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- Posted on Apr 11th 2012 2:45PM by Theo Spielberg
However, even while juggling his numerous commitments, Ward was hard at work on his seventh solo album, A Wasteland Companion. The LP, out now, runs the gamut from the wistful "The First Time I Ran Away" to the jangly "Primitive Girl." When he picks up the phone to speak to Spinner, M. Ward is at home in Portland, readying himself for a string of live dates, including two weekends at Coachella.
Are you anxious about releasing the album at all? Is it like waiting for a storm to hit?
If this was my first record, maybe I would be but there won't be any huge surprises. When you work on a record for three years, it's a great sense of relief when it is finally out in the world. It just feels good.
So that amount of time encompasses your last two She and Him albums well as the Monsters of Folk record.
It does. I recorded this in between either promoting those records or recording those records. All the records that I make with all my projects take a few years because we do them a couple weeks here, a week there. We like to have some time to listen, digest, edit and write new songs. The only exception was the Christmas record I made with Zooey [Deschanel], we made that in under a couple weeks. But that was really rare. In general it takes me a couple years just to make a record.
Do you think such a long gestation time gives it a stylistic disparity, or does it help with creating an overarching theme?
I find that the time that goes by is actually your best friend when you are making a record. The passing of time gives you perspective on what you recorded and what you wrote. If something sounds good to you 12 months after you recorded it then chances are pretty good that there's something valuable about the part or the song. Whereas, if you just write something last week, it might sound good to you for a couple days but then it gets old. It's nice to have the luxury of time when you're making a record.
Creatively, is there a difference between your mode of operation between this project, She and Him and Monsters of Folk?
The biggest difference is on my records there is more of an entire lifetime on display. I only recorded this record for three years but some of these songs I've been working and reworking for a lot longer than that. Some of these songs come out of dreams that I've had and I think that in general my solo records are a little bit more in touch with my subconscious.
Do your solo records help you get more in touch with your dreams?
Definitely. I'm somebody who gets a lot of inspiration from dreams. There are songs on the new record that are directly from dreams. There is a song called "Watch the Show" that came out of a dream of this newscaster whose name was Billy Boroughs. I was just sitting on the couch watching this newscaster and he was saying some frightening things, and it turned into a song. There's another song on the new record called "There's a Key" that came out of a recurring dream I've had of tidal waves.
Concerning "Watch the Show," I was thinking that could be a William S. Burroughs reference.
Well, I think that my subconscious probably twisted it in this way that was both unrecognizable and recognizable at the same time, as dreams often do.
The song "Sweetheart" is a Daniel Johnston cover, but your version is almost entirely different from the original. How did that evolve?
I approached his song -- and the way that I approach all cover songs and all of my own songs -- it begins with just guitar and vocals, or piano and vocals. That's where you start to build from is the bare essentials. When I'm covering a song I like to create building blocks separate from the productions that are already in existence or have already been heard. It's no fun for me to cover a song and produce it the exact same way as it already exists. When I hear that happening I have to say, "What's the point?"
You're about to go on tour. Who is in your touring band? Will you bring along Mike Mogis?
We'll have special guests. Maybe Mike Mogis will be a special guest occasionally. My band will consist of a couple great Portland musicians who I have been touring with in my own project and with She and Him. I'm bringing out a great pedal steel player from Nashville named Chris Scruggs.
Is there any venue that you're looking forward to playing this new batch of songs in?
I love Coachella. That's one of my favorite festivals and we'll be there for two weekends this time. I love the Fillmore in San Francisco, so it'll be good to get back there.
What about Coachella in particular draws you to it?
I love being in the desert. I grew up in Southern California but lately I've been living in Portland, where the sun rarely shines and its always good to go down there in the winter time and the spring.