AUSTIN, Texas — For much of his career, M. Ward has recorded his solo albums pretty much the same way. So when it came time to make "A Wasteland Companion," his first solo album in three years, he wanted to do something very different.
The recording sessions took the 38-year-old on a musical journey of sorts. He recorded in eight studios in places like Austin, Omaha, Neb., New York City and Bristol, England, and each new place brought him in contact with a new list of players, including longtime influences like former Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and British producer John Parish.
"I love making music, but making the same songs over and over again would be very boring," Ward said. "Everyone has their own ways of making what they do for a living exciting, ways of keeping it alive. And for me, it's collaborations with really talented people."
Musical partnerships are nothing new for Ward. He and actress Zooey Deschanel have put out three albums as the duo She & Him and he's also as a member of the Monsters of Folk project with Jim James and Conor Oberst.
Ward sat down with The Associated Press on a quiet morning before a busy run at the South By Southwest Music Conference last month to talk about his journeys and working with famous friends.
AP: Did your extremely busy schedule require you to record on the road?
Ward: Over the last 10 years I've (been invited) to these incredible studios all over Europe and America and I never have time to actually do it. So this was the record where I actually made the time to make that happen and sort of just removed my security blanket of recording in the same room all the time. I loved the process and I hope to make more records like this. I wanted to make a new kind of record that combines live record with studio record out of an experiment. I like the movement and chaos that's inferred in a live record and the unpredictability of a live record, but I love the luxuries of sound manipulation you get in the studio. So it's a new kind of record, really. I plan to make a lot more records like this, when I do make more records. Who knows how many more I'll make.
AP: Is there some question you'd make more?
Ward: I would assume there would be more, but whenever you make a record you just never know. The world's going to end, right (laughs)? Who knows?
AP: Do you find it hard to make time for your own projects. Are you jealously guarding your solo time?
Ward: No, because I've been writing songs since I was 15, so half my life really. With She & Him, that's a really big part of my time and my life. But Zooey writes the songs for that and we work on cover songs together and I'm just the producer and guitar player. So for my own songs, they all come under the umbrella of this record. Monsters of Folk, we get together once every few years, so my records and She & Him records are the most constant sources of record production.
AP: How do these projects come together?
Ward: They happen out of a friendship or a love of a batch of songs that need to be recorded.
AP: Was there anyone particularly inspiring or who did something that maybe caught you by surprise?
Ward: Steve Shelley springs to mind. I've loved Sonic Youth since I was in high school so it was a dream come true to play songs with him in the studio. He's just an incredible drummer. He has a signature maraca and full drum kit sound that he can do that I've never seen anybody do. And then in England, I worked with a guy named John Parrish, who worked with PJ Harvey — incredible drummer, incredible marimba player. I've always thought the best live records are the ones where the guitar player is discovering things while he's playing, and I hope that comes across on the record.
AP: Do you ever say, "That doesn't work?"
Ward: Oh, yeah, all the time. I recorded about 24 songs for the record, so I always pick the 12 or 15 that seem to fit together and seem to need repeating, repeated listenings.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Chris Talbott at www.twitter.com/Chris_Talbott.