ALIVE Cover Story: Zooey Deschanel
One half of indie folk band She & Him, Zooey Deschanel talks making movies, shunning the fashion world and wrapping her tour in STL this month.
In this day and age, when most would likely be hard-pressed to name a true original, Zooey Deschanel stands out from the crowd. A multi-talented entertainer who first caught our eyes in 2000’s “Almost Famous,” in which she played the influential sister of the main character, Deschanel’s acting career has since taken off; she is now typically cast as a leading lady, as in such recent blockbusters as “Yes Man” and “(500) Days of Summer”—and her music career is also on the rise.
Since forming She & Him with M. Ward in 2008, the duo has released two albums to critical acclaim. A follow-up to “Volume One,” the recently debuted “Volume Two” incorporates several catchy covers in keeping with the band’s ode-to-the-’60s-and-’70s sound; the corresponding promotional tour will conclude at St. Louis’ first LouFest music festival on August 29.
Thanks to her budding “it” girl status, several brands, including London-based cosmetics brand Rimmel (which has formerly featured Kate Moss), are now calling on Deschanel to be the face of ad campaigns. In addition, a handful of in-the-works films are set to prove her range and take her acting career to new heights; she’ll play Janis Joplin in “The Gospel According to Janis” and a lesbian in the soon-to-be-released “My Idiot Brother.” Still, during my recent interview with her, when asked what she’s most looking forward to in the promising months ahead, she simply replied, “I am most excited about playing music.” No mention of big-money projects or even time off? Talk about an independent spirit.
ALIVE: Much of St. Louis is abuzz with excitement over She & Him coming to St. Louis this month. What can we expect?
Zooey Deschanel: We have very fun shows. I think people can expect to have a fun time, and perhaps cut a rug.
ALIVE: How did you meet [bandmate] M. Ward?
ZD: We met on a movie I was in, and for which Matt wrote the music; the director had asked me to sing with Matt for the end credits. I mentioned that I had composed a boat-load of songs, and he asked to hear them. I sent him mp3s, and Matt said that he might like to produce them.
ALIVE: And a star was born! I know the band’s songwriting process is collaborative; how does the process usually play out?
ZD: I write the music, so I will usually record a demo with piano, a lot of backup vocals and some sampled drums. I will email the song to Matt, who then thinks about production ideas. We will then chat about what we think it should sound like. Sometimes the songs end up being very close to the demos; other times, the instrumentation and sound completely change in the recording process. Matt has really impeccable taste, so if he has an idea, I am always keen to try it.
ALIVE: What would you say most inspires She & Him’s music?
ZD: Well, we like a lot of the same music, which is a very good touchstone; we are able to talk in shorthand because we end up referencing a lot of the same stuff. But, of course, we will bring totally different things to the table. When I write music, I am first and foremost a singer and a piano player, so that’s my perspective, and I am always very into layering the backing vocals and keyboard parts. Matt is a guitar player and producer, so he’s paying attention to different things than I am. It’s a little like a relay race.
ALIVE: You guys have been on the road for a long time now. You’ve said in prior interviews that you traveled a lot as a kid, thanks to your folks’ working in the entertainment industry—and that, at the time, you basically hated it. How does touring compare?
ZD: It’s totally different. As a child, I was in places for long periods of time—months, or years—and, if I didn’t like a place, I had no choice but be there away from my friends and everyone I knew; it wasn’t a choice I was making. With touring, I am in a different city every day. If I don’t like a place, then I will see someplace new the next day. And the bus is like your little traveling house; you can fill it with all the things that make you comfortable. I am not very high maintenance, so it’s easy for me to be comfortable.
ALIVE: How do you find time to squeeze in a successful acting career?
ZD: I do what motivates me in the moment. Acting in films is very, very physically difficult, as it involves long hours and fitting into a structure. Touring is more focused on the hour-and-a-half each night that you are onstage—so, compared to acting, it feels like a vacation! And recording music that I write with a producer I trust so implicitly is much more of an expression of who I am than being simply an actor for hire. That said, I enjoy acting very much. But, if I didn’t do the music, I would probably go a little crazy.
ALIVE: So, would you say music is your first love?
ZD: I play music every day. I also listen to a lot of music. It’s a constant companion.
ALIVE: Your retro style definitely mirrors your music, and is inspiring to so many—yet you don’t typically wear the “hot” brands, or attend fashion shows as a guest. So, what led to you singing at an Erin Fetherston show (I was there; it was a highlight of my NYFW trip!)?
ZD: Erin Fetherston is a very dear friend of mine. I love her clothes. But, I am not a fashion person; I don’t really care what’s in style. I want to wear clothes that express who I am and that are flattering. I think people might respond to the fact that I don’t really care what the fashion world thinks of me; I am happy if I am able to inspire people to express themselves. But I don’t kowtow to the fashion industry.
ALIVE: Where do you see She & Him in five years?
ZD: I don’t believe in five-year plans. I am just going to play a lot of music and hope that in five years, I am playing even more music. I love getting to make music with Matt and our comrades in the She & Him family and, as long as I am privileged enough to have that opportunity, I will take advantage of it.
She & Him headline Day 2 of the LouFest Music Festival, August 28-29 at Central Field, Forest Park, featuring 2 stages and performances by 18 bands.
Photo credit: Photo by Stewart Shining