On the other hand, there’s the spare Robert Johnson-styled lowdown folk-blues of ‘One Hundred Million Years.’
Absolutely. I still have a great fascination with old Robert Johnson records. That simplicity I love in equal measure to the big Phil Spector/George Martin productions. To see if they could live together on the same record was an experiment worth pursuing.
Renowned western-folk minstrel, Lucinda Williams, sings descant on your whispered dirge-y version of Don Gibson’s ‘Oh Lonesome Me.’
During the production of that song I started to hear her voice. I had never met her. But when asked to do a duet she said yes. Since I was in high school she’s been an influence, especially Happy Woman Blues. To have her voice on my record is a great thrill. Lucinda’s voice, in some ways, reminds me of Billie Holiday. It’s raw. She was a joy to work with.
How did your project, She & Him, with Zooey Deschanel, come into fruition?
We both grew up listening to KROQ, a groundbreaking L.A. radio station. In the ‘80s, they introduced me to British bands, Sonic Youth and SST bands. Zooey’s an incredibly talented person. She & Him is entirely different from my solo stuff. I take a backseat and let her sing. Her influence is felt on the Hold Time record, too. We plan to do Volume 2, which is in the demo stage presently.
You construct a narcotic version of Buddy Holly’s ‘Rave On’ with Zooey doing background vocals.
Buddy Holly’s writing has been an influence since day one. I discovered him through the Beatles, realizing later how they didn’t write some of their earliest songs I grew up and learned guitar on. That was a revelation. It’s the simplicity I love most about his writing. The mystery that keeps his songs so durable is something I can’t put a finger on.
How much did the Gulf War and contemporary conservative politics affect Post-War?
It’s the time I was in, but not necessarily where my head was in. I felt a similarity between New York Times articles I’d read and my favorite books about previous wars. Part of the fun about making a record is you get to play with time and space. It’s gonna mean something different to everyone. There were different interpretations for the new record. I wanted to breakdown time more and not have a specific or vague backdrop. That’s part of the reason I like having cover songs inside a record, to breakdown any chronological time the listener may feel they’re in.
Why does Portland house so many literary songwriters? There’s the Decemberists, Modest Mouse, and Thermals.
It must be the coffee. [Laughter] Over the last decade, Portland’s no doubt the cheapest West Coast city. Affordable rent makes it easier to do what you love. L.A.’s only a two-hour flight. In San Francisco, you’d have to live in a roach motel. It’s open-minded and you could create without the pressure of too much or not enough media.
Hold Time will be in stores on Feb. 17. Check out M. Ward at the Apollo Theatre in NYC on Feb. 19. For more info, visit mwardmusic.com.