M Ward: Q & A

<p><em>(reprinted)</em> </p><p><img src="http://www.qromag.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/09/mward01.jpg" alt="" />Through-out battles with lawsuits over music rights that have regressed down to the public over downloads, and to the do-it-yourself attitude of many young if not...

Through-out battles with lawsuits over music rights that have regressed down to the public over downloads, and to the do-it-yourself attitude of many young if not inspired artists that have lead to the success of sites such as pure volume or myspace, the public has never been closer to the chaos of the music business.

In an age of genres that pile themselves on top of one another in the confusion of mixed arts you rarely get over the cacophony(sp) to find anything real. M Ward, a self taught guitar/piano/harmonica armed musician is the comfort in returning to the nature of what music is simplisticly. Not to say the way he plays is uncomplex, far from it. Watching him play the small room of Miami's I/O lounge, his two handed approach was impressive to watch, especially for a one man show. Attacking the strings at points and then others almost quietly strumming the guitar made for an entertaining show.

The music itself is a return to folk personified. Not a modern day equivalent as much as paying respect for a genre few have done justice for in recent times. While the torrents outside kept a huge crowd from making it to the show, the performance wasn’t lacking by any means as M Ward made jokes and played an extended set to accommodate the requests of the audience. In person, Ward is reserved, conversive on literature and philosophy, looking out from under a hat. On stage reflecting a more energetic side of his persona, he seems to come truly alive. Dancing around the stage was not very reminiscent to the soft spoken artist. Looking back on the show I can say it was of the more fulfilling I've seen of late, with an impressive set-list up even to the beautiful cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance". Finally, when taken away from the back drops and the hype, not much is usually left behind in the world of TRL and pop culture, but in this case it was the stoic music and the brilliant stare of a man hidden under a dark baseball cap.

You can catch M Ward on tour with Bright Eyes in the next few weeks.

(The interview itself took place out in the garden of the Miami design district's I/O lounge. Despite the neighborhood being in "Liberty City", one of the most dangerous places in the country, the owners including DJ Aramis manage to keep it a safe environment and haven for shows that would otherwise not be seen in a town ruled primarily by the mainstream. To check out this breeding ground for the underground scene; check out www.epoplife.com.)

By Christy Hannon
[email protected]

QRO:  So where are you heading for after this?

Ward: London. Tomorrow.

QRO: Tomorrow?

Ward: (sighs) tomorrow.

QRO: How long have you been down here in Florida?

Ward: Two nights? Yeah, two nights. This trip is very technechy. Not too bad.

QRO: So this album you are touring on is now, The transfiguration of Vincent is one of a few you have out now…

Ward: This last one is my third. The first one is on a very very small label called Now Own(sp?)
This band called Giant Sand has their own label. That's what the first album was out on.

QRO: Let’s go to the start. You are self-taught, what gave you the desire to just pick up a guitar
and start playing and then keep with it all the way to this point?

Ward: There was a band in La, where I grew up called Fire Hose that I was very interested in,
and I wanted to learn how to play like that guy. Also listening to Beatles records, I wanted to be able to play like George Harrison…

QRO: George Harrison? (I interrupted him, I was impressed. Haha.)

Ward: Yeah(continuing) later on I just learned how to play.
You just mimic their style until you realize that you are mimicking maybe twenty guitarists styles and then
you sorta hopefully come up with your own thing.

QRO: Well it seems to be working for you pretty well.

Ward: (laughing) I'm enjoying it.

QRO: So you flew down from North Carolina for this show, how have you been getting around, flying everywhere, or are you driving at all?

Ward: No driving this tour, all flying.

QRO: That’s wonderful.

Ward: Yeah, It's alright. Airplanes have their own little problems. But it saves a lot of time.

QRO: Does that leave you with more time to be in the city, to explore?

Ward: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah… And to be in a hotel doing absolutely nothing. That’s nice sometimes.

QRO: Well (shrugs) at least it gives you room to stretch your feet after the long rides?

Ward: Yeah. I like Florida.

QRO: You said you were born in LA right?

Ward: Yeah, Yeah well right outside of it.

QRO: But you live in Portland Oregon now?

Ward: I’ve lived in Oregon for the last six years.

QRO: Portland is known for its music scene. Does living there have any affect of your playing?
Being surrounded by so many different genres and musicians.

Ward: I have to say I stay pretty much to myself when I’m there. I’m not very interested in the…
I’m interested more in community than I am the musical scene. Which I guess means having friends and somewhat of a society but not necessarily trying to make music the way that the people in your community are making music.
I’m more interested in exploring on my own.

QRO: When making music, what is your personal process in song writing?

Ward: Well there's never a formula. Sometimes it starts with a four track, sometimes it starts with a lyric, sometimes it starts with a guitar, melody, or with somebody said, it comes from everything the way all writing does.

QRO:  Speaking of writing I’ve heard you take a strong interest in literature.

Ward: It’s easier for me to understand what’s going on today in literature and music if you start by exploring the roots of those mediums. So the farther back you go its easier for me to find wisdom, some sort of truth from it.

QRO: Could you give me an example on how your interest in literature reflects on your music?

Ward: On a subconscious level I think. Do you read a lot?

QRO: Yeah. Id like to think so.

Ward: Does it affect how you write your articles? I think I gravitate towards some kind of story and if you can at least understand what’s happening in the lyrics, Id appreciate it. I imagine it has a relation to what I’m creating but it’s more on a subconscious level.

QRO: Growing up where you did, do you think it had any effect on the way you write?

Ward: Well I grew up near the beach, outside of LA, a place called Ventura County. Outside the city. Growing up in southern California, whether or not you like it you have the film industry, Hollywood, all around you. That has had an impact, I think, in its repulsiveness. In it's instinct to go the opposite direction of where Hollywood is going.

QRO: You have a big following in Europe, how does that crowd differ from the American counter parts?

Ward: People in Europe are nice, people in America are nice. Both of them are different. I don’t really have a preference. I'd prefer to think they are kinda all the same, there's differences but I'm more interested in the similarities.

QRO: Now you've gone on tour with Bright Eyes and Beth Orton, how do you think that's shaped your fan-base if at all?

Ward: I don’t spend much time thinking about my fan-base, that's more of the record label's job. I spend most of my time thinking about the music and the songs and making sure I'm satisfied with the results. As far as visualizing my fan base or hearing what I do towards the reaction is the label's duty and not mine. So I don't think much about the fan base although I do like them. They're very nice.

QRO: Speaking of labels, you are on Merge and Also Matador, how are they treating you?

Ward: Great. Merge especially is great. I just did a festival in North Carolina that had a bunch of Merge bands. That was very fun.
They have a lot of good artists. They make their decisions with a lot of heart. Very easy to work with, they're all just super.

QRO: How is touring going? Do you find it easier to pursue your creativity on tour or rather home?

Ward: Both. Touring is a love hate thing for me because I love certain aspects of it but it's hard to be away from home because home is where you you're able to nurture things and work on living life and when you're traveling from town to town and touring it isn’t as easy to get anything done aside from playing shows.

QRO: So you create music for yourself rather than to get out.

Ward: Definitely. I guess I would relate it somebody who is really into science and just wants to experiment with different stimuli. Four tracking to me is similar; experimenting with different styles different sounds and see what will happen. The entire world of commercialism is pretty foreign to me. That's the job I give to the middle man; the managers and the agents. My job is to stay focused on the music… and do interviews. 

QRO: Sorry (I laughed)

Ward: I don’t mind interviews. I like them… usually. This is a good one.

QRO: I wish we could have done it at the museum. (I was earlier approached to do the interview at the Miami Art Museum)

Ward: No, the hard thing is doing seven in a day, but something like this I don't have any problem doing. Next time we'll talk in a museum.

QRO: Yes. So what's going on after tour, are you going to start recording, take a break?

Ward: I'm finishing a record. It's going to be released in January, February.

QRO: What do we have to expect for that?

Ward: A little bit of everything that I've already done. A little bit of new experiments I think. A lot of collaborations on the new album, maybe more so then I ever have and that's been an experiment for me. I think it's going to be a good one. I'm still working out the kinks. There's a lot of collaborations on this album. It's very helpful to me. I tend to be a perfectionist… When you open the door to someone else, it's somewhat of a liberating experience; because you are freeing yourself of your own expectations. Bringing in another voice is an experiment and I love it.

QRO: Can you give us a hint on who you are collaborating with?

Ward: Yeah, the new album has a bunch of them. My Morning Jacket, heard of him? Giant Sand, John Parrish from PJ Harvey's band. All kinds of people.

QRO: Wow. Was this your idea, or did the label approach you?

Ward: It just happened. Yeah. That's the best way. Vick Chestnut(sp) was another one.
QRO: Well I can't wait to hear it. You have a style that's… I don't want to classify you. That’s rude. (laughs)

Ward: No, that's alright.

QRO: It's seems you go more towards the folk sound and it's so hard to find anything that sounds real nowadays, not even genre specific. You just have this very pure sound. 

Ward: Thank-you.

QRO: I guess we went into it a little, you mentioning how you have time to spend on developing the music, leaving all the other crap for the label…

Ward: Staying away from traps of the… mainstream. I think the main problem in the music industry, and there are millions, but the biggest one is that it is an industry that in general strives to create personalities. When I first started playing music full time, I learned that very quickly. That's a trap that many musicians fall into, sacrificing musical exploration for the desire for fame and or notoriety, which is the problem with a lot of film makers, you know, literature and journalists… right?

QRO: Hmm…

Ward: You have to stay with what's true to your heart, what your instincts are telling you to follow, rather then falling into the trap of the cult of personality and becoming a person that strives for fame and more fans rather then someone who follows the path of musical exploration. I'm repeating myself now, but that's the idea.
QRO: Going back to cultural differences between audiences… Going on your reception there, how would you compare their view of arts and music to that in the U.S.?

Ward: Well they have stronger roots. I think to talk about your question in terms of music; French people for example, know exactly what their roots are. It has to do with the accordion and certain chord structures I don’t want to get into that, but if you are a French person, you know exactly what traditional French music sounds like. If you are an American person, traditional American music means what? Could be folk, could be jazz, could be Chuck Barry, Native American music… It could be European music. It's an interesting position to be as a musician because you can choose to use the tools you love to create your own mythical version of American music. That's a big difference to me. For example I think the two biggest names for me in what I would call American music, which is not necessarily going to be yours, but for me that's the truth. That only happened fifty, sixty years ago, and that's pretty amazing cause when you are talking about French music, you're talking about hundreds and hundreds, hundreds of years… Did that answer your question? 

QRO: I think so. Moving on, before you became a full-time musician you were a teacher for dyslexic children…

Ward: Yup. I taught kids how to read. That was a good job, it was rewarding, maybe I'll go back to it someday.

QRO: Well hopefully you'll have time to make albums still.

Ward: Yeah. I imagine so. I imagine I'll always be making music.

QRO: What do you think you would like us to know about this album(The Transfiguration of Vincent) compared to your previous albums, what do you think stands out?

Ward: Well I feel like all the albums should be one continuous album, so it's hard for me to say that I'm shooting for something in particular. I'm more interested in your opinion of the album rather then my own interpretation of songs or the themes. There's definitely things we could talk about that I was going for but I'd rather leave it open-ended to whatever your interpretation is. With all due respect… 

QRO: Yeah I wanted to ask more ego-driven questions but you aren’t showing me much of one to work with.

Ward: Me? Go ahead, but I might shoot it down.

QRO: So it's just you onstage for your show?

Ward: Was that your ego question?

QRO: (laughs) No. You're making it hard to ask an ego question.

Ward: What's the ego question? Now I want to know.

QRO: More about the appearance…

Ward: (Interrupting amusingly) Why's your ego so big?

QRO: No. Not at all. I wanted to ask "What is the appearance you want to present to the world?"

Ward: Well, that's an interesting question. I'd much prefer some sort of selflessness rather then forcing my personality on people. I feel like music is richest for me when there's mystery involved. Dissolving all those mysteries is not something that's very intriguing to me. Creating mystery in music and words is intrigue to me. So as far as ego goes, my guitar has more of an ego then I do I hope, because, I'm more interested in the instrument then what's happening with my own personal feelings. Even though feelings are important. Now I'm contradicting myself. Imposing my face in media isn't intriguing to me. I want to present my music,my first passion, my instrument, rather then my own selfish fancies. Does that answer the question?

QRO: Yes it does. Well with a new album coming out and your upcoming shows with Bright eyes you are bound to be pretty busy, so what are you going to do for your last night in Miami?

Ward: Play a show. Then who knows?

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