Criminal feat. Freddie Gibbs
I had the pleasure of sitting down with the highly talented ZZ Ward (and her sweet pup Muddy Waters) to chat about her background, her inspirations and the surprise group she would listen to if she was ever stranded on a desert island.
TMN: First off ZZ we just wanted to welcome you back to the Mile High City and so glad you decided to stop on your tour here, you have quite a fan base all over the United States but Denver has some mad respect for your blues and your voice.
ZZ: Thank you, I love it here.
TMN: Let’s start off with a bit of your background. You are from a small town in Oregon, you started listening to blues because of your dad and hip-hop because of your brother and then, you started singing in your dad’s band when you were only twelve. That is such a unique musical background. Now, before you started singing, were you introduced to any instruments at a young age? Was singing where you started off?
ZZ: Singing was first, um, I didn’t get into guitar until like four or five years ago really. I played keyboard a little bit before I played guitar. None of those instruments I went to school for the lead blues player in my blues band taught me how to play guitar, very unconventional lessons. I’m a writer a heart so I just use things to write songs.
TMN: If you can just reminisce for a second, do you remember the bars you used to play in? How they smelled, what they looked like, the patrons who frequented the bar stools, can you just give us a little insight?
ZZ: (Laughs)They smelled great. I remember being young enough that people would always be like, you are so young, where does that big voice come from? Yeah, they were dirty dive bars there were not a lot of places to play where I was from in Oregon and once I knew I could go into a blues club and sing a standard blues song and jam with people then wherever I would go, which wasn’t a lot of places to be honest I once went to Tennessee and told my mom you have to sneak me in I know how to do this, tell them to get me in. They drew big X’s on my hand and I would go jam with anybody you know? Just to jam and play the blues. That was the one place I went outside of Oregon before touring now, I have seen so much of the country and some of the world.
TMN: What was your favorite song to sing with your dad’s band?
ZZ: My favorite song to sing, probably the standards “Dust my Broom” and “Please Love Me” and then “3 O’clock in the Morning Blues” those are songs, if you know anything about the blues, so many artists do those songs they are standard Blues songs but I heard Tina Turner sing those songs on an album she did with Ike and I was just blown away and I just had to cover every one of those songs.
TMN: So when did you have your “ah-ha” moment? Some artists have it, some do not, but in 2009 you made the move to LA to pursue your love for your music. What was it like when you first got there?
ZZ: I think I always knew I wanted to be a singer, I always knew that I wanted to do it but at some point I felt I had done everything I could possibly do in Roseburg. I would sell my demo cd’s out of the back of my 1990 Dodge Ram all the time in the back of parking lots and I would play around street corners with my guitar and I exhausted every option of where I was and I needed to get into a bigger music scene. And it was probably a month before I left where I told myself I got to go, I just have to go. And I was terrified but I went.
TMN: Sometimes you have to take those risks.
ZZ: Sometimes you really do.
TMN: Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, these are some of the names thrown around when used to describe your sound. How does that make you feel knowing your name is being placed up there with some of the queens of blue and soul music?
ZZ: It is very flattering. Someone was telling me today on the radio something someone had said or something that had written in the press, I was like what I didn’t know people said that about me. I mean hey it is something I have always wanted to be and do so I hope that is inspires other people to go after what they want.
TMN: Being a young artist who has worked with some big names in this field, Kendrick Lamar, Fitz and the Tantrums, what do you hope young artists who are trying to make it in the industry can take away from your music and your story?
ZZ: I would say, you are definitely, if you are trying to make it in music, you are not going to know where to start, you have to be patient with yourself. Because it is not like the stars are going to align and everything is going to happen for you overnight, you have to keep pressing on and keep going after your dreams. The best advice I could give to an aspiring artist or musician is to write your own music, that’s really important. And don’t wait for other people to do things for you, if you want to play live music, find people to play live music, book your own tours, even if it isn’t a huge major tour you can still get the ball rolling with things and then hopefully down the road you can meet people who can help you with things.
TMN: That being said, all age groups love your music. I know I sent my mom your music a while back and she adores you. How does that feel as an artist knowing that your music you speaks to people of all ages?
ZZ: It is really cool. I was actually paying attention to that last night. We played in Boise and I was looking at the crowd and it was such a diverse group of people that can connect with my music and I think it is great. That is inspiring for me, if I was up there and was only connecting with one group of people it might be kind of like, well this group of women can relate to me and/or these guys they think the music is sexy but it is cool that there is different people there for different reasons and for different reasons they connect with it.
TMN: Can we talk about “Dirty Shine” for just a minute? I mean, great terminology.
ZZ: Well for me, I mean, making my records, I didn’t realize how different my sound would be, it is unique and different and I didn’t know that going into it. I moved down from Oregon to LA and I didn’t know if I could sing Blues and Hip-Hop and be who I wanted to be and if people would like that. Dirty Shine just means embracing your authentic self which is what I felt like I did on this record and people connected with that and if anything that term can inspire people and my listeners.
TMN: Ok, now I’m going to shift to a few fun questions. Let’s start with what are three things you have in your purse at all times?
ZZ: (Laughs) Chapstick, my harmonica, and my cellphone.
TMN: Where is one of the best cities you have ever done a performance in, and yes I am biased, but I won’t hold anything against you
ZZ: Denver (Laughs) No Denver really stands out for us it really does. Denver, Atlanta, New York those are some stand out places. Nashville too.
TMN: If you were deserted on a desert island and could only have one artist’s record/cd/cassette tape to listen to, who would that be?
ZZ: Today? Van Morrison.
TMN: Nice, didn’t see that one coming.
ZZ: (Laughs) I bet not!
TMN: Your favorite hat, because let’s be serious you have an unbelievable collection of hats, kind of your signature wear.
ZZ: I do have a new favorite that I can’t wear out because I’m wearing it is my new music video.
TMN: (Laughs) So you don’t want anyone to see it quite yet.
ZZ: No! It is quite a stand out hat and I brought it with me on tour for some reason and I was like why did I bring this I’m not wearing it until the music video comes out.
TMN: And one last question I like to ask all artists whom I interview, if your music was an animal, which animal would it be and why?
ZZ: It would be a Border terrier because look at that face? (Points to her adorable dog Muddy Waters who has been sitting patiently through this whole interview) But Muddy is dirty and she doesn’t care, she doesn’t need to clean up, she is rock and roll.
TMN: Just like your music.
ZZ: (Laughs) Exactly.
TMN: ZZ thank you for taking some time before your show tonight to sit down with me and talk to us a little more about yourself. Best of luck this year and many years to come, we can’t wait to see everything you have in store!
ZZ: Thank you so much!