Many of M. Ward's songs sound like
they were written nearly a century ago. Ward doesn't mind if you think that. "By
and large, I think digital technology has done a significant disservice to the
art of recording," he says. "It's basically filtering out the nuances of sound
and of people's voices. I think that's what makes an instrument or a particular
person's voice interesting." Ward captures that sacred something on his new
record, Transistor Radio, as faithfully as he has on previous efforts.
"There's so much that goes into it," he adds. "There's song selection, there's
lyric selection, production style and the instruments that you choose.... But
when you put those things together it creates a certain atmosphere."
M. Ward isn't one of those artists who wants you to think his record just
happened to fall together beautifully. He has no problem admitting that the
atmospheric effects are deliberately produced in order to have a certain effect
on the listener. "It's the atmosphere that makes these seemingly disparate songs
and disparate ideas pull together." In a way, it's a wonder that the songs on
Transistor Radio do pull together. With four cover songs, one of which is a
Bach song showcasing Ward's agile fingerpicking, the album doesn't necessarily
have a contiguous theme. "I think that combining classical songs and pop songs
is an eccentric undertaking," he admits. "But I've thought about it, and I think
they all go together now."
His overall intention with Transistor Radio was to pay tribute to, well,
the golden days of radio and the few independent radio stations that still play
music they love. "I have conflicting visions of radio, and I wanted to stay true
to these original ideals of radio that are very naive and unrealistic." Songs
like "One Life Away" and "Radio Campaign" perfectly illustrate his romantic
vision of what radio should be by attempting to bond with the listener.
"The story of radio is some sort of connection with somebody that's far away,
and not some form of advertising."
The unfortunate realism troubling Ward comes from first-hand experience visiting
radio stations. "Right now most of the things you hear on the radio come from
people and voices that are well connected with million dollar budgets," he says
bitterly. "That gets in the way of music and creating new ideas, and following
through with them."
Ward does acknowledge the possibility of a brighter future for radio: the fact
that fans are going to different places to find more artistically satisfying
music. "I think a lot of people have given up on radio, and they see it for what
it is—basically a joke, especially nowadays." After discussing the popularity of
The Arcade Fire's Funeral in 2004 despite little radio exposure, we agree
that radio can't exist in its stagnant state for much longer. Ward guesses that
the next big thing is "probably going to be internet radio or satellite radio,
whatever gives a platform for ideas and a broader range of thought."
The tone of the tracks on Transistor Radio demonstrates Ward's
willingness to stay optimistic in his music, despite his displeasure with the
current condition of radio. At this point, one would be hard pressed to come up
with a reason why he shouldn't be. With four critically acclaimed records since
1997, Ward is firmly established as an artist fans want to listen to, whether we
can catch his delightful radio campaign via the Clear Channel airwaves or not.