Interview: Zooey Deschanel, M. Ward bring indie-folk festivity to She & Him ‘Christmas Party’
“When you’re singing about Santa Claus, it’s hard to be sad,” says actress Zooey Deschanel, as she and Matt Ward bring holiday favorites to the Chicago Theatre Tuesday.
Just over two decades ago, Zooey Deschanel led her character’s younger brother into the world of rock music in 2000’s “Almost Famous.”
But a few years later, she revealed her real-life passion for music in her unforgettable duet with Will Ferrell in Jon Favreau’s holiday classic “Elf.”
This year, she and musical partner Matt Ward celebrate the 10-year anniversary of “A Very She & Him Christmas” with a rerelease of the project’s third studio album and a visit to Chicago next Tuesday as part of the She & Him “Christmas Party Tour.”
“I’m very bad at bragging,” Deschanel started with her familiar wry delivery, “but we just have the best time with our audience. We’ve been doing this for a number of years and people always have such a wonderful time at our shows. That’s not coming from me; that’s coming from the fans. The audience, they tell us. But we’re always having such a good time ourselves. We’re always just so full of joy doing it.”
“We really love reinventing these songs on a nightly basis,” Ward added. “We’re not really that interested in doing them the way people have heard them a million times. Neither Zooey nor I are jazz performers, but we love that spirit of improvisation. And bringing that to Christmas songs is one of our favorite things.”
The original 12-track “A Very She & Him Christmas” included beloved holiday standards such as “Sleigh Ride,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and a gender-flipped take on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” (“We both wanted to record that song,” Deschanel said, “and I was like ‘I don’t really want to record this unless we flip it to make it more fresh and maybe less … controversial.'”)
This year’s rerelease includes indie-folk-flavored covers of Madonna’s “Holiday” and Wham’s “Last Christmas.” The duo also dropped the stand-alone single “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” back in October. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of “A Very She & Him Christmas” and the rerelease will be donated to 826 National, a nonprofit organization dedicated to tutoring young authors and nurturing their creativity.
And while they both cite “The Christmas Waltz” and “Christmas Memories” among their most cherished to perform for audiences, Ward, who also takes on much of the band’s production, said one of his favorite parts of these shows is being able to just play, even if he does downplay his role over Deschanel’s repeated insistence that he’s a super-shredder on stage.
“I love performing with She & Him because I get to focus on the guitar and leave the vocals to Zooey,” he said. “It’s just a pleasure.”
“But you are also singing on a lot of them,” she said. “And your voice is beautiful, Matt.”
COVID safety protocols are in place at the Chicago Theatre, so masks will be required within the venue. But to keep the atmosphere festive, She & Him encourages guests to wear their favorite holiday masks and attire.
“Whatever makes them just feel like in a party mood,” Deschanel said.
“It’s hard to be too down on anything when you’re singing songs like ‘The Man with the Bag,’ y’know?” Ward added.
“Yeah,” she replied, laughing. “When you’re singing about Santa Claus, it’s hard to be sad.”
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She & Him “Christmas Party Tour”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., Chicago, (312) 462-6300 or msg.com