"We both like the Beach Boys a lot," writes M. Ward, answering e-mail questions about She & Him, the bubbly pop duo of which he makes up half.
This isn't shocking. One doesn't have to listen much past the first track of the band's newest album, Volume Two, to guess that Ward and the act's songwriter and singer, Zooey Deschanel, enjoy the work of Brian Wilson and company. She & Him has made a name for themselves in the past two years by reviving the sunshiny radio pop of years past, but doing so with an innovative edge that has attracted fans who've probably never had much interest in the Beach Boys.
Although M. Ward, a much-respected Portland-based producer and guitarist who has plenty of solo credits, is a solid-as-stone songwriter, She & Him's tunes aren't his, but rather songs written by the sweetly gorgeous actress Zooey Deschanel. If you're wondering who this is, you should really watch more movies or at least take a look at the photo on this page and remember her from 500 Days of Summer or Elf, in which she starred opposite a ridiculous Will Ferrel and sang Christmas carols in the same glowing tone now heard on She & Him albums.
When the band debuted with Volume One in 2008, it was hard not to wonder if this was a novelty project of sorts - both members had successful careers and didn't necessarily need to be playing in this duo. But as it turns out, She & Him has now produced a pair of albums that stand up on their own - regardless of any preexisting name recognition and have done so with a sound that almost no one else in the business is creating. The songs are often simple in structure, but always packed with bright summery instrumentation that matches Deschanel's uplifting voice.
When the two began collaborating after meeting on the set of the indie film The Go-Getter (which, incidentally, was filmed in Oregon), Ward says it was immediately clear that they'd be able to produce something that would appeal to the throwback musical sensibilities they shared.
"Her voice is unforgettable and her songs are a perfect match," says Ward, "Zooey's voice and melodies have a classic, timeless sound to them. I'm trying to match the production with whatever's necessary (and) we are both influenced by older records more than newer records."
She & Him makes up the first half of a split-bill show with Band of Horses during the Les Schwab Amphitheater's opening weekend, one of the more youth-oriented shows on the summer list that leans more toward the Steve Miller and Merle Haggard end of the spectrum. Although She & Him has two well-received records to their name and is now appearing on some of bigger festival lineups this summer (including this weekend's Sasquatch festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre), this is still an act that's feeling out its audiences and its set lists. And even though Ward resides in Portland, Sunday's show at the LSA marks the duo's first Oregon appearance.
"We are still figuring out who we are and what we can do, but so far so good with all the festivals and theater shows we've played," says Ward.
There are obvious obstacles keeping She & Him constantly on the road - Deschanel is a working actress and Ward has his hand in plenty of other projects. In less than two years, Ward has released albums not only as a part of She & Him, but also as a member of Monsters of Folk (the all-star group that also includes Conor Oberst and My Morning Jacket's Jim James), in addition to a much-talked-about solo record. Still, Ward says he's not that busy.
"I took most of the winter off and went to Hawaii so I'm feeling pretty rested," he says - which is probably good because he's going to have a busy summer.
Band of Horses, She & Him
5:00 gates, 6:30pm show. Sunday, May 30. Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 Shevlin Hixon Dr. $35. Tickets at ticketmaster.com and the Ticket Mill. All ages.