There’s a new term for people like Zooey Deschanel: ‘slasher’, as in singer-slash-actress. Slashers regularly engender suspicion (heaven forbid you might be talented at more than one artistic pursuit). We first heard Deschanel singing in the shower in Will Ferrell’s Elf back in ’03, but it wasn’t until her collaboration with M Ward as She & Him five years later that she showcased not only her agile, crystalline vocals, but also her deft songwriting skills. On the harmony-drenched, country-toned swoon-pop follow-up, Volume 2, the duo hit it out of the park again.
You met recording a cover for the film The Go-Getter. What were your impressions of one another?
M Ward: I was aware of Zooey’s singing voice – she has a voice you don’t forget – but I had no idea she was a songwriter. The first session we had was incredibly productive and fun. We learned that we liked to operate on the same wavelengths – having fun with music as opposed to…
Zooey Deschanel: …getting dragged down by it. It’s about capturing a moment, not nitpicking or making everything technically perfect. It’s about making things beautiful in a way that’s more soulful than that. I immediately thought that if I was lucky enough to work with him again, he would be the person I’d want to produce the music I’d written. I thought: how can I lock this down?
Zooey, you lived in London when you were eight; how was that?
ZD: It was a life-altering experience. I went to The American School and my sister and I would walk or take the bus there, which isn’t something you do in LA. I’m a pale person anyway, but when I came back I was sheet white and my hair was jet black. Everyone said I looked like a ghost!
Did you ever get lost as a child?
MW: I got lost in a national park.
ZD: I got lost in the zoo. I was so little and I remember following a woman who had a skirt like my mom’s. I remember tugging it and saying, ‘Mommy?’ And she was like, ‘I’m not your mommy,’ and I was like, ‘Argh! I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.’
Have you ever won an award for something unrelated to music?
ZD: Every time I’ve ever won any kind of accolade, it’s because of something I did accidentally. I won an award for a poem I wrote in fifth grade. It was about a girl lost in a forest. I wrote it on the bottom of an art project and they were like, ‘We love this poem!’ My teachers hated me in elementary school, so it was very strange.
Why did they hate you?
ZD: In high school I was good, but in elementary school I didn’t know there was a difference between children and adults. I thought you were supposed to talk to adults how you’d talk to anyone – and that isn’t cool, I guess, because adults want respect. I’d talk in class, I didn’t understand raising hands… I wasn’t terribly popular with teachers.
If you owned a time machine, what would you do with it?
MW: Go forward 500 years. All humanity might be gone.
ZD: Don’t you think that might be sad? I don’t want to go somewhere depressing that might ruin the rest of my life when I get back.
MW: But maybe it would make people appreciate more.
ZD: I want to go back to the ’70s. It was a very cool, interesting time for music and movies. Or I’d like to see Los Angeles, because that’s my city, before all the cars totally took over – Sunset Boulevard in the ’30s.
What’s the coolest thing in your house?
MW: The laundry room – it’s from the ’50s. The walls are made of this light blue material. You feel like you’re in an Airstream [a kind of trailer van].
ZD: An avocado tree! They don’t vine-ripen so you have to put them on the windowsill for, like, two weeks. My husband loves them and he picked a bowl full and then left town. I was like, ‘I can’t eat them all!’
Volume 2 is available now online.