Indie-folk musician M. Ward makes his return to the Bay Area for a pair of concerts before a pair of appearances in SoCal. The Friday, July 8, show at The UC Theater in Berkeley follows an appearance at McNear’s Mystic Theater in Petaluma. Opening both evenings is Nice As Fuck, featuring Jenny Lewis, Erika Spring, and Tennessee Thomas.
An accomplished solo artist since self-releasing his first album in 1999, Ward’s 9th solo disc, More Rain, was released in early March of this year. He has also seen success as one half of the pop-folk duo She & Him with Zooey Deschanel, as well as one-quarter of the Americana-folk supergroup Monsters of Folk with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Bright Eyes‘ Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis.
Noteworthy artists are eager to collaborate with Ward, as evidenced by the appearance of Peter Buck (R.E.M.), k.d. lang, and Neko Case on More Rain, as well as being recruited to play guitar for Brian Wilson‘s Pet Sounds at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday in Los Angeles.
We had a chance to speak on the phone with Ward late last week. Covering a wide range of topics, we touched on the magic of the Bay Area, the songwriting process, and finding new music. Read the interview below to learn more yourself and don’t miss the show!
The Bay Bridged: Hey, thanks for taking the time to speak with me Matt, I appreciate it.
M. Ward: No problem.
TBB: I know you have some shows coming up here in the Bay Area, Petaluma and Berkeley, but you also just wrapped up in the Midwest. Are you already out here?
MW: Yeah, I’m back at home in Portland right now, getting ready for the next leg next week.
TBB: Right on. What kind of decompression rituals or tricks do you have that you do between tour legs to help relax?
MW: Well, you know, it’s a lot of recharge time, finishing up some music videos, things like that.
TBB: Nice, I like the one you just came out with last week.
MW: Yeah, “Girl of Canejo Valley” was the first one, we just came out with another one recently called “Slow Driving Man.”
TBB: That was based in San Francisco, yeah?
MW: Yes, yes it is. San Francisco is the heart and soul of that video. Driving at night in San Francisco brings back a lot of memories of kinda growing up in the southern part of California, Ventura County, and going to San Francisco when you’re young. It’s the big city, and you’re in the back seat, a lot of good memories.
TBB: I definitely related to it the first time I watched it. Being new to the Bay Area myself and living in Santa Cruz, I do a ton of night driving back and forth from the city and even though it’s different doing the driving than riding in the back, the newness of it all still leaves me with a sense of wonder when I’m leaving the city at one or two in the morning, the road to myself.
MW: Yeah, it’s an inspiring place to be. It’s going through a lot of changes but I still love to return. My friend who directed the video is a guy named Carlos Forster and he’s lived in San Francisco his whole life. I was really stoked to make it with him.
TBB: That’s great, the authenticity behind it really comes across. On that note, do you have a favorite part of the Bay Area or California in general?
MW: I love Golden Gate Park, I love the Sunset District, I’m starting to explore Marin County a little bit and I love going to Oakland. I’ve played the Fox Theater a few times, so I’m getting to know Oakland, and Berkeley has some incredible spots too that bring up so many good memories of visiting up there when I was a kid, the Bay Area is super-inspiring and I love getting back there.
TBB: I got word that you’re performing Pet Sounds with Brian Wilson on Sunday.
MW: Yes, that’s our Los Angeles show for the tour. It’s a dream come true to be able to share a stage with one of my biggest musical heroes of all time.
TBB: How did that come together? That’s pretty huge.
MW: It started out a few years ago. I got an invitation to play guitar on his last record, No Peer Pressure, and since then I’ve played on stage with him a couple of times. This Hollywood Bowl show magically came to fruition.
TBB: As far as artists that inspire you, do you have any favorite contemporary artists?
MW: We had the pleasure of having a band called Big Thief support us on tour in the Midwest and I really liked their music.
TBB: Very cool. Did you ever get to collaborate with them onstage?
MW: No, nope, we haven’t collaborated on anything but they put on a great show. I also like Angel Olsen, I think she’s a great singer.
TBB: That’s a new one for me, I’m going to have to make sure I look into her.
MW: Yea she’s great. I think she’s from the South. I discover a lot of good music by listening to radio still, satellite radio mostly. There’s a lot to be inspiried by.
TBB: Speaking of inspiration, I was reading a Huffington Post article that came out around the same time your latest album dropped and it was reported that when you start thinking about new albums or start collecting ideas, you start by going through your archives. What I want to know is how often you make a note of something that you like while going through these fragments, knowing you won’t be using until later and how you keep that organized.
MW: I think over the years I’ve gotten better at organizing the catalog of notes and sketches. It amounts to hundreds of songs, maybe over a thousand songs that I’ve four-tracked I recorded on GarageBand. It’s sort of a never-ending soup that is constantly getting stirred. The old mixes with the new and the best rises to the top and that’s what makes it to the record. Other ingredients will fall down to the bottom but they’ll come back again. I don’t spend too much time scraping. There’s so many ingredients, not all of them are the best, but there are so many ideas that I’ve recorded, that things emerge out of nowhere and turn into songs. It’s kind of hard to measure exactly how it happens, but the pot is constantly getting stirred.
TBB: Is there a typical amount of time between something entering the soup and exiting a song, like an average gestation period, or is it always random?
MW: It’s always random. All the records I’ve made are a combination of songs that are a few months to a few years old. I love the concept of mixing old with new, not just in my own songs but in other people’s songs too. It’s the best way to look at music for me.
TBB: When you’re collaborating with others,do you spill the soup, so to speak, and let them throw things in there or do just take a ladle or two with you and leave the pot behind?
MW: You know, I’m very lucky to work with talented people and they come into the studio and add their own individual spice that no one else can, and that’s what great musicians do. I’m very fortunate to have these great guests all over my records.
TBB: On that note, is there any foreseeable future for The Monsters of Folk?
MW: You know, you never know what’s around the bend. We’re talking about it pretty often, but we don’t have anything planned.
TBB: Awesome, that is a lot better of an answer than I prepared myself for! For my last question, I want to know if you have a favorite guitar that you use and if there are any interesting tales behind it.
MW: My favorite guitar that I’m playing on tour right now is my Gibson Johnny A electric and the only story I can come up with is that it was given to me by Gibson.