M. Ward Finds Time To Hold Time

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

In spite of the volumes of publicity paperwork in circulation earnestly stating the contrary, it would be difficult to say that there are many professional musicians who are actually working hard. The business has become an attractive life of leisure as established acts take longer to produce new work in the name of waiting for just the right inspiration to strike — just look at Ian Thornley or Guns N' Roses (who recently released new albums after a five and ten-year lapse respectively) — but more than a few critics have wondered if diminishing bank accounts were the motivating factor that spurred those artists off their thumbs rather than some over-extended form of quality control. Not all musicians work that way though, there are some who will concede that making music for a living is a fun job, but in the same breath will make sure they're clear that it's still a job either by stating as much in interviews or non-verbally through their actions. Those musicians — like Jack White, Mike Patton, Mike Watt or Amanda Palmer — often tour tirelessly or will release a succession of albums in very short order and always make sure that either the camera is there to catch all the goings-on or an internet connection is within reach to otherwise document and disseminate the story.

But then there are the musicians that don't bother with the games and simply choose to work at the tempo that suits them; a small group among which M. Ward is numbered. Since first appearing in 1999 with Duet For Guitars #2, Ward has gone on to release five critically lauded albums and two EPs of his own as well as a full-length collaborative record with actress-turned-singer Zooey Deschanel (as She & Him) and making guest appearances on releases by My Morning Jacket, Jenny Lewis and Bright Eyes among others. With that resume in hand it's redundant to say that the singer-guitarist is prolific, but one has to wonder how such a stream of releases is possible. There are busy songwriters of course, but as Ward gears up to release Hold Time and once again hit the road in support of the album, he found a minute to sit down and explain the methodology that has come close to yielding a new release per year. “Every record I've made begins the same way,” says the singer with unnerving and offhanded ease. “Each record I've made has started with a process of going through hundreds of songs from four-track tapes and finding songs that I can connect with each other in some way and finding parts that can be turned into a whole that is ideally greater than their sum. What I wanted to do with Hold Time is try to find a new balance for me between richer, heavier more orchestral sounds with thinner, cheaper, pawn-shop sounds.”

While it's easy enough to connect Ward's self-described design for Hold Time with the album's sound, listeners will still be surprised at the results and what the singer discovers along the way. The ghosts of classic rock royalty (including Bob Dylan, David Bowie and even Iggy Pop) hold court over songs like “For Beginners,” “Never Had Nobody Like You,” “Jailbird,” “Oh Lonesome Me” and “Shangri-La” and present a very different impression of the normally revisionist list of figures and sounds that typically get name-dropped as influences in the realm of independent rock. Each of the aforementioned songs wears its themes and influences very visibly and obviously on its sleeve—from the “Nightclubbing” beat that carouses through “Never Had Nobody Like You” to the song-referencing of “Absolute Beginners,” and “Time Out Of Mind” in “For Beginners” and “Never Had Nobody Like You” respectively—and proves revelatory for those citations rather than coming off as derivative. Ward's spidery but folksy and reflective guitar tones somehow offer warmth and security to listeners as they discover that beneath them is a gold mine of tender but dry-eyed classic rock numbers the likes of which are seldom seen in the proudly fringe-identified and aesthetically conscious realm of independent rock. “My biggest inspiration is old records, old production styles and older guitar styles,” explains the singer of the background from which Hold Time sprang. “Every song and production is an experiment using familiar and unfamiliar ideas, and I kept working until I reached some kind of balance that I was satisfied with. I started doing more string arrangements during Post-War and with the She & Him record and I definitely learned a lot, but the most important thing I learned is how little I know and how much there is to learn.”

“The making of Hold Time was the result of two years-worth of working before, during and after the making and promotion of the She & Him Volume One record and it definitely had an influence,” continues Ward. “Zooey sings on a couple songs on this new record, and we're slowly beginning to work on Volume Two now, but it's sort of on hold until this tour gets finished. That process is going incredibly well though and we're thinking that it will probably be released in 2010 That's all secondary to what's happening right now though. It's actually going to be pretty wild for me because the first show of this tour will be the first time that any of these songs will be played live, and they'll be full band performances; I'll be bringing with me some of my favorite live musicians I've ever had the chance to work with and the plan for the rest of the year is to support this record around the world.”


“Never Had Nobody Like You” (feat. Zooey Deschanel) – [mp3]

M. Ward's Hold Time is out February 17, 2009. Buy it on Amazon.

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