To listen to ZZ Ward is to hear two distinct worlds colliding in explosive fashion. See, the native Oregonian's first love is The Blues. As a teenager, she initially found her voice performing in her father's blues band. College though would introduce ZZ to hip hop, her voice peppering the hooks and choruses of local musicians in Eugene OR. Eventually, she would find ways to embrace both sides of her musical identity; a profound feat on display all over her recent debut album, Til the Casket Drops. Recently, ZZ brought a few of that album's choice tracks by Baeble, soothing over the nitty gritty rockers in us in the process. With sideman Erick Walls by her side and a classic fedora cropped neatly on top, the 24 year old musician performed stripped down versions of "Put the Gun Down", "Charlie Ain't Home", and "365 Days". With her timeless, smoky voice, dusty blues-infused rhythms, and some serious, hip hop swagger, we think you'll find ZZ Ward to be a unique force to be reckoned with.
I got ten things - I got into music through my parents and my brother. My parents were really into the blues, so they would listen to Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. And then my brother loved hip-hop. So, I would often steal his Nas and Jay Z CDs. You know, I like both kinds of music for different reasons. You know, I love the sincerity of the singers in blues and I love the stories of hip-hop. Your clothes out on the blacktop Scattered suits on the street Frames and broken pictures in the mid-September heat We set these nights on fire So hot, we burned it down Now all that's left of us is ashes on the ground I told you back in June You knew damn well what I would do Three hundred sixty five days You been making me wait So keep your two-timing games It's a lot of too late The Summer's over, over, over Over, over, over Drop your keys from six stories Shout out, it's raining green Don't tell lies in heaven or an angel will get mean Diamonds and white gold watches Watch how fast they will soar You always said you wanted to give back to the poor I told you back in June You knew damn well what I would do Three hundred sixty five days You been making me wait So keep your two-timing games It's a lot of too late The Summer's over, over, over Over, over, over I won't be your debutante Won't be the fool to your savant I can't fix your cracked up dreams While the leaves fall off these trees I won't spend the Winter nights Holding on to what ain't right You might break your words real fast But mine are made to last Three hundred sixty five days You been making me wait So keep your two-timing games It's a lot of too late The Summer's over, over, over Over, over Three hundred sixty five days You been making me wait So keep your two-timing games It's a lot of too late The Summer's over, over, over Over, over, over now Over, over Over, over Over, over Over now - My new album is called Til The Casket Drops. I think that the most important thing I kinda realize when making this record was you have to make music that you like to listen to. You know, like when I get into my car I'm listening to hip-hop, like I can't be making music that's so far away from that. But then I can't wait to get my car and listen to, you know, something else. So I really kind of... when I was making this record, it was really fun because I just got to create music that I love. I'm inspired by a lot of different artist for different reasons. I mean, voices like Big Mama Thornton and Etta James and Tina Turner, I was always very inspired by their, you know, their female, you know, power voices. Songwriters like Tom Petty and David Bowie who'd always write their own music, you know, that always really inspired me. And then, you know, the hip-hop, Jay Z to Nas and stories about, you know, them kind of getting out of where they were and becoming something more. Mm, mm-mm-mm Yeah Golden honey drippin' from this house Black stilettos on a leather couch Tight blue jeans stickin' tight like glue Soakin' wet, drink it up like juice Come on, come on, come on Come on, come on, come on Lay me down on sheets of cotton, whoa, whoa You make me feel like I could fly, whoa, whoa Headlights on the bedpost, we ain't stoppin', no, no If you forgot, I'll tell you why 'Cause Charlie ain't home Ooh, ooh, ooh, Charlie ain't home Ooh, ooh Ooh, Charlie ain't home Yeah ah, whoa I dig my fingertips into your back Till the pictures break and the floorboards crack Oh, my tongue is a silver key Swimmin' deep in a sinner's sea Come on, come on, come on Come on, come on, come on Lay me down on sheets of cotton, whoa, whoa You make me feel like I could fly, whoa, whoa Headlights on the bedpost, we ain't stoppin', no, no If you forgot, I'll tell you why 'Cause Charlie ain't home Ooh, ooh Ooh, Charlie ain't home Ooh, ooh Ooh, Charlie ain't home Oh, Charlie, Charlie Please let that boy go, darlin' It wasn't his fault, it was mine Oh, Charlie, Charlie He didn't know no better I should have listened, you were right Whoa Whoa Whoa Lay me down on sheets of cotton, whoa, whoa You make me feel like I could fly whoa, whoa Headlights on the bedpost, we ain't stoppin' If you forgot, I'll tell you why 'Cause Charlie ain't home Ooh, ooh Ooh, Charlie ain't home Ooh, ooh Ooh, Charlie ain't home Ooh, ooh Ooh, Charlie ain't home Ooh, ooh Ooh, Charlie ain't home - You know, I really do have a good time playing. I mean, I should. I mean, I do it all the time. But, I mean, when I was growing up and I was playing music with my dad, like it was, like that was fun for us so it's something we really enjoyed. So, when I'm playing with my band, or I'm playing with Eric, I just... I really love it. I think it's fun. You're on the edge of your seat the whole time. You know, you don't know that it's always gonna be great, and so it's kind of exhilarating. And, yeah, you know, I play with some incredible musicians, so it's fun. I think that, and I feel it a lot at our shows, we've been on tour right now. And I think people come out and it's a really great experience for them. I think they have a really great time and songs that I have lot of people come up to me and tell me that like my album's helping them get through tough situation or tough relationship or a tough break up. I think, you know, I see a lot of people smiling at my shows, like it's something that makes them feel good, so it makes me feel good too. Ooh, ooh I got ten fingers to the sky My back to the wall, my white flag high Hair, lips, just like a gun She's got silver bullets on her tongue He's deep under her spell I'm screamin' out, but it just won't help I think I'm cursed I had him first Adeline, have mercy You don't wanna break my heart Take what's mine, don't hurt me Steal my money, steal my car Don't take my man, don't take my man I said, don't take my man 'cause you know you can Put the gun down, ooh Put the gun down, ooh She stole my man, took him from me She's got crimson eyes, a screamin' body Face is young, she must taste sweet She drops those panties to her knees Walkin' on my happy home She won't give up until I'm gone I think I'm cursed I had him first Adeline, have mercy You don't wanna break my heart Take what's mine, don't hurt me Steal my money, steal my car Don't take my man, don't take my man I said, don't take my man 'cause you know you can Put the gun down, ooh Put the gun down, ooh Put the gun down, put the gun down Got you in there on a trigger now Put the gun down, put the gun down Or I'ma set fire to the whole damn house Put it down, put it down Put it down, put it down Whoa, oh, Adeline Adeline, have mercy You don't wanna break my heart Take what's mine, don't hurt me Steal my money, steal my car Don't take my man, don't take my man I said, don't take my man 'cause you know you can Ooh Put the gun down, ooh Put the gun down, ooh Ooh, put the gun down
ZZ Ward didn't have to look far for inspiration on her second full-length album, 2017's The Storm. Equally evocative of blues grit with a hip-hop backbone, the Los Angeles-based vocal powerhouse and multi-instrumentalist leapt forward by taking a deeper look at some of her earliest inspirationsincluding Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, and Vera Ward Hall and Big Mama Thornton.
"For me, this album wasn't really about experimenting," she admits. "It was more about simplicity, honing in on what I love about music and what makes me who I am as an artist. Growing up, I listened to a lot of hip-hop and blues, and I love those two genres so much. Sometimes, to evolve you don't need to go outside of yourself; you can reach further inside of yourself instead."
It's a realization earned over a whirlwind five years. The Fedora-rocking, guitar-playing, harmonica-wielding blues siren peppered an old backporch musical recipe with hip-hop urgency and hashtaggable wisdom on her 2012 mixtape Eleven Roses. Followed by her full-length debut Til The Casket Drops yielded a veritable hit in the form of "Put The Gun Down." The latter generated 7.4 million-plus Spotify streams and held strong in the Top 10 of AAA radio for 10 weeks as well as receiving over 100 high-profile licensing placements and syncs, including the feature film We're The Millers. Kendrick Lamar ["Cryin Wolf"] and Freddie Gibbs ["Criminal"] were quick to collaborate, while Rolling Stone, Guitar World, Elle, Interview Magazine, USA Today, NPR and more extolled her. She lit up the screen on Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!, Conan, Good Morning America, The Tonight Show, The View, and many others and practically set stages ablaze on tours with Eric Clapton, Gary Clark, Jr., and Fitz & The Tantrums and at Coachella, Bonnaroo, Firefly, and Made In America.
Coming off the road, she decided to open up more than ever before.
"All of my favorite artists would tell real stories," she goes on. "I wanted to talk about similar things that were close to my heart. Every song became something I experienced. I've had my slew of disappointing relationships, times when I was pissed off, heart broken and times when I felt a false senses of euphoria. There are times when you struggle with yourself or with somebody else. I wanted to pour all of those emotions into my music, stay true to my roots, and tap into what inspired me in the first place."
Capturing this vision, ZZ recorded around L.A. at different studios and at home over the course of 2015 and 2016. She re-teamed with previous collaborators such as Blended Babies [Chance the Rapper, Kid Cudi], Neff-U [Eminem, Dr Dre], and Michael Fitzpatrick of Fitz & The Tantrums in addition to Warren "Oak" Felder of Pop & Oak [Alessia Cara] for the first time. "It was all about getting that raw emotion," she exclaims.
The first new single "The Deep" [feat. Joey Purp] emerged as a welcome surprise for fans, bottling the creative burst of confessional crooning and clever rap wordplay that defined Eleven Roses. A sample of The Charmels' "As Long As I've Got You" draped in classic slide guitar scorches as ZZ sings, "Don't know how much I can take, but I need it" before finger-snaps elevate the harmony. Kicking off 2017, W called it, "her most candid body of work yet," and The Fader praised its "spectacular effect."
"'The Deep' is about feeling trapped in a relationship that I knew was no good for me," she sighs. "I met someone that made me lose control of myself. When I wrote the song, we noticed something really haunting about The Charmels' 'As Long As I've Got You,' and we just had to sample it. I thought Joey would be perfect to bring a fiery passion and flavor to the song."
Elsewhere on the record, she serves up a gospel-style plea on the stirring and stark "Help Me Mama." "'Help Me Mama' is about my personal revelation that not everything in life is what it seems. Growing up I had expectations about what my relationships should be like with other people, the world and even myself. Realizing nothing would ever be perfect. I had to take control of my life and, unlike when I was a kid, Mama isn't always around to solve my problems.
Her booming delivery on "Cannonball" [featuring 2017 Grammy-Award winning contemporary blues artist Fantastic Negrito] belies a delicate admission of admittedly being used by someone to pass the time.
Meanwhile, "Domino" [feat. Michael Fitzpatrick of Fitz & The Tantrums] hits us right in the heart. "Fitz and I wrote this song about recurring relationships that we'd had in our pasts that left us feeling unsatisfied," she adds. "I spent many sleepless nights feeling like there was something more out there for me. This song talks about the hopeless journey I faced trying to find the right person."
In the end, The Storm represents ZZ at her core. "This album as a whole really reflects much of the internal and external conflict that I've experienced. I feel like I dug deeper into what means the most to me," she leaves off. "I hope that my stories connect with people out there and help them know they aren't alone in these struggles. That's what I can give to the world. Storms come and storms pass, it's how you weather them that defines you and makes you stronger."