She & Him, the indie duo comprised of M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel, have just joined the majors. Columbia Records, the Sony Music subsidiary run by chairman Rob Stringer, has signed the twosome, a rep for the label confirms, marking She & Him’s exit from independent label Merge Records. A new album is expected in the fall.
With a penchant for traditional American folk, country and classic pop, She & Him have released four albums on Merge since 2008, including three Volume-titled albums and a Christmas record, totaling just over one million (1.07) in sales. Their best seller was the 2011 holiday album “A Very She & Him Christmas,” which moved 391,000.
The move marks the second Merge act to leave the Chapel-Hill, NC, label in recent months. Billboard broke the news that Spoon, who signed to Merge in 2000, left for Tom Whalley’s Loma Vista label, which has a deal with Universal Republic. Arcade Fire, arguably Merge’s most successful act, also looked to the majors to promote its latest album, “Reflektor.” The follow-up to the Grammy-winning “The Suburbs,” it’s sold 352,000 units since its October 2013 release, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Reps for both Arcade Fire and Spoon declined to comment on Merge.
Ward and Deschanel met in 2007 through Martin Hynes, the director of the film “The Go-Getter.” Hynes had asked the film’s star Deschanel to perform a duet with Ward, who produced the movie’s soundtrack. Their first album Volume One was produced by Ward and recorded in Portland. It went on to sell 311,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The duo also performed songs for the 2011 “Winnie the Pooh” soundtrack.
Though known widely as an actress (“Almost Famous,” “500 Days of Summer,” “The New Girl”), Deschanel has long played music. She formed a jazz cabaret act in 2001 in her native Los Angeles and performed songs in films as far back as 2002’s “The New Guy” and 2003’s Christmas rom-com “Elf.” She also wrote and performed the theme song to her Fox sitcom “The New Girl”, which in March featured Prince performing the song “FALLINLOVE2NITE” with Deschanel.
The “him” in She & Him, M. Ward, broke out of the Portland, OR, as a solo artist with his debut album “Duet for Guitar #2” originally released in 1999. But it wasn’t until 2003’s “Transfiguration of Vincent” on Merge that he started to garner national attention. In addition to his solo work and She & Him, Ward is a member of Monsters of Folk whose all-star membership includes Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. The group released a selft-titled album in 2009.
Ward is also signed to Merge as a solo artist.
A Merge Records spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
With reporting by Jem Aswad