Although there are plenty of women reshaping rock & roll today -- St. Vincent, tUnE-yArDs, Haim, Chvrches, Grimes, Charli XCX...I could keep doing this for a while -- few are destroying the boundary lines between pop, rock, the blues, and hip-hop quite as much as Zsuzsanna Eva Ward, better known by her stage name ZZ Ward. Bursting onto the scene in 2012 as an artist with little to no precedent for her genre-melting sound, ZZ dropped her debut LP Til the Casket Drops and in the past three years, her stature in the alt-rock community has only grown and collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs have proven to just be the beginning of ZZ's redefinition of what pop and rock can be in the 2010s.
"It seems like it was not that long ago," Ward says in reference to her debut LP arriving in 2012. "I'm more confident as an artist now, which I hope I would be after that much touring...When you first go out onto the road, you're thrown into it like a tornado and you're just like "oh my gosh. Where does this go, and where do I get off and how does this work?" It's just crazy, being thrown into it. You just learn as you go."
At 29 years old, it's not hard to imagine the difficult transition ZZ has faced as she's rocketed towards sudden fame, including a stint last year touring the major American festival circuit. "Festivals are so fun! Touring was awesome for different reasons. All your fans are there, they love you, they want to have a party with you. At my shows, people sing the lyrics to every song on the album. It's just a sing along;it's incredible...I've played some of my biggest numbers at festivals, so you play for massive amounts of people and that's really fun."
ZZ has even been able to tour briefly with Eric Clapton...which it only takes one listen to the bluesier numbers on Til the Casket Drops to hear the influence Slowhands had on her style. "Eric is such a badass, like he would literally drive up to the show in a black Escalade. He'd walk on the stage, play, and then the black Escalade would wait for him behind the stage, and he would walk off the stage after he sold out the show and then he'd just get in the car and leave."
But it's not enough to make a career to simply get famous as one of the new faces of women in rock & roll. You have to continue on that success, and ZZ's next record, This Means War which is due out next year, shows an artist pushing the boundaries of her own craft. On the album's lead single, "Love 3X" -- which some folks might call poppier than her usual output -- ZZ pushed back at the notion that writing a pop song is incompatible with writing a great song. "To me, I love great songs. I don't care if they're alternative, I don't care if they're pop, I don't care if they're blues, I don't care if they're rock. To me, I'm trying to write great songs. I'm trying to write songs that I grew up listening to, that were the greatest songs I felt like I'd ever heard...when I was writing that song, I wasn't thinking, 'Oh, I want it to be a pop song.' What's a pop song?"
And although ZZ isn't afraid to admit that she's attempting to reach a wider audience on this record, those fans who were first drawn to her thanks to her collaborations with Kendrick Lamar or Freddie Gibbs shouldn't be worried because she promises there are more hip-hop elements to come on the new record. And for those who are a fans of her bluesier tunes, the second single from This Means War is absolutely a return to the bluesy sound that helped bring her fame in the first place.
The Love And War EP is due out at the end of this month, and fans will have to wait until March of next year for the This Means War LP -- an album title whose confrontational and aggressive nature ZZ directly acknowledged in our conversation. But for ZZ's fans, a group whose numbers grow daily, the wait should be worth it.