Core Members: Zooey Deschanel, M. Ward
Formed in: 2006, Los Angeles, California/Portland, Oregon
Key Albums: Volume One (2008), Volume Two (2010)
She and Him are the collaborative project of actor Zooey Deschanel (the wife of Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard) and singer-songwriter M. Ward. Deschanel's on-screen career has long been musical: her second-ever film role was in Cameron Crowe's 2000 rock'n'roll memoir, Almost Famous, and she's sung on screen in films as divergent as Elf and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
In 2006, Deschanel started working with Ward. A mumbling, blues-loving songsmith based in Portland, Ward has released six solo albums, collaborated with Beth Orton, Cat Power, and Jenny Lewis, and plays in the 'supergroup' Monsters of Folk with Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis, and My Morning Jacket's Jim James.
As She and Him, the duo play music steeped in old-timey jukebox standards, taking influence from Linda Ronstadt, Patsy Cline, The Beatles, and the 'wall of sound' production of Phil Spector. They've covered songs by The Beatles, Smokey Robinson, Skeeter Davis, and NRBQ, but otherwise Deschanel writes all the music and lyrics.
Deschanel (born January 17, 1980) is the daughter of cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and actor Mary Jo Weir. She started playing piano when she was eight ("my parents didn’t want me to start until then, but I don’t know why," Deschanel recounts), and wrote her first songs almost straight away. As teenager, Deschanel taught herself guitar and ukulele, but, most of all, she sang.
"I remember always loving to sing and the way that I felt when I was singing," Deschanel recalls. "I recall singing when I was about 11 years old and thinking that I sounded like an adult when I was singing. It was a little frightening but kind of exciting too."
As well as often singing in films, in 2001 Deschanel founded the 'cabaret act' If All the Stars Were Pretty Babies with fellow actress Samantha Shelton, and continued writing and recording songs on her own.
Ward (born Matthew Ward, October 4, 1973), grew up in Southern California, and when he was 15, he was given an acoustic guitar and a songbook of Beatles guitar chords for Christmas. Shortly thereafter, he bought a four-track recorder, and began composing his own songs. It was the same four-track on which Ward recorded his third album, 2003's Transfiguration of Vincent; his first for Merge Records, and his 'breakout' work.
In 2006, Deschanel and Ward were both working on the anodyne road-movie The Go-Getter. Ward was composing the film-score and Deschanel was its leading actress, and director Martin Hynes set the two of them up to record a version of Richard and Linda Thompson’s "When I Get To The Border."
Rather than being Hollywood starlet paired with anonymous indie dude, it was a marriage of fan and songsmith. "I loved his music," Deschanel would say, "it's so timeless and poetic; I was so honored to have the chance to work with him."
Deschanel "immediately had the feeling that this was a person [she] absolutely had to work with," and went she sent Ward a collection of her demos, a coincidence made the match seem fateful. "I sent Matt an a cappella version of [The Beatles'] 'I Should Have Known Better' that I had recorded, and it turned out that he, too, had recorded a version of the song," says Deschanel.
Going to Ward's Portland studio, the pair began work on that song —"it was a blast being able to work on a song that I loved when I was 15 years old," Ward said— and a collection of Deschanel's originals.
Ward matched the purity of Deschanel's Patsy Cline-ish pipes to grand, orchestrated, 'wall of sound' arrangements; the production roping in contributions from members of Bright Eyes, Devotchka, and The Decemberists. "Matt made everything sound so warm and beautiful and lush," Deschanel beamed, "he made [my songs] sound the way that I always wished they would in my head."
In March, 2008, the recordings were released as Volume One, under the name She and Him. Issued by Merge, the LP peaked at #71 on the Billboard chart. After a short stint of summer touring, the pair went their separate ways —Deschanel to make the movie (500) Days of Summer, Ward to work on his 2009 LP Hold Time, and the debut Monsters of Folk album— before reconvening for a second She and Him set.
Deschanel saw the making of their follow-up album as "easy," without the struggles that come from a follow-up. "This whole thing has only ever been motivated by me obsessively writing music, and Matt coming up with so many incredible ideas for producing that music," she says.
In March, 2010, Merge released She and Him's second record, Volume Two. And, in 2011, they followed it with the unironic seasonal set A Very She and Him Christmas.