I found this to be interesting. Can't wait to hear his cover of "Let's Dance"...
M.Ward brings it on
Friday, February 20, 2004
BY JAY LUSTIG
It might be going too far to say that M. Ward is obsessed with the past. But the 30-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist often goes there for inspiration.
The title of his third album, "Transfiguration of Vincent" (2003), was inspired by "The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death," a 1965 album by the inventive folk-blues guitarist John Fahey.
Ward, a resident of Portland, Ore., who records for the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Merge label, frequently sings in raspy, Tom Waits-like tones.
And though Ward covers a fairly recent hit -- David Bowie's 1983 anthem "Let's Dance" -- on "Transfiguration of Vincent," he treats it like a blues standard.
"I get most of my inspiration from older records and older sounds -- older production values, things like that," Ward says. He will perform with Bright Eyes and Jim James at the Loew's Jersey Theatre in Jersey City on Tuesday. "There's tons of modern writers I love, but I spend most of my time with older records. I get more nutrients from that stuff, I guess you could say."
Take, for instance, his rootsy approach to "Let's Dance," which sounded chilly and futuristic in Bowie's hands.
"I always loved the lyrics (of that song), and the sentiment and the melody," says Ward, formerly of the eclectic San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based band Rodriguez. "I wanted to see what would happen if the production style was stripped away. I imagine senseless things sometimes, like what would (blues pioneer) Robert Johnson do with a David Bowie song."
That doesn't mean he was trying to sound like Robert Johnson when he recorded it.
"I could never compare anything I've done to anything Robert Johnson has done," Ward says. "But it's inspired by some of his production values. He recorded his records in a hotel room, facing the wall, and I can't think of anything that's more unlike that than 'Let's Dance,' so why not try to meld them together?"
"Transfiguration of Vincent" impresses with both the quality of its writing -- Ward has a knack for creating instantly memorable melodies -- and the variety of its textures. There are atmospheric drones on "Undertaker," twangy rockabilly licks on "Helicopter," and some Fahey-inspired picking on "Duet for Guitars #3." Some songs sound like old-time jazz, while Ward places others squarely in the present with heavy use of distortion.
"I like combining production values," he says. "Sometimes, I just fantasize about production dreams, like what would it sound like if Louis Armstrong collaborated with (1950s rock guitar innovator) Link Wray or Chuck Berry, or taking some of the things that Hank Williams did and plugging his vocal or lyrical style into some of the things that Billie Holiday achieved."
Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst, who put together the current collaborative tour, became a fan after hearing Ward's 2000 album, "End of Amnesia." They met in early 2002 when Oberst came to Portland on a tour and told Ward he needed a collaborator for a show in San Francisco. Ward jumped in the van. Later that year, Ward opened shows on a two-month Bright Eyes tour and played guitar for the headliners.
"The crowds were amazing the whole tour," Ward said. "They're really excited about music -- not jaded at all. It makes for an easy tour when you have crowds like that."
Ward's full name is Matt Ward. He says his stage name is not meant to establish him as an eccentric or mysterious character.
"It was just a nickname I had when I was younger. I have no intention to create any kind of mystery. But people seem to find something in it."
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