M. Ward is a busy man. In addition to releasing critically acclaimed albums like last year’s Transistor Radio, the Portland-based singer/songwriter has been in high demand as a producer, guitarist and co-writer – working with the likes of Cat Power, Beth Orton, Bright Eyes and Jenny Lewis.M. Ward is a busy man. In addition to releasing critically acclaimed albums like last year’s Transistor Radio, the Portland-based singer/songwriter has been in high demand as a producer, guitarist and co-writer – working with the likes of Cat Power, Beth Orton, Bright Eyes and Jenny Lewis. Ward also served as executive producer for I Am the Resurrection, a tribute album to the late acoustic guitar hero John Fahey.
How have you come to collaborate with so many artists?
I went through this thing where I didn’t have a band and borrowed band members of whoever invited me to support their shows. It just ended up being a great way to meet amazing musicians.
What do you get out of collaborating?
Everyone has their own superpowers, and to invite them to play on a song or on a record is one of the biggest joys of recording. Those are the things that always end up surprising you the most, because you just get more unpredictable things when it’s not the same people playing the same parts. It brings out the best x-factor possible.
You’ve also recorded a healthy number of cover songs in your career.
To me it’s just as important as writing original songs. I have a little bit of an aversion to the word “cover” song, because it seems to be something that the popular music world has created, as if learning old songs is maybe somewhat lazy or unthoughtful. If you’re a classical musician, people don’t say maybe we should cover that Mozart song; that’s part of your education. I think that popular music would benefit from having a similar attitude towards digging up the past. In my opinion, that’s an instrumentalist’s best education -studying the game. And, I have a feeling the farther back you go, the farther forward you’re looking into the future.
Have you heard back from any of the artists you’ve covered?
I think my label got a call from David Bowie, but I don’t know what he said. Maybe he hated it. I don’t know. Most of the people that I cover are dead.
What attracted you to John Fahey’s music?
The style of his record making, which is to basically create a thread between old songs and new songs, in a way that’s historically interesting and emotionally exciting. That was a bit of a revelation to me…that you could make a record like that, that you could make dozens of records like that. In my opinion, the best part of American heritage is the music we’ve been left with, and I like the idea of taking the best parts of your heritage and creating something new, I guess.
Do you have any dream collaborations?
I just did a track for a movie with Norah Jones. She was amazing. I would love to collaborate with Tony Bennett…I think that would be a blast.
What would you do?
Oh, whatever he wanted
Do you have any aspirations to be as famous as Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen?
Not in the slightest. Most of my dreams involve non-musical aspirations, I guess. I love the position that I’m at right now, which is having the freedom to wake up late and have other people pay for your weird recording experiments. It’s hard for me to think of asking for anything more than that.