Zooey Deschanel has another day job: singer
The actress and M. Ward have formed a duo called She & Him that emulates the feel of 1960s music. Just don't call it a vanity project.
Actress Zooey Deschanel is resigned to reading factual errors about herself on the Web. But there's a particular claim that rankles: one that she believes calls into question her taste. According to the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" is one of her favorite songs.
"That's not true, I never said that," she demurs in a phone interview. "I've heard that before, and people just can write whatever they want."
You won't find any trace of that Journey sound – adult-oriented rock created by men with Pamela Ewing hair and holster-tight jeans – on the album that Deschanel has just made with songwriter Matt "M." Ward under the band name She & Him. But the star – whose lemur eyes have been used to convey wonderment, surprise, and knowing irony in movies such as "Elf," "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," and "Almost Famous" – has dipped into her "eclectic" record collection for inspiration. The duo's debut, "Volume One," exudes a love of Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee, and girl groups with names ending in "elles" or "ettes," like The Shirelles and the Ronettes. Overall, the album has a 1960s, patchouli-scented vibe.
"In the car, my mom always listened to a lot of Everly Brothers and Linda Ronstadt," says Deschanel. "Sixties music is my favorite era. I love The Beatles and The Zombies and The Kinks and a lot of those British groups."
Deschanel took piano lessons early in life and, during the process, did some of her finest acting. "Reading music was very boring to me, so I would take my lessons but then I would fake reading the music. I would listen to what they'd play and then memorize it," she recalls. "But then later I got some books on jazz theory and learned some basic jazz-piano theory."
Deschanel wrote nine songs on the record, but there's little vanity in this project. For years she would only play her songs to friends and family. "I was pretty shy about it," she admits.
The movie star comes from a film-industry family – her father, Caleb, is a director and cinematographer; her mother, Mary Jo, is an actress; and her older sister, Emily, is the star of TV's "Bones" – so it's little surprise that she "fell into" acting after her current managers spotted her in a musical during her high school years. As Deschanel's movie career took off, she found herself devoting all her spare time on film locations to making demos of her songs. "A lot of time you don't know anyone and you're just in these weird hotel rooms," she says. "So writing music became my no. 1 hobby."
Directors soon discovered that she could sing, however. In "Elf," her a cappella rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" wooed Will Ferrell's titular character – and millions of viewers. Since then, she's sung in several films, including last year's "The Assassination of Jesse James."
The singer first met M. Ward, who has collaborated with the likes of Jenny Lewis and Norah Jones, when she was asked to duet with him for a movie called "The Go-Getter." "He didn't start with a master plan, it was more improvisational and more seeing the good things that come out in the moment – and embracing those things," says Deschanel. "It was pretty clear right away that if I had the opportunity to work with this person again, I was going to jump at the chance."
A year later, the duo convened to record on analog equipment to emulate the feel of the '60s music they both love.
Following this summer's release of Deschanel's latest film, M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening," Deschanel and Ward will tour the record. But expect the duo's live affairs to be as low-key as the unassuming moniker of She & Him.
"Both of us wanted it to be very humble," says Deschanel. "Neither of us have so much interest in achieving rock-star status.... It's more about releasing music that we feel is sincere and that we enjoy."