M. Ward?s enigmatic allure extends well beyond the single initial that substitutes for his first name.
In a solo career that?s spanned five albums over the better part of the decade, he?s established a somewhat elusive guise, one that?s kept his music at arm?s length? a sound that?s both curiously seductive but not quite so easily accessible.
Indeed, while critics have fallen all over themselves in their attempt to typecast his sound ? emo, downcast, hushed, world-weary, low-key ? Ward is fine allowing the labeling to be based on individual interpretation.
?In my opinion, the more of these labels the better,? he asserts. ?It?s satisfying when someone says a song is downcast and someone else says it?s hopeful. I like how people?s reaction to music is more about themselves than the music. Maybe it brings these things out that are gonna come out anyway…”
One would think that that ambiguity might be liberating in terms of his creative impulses, but that?s a notion Ward disputes? at least to a point.
?At times, I guess I feel confined by every parameter,? he concedes. ?On a good day, I feel confined by none.?
Ward arrived at his present stance by more or less traditional means, learning to play by following chord charts in Beatles songbooks using his brother?s acoustic guitar. Early on he discovered Sonic Youth and fIREHOSE, before buying himself an electric guitar and moving on to Neil Young, Mance Lipscomb, Brian Wilson and John Fahey.
His first foray into recording came courtesy of a band called Rodriguez and an independent self-titled effort produced by Grandaddy?s Jason Lytle, but it was an album titled Duet For Guitars #2, released on Howe Gelb of Giant Sand?s own Ow Om label, that helped launch his solo career in 2000.
Four have followed since ? End Of Amnesia (2002), Transfiguration Of Vincent (2003), Transistor Radio (2005) and his most recent full-length, Post-War, released last August, with a new EP, To Go Home, bowing earlier this year.
While Ward?s albums have maintained a consistency in terms of their overcast approach, successive outings have found him expanding his reach by enhancing his arrangements and instrumentation.
?I?m constantly trying to erase what I?ve learned,? Ward suggests. ?Destroy what?s been made ? head towards the light.?
?Every record I?ve ever made is a combination of old and new songs,? he continues. ?I?m constantly recycling and revising old songs and old production ideas and mixing them with new ideas?. Every song is an experiment ? whether or not the listener is aware of it ? every song begins with an idea that I have never had before and a lot of the time it fails. The ones that fail in my opinion don?t make the record. The ones that make the record represent, in my opinion, a successful experiment where I created, with my engineers and musicians, some element of surprise… some kind of personal proof that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts…or just something that seems like a song somebody somewhere, at some time, could dance to…. or could have danced to.?
With Post-War, Ward provided a hint of an easier embrace, a cracked open pane that allows some hint of light into the darkened recesses of his reflections and concerns.
?I wanted to go against the record that came before it,? Ward admits. ?In my opinion, the
last record (Transistor Radio) came too close to romanticizing the past…its a long story but to put in a nutshell ? it is my opinion that my past is quiet, my present is loud and my future is whatever record I happen to be making at the moment…”