Listening to singer-songwriter M. Ward's stunning new record, Hold Time, the idea of his show this Sunday at the Dallas Museum of Art becomes more and more fitting. After all, Ward's albums play something like a stroll through a good museum, with artifacts and sounds from the past blended in liberally to create something both thoroughly modern and utterly timeless.
Talking to him for a few brief moments before he hits town, his love for the past was obvious, with the gruff-voiced songster extolling the virtues of his favorite artists as he carefully picked his way through answers to questions on his influences and past collaborations.
You're known for being a great interpreter of other people's material, from your reinvention of the Buddy Holly hit "Rave On" on Hold Time to the Daniel Johnston and David Bowie covers you've included on previous albums. With so many of your own songs to pick from, what is it that inspires you to include one or two covers on all of your records?
I never went to school for music or anything, so I guess you could say I put myself through my own sort of education in music by learning other people's songs. I learned how to play guitar by learning Beatles songs and eventually discovering who their influences were, and that led me to people like Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers. Covering songs is such a normal thing to do in jazz and classical, and I feel that there's no reason it shouldn't be a foundation of every other kind of music.
Who are some of your own favorite interpreters?
The first name that comes to mind is Nina Simone. She's done tons of cover songs and found a way to get inside of them like nobody else. And sometimes her cover versions are more believable than the originals. I really love her version of "Here Comes the Sun."
[And then] people like John Fahey and Chet Atkins are able to translate old melodies and strip them down to their bare essentials. And that's inspiring.
You've put in quite a few guest appearances on records by other artists, from Neko Case and Julie Holland to Bright Eyes and My Morning Jacket. Is there anyone else that you'd really like to collaborate with in the future?
Whenever anybody asks me that, the first name that comes to mind is always Tony Bennett because I've just been a huge fan for so long. If it was a few years ago, I would have said Ray Charles....
I was just watching Ray on cable the other day. It's not my favorite movie, by any means, but it always makes me want to pull out his records.
Yeah, I completely agree with you. I hope that it opened a lot of people's eyes to his music. In that sense, similar to the Johnny Cash movie, it's not a great piece of art, but I hope that it steers people in the right direction.
What gave you the idea to invite Lucinda Williams to sing on Hold Time's cover of the Don Williams classic, "Oh, Lonesome Me"?
I started hearing her voice during the production. Her voice... it's like no other voice. It has equal parts sweet and sour. And I feel like that song and that lyric is sweet and sour at the same time.
Speaking of duets, what are some of your own favorite vocal duos? I know you mentioned The Everly Brothers, for one...
I have to say John Lennon's and Paul McCartney's were my first discovery of vocal harmonies. And that led me to The Everly Brothers, and discovering them led me to The Louvin Brothers, and discovering them led me to The Delmore Brothers. So that is an inspiring lineage.