It may be coincidence, but coincidence is also the basis of kismet. And kismet is the basis for the floaty, delicious music produced by the duo of Matt Ward and Zooey Deschanel, aka Grammy-nominated band She & Him. Yes, both artists were introduced to music early on and both of their introductions included the songs of legendary Southern California songwriter Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.
Now, together, the two are releasing a new album on July 22 celebrating Wilson’s music. This album, Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson, was born out of their upbringing as children and includes the same joy for song now that sparked a few decades back. It’s also already loved by Wilson, who called it “stunning” and “magnificent.” Wilson added, “I love this record.”
“In the car on the way to school,” Deschanel tells the American songwriter, “I remember that I was very small and my mother had, like, four cassettes – The Lovin’ Spoonful, Linda Ronstadt, The Everly Brothers and The Beach Boys, so I can hear all of those influences in the music I love and the music I make.
“I grew up,” says Ward, “basically listening to radio in LA. KROQ and the British invasion of the 80s. Wilson.
Ward, 48, remembers growing old, diving into guitar, the Beatles, then moving on to Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, Joni Mitchell, and more. While Deschanel, 42, remembers being in a more isolated natural environment as a child and swimming often, but also playing a small Casio keyboard and learning blues scales. Soon she began to sing and write little ditties, saying to herself, “Oh my God! with each discovery. For both, music may represent their greatest joys in life. While Ward is a full-time professional musician known as Mr. Ward, Deschanel is also a professional actor. But it’s often the music that brings her the biggest smile. The two met on the set of the 2007 film, the go-getterand have been making songs together ever since.
“I was writing music and kind of keeping it to myself,” Deschanel says of this time in his life. “But I was very frustrated. I was writing all of this, but I just had no outlet. I never had the right collaborator until I met Matt. The special thing about Matt is that is that he knows how to back up a song and make it the best version of it without getting in the way of his soul. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather play music with.
For Ward, working with Deschanel meant exploring his vocal sensibilities and range.
“From my perspective,” he says, “what makes the She & Him records so interesting is Zooey’s voice. Zooey is such a good songwriter and vocal arranger that it makes my life as a producer very easy.
To date, the duo has six studio albums (and To melt will mark the seventh). They released their first album, Volume 1in 2008 and the holiday theme Christmas in 2016 with a handful in between. But talking to them together, it feels like To melt was the most satisfying. It marked a return to early musical discoveries and joys and was also achieved during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving the two a project to work on to lift their spirits in otherwise difficult times.
“They just make you feel good,” Ward says, of Wilson’s songs. “To Zooey and I, his music is especially important because we both grew up in Southern California and in my opinion, Brian is the one who invented the Southern California sound. In a way, hearing his music wherever I am in the world, it’s like hearing a piece of home.
“I have so much fun playing these songs,” Deschanel says. “I love playing them, I love singing them, I love learning how deceptively complex they are.”
Ward and Deschanel tilt heads when discussing Wilson’s music. The two note that Wilson was not formally trained, but in a way, that gave him full license to go in whatever direction he wanted. Suffice to say how beautiful his songs are and yet how complex. And, moreover, how the complexity is virtually undetectable until you break them down and try to learn, map and execute them. While another great like Bob Dylan can use four or six chords at most in a melody, Wilson can use more than 20. But a Wilson song can seem as it only includes four chords.
“I think someone who learns all the rules might write a less interesting song,” Deschanel says. “Maybe there are no rules.”
It took a long time to absorb every bit of musicianship for the new album and for the touring periods that the two have. They have just completed a series of dates and have another in the books. During their shows, the two play a mix of songs from To melt and their previous versions. But a funny thing happens when you work hard and internalize great art. This creates a feeling of new freedom. And that’s exactly what Ward and Deschanel say they love about their She & Him project: the ease they find working together, the joy of doing it, and the freedom of not having to think about the business side of things. . They work hard, yes. But since the duo is a side project for both, the pressure is from a business perspective.
“What I really enjoy about collaborating on Her and Him is just that we’re doing what we want to do,” Deschanel says. “We’re not really beholden…Music is probably the happiest thing in my life and I never wanted it to be corrupted by business.”
“Yeah,” adds Ward.
And as the duo anticipate their album release, upcoming tour dates, and whatever else their collaborative efforts might bring, what they value most is the possibility that lies within the music itself. It’s restorative, an escape, and quite a tongue-in-cheek. It is the fabric of their creative destinies. And it brought in more than they could have asked for in the past 15+ years.
“Wherever you are, whatever you’re going through, it’s like that friend you have that you can take wherever you want,” says Ward. “Even as a kid, I remember being able to escape everything that was going on in the car. Put on your headphones and it’s as simple as that.
“The biggest discovery,” Deschanel says, “was being a kid and listening to music and finding joy in listening and finding even more joy in playing music and singing and exploring. how to make sounds that I loved. Those things are for me – music is pure joy.