Guest of Honor

Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward Share Their Holiday Traditions

From cooking tamales to listening to non-stop Christmas tunes on the oldies station, the multi-talented duo behind the folk band She & Him offer up a few tales from their Yuletide memories.

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You may know actor Zooey Deschanel from her hit TV show “New Girl,” or seen her in the modern holiday classic movie “Elf,” but that’s just the half of it — she’s also a talented musician.

Zooey and acclaimed singer-songwriter M. Ward have put out several albums together under the name She & Him. Two of those happen to be holiday-themed, including their most recent, called “Christmas Party.”

The two stopped by our studios to share a holiday playlist, but first, Brendan chatted with them about their own special traditions.

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M. Ward: Going to one of those farms and chopping down your own Christmas tree — that’s not nontraditional. That’s pretty traditional.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I mean, but in this day and age, I think, that’s actually…

Zooey Deschanel: It’s old-fashioned.

M. Ward: It’s old-fashioned.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, it’s old-fashioned, but I don’t know if a lot of people do that.

M. Ward: Yeah.

Zooey Deschanel: Do you do that?

M. Ward: Well, where I live in Portland, the last couple years, we’ve done that. And that’s a great tradition. Maybe it’s harder in L.A. I don’t know….

Zooey Deschanel: Yeah, you don’t find a lot of pine tree farms in L.A. [laughs].

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. So, you do this, and then, do you think it adds a special sense of appreciation when you bring it to your home that you fell that tree?

M. Ward: Yeah. It’s the best smelling tree you can bring home because it was just growing out of the ground moments earlier. You feel like it’s somewhat environmentally responsible because it’s farmed directly for this purpose. And, you recycle the tree. It’s very Portland to be so environmentally responsible.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Which is where you live. But also, I can see that cutting both ways because when you first said that, I was thinking of — you know when people go hunting, but they go to a game preserve where the animals are already fenced in?

M. Ward: Yeah. Yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And it feels a little bit like cheating.

M. Ward: Right, like fishing in a stocked pond, kind of.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. So, I mean, are you tempted to ever go renegade and maybe just find your own tree in the wilderness?

M. Ward: Someday I will, yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And, Zooey, in L.A., you do not chop down your own Christmas tree?

Zooey Deschanel: No, and I can’t really think of anything like that unusual or odd that I do.

M. Ward: Making Christmas records. Making Christmas records.

Zooey Deschanel: We make Christmas records in June. So, that is unusual.

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Brendan Francis Newnam: You guys have done two Christmas albums. Also, Zooey, you were in “Elf,” one of the bigger holiday movies of the last couple decades. Are you a holiday enthusiast, or has this just happened for some reason?

Zooey Deschanel: I love Christmas so much. Growing up, I’d start planning again, the next Christmas, on Decemeber 26th. So, I really…

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re a fan?

Zooey Deschanel: I just… I love cooking, so it’s one of the only times of the year that I’m not so busy that I can really plan a menu and put together a really nice meal and spend the time.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, Matt, do you have a favorite holiday dish you look forward to?

M. Ward: Well, my grandparents are Mexican, so I steer towards those things. Especially, tamales [are] like the New Year’s Eve tradition. Holidays make me think about food. But really, everything makes me think about food [Zooey laughs].

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, you’re about to give our audience these gifts of songs. So, let me ask you this question: what is the greatest gift you’ve ever received?

M. Ward: Well, it’s hard to beat music. And I realize we’re going to talk about that later on, but the first thing that comes to mind is watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when I was a kid, and really getting completely in love with the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

And so that is forever linked to Christmas for me, is his music, and I think he’s a genius.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That makes so much sense that you — you have a half a dozen albums, you are a very talented guitarist and producer — that you were a little kid, and you got captivated by the score, not the cartoons.

M. Ward: Yeah, it’s such a unique soundtrack to a cartoon, and I was, yeah, entranced at a very early age.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Now, Zooey, do you remember, is there a gift?

Zooey Deschanel: For me, actually, my whole life around Christmas, the oldies station would shut down at Christmas, and they’d just play a loop of Christmas songs. And a lot of them were from Phil Spector’s Christmas album, “A Christmas Gift for You.”

And, for years, every time one would come on, I’d be like, “This is the best sounding thing I’ve ever heard!” And I’d be like, “What is this?!?” And I could never find it because it was pre-Internet. You couldn’t look up a lyric and find the song.

And then, finally, my dad got it for me. That was a great Christmas gift because that is an amazing record.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, on this album, you have a song, “Marshmallow World.” In that, you’re kind of stripping down a Darlene Love and Phil Spector song.

When you’re covering a song, how do you know when to kind of stop peeling back the layers? How do you decide how to do an orchestration or what to keep in and take out?

Zooey Deschanel: Pretty organic process. I think we just kind of play around with stuff and see when it starts sounding really great and when to stop adding things. I mean, you can add, and add, and add, and add.

M. Ward: Yeah. I guess, for us, for cover songs, I think the best jumping-off point is a little bit of process of elimination. And if a version of a song has already been done with a bell choir and 20 violins, let’s not have those things and see where it takes us. And then, we know it’s done just by following our gut.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You just know it.

M. Ward: Yeah, I guess so.

Zooey Deschanel: Yeah, yeah.