cellphones or music videos. He'd rather people just use their ears.
“I want people's focus to be music in whatever part of the music industry we're talking about. Even just publicity, I want the music to come first," he said.
“There's a trend nowadays for radio sessions to be a video web-cast, which I think is just very boring," he said. “I don't spend a lot of time watching (many) online music videos. I'm much more interested in the quality of radio that makes it unique, which is the public is only allowed to use their ears. That's something that I think is valuable for music, and people's imaginations. I think there's no question about it: Your imagination has more room to play when you're only listening to music as opposed to watching a music video."
As for his other projects, Ward said that Monsters of Folk “are in hibernation right now," partly due to the different schedules of its members.
There's good news for fans of She & Him: “The project is alive and well," he said. “Zooey is always writing songs, and I think the next She & Him record is definitely around the corner, but we can't say exactly when."
Deschanel makes his job easy as collaborator and producer, he added. “The songs she writes are great, and she's a great singer."
In the meantime, he'll be playing his own songs tonight in Bend.
“This is going to be a room we've never played in, and we're looking forward to it," he said. “It'll be our first time playing a proper music venue in Bend, so we're excited to come out."