Last year’s politically tinged Post-War showed a new side to neofolkie M. Ward, who proved he could orchestrate a full band as nicely as he could pull off a song alone on guitar. We swapped e-mails with Ward while he was touring New Zealand just before returning to the States.
In the wake of President Bush’s latest troop-surge stunt, the themes of Post-War seem especially relevant. How did the idea for the album come about?
Well, [2005’s] Transistor Radio was an attempt to re-create these abstract memories I had of music and the past, so for this new one I wanted to look forward instead of backward—that’s partly where the title and the thread between the songs come from. Plus, I think everyone has their own ways of dealing with the headlines, and my left brain needed an escape from all the death and destruction.
The idea of what happens to the soldiers once they come home was of particular interest to you. Why?
This just comes from reading articles in The New York Times and The New Yorker and free-associating with books I was reading at the time…the best articles for me were the ones that focused more on specific people’s lives and less about the White House. It’s all pretty abstract, but I liked the idea that music and journalism should work together during wartime.
What inspired you to cover Daniel Johnston’s “To Go Home”?
Mainly, it was the song itself. It’s a good song. I first heard about Daniel Johnston in high school when fIREHOSE covered “Walking the Cow.” I discovered Robert Johnson’s recordings around the same time and started to learn both of their songs by trial and error. They both have an antiproduction style that gave me confidence in making my four-track tapes—I recommend those old Daniel Johnston tapes to anyone who likes the production on Robert Johnson’s records.
Post-War is your first album where you’ve been backed by a full band.
I wanted to go against the Transistor Radio record and make something more grounded and forward looking. I wanted to make percussion create the framework of the songs instead of acoustic guitars.
You had some stellar help: Rachel Blumberg (the Decemberists), Jordan Hudson (the Thermals), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Neko Case all lent a hand.
I’ve been working with Rachel and Jordan separately for about six years and decided to put them in the ring together, and it turned out they complemented each other perfectly. As for Neko and Jim, well, they’re two of the greatest living voices right now, so I couldn’t resist pairing them up, too, just to see what would happen.
You’re also expanding into film scoring, like on the new indie film The Go-Getter. How’d that happen?
Basically, the director contacted my manager and they sent me the script and I liked it. So I met with the director, Martin Hynes, and had a good premonition about it all, so I decided to do it.
You also have a small role in it.
Oh, I wouldn’t call it a role. I just play a song, so it’s not really acting.
Would you like to act in the future?
Well…if the right script ever calls for a “Guy Who Can’t Act,” I might be tempted.—Antonia Simigis
M. Ward plays Park West Monday 29.