She & Him features “New Girl” actress Zooey Deschanel (She) and singer-songwriter M. Ward (Him). | Eliot Lee Hazel
Though actress Zooey Deschanel and singer-songwriter M. Ward have had three albums of original material, their holiday renditions are classics in their own right.
While Bing and Burl and Ol’ Blue Eyes have had a hold on the holiday music market for decades, one of the best gifts of the modern era is undoubtedly indie folk duo She & Him.
That is, “New Girl” actress Zooey Deschanel (She) and singer-songwriter M. Ward (Him). Though they’ve had three albums of original material, their holiday covers are classics in their own right.
If you’ve seen the movie “Elf,” you know the pipes Deschanel has as her character Jovie belts out a retro-chic take on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” during a scene with Buddy (Will Ferrell).
In real life, she and Ward bring that same vintage swagger to the covers they’ve taken on, including the aforementioned and controversial “Baby” (opting to switch the male-female parts of the song to make it a bit less cringe-worthy).
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is featured on the reissue of “A Very She & Him Christmas,” the duo’s third album for Merge Records and first holiday-themed offering, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, Deschanel and Ward are hitting the road for eight tour dates this month, including the Chicago Theatre Tuesday.
“We really missed being able to play live music, and also music was kind of what got us through the pandemic,” Deschanel said. “We want to bring that feeling to everybody now.”
Ward, who said one of She & Him’s “best shows ever” was at Millennium Park in 2010, added, “The disappointment of having to cancel so many shows has turned into the excitement of this tour we’re about to start, and we are ever so happy we will be able to visit Chicago. I just hope it’s snowy.”
Fans also can expect to hear a seven-piece ensemble deliver the material from “A Very She & Him Christmas,” such as the delicately sweet “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” paired with Ward’s soft guitar strumming, a ukulele-driven “Silver Bells” and an upbeat, ’60s-style duet on “Sleigh Ride.”
Here’s hoping they’ll also unwrap their latest tributes (added to the album’s anniversary reissue): Wham!’s “Last Christmas” and Madonna’s “Holiday.”
” ‘Holiday’ really happened by accident,” Ward said. “We didn’t have the idea to connect it with any of our Christmas records at all. But, if you dig into the lyrics of that song, I think it’s just asking to be turned up in December.”
A portion of proceeds from the limited-edition reissue will go to an organization close to their hearts, 826 National, a nonprofit that fuels creativity and writing skills in youth. And $1 from each presale ticket for their shows will be given to Baby2Baby, which provides necessities for children in poverty.
“We like to have that as a part of our Christmas holiday mission,” Deschanel said.
With so many seasonal covers already in the can — they also released a second collection called “Christmas Party” in 2016 — is anything off-limits in choosing the songs they’ll take on next?
“Nothing’s sacred,” Deschanel said.
She and Ward even did the unthinkable five years ago, opting to do a rendition of the Mariah Carey juggernaut “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and finding out the hard way what a strict publishing agreement Carey has, preventing any covers from being televised.
“It’s literally only Mariah that’s allowed to sing that,” Deschanel said.
Don’t expect any original Christmas songs from She & Him.
“I would have a hard time finding inspiration,” Deschanel said. “It’s a very narrow genre of music, and there are so many amazing songs already.”
She does point to the track “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year” that she co-authored with songstress Ingrid Michaelson this year as one example. “So you never know,” she said.
What will likely come next is an album of original material eight years after their lauded “Volume 3.” Deschanel and Ward recorded so much together during the pandemic that she said they have a “whole album’s worth” of material.
“Hopefully, it’ll be out next year,” Ward said.
When the concert run is over, there’s more festive cheer to look forward to at home.
“Music has always been my favorite holiday tradition,” Deschanel said. “I loved caroling growing up, whether singing at a party or actually going out caroling. And, of course, seeing my family and having everyone together this year,.”
“I just look forward to seeing happy faces,” Ward said.
No doubt they’ll get a lot of that on the road, too, as their shows spread much-needed cheer.