Matt Ward discovered his new bandmate's musical talent the same way the rest of the world did.
"I knew what to expect after hearing her sing in that shower scene in 'Elf,' " said the acclaimed singer/songwriter better known as M. Ward, whose group with actress Zooey Deschanel -- She & Him -- comes to Minneapolis Thursday.
Also known from "Almost Famous" and this summer's dud "The Happening," Deschanel followed her "Elf" serenade with another on-screen singing performance in last year's "The Assassination of Jesse James." But she was waiting for someone like Ward to come along before launching a proper music career.
"I actually was given some offers to record after 'Elf,' but I didn't want to do just any old record," Deschanel said. "A lot of people wanted me to make an album of standards, but I didn't want to do that, or do anything that could be construed as a vanity project. I waited till I found somebody I really wanted to work with."
The pair were brought together in 2006 by an indie flick she starred in, "The Go-Getter," whose director Martin Hynes suggested they record a Richard and Linda Thompson song for the movie's soundtrack ("When I Get to the Border").
The story of how a rustic, underground indie-rocker and an almost-famous movie actress became musical partners is less unusual than the end results. With vintage arrangements and Deschanel's Linda Ronstadt- and Patsy Cline-echoing vocals, She & Him's debut album, "Volume One," has generally been well-received by music critics and rock hipsters who usually dismiss any Hollywood star's musical venture faster than you can say Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts (Russell Crowe's old band, in case you forgot).
In separate phone interviews last month from their homes in Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles -- you can probably guess who lives where -- Ward and Deschanel both said they never worried about the album being seen as simply a star vehicle. They answered in harmony to most other questions too.
Q: Were you afraid the album might just be seen as another actor's vanity project?
She: "I never worried because I knew I was very sincere about this, and my intentions were pure. I totally put myself out there with this record. As long as that was the case, I knew it could cut through whatever people's assumptions might be."
Him: "If the songs were not good, if the singer was not good, if the production was bad, any of that would be a great sign this was just a vanity project. None of those qualities were questionable in this case."
Q: How did you make the leap from recording the one cover song to recording all these originals?
She: "Matt wanted to hear my demos. I was so nervous to show them to him, but I thought, 'This is a person I really want to work with. If I have the chance I should take it, even if it's scary.' I didn't know whether he'd respond to the demos. You feel vulnerable in that position.
"I started writing music when I was about 8 years old, but I only started recording about five or six years ago. I just felt like I was going to burst, like I had so many songs in me I needed to get them out."
Him: "Zooey had been recording demos with Garage Band, a really elementary way of recording songs, very lo-fi. But they sounded great to me that way with just vocals and piano in this really raw form. I knew once I heard the songs and the vocals that it would be a great record.
"Her vocals are very classic-sounding, a vintage quality that you don't hear often. Listening to the demos reminded me of some of my favorite Ronettes songs and Brian Wilson productions -- I heard things like that in her demos. Her songs lend themselves to the listener's imagination."
Q: How did recording this album compare to other creative projects you've worked on?
She: "This was the greatest creative experience of my life. There's nothing else I've ever done that was so pure an expression of myself.
"Being an actor can be frustrating because you don't have control over what you put out there. I mean, I love the work, it's fun, but it's always doing someone else's work -- it's the writer's words and the director's vision. With this, I got to see it from the very start, writing the songs in my room, to recording and mixing. It was amazing."
Him: "I treated her demos just like I do my own. As producer, you're just trying to translate that original inspiration as best you can. I feel like we achieved that, creating a record that sounds inspired. It was like an extra bonus we didn't have a catalog we had to work against or from. It was tabula rasa: We could create whatever we wanted without having the weight of 'Oh, this sounds like the last record,' because there was no last record."
Q: The album came out in March. What took so long to tour?
She: "I was filming like five movies in a row this year, but now I'm finally done. It definitely can burn you out doing movie after movie, so I'm extra excited about this tour. It's fun. I'm so lucky to be able to do both these wonderful things."
Him: "I've been recording a bit on a side project with Conor Oberst, Jim James and Mike Mogis. It'll be a full record, but there's tons of work left. It probably will come out in 2010 or 2011 because it's hard to get everyone together. I've also been finishing my own record, which should come out the early part of next year."
Q: We hear there will be a "Volume Two." So, you really do work well together?
She: "I have enough songs to make another record, so I'm sure we'll do it. I loved working with Matt. We have very similar philosophies about music. He's like my big brother now, and he was such a great supporter to me through this. There hasn't been a single part of this I haven't enjoyed."
Him: "She has many more great songs. We worked well together. Zooey told me the favorite films that she has done were where the director trusted the actors to work from improvisation. To be able to trust the people you work with, inside and outside the studio, that's the best framework for creating something interesting."