I listen to M. Ward on some of my worst days. His relaxed, soothing croon is perfect for calming me down. Whether my head is pounding from too much whiskey from the night before or my heart is broken by some girl I probably shouldn’t have dated in the first place, Ward’s trademark brand of serene, Americana folk and blues rock has always been there for me, getting me through some of the toughest mornings of my life. On those mornings, when you’re angry that the day outside your window is so beautiful, tracks like 2006’s “Post-War” or 2012’s “Wild Goose” help ease that pain, pushing me to complete the simple, yet incredibly painful task of just getting out of bed.
So it only makes sense that I chatted with Ward the day after the Warriors lost game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
[jump] Except that Ward, a Portland, Oregon native, was more than keen to rub the loss in my face. “Probably too fresh, but maybe a couple months from now, we will look back on game 7 and laugh,” he says, possibly in an attempt to console me. But then, like any real hometown fan, he added: “I think it was the Blazers that wore the Warriors out.”
It only makes sense that the same voice that has consoled me over the years gives me a little shit on one of my more depressing and hangover-ridden days. C’est la vie. I still like the dude.
His music – and more specifically his lyrics – has been so applicable to my life over the last decade or so. And this is exactly what he wants: for the lyrics to eventually become about the listener’s life, not his own. When asked if the songs themselves are even about him, Ward explains, “I guess I’m more interested in people’s interpretations of the songs and how it might relate to either them or somebody that they know instead of giving somebody a road map to my innermost thoughts and feelings, of which I’m not that interested in to be honest. I’m more interested in the story and if it ends up being totally fictitious. Sometimes those are the truest songs or the ones that have the biggest impact on me.”
Ward’s ambiguous first-person lyrics are even more present than usual in his March release, More Rain. “I guess you could put it this way,” he says. “ A lot of songs, movies, and artwork that claim to be fiction have a lot of nonfiction in them. I think it’s also true from when you’re writing or thinking or singing about somebody else. You’re actually singing about yourself and vice versa. A simplistic answer, but usually, the truest one is to say it’s all of the above.”
Ward labored over More Rain than most of his records, taking about four years to complete it. Granted, he was distracted by She & Him, where Ward performs as the Him to Zooey Deschanel’s She (the duo released albums in 2013 and 2014). Ward is also in quite a few supergroups: Monsters of Folk with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes; and Tired Pony with Deschanel and members of Belle & Sebastian, R.E.M., Snow Patrol, and Editors.
“I never record for weeks at a time straight,” Ward says. “For me, it’s usually a few days here and a few days there. A lot of the time was spent editing. I used to not be interested in editing or reworking songs, but over the last – I would say starting with Transfiguration of Vincent – those songs are the product of extra work, which means just editing and making the songs better, always experimenting with different production ideas.”
His hard work and constant experimentation has more than paid off – just look at how many successful projects he’s been a part of over the past decade and a half. Ward has been one of the most in demand artists in the entire music industry, resulting in some of the best albums in recent memory.
But that success isn’t what keeps driving Ward: It’s the endless possibilities that result from six simple strings. “When I think about the guitar, I think about all of the millions of things that I haven’t done yet,” he says. “That’s what’s exciting about continuing to make records and keep writing songs, because I see all of this potential in the instrument that I haven’t touched yet.”
M. Wards plays with Nice As Fuck at 8 p.m., Friday, July 8 at the UC Theatre. $30; theuctheatre.org