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Zooey Deschanel should be worried. The public isn’t exactly welcoming to actors who try to cross over into music. (Just ask Kevin Bacon, Russell Crowe or Keanu Reeves.) But though she is set to perform Friday with her friend Matt Ward as the group She & Him at Austin, Tex.’s South by Southwest music festival and release her first album on Tuesday, the 28-year-old actress isn’t losing sleep. “I would rather have a better reason for trepidation than worrying what people will think of me,” she says. “I like to save trepidation for, say, shark-infested waters or lions’ dens.”
She’s right to be unfazed. “Volume One,” the debut album of She & Him, which includes Deschanel’s own vintage-influenced torch songs, country ballads and covers of The Beatles, has gotten advanced buzz. Days away from taking the stage, the thespian and her in-demand collaborator (he’s worked with indie icons from Bright Eyes to Cat Power) talked to WWD about their seemingly unlikely partnership.
WWD: You’re known as an actress. When did you realize that you could sing?
Zooey Deschanel: I just remember always loving to sing. I do recall singing when I was about 11 years old and thinking that I sounded like an adult. It was a little frightening, but kind of exciting, too.
WWD: You wrote these songs on the piano — are you self-taught or did your parents make you take lessons as a child?
Z.D.: I begged my parents for piano lessons. They didn’t want me to start until I was eight, though. I don’t know why. Once I started taking lessons, we realized that I was more of a play-by-ear type of person. I never really learned to read music with any kind of fluency. I quit piano and then taught myself basic theory from a book.
WWD: You first met Matt when recording “When I Get to the Border” for the soundtrack to your film “The Go-Getter.” How did you pick that song?
Z.D.: Martin Hynes, the director, picked it. We recorded it really quickly and I immediately had the feeling that this was a person I absolutely had to work with.
WWD: How did you get from recording one song together to making a whole album?
Matt Ward: Zooey sent me her demos and I loved how they sounded. So we made a plan to do some recording at a couple of studios here in Portland [Ore.]. The whole recording process took about seven weeks.
WWD: Were you reticent about making music with an actor?
M.W.: I would have been if the songs weren’t good or Zooey wasn’t a good singer, but she’s a pro at both.
WWD: Are there other actors who have put out albums that you like?
Z.D.: Doris Day, Judy Garland, Kris Kristofferson, Fred Astaire.
M.W.: Not really, no, unless you call Elvis an actor.