It’s not surprising that M. Ward is less than enthralled by contemporary pop music. His latest album, “More Rain,” is yet another welcome throwback to when the artistry of writing, performing and recording trumped the empty glitz pockmarking much of what resides on the charts.
“A lot of what is in the garbage, musically speaking, has a lot of value to me,” Ward (real name Matt Ward) says while calling from his Portland home. “And most of what is heralded as the greatest music written today sounds like garbage to me.”
The soft-spoken and thoughtful singer-songwriter doesn’t care about anything but getting it right. Ward, 42, spends countless hours on details.
“With this album, I focused on pushing the backing vocals further back,” Ward said. “I experimented. I put in a lot of time. I just punted around until I got it right.”
“More Rain,” the ninth solo album from Ward, is a moody, atmospheric and stylish project. “Girl From Conejo Valley,” which features a Moog synthesizer that fleshes out the song, is one of the catchiest songs Ward has ever crafted. The mandolin adds just the right touch to the pretty country ballad “Phenomenon.”
Guitars rule on “Temptation,” which features axe master pals Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, who lead the Baseball Project. “That song started off with a simple idea,” Ward said. “It was a guitar line and it just morphed from there. It was the first time I was in the studio with Scott and Peter. They added a spark. Scott is going on the road with me, which is a real bonus.”
Ward, who will showcase “More Rain” Friday at the Haw River Ballroom, was inspired to cover the Beach Boys’ “You’re So Good To Me” after catching the Boys of Summer’s 50th anniversary tour in 2012.
“That concert had quite an impact on me,” Ward recalls. “I saw that show at the Beacon Theater in New York, and it was just amazing. After that concert I had to record a Beach Boys song. I met Brian Wilson (after the concert) and I ended up playing on his last record (2015’s ‘No Pier Pressure’). This summer we’re going to play the Hollywood Bowl. He’s one of my childhood heroes and I can’t get enough of the music he made.”
Just like Wilson, Ward is about melodic sensibility and experimentation. “I like taking chances,” Ward says. “I do what’s right for the songs. I look at what the Beach Boys did, and they used techniques nobody is really using today. I go back to what has been left behind like the harmonies. I can’t say that any bands today are more progressive than the Beach Boys and the Beatles were all those years ago.”
Ward laments the lack of truly beautiful music out there. “It’s a shame there isn’t more of it,” Ward says. “There is still some worthwhile music out there, you just have to dig for it more now than ever. It’s more valuable when you find it after you search for it. You’re not going to have great music handed to you on a plate. A little effort goes a long way.”
Ward isn’t sure when he’ll focus on the next She and Him project, which is his tandem with actress-vocalist Zooey Deschanel.
“We’re always thinking about what we’ll do next,” Ward says. “We just don’t know what we’ll be doing or when it will happen. Right now I just have to focus on this tour.”