What do you get when you roll Blues, Soul, and Hip-Hop into one? None other than twenty-something songstress ZZ Ward. Her voice is infectious and her talent undeniable. From the moment we laid ears on her music we were hooked.
We saw her on stage at Firefly Festival last summer but have yet to have the opportunity to see her up close and personal. She was born just outside of Philadelphia but never had the chance to do an interview with Independent Philly. Looks like we both get to cross something off of our bucket lists this week.
Independent Philly: We know you’re a native of the Philadelphia Suburbs (Abington, PA). Do you have a favorite childhood memory of the Philly region?
ZZ Ward: You know I was so young when I lived there. I went to Holland Elementary School in Bucks County and my favorite memories are like going to playgrounds with dad. Really, that’s what I was into. I was like seven years old when I lived there. I don’t have like a specific spot that I could tell you (laughs) but that’s something you could write down.
IP: Today is the 100th anniversary of Tastycake which is a big Philly institution. Did you eat Tastycakes as a kid and if so, which one you did you like the most?
ZZ: I didn’t. My mom grew up in Germantown and my dad grew up in Richboro so they’ve probably heard of it, but again, I was so young when I lived there. I didn’t quite get to those teenage years where things like that were really, really special. We moved before that.
IP: How did you get your start in music?
ZZ: My dad. My dad was always into singing and writing songs and kind of made me feel, from a very young age, really comfortable singing in front of people. Music was just always really fun and we did that together a lot. We’d sing harmonies; he taught me how to harmonize. My grandma played harmonica as well. So it was just something I grew up with that was always a really fun event for us. I think that because it became such an event for us, it was just something that I always wanted to do after that. When I wanted to grow up and be something I thought, ‘Well gosh, if I can grow up and be a recording artist, how amazing and fun would that be?’. I think that’s why I just found myself so connected to music.
IP: At what point did you realize you might actually be able to make a go of a music career? Lots of kids fantasize about growing up to be a recording artist, so when did you realize it was something you might really be able to do?
ZZ: That’s a good question. I mean there were definitely points when I was growing up in high school, if I’d sing, it seemed to get people really, really excited. It was definitely something I knew I was good at from the response that other people would give me, in a way. If you grew up having a voice, and nobody tells you that you’re good, you might not know it. But I think because people really wanted me to sing, and really wanted to hear me sing, it kinda let me know ‘Wow! Maybe I do have some sort of gift here’. There were definitely moments where I felt like I was special enough at it, that I might be able to really do it. Gosh, when you want to be an artist or a singer, it’s a hard road, it really is. I mean, not to say you can’t make it happen, because you can, obviously, but I don’t think until I actually established my career I thought ‘Wow, I can do this’. Even when it starts to happen you’re still fighting so hard to succeed, you don’t even stop to think ‘Hey, this is actually happening to me’. Does that make sense?
IP: Absolutely. Is it ever still surreal to you that your career has come such a long way in just the past few years?
ZZ: Certain moments are pretty surreal, definitely. I think doing some of the late-night shows for the first time became really surreal because you grow up watching Jay Leno on TV and then when you’re actually there and the studio is, you know, kinda small and Jay Leno is, just a person (laughs), just another person really. It is, that’s a very surreal feeling, because you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m actually here’. It seems like a much bigger deal before you actually do stuff like that. It seems very unobtainable and when you actually attain it obtain it, you know, it’s a wonderful experience, it’s just kind of like, ‘Wow, you know this isn’t quite as big of a deal as I thought it would be’.
IP: It’s been about a year and a half since you dropped your debut album ‘Til The Casket Drops’, are you currently working on a follow up?
ZZ: You know I can’t even say I’m working on a follow up because as an artist, as a writer, I don’t really think about it like that; I just write songs. So yeah, I’ve definitely been, while I’ve been off the road, I’ve actually had a chance to dive into writing music again, which reminds me how much I actually love writing music. It’s like my favorite part of everything. Having the time to do that is really wonderful to me. You want to think about what I said on ‘Til The Casket Drops’, where I was coming from, where I was at in my life, and what I felt really passionately about taking about and what I felt committed to. And now, I think getting the chance to go back into writing a bit, thinking about my life now and what I really want to talk about now. I think it starts with that because you wind up making a record and then you end of singing these songs for years. Maybe, if they are really well received, you wind up singing them your entire life. So I think it’s important to make music that you really, really feel connected to at the moment. Does that make sense?
IP: It makes a lot of sense, yeah.
ZZ: Yeah, so that’s all I think I can say about that now. I mean, I wish I could say, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking about a second album and I know exactly what it’s going to be’, but that’s just not really how it works and I think that would be unnatural. But getting back into writing has been really, really fun.
IP: Your ‘Last Love Tour’ is going to rolling into Philly this Friday (February 28th) for a show at the TLA. What can fans expect from a ZZ Ward show if they’ve never seen you perform in person before?
ZZ: I think they’ll have a great time if they’ve never seen me play before. I really love playing live. It’s something that I just really enjoy and I think that my fans get to know me a lot better from coming to my shows. Because you listen to my records, and you know that I sing and what I have to say in my music, but I think you get to meet me as a person a little bit more on stage, and get to know me a little better. I think that’s fun for people because I have a really good time on stage, mostly because of my fans. I mean, they’re the ones that come with this wonderful energy every night, in every city, and really help us pick up our energy on stage, and give them a really good show.
IP: We had a chance to catch you last summer at Firefly Festival in Delaware. What festivals are you going to be apart of this upcoming season and how does the experience of playing a festival vary from the more intimate venue setting?
ZZ: We’re playing ‘Coachella’ and we’re also playing ‘Bonnaroo’ so those are both really wonderful moments for me. I think that I’m really excited about those. I’m actually really honored to be a part of something like Coachella and Bonnaroo. I’ve never been to Bonnaroo before but I’ve certainly heard about it and I’m honored to be a part of the line-up this year. Festivals are different from regular shows in several different ways. I mean, I can’t say I like one more than the other, but I will say that you make a lot of new fans at a festival, whereas at your shows you have people coming who are already a fan. I don’t mind that at all because I grew up trying to win over crowds, so what’s the difference now (laughs)? I grew up doing it. So I think that’s exciting, being a new artist, and still having something to prove. I know other artists who have really, really, really made it, and I think they’re hungry for that still. It’s cool being a new artist and still winning over new audiences. Festivals are also really fun because you get to see a lot of different acts and a lot of new music. For me being on stage a lot, it’s just inspiring to watch somebody else’s be completely different from mine.
IP: How did you develop your love for Fedoras and, of all the ones you own, is there one that’s your favorite?
ZZ: I kind of switch on and off from one being my absolute favorite to the next one because I get bored. Fedoras kind of became my thing because it kind of helped me have a persona, in a way, on stage. It just helped me feel confident. It was that thing that I could put on when I sing and I could feel like, just a little bit more confident I think. It wasn’t something I would wear every day, you know? It’s like if you’re vulnerable in your real life, putting on the hat and not being vulnerable anymore, being on fire. But also I wear it to pay homage to Blues artists that I grew up listening to. I kind of felt like, when they hard their fedora on, it was like they were just totally, totally engulfed in the music. So it just kind of does the same thing for me.
ZZ Ward (featuring Kendrick Lamar) “Cryin’ Wolf”:
IP: It’s no secret that you’re a big fan of Hip-Hop. We were just wondering if you had your ’16 Bars’ ready just in case you ever found yourself embroiled in an impromptu rap battle?
ZZ: No. (laughs) No. I am not a rapper. I am not a rapper. That was one reason I never wanted to be a rapper because I always felt like, if you were gonna rap, you had to be able to free-style…which is not true. But no, I don’t think it’s my thing, but my brother’s really good at free-styling, he’s much better than me. That lets me know that, ‘No, I shouldn’t be a rapper’.
IP: Finally, can you tell us something about yourself that would surprise, or even shock, our readers?
ZZ: Hmmm. I grew up riding horses. They probably don’t know that. I don’t know if it would shock people because I’m from Oregon, but it’s kind of cool.
IP: Shock, no. But it might surprise them.
ZZ: (laughs) It might surprise them.
[Interview by David Miller]
You can join us at the TLA tomorrow night to catch the ‘Last Love Tour’. Featuring opening acts ‘Grizfolk’, and ‘The O’My’s’ as well as ZZ Ward (rocking a fedora), it’s sure to warm your soul on a downright freezing cold evening. You can snag advanced tickets here.