ALEX COHEN, host:
Back now with Day to Day and She & Him.
(Soundbite of song "You Really Got A Hold On Me")
SHE & HIM: (Singing) I don't want you, but I need you...
COHEN: "She" is actress Zooey Deschanel. Maybe you've seen her in the movie "Elf" or the TV show "Weeds."
ALEX CHADWICK: And the "Him" in this duo is singer and songwriter M. Ward. The M is for Matt. He's worked with plenty of other female singers, Norah Jones, Cat Power and Neko Case just to name a few, but he's found a special chemistry, he says, with Zooey on their debut album called Volume One. Day to Day's Alex Cohen spoke with them earlier this week before a performance at the Vista Theater in Los Angeles.
COHEN: Zooey Deschanel has been acting in TV shows and films since she was a teenager, but she's been writing songs much longer than that. She wrote her first one when she was just eight years old. It was about a fair.
Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Singer, She & Him): Cause that's kind of what you're interested in at the age of eight. It had sort of like a um-pah kind of feel to it. I think it was called "I'm having fun at the fair." Yeah, yeah. It was very Meet Me in St. Louis-esque.
COHEN: Things have come a long way since "I'm having fun at the fair." Over the years, Deschanel has written and recorded a lot of songs, songs where she sang harmonies with herself, played back up piano and guitar.
Ms. DESCHANEL: I'd be working here, there, and I would just, everyday, go home and be writing songs and recording them. It was sort of my way of relaxing - is what I sort of enjoyed to - the thing that I enjoyed doing most in my spare time.
COHEN: In 2006, Deschanel and Ward were both cast in a film called "The Go Getter" and the director asked them to record a duet for the film's soundtrack. A cover of the Richard and Linda Thompson song "When I get to the Border."
(Soundbite of song "When I get to the Border")
Mr. RICHARD THOMPSON and Ms. LINDA THOMPSON: (Singing) When I get to the border. Monday morning, Monday morning, closing in on me...
COHEN: When Deschanel and Ward started working on the song in the studio, something clicked.
Mr. MATT WARD (Singer, She & Him): ...Zooey's music from "Elf" and I loved the voice. I thought that there was maybe a Zooey Deschanel record. There wasn't.
COHEN: Then Ward discovered there were all those demo tapes she'd been recording. He has to listen to some of them. Deschanel says that request was mildly terrifying.
Ms. DESCHANEL: It's so personal. It's a very personal experience, rating music. It's like you hear something and you think, I like it, but then it's hard sometimes, the first time you say like, I wrote this, do you think it's okay? You know, I mean that's very scary.
COHEN: So she started safe. She sent him a recording of something she hadn't written.
Ms. DESCHANEL: (Singing) Swing low, sweet chariot. Coming for to carry me home.
COHEN: He liked it. So she sent him some of her own compositions.
Ms. DESCHANEL: (Singing) I was taking a walk, when I saw you pass by...
Mr. WARD: I just love the songs and it's really rare that you find a good song. It's as simple as that.
Ms. DESCHANEL: (Singing) When I saw you smile, I saw a dream come true...
Mr. WARD: And the vocal arrangements were - if I could do that on my four-track tapes, I would have done it a long time ago.
COHEN: Ward persuaded Deschanel to record an album, which they simply titled Volume One, and they formed a band. Even though their names both have star power, they decided to pick a moniker with just two simple pronouns, She and Him.
Ms. DESCHANEL: We both talked about liking the idea of a name that's sort of anonymous and sort of humble. I also like the name, the band, because it's not about being like the star of anything, it's about the music.
COHEN: The music of She & Him is reminiscent of artists like Linda Ronstadt, The Beach Boys, The Ronettes. Music that Zooey and Matt listened to as kids on the radio. They also recorded a few covers including this tribute to the fab four.
(Soundbite of song "I Should Have Known Better")
SHE & HIM: (Singing) I should have known better with a guy like you, that I would love everything that you do, and I do, hey hey hey, and I do.
BRAND: In an era where many artists rely on synthesizers, computer sampling and vocal processing, "She & Him" definitely take the low-tech approach. For instance, on this track called, This is not a Test, Deschanel uses her mouth as a trumpet of sorts.
(Soundbite of song "This is not a Test")
Ms. DESCHANEL: I just like music that sounds like music and that people are making music, not like machines and computers and, you know, things that you design to make things sound slick and perfect.
COHEN: She & Him have been playing concerts in Austin, Texas, New York, and here in L.A., and though Zooey Deschanel is plenty used to performing, she says going on tour has been a bit different.
Ms. DESCHANEL: As an actor I'm doing something somebody else wrote and I'm just sort of interpreting that, it's similar with performing songs, but having written them it's sort of - it's nice because I'm so familiar with the details of the particular emotions I was trying to express.
(Soundbite of song "Take it Back")
SHE & HIM: (Singing) Take it back, take it back, I don't want your lovin' anymore...
COHEN: They've sold out everywhere they played, but Deschanel isn't giving up her day job, acting, any time soon. She was recently heard as a voice on the TV show The Simpsons and has several films coming out this year including the one she and M. Ward met on.
(Soundbite of song "I Put a Spell on You")
SHE & HIM: (Singing) I put a spell on you, because you're mine.
COHEN: Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward say they have plans to put out a follow-up record to Volume One. The duo isn't quite sure what they'll call it, maybe...
Ms. DESCHANEL: Volume two. It might be.
Mr. WARD: It's too early to say.
Ms. DESCHANEL: We like that name.
Mr. WARD: It's just got a nice ring to it.
Ms. DESCHANEL: It's got a great ring to it.
COHEN: She & Him will perform next at The Oyster Festival in San Francisco later this month. Alex Cohen, NPR News.