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M. Ward Finds Time To Hold Time

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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

After so much evidence to the contrary, it would be difficult to say that there are many musicians working at a professional level who are really working hard. The business has become an attractive life of leisure to many working in it as they take progressively longer to produce new work (both Thornley and Guns N' Roses, for example, finally put out new albums in the last calendar year, marking a five and ten-year lapse respectively between releases) in the name of waiting for just the right inspiration to strike, but realistically more than a few reasonable critics have asked whether it's a matter of diminishing bank accounts that have actually been the motivating factor to spur those artists off their proverbial thumbs and into action over some divine intervention. Of course, not all musicians work that way – there are some that will concede that making music for a living is a fun job but those musicians – like Jack White, Mike Patton, Mike Watt or Amanda Palmer – will make sure they're clear that it's still a job in the same breath either by simply removing all doubt and making such sentiments plain in interviews or through their recognizable ethics or their actions; they have a predisposition to touring tirelessly or release a succession of albums in very short order. Often these actions are noticeable because the musicians undertaking them are very vocal about what they're doing and make sure the proverbial camera is there to catch all the goings on.

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 his solo debut, Duet For Guitars #2, Ward has gone on to release five critically lauded albums and two EPs under his own name as well as a full-length collaborative record with actress-turned-singer Zooey Deschanel under the moniker She & Him and making appearances in a guest capacity 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 didactically 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.”

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