“My goal is to not create music that feels like a live show,” ZZ Ward tells us before her show at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. “My goal is to create great songs and then figure out how they translate live.”
It’s a funny thing to say, considering how well her music works live. In fact, it works pretty much perfectly. On stage, Ward is a force of musicality. From the moment she bounces on stage wielding a harmonica, she’s got the to-capacity crowd at her fingertips.
The fearsome presentation is also a perfect contradiction to the very approachable person we meet backstage, a person that could probably be the perfect best friend. Sitting on the couch with her dog, Muddy Waters, Ward talks about her hip-hop and influences, growing up on artists like Missy Elliott, Snoop Dogg and Nas.
“I don’t know why, it [hip-hop] just resonated with me,” she says.
When she was just starting out, Ward wrote choruses for rap artists in Eugene, Oregon. That hip-hop theme remained a constant in her career to today, with aritsts like Freddie Gibbs and Kendrick Lamar showing up on her debut LP, Til The Casket Drops. More at the forefront, however, is the obvious blues influence in her sound. She admits that radio play might be untapped in the genre, but humbly contends that she might not be the right maverick for pioneering the task.
“I have to be careful of what I say,” says Ward. “I bring blues to some people that may not have been as interested in it. ... Younger people. But I think Gary Clark Jr. really is blues. He’s like the new face to the blues.
Putting Til The Casket Drops together was relatively straightforward for Ward, since most of it was already written by the time she was signed to Hollywood Records. “I kind of walked in there and played them all my songs and they liked ‘em. And they wanted to make a record with me,” she says.
And while she wrote all but one of the tracks on her lonesome for the debut, she describes the process of picking the producer as an artform and wouldn’t be opposed to bringing addtional minds into the writing process for album number two.
“I don’t want to be the kind of artist that’s like, ‘I have to write my own stuff,’” says Ward. “If people are writing stuff and it sounds great when I’m singing it, better than the stuff that I’m writing, then I’m going to use it. Let’s try to get to the best place we possibly can.”