With She & Him‘s 2008 debut, “Vol. 1,” M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel proved it’s possible for a respected indie-rock troubadour to successfully team up with a songwriting film star. Released on Ward’s longtime label Merge, the duo’s first effort won over fans and critics with the combination of Deschanel’s sugary lyrics and simple song structure in front of Ward’s guitar and production work.
But when the act first signed with Merge in late 2007, it wasn’t with the assumption that a second set would follow. “Even though it was called ‘Vol. 1,’ we didn’t know if it was going to be an ongoing project or not,” label co-founder Mac McCaughan says. “Maybe if it wasn’t fun for them that would’ve been the end of it.”
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Deschanel and Ward have had a busy couple of years, she with promotion for the movie “(500) Days of Summer” and he with a solo record and Monsters of Folk, his collaboration with Conor Oberst, Jim James and Mike Mogis. But with the March 23 release of “Vol. 2,” they want it known that She & Him aren’t just a one-off affair. “As long as Matt wants to produce this music I write, I want to keep that partnership going,” Deschanel says.
Ward responds with a laugh, “As long as Zooey asks, the sky’s the limit.”
Watch She & Him’s new video for “In The Sun,” the first single from “Vol. 2.”
Manager Jordan Kurland says that so much of the build happened organically for “Vol. 1” that the act’s team had only three months to set up the record’s release. But for the new album, there was more time to plan.
“We knew it was a great record by super-talented individuals and that certainly there was a very magical chemistry between the two of them, but we didn’t know what we were going to sell first week,” he says. “We didn’t know what the market was going to be like.”
Even without a strong promotional push on the first go, the band has sold 190,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and She & Him were able to cross-market the album through “(500) Days of Summer,” in which Deschanel played the title character. The film’s soundtrack includes the pair’s take on the Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” and Deschanel and film co-star Joseph Gordon Levitt starred in a music video for She & Him’s song “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”
Kurland says the team at first tried to keep “a separation between church and state, so to speak,” but the opportunity came up and they went with it because of the musical nature of the film. “Obviously we weren’t going to hide the fact that Zooey was an actress, but we also didn’t want to tie it in that much because we really wanted people to appreciate ‘Vol. 1’ for what it was,” he says.
At the same time, Deschanel says she doesn’t mind mixing her creative outlets when it makes sense.
“I’m really interested in moving more and more toward this idea that you can be an all-around person-that you can do a lot of different things,” she says. “We live in a world where everything seems to be specialized. I think there’s something to be said for being able to do more than one creative thing.”
And in terms of how they’ll be promoted, Ward says he has no worries with Merge. “There’s a lot of security in knowing that the people you work with aren’t going to try to sell what you do in the wrong way,” he says.
While there aren’t any plans to cross-market “Vol. 2,” Kurland says the team is looking for licensing opportunities. There will also be a push for triple A and public radio and a music video for the first single, “In the Sun.” In terms of touring, She & Him have gigs lined up for South by Southwest, Coachella and Bonnaroo, as well as a handful of shows around the release date and a tour in the spring. McCaughan says there will be some kind of partnership with the Independent Film Channel during SXSW, which he hopes will help get She & Him heard by people who might only know Deschanel for her film work.
Both musicians know that balancing multiple projects can be difficult, but Deschanel-who’s set to star in the HBO series “I’m With the Band,” based on Pamela Des Barres’ memoir of being a groupie in the ’60s and ’70s-says it just means saying “no” to more offers.
“If you’re spreading yourself too thin doing things that don’t mean anything to you-which is easy to do if you’re an actor, to be honest-then you end up becoming extremely exhausted, extremely drained, and you don’t have anything that means anything to you at the end,” she says.