M. Ward has a lot going on this spring. He just released his latest album, A Wasteland Companion, this week on Merge Records. He’s heading out on a solo tour—which will bring him to our neck of the woods for Hangout Music Fest. He’s also taking part in Record Store Day on April 21 and releasing an exclusive 7-inch featuring “Primitive Girl,” the first single from the new record, plus two non-album b-sides including long-time live fan-favorite “Roll Over Beethoven.”
Despite his busy spring schedule, Mr. Ward was still nice enough to take some time to discuss his work with Zooey Deschanel, his favorite albums, love songs and his first performances outside high school cafeterias.
IN: Zooey Deschanel sings on a couple songs on your new album, A Wasteland Companion. You’ve worked with her quite a bit over the past few years. How did that collaboration originally come about?
MW: We did a movie together. I did the music for a film she was in called “The Go-Getter.” It was just a small, little independent film. The producer had us sing a duet together. We have a great collaboration going. She’s busy with her projects and I’m busy with mine, but when we get the chance, we get together and make music.
IN: You’ve collaborated with several other artists like Jim James, Conor Oberst, and Neko Case. You must enjoy the collaboration process.
MW: I do, very much so. That’s one of the best parts about this job, is that I get to work with all these remarkably talented people.
IN: On the She & Him album, Volume One, Zooey and you sing a version of “You Really Got a Hold on Me.” Why did you choose to cover this particular song? Were you thinking more of the Beatles version, or the Smokey Robinson version?
MW: Well, there are a lot of songs that Zooey and I really like, and we cover a lot of songs. Songs that we feel take on a new sound—those are the ones that we put on the record. We really love both those versions of the song but, of course, Smokey Robinson can do no wrong.
IN: There are several songs on your past and present albums that seem to have religious undertones. Are you interested in the influences religion can have on music?
MW: I’m definitely interested in the inspiration it brings, and the mystery of where that inspiration comes from.
IN: The idea of love, or at least references to some form of it, seems to play a big part in your music. What do you think the reasons are for that?
MW: Well, love songs have been written since day one of the universe. They need to be sung. I’m happy to oblige.
IN: You have a really extensive tour schedule coming up over the next few months. What’s that like for you?
MW: You know, I really do enjoy performing and being out on the road. We’re going to be playing some really great festivals too, like Coachella, SXSW, and Hangout.
IN: Do you remember your first performance, or show?
MW: It was high school. Lunchtime. We were sitting in this tiny, little theater, outside the cafeteria. I’m trying to remember, but I’m also trying to forget. It was my friends and I, and we were playing some cover songs, messing around.
IN: When you play the Hangout Music Fest in Gulf Shores, Ala., are you planning on bringing any musical guests with you?
MW: I’ll have my full band with me. The same one I’ll have for all my American shows. They are the finest musicians in Portland! And one is from Nashville, and he is a great friend of mine—we’ve traveled together many times.
IN: What have you been listening to lately?
MW: The main thing I have been listening to is the radio—satellite radio, and then just stuff that I hear about by word-of-mouth. I’ve also been listening to Here, My Dear by Marvin Gaye a lot lately, too.
WHERE: Hangout Music Fest, Gulf Shores, Ala.
WHEN: May 18-20
M. WARD’S “A WASTELAND COMPANION”