The following was originally published on Exclaim.ca.
She & Him
By Jessica Lewis
The first words on this album are “It’s hard to be ignored.” It’s true. Volume Two cannot be given the slip. Its friendly and familiar sound will find you eventually. And although it may sound almost identical to its predecessor, it’s the subtle changes that make this new endeavour so sweet. The perfect pairing of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward are back for more, and better than ever. They upped the production quality and the amount of mood swings, thus every ounce of sad lyrics and happy music they make is able to shine. Deschanel glows in 11 original songs and two covers, and you will know when Ward’s voice and guitars gracefully decide to pipe up. Deschanel delivers the back-up female vocals. The duo recruited Tilly and the Wall for opener and single “In the Sun,” as well as musicians Mike Coykendall, Scott MacPherson, Jason Schwartzman, Mike Mogis and more. It took about a year to make the album in Los Angeles and Portland studios due to the two’s busy schedules of movies, marriage and Monsters of Folk, but the wait has given us an album full of emotions ready for interpretation. Let’s just hope this trend stays true for more volumes.
Tell me about the recording process for Volume Two.
Ward: During the process of making Volume One, we sort of just accidentally held onto a system where it really worked. Basically, Zooey writes the songs at home and records demos on her computer and then she emails them to me. I start the arranging process and the production process and we meet together in a studio and record them. That’s sort of the process we discovered for Volume One. For Volume Two, we wanted to keep that same process and experiment more and just try different things. I couldn’t be happier with how it’s turned out.
Deschanel: We recorded in short bursts of four or five days over the course of about a year. We had a lot of time to think about the songs between recording sprints, so it was quite ideal.
Is Volume Two a natural flow from Volume One to you?
Ward: Absolutely, Zooey’s songs are getting more adventurous and I wanted the production to match that. I feel like the record goes more places than the first one.
Deschanel: Not necessarily calculated, but I think that they sound good next to each other.
Are there any major similarities, or differences, between the two albums for you?
Ward: I think that there’s just more emotion. More a range of emotion, wider mood swings.
Deschanel: I am proud of them both, but I think that Volume 2 is lusher, and has more layers. I definitely feel like I have evolved as a songwriter and Matt has brought new complexity and depth to his production.
Can you describe these mood swings?
Ward: I prefer to leave that open to the listener.
Deschanel: I think we are both always trying to find the balance between melancholy and happiness. It’s a fine line to walk, so there is a mood swing element to it. But I like that description.
Do you write differently, emotionally?
Ward: It really depends on the song. Zooey and I have a lot of similar influences, as far as songwriting goes. There are a lot of influences that differentiate us. She probably doesn’t listen to as many records that are based around the guitar as I do and she has a wider vocabulary, as far as singing groups from the ’50s and ’60s, than I do.
Deschanel: I know [Ward’s] songs as a fan, so I can’t say where they come from exactly. I would say I write from the perspective that I want to express certain emotions then I find the stories and melodies that best express those emotions.
In terms of recording, was it easy to work with each other or were there any big hassles you had to get through?
Ward: No real conflict. We tried to record a song called “Sing,” which is on Volume Two. We tried it for Volume One and I wasn’t happy with the production and it was the kind of thing where we agreed to try it again for Volume Two. I love how it turned out the second time.
Deschanel: We work very smoothly together. We have been working together for about four years, I don’t think it could’ve lasted this long if it weren’t fun. Matt and I have similar tastes, which makes everything easier, and we both like to work in a similar way. We are both improvisational. We rarely, if ever, disagree.
Do you have any new strategies for your live performances?
Ward: We’re going to be bringing some new backing vocalists to improve the translation from the record to the stage, in terms of harmonies. We’re excited about bringing these new vocalists on tour with us. They’re called the Chapin Sisters.
Deschanel: Most of it is just making it as organic as possible. When you are performing live, there is always the X-factor of the audience there and so you can’t predict what that will add to the mix. It’s always different, but that’s what makes it exciting. We just rehearse a lot and then get out there and hope for the best.
Have you played with the Chapin sisters before?
Ward: No, it’s going to be our first time.
How did you find them?
Ward: I first learned about them through Becky Stark, who’s in Lavender Diamond, a friend of ours in Los Angeles.
I’m wondering how you feel about how you seem to be making older music accessible to young fans today.
Ward: Well, you start with a good song and, you know, for centuries that has been the key to attracting listeners. As far as turning people on to a certain decade of music or something, that’s not really our intent. No matter who you are, your influences will always show up on your records, but we’re just interested in putting the songs first. That’s partly where the name of the band comes from, and the name of the record.
Deschanel: It’s remarkable how much access we have these days to get a hold of old records through the internet. If you have the taste for a particular type of music, you can find other fans and collectors very easily, which is great. We like old music and the way that it sounds, so that’s how we approach music in the studio: trying to capture the warmth of an old record. But, nonetheless, we still make modern music.
What do you think of the style of writing of songs with sad lyrics but happy music?
Ward: It’s something that Zooey and I have an aberration for — when songs are able to balance out the dark and the light.
Deschanel: Well, I always enjoy such juxtaposition. She & Him are a happy-sad band in general.
How do you complement each other on recordings?
Ward: The things that I love to do in the studio are slightly different from the things that Zooey loves to do and vice versa. We’re able to cover a lot of bases just between the two of us and that makes for what I consider a pretty fast process.
Deschanel: Well, Matt is the best guitar player I have ever heard in my life, so there’s that. I love to do backing vocals until someone stops me. When we record, it’s very fast. We don’t waste time, we just get to work, and it’s very satisfying. (Merge)