Interview by Christine Thompson
ZZ Ward has a relaxed, warm voice even though as she’s speaking to me she’s running through an airport to catch a flight. She’s on her way to play in Texas, but we manage to get a few words about her love of the blues and upcoming Austin gig at Emo’s on May 18th.
ZZ, who’s full name is Zsuzsanna Eva Ward, was raised in a small town in Oregon, where she sang with her father’s Blues band. She went to L.A. in 2012 and after offering a free mixtape (Eleven Roses )with interpretations of tracks by Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino and Tyler, the Creator, people took notice.
Ward’s debut album, Til the Casket Drops, was released shortly after. It included the singles “365 Days”, “Put the Gun Down” and “Last Love Song”, the song “Cryin’ Wolf” with Kendrick Lamar, as well as appearances from Ryan Tedder, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Theron “Neff-U” Feemster and Fitz of Fitz and the Tantrums. Ward performed the album’s first single, “Put The Gun Down”, on VH1’s Big Morning Buzz Live with Carrie Keagan, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on and Conan.[
Ward’s second studio album, The Storm, was released on June 30, 2017 through Hollywood Records. It peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart in July 2017 at number 12 on the Billboard Rock Albums chart, and at number 75 on the Billboard 200. The music video for the single “Cannonball” features Fantastic Negrito, and additional collaborations including “Domino” (which reunites ZZ with Fitz of Fitz & The Tantrums) and “Ride” which ZZ wrote specifically for the Disney*Pixar film Cars 3 and features Gary Clark Jr.
AMFM: What’s your definition of the Blues, now?
ZZ WARD: It’s different for everybody but Blues music is the foundation of so many different types of music. And a huge influence on me and my music. There’s different types, straight Blues and the artists who want to keep it traditional play tribute to that, keeping it pure and simplistic, Then there’s other ways artists are using the Blues, where they are taking elements and using that influence in new music, and adding different kinds of genres to it.
But I think the Blues are very sincere, and that’s the biggest influence on the artists that are using it.
AMFM: It’s been taken from through the years and transformed into many types of music, rock and roll came from the Blues, but your sound harkens back to the classic delta blues, like Big Mamma Thornton.
ZZ: I love Delta Blues, I love Back Porch Blues, I love raw instrumentation, things that are being recorded and not processed too much, or put through too many things to change the sound. I definitely love Big Mamma Thornton, Muddy Waters, and a singer named Vera Ward Hall that was pre-Blues, before the Blues was even around. A lot of those powerful female vocalists too. I’m really influenced in my singing, I definitely try to bring those influences in. “Let It Burn” on my new album is definitely a mix of a Delta Blues feel and a Trap feel.
AMFM: And you’ve even named your dog “Ms. Muddy Waters.”
ZZ: (laughs) yep.
AMFM: Austin has a big heart for both the Blues and also pet rescue. There’s Austin Pets Alive, and a really great Facebook page for people who have lost their pets – it’s super active. So you’re headed to a pet lovin’, blues lovin’ town.
ZZ: It’s perfect for me!
ZZ Ward has teamed with the ASPCA to create a limited edition ‘Muddy & Me’ t-shirt featuring ZZ and her Border Terrier, Miss Muddy Waters. Fans of ZZ’s know ‘Muddy’ well as she travels with her on the road. The t-shirt is being sold at her upcoming shows, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the ASPCA, an organization whose mission is to fight and prevent animal cruelty, of which ZZ is an ardent supporter.
AMFM: There’s a great tradition of live music in Austin, the musicians are in the bar every night for hours and hours slugging away, entertaining the folks. Those are the real guitar heroes. I know you’ve done that too with your Dad when you were younger, right?
ZZ: I did, from the age of about 16. I’m from Oregon, and we’d go up to the Blues Bars there and get permission for me to go in, and they would draw these X’s on my hand, and I would sign up to jam with Blues musicians that I’d never met or played with before in my life. So I’d sing with them, and also sing with my Dad’s Blues band. You know, it just taught me how to get up on stage and figure it out, and also learn the balance of how someone would take the lead, (everyone has a voice through their instruments on stage) and put it all together. That was the beginning of me learning how to be an artist.
AMFM: And it definitely comes through, I can hear it in your songs. What are your plans after you tour?
ZZ: This summer is a lot of touring, we’ve got about 30 shows we’re going all over the U.S., but in between shows and after that I’m going to get back to writing and the creative process. That’s the most exciting part for me, is going back to the drawing board and saying “ok,, what do I want to do now?”
I’m just at the beginning of that, figuring out where my third album goes. But Blues has always been an influence on me and will continue to be in my music.
AMFM: What Blues player alive or dead would you most like to jam with?
ZZ: I don’t know if I’d say jam with, I ‘d love to see Sister Rosetta Tharpe play. I’d love to see Big Momma Thornton sing. I’d love to watch Muddy Waters play – that would be amazing. Fortunately, I did get to see Etta James before she passed away. I’ve also been able to share the stage with artists like Susan Tedeschi, Jimmy Vaughn, and…who else was up there…Keb Mo. That was a BB King Tribute in Los Angeles, it really was a special moment for me.
AMFM: Do you get to do anything fun while you’re in Austin?
ZZ: I think I might stop by Collings Guitar while I’m there. All my guitars are Collings Guitars, I’ve always wanted to go by the workshop and see how they’re made and who’s making them, as well as get some good food while we’re in Austin. We’re not staying too long, we have to get to a festival the next day in Cherokee, Texas. We’re bouncing all over Texas.
You can catch ZZ in Texas on Thursday with special guests The Ruen Brothers on Thursday, May 17th at The Heights in Houston, Texas. doors open at 7pm and the show is at 8pm . Tickets are here.
On Friday May 18th, ZZ will play Emo’s in Austin, Texas. Doors open at 7:30pm. Tickets are available here.
On Saturday, May 19th, ZZ will play the Cherokee Creek Music Festival in Cherokee Texas. Passes can be bought here.
More information on ZZ Ward can be found on her OFFICIAL WEBSITE