ZZ Ward has flourished as a unique figure in the rock and blues music world since her 2012 debut album, Til The Casket Drops, was released. The singer/songwriter/guitarist was born in Abington, Pennsylvania and relocated to Roseburg, Oregon at the age of 8. Since then, she has collaborated with artists like Kendrick Lamar and has opened for Eric Clapton on his 2014 tour. Ward is currently on her Love and War tour in support of her new EP, Love & War. Her 2nd full length album, This Means War, is due out in early 2016. Ryan Quint talked with ZZ Ward on behalf of 215mag.
Conversation with ZZ Ward
ZZ Ward talks Philadelphia homecoming, tour life, and more
Ryan Quint: Both of your parents are from the Philly area — Your mom is from Germantown and your dad is from Richboro. I know you moved to Oregon at a pretty young age but I want to know what impact Philadelphia has had on your music career and even though you moved at such a young age, do you still consider this a homecoming show for you?
ZZ Ward: Yeah, in some ways I do. I feel like where I moved to, I was definitely the oddball out. Especially for my brother, who was 16. He had a very hard East Coast accent and I always felt like I was little bold. I had that chutzpah. I think I got that from my parents being from this area. We’re strong and confident and I definitely think I stuck out from that because of where I moved to. A lot of my family’s history is from Philadelphia too. My dad used to hang out at TLA all the time.
Do you have any lasting memories from your time in Philadelphia?
Yeah, my family was from Bucks County so we would go to the reservoir there all the time. Also, I went to Holland Elementary and my brother went to Council Rock. I went back to my old house (in Bucks County), the owners let me in and they showed me the house and it was so much smaller than I remembered (laughing) because I was a little kid. They still had the board in it where my parents would write down our height in the basement, it was crazy.
You’re about half way through the tour, how has it been going so far and for people who have never been to a ZZ Ward show, what can people expect to see?
Awesomeness. It’s been going really well. The turnouts have been better than I ever expected because I’ve been away for over a year working on my album so to come out and have people so, so excited about my music has felt really rewarding. It’s been an amazing tour so far. And we are halfway through it, I had a little break in New York. I did Fashion Week for the first time which was such a different world than what I’m doing right now being on tour so it was a really cool juxtaposition.
You’ve performed at huge festivals like Made in America, Coachella, Bonnaroo and even opened up for Eric Clapton. How do those huge shows compare to your solo tours and which do you prefer?
Yeah, it’s very different but sometimes festivals can be really magical moments also. We played Firefly Festival in Delaware and that was the most people I’ve ever played for. I think it was about 15,000 or something. When I went to soundcheck, no one was out there and I was hoping that people would come but then when I walked on stage to perform, I started to realize that more and more people were showing up and I actually had a moment where I got really nervous. So festivals like that can be really exciting but obviously club shows are just my fans so there’s a lot of love there too. It is fun at festivals though because I get to see other bands and artists and get inspired by them which is cool.
So I just read the story about how you pretty much found out you were Jewish when you were 27? Please tell me more about that story because I think its fascinating…
So, my grandmother’s last name is Friedman, which made it pretty obvious but she hid it her whole life because she lived through the Holocaust. She was actually in a line to go to the concentration camps when she escaped. And I actually found out when I met my manager because he’s Jewish and he was curious about me. I told him my grandmother’s last name and he said “well then you’re Jewish.” So I kept asking my grandmother about it and finally she said that she had been a Catholic for a certain amount of years that didn’t add up to her age (laughing). She had converted to save her family. It’s very interesting. I go to Temple for holidays and I’m still learning about all of it. I’m doing Passover and Rosh Hashanah for the first time and a fan of mine got me a Shofar which was fun. I’m proud of it, it’s exciting.
I have to mention your Fedora and how it has become a signature look for you — when did you start wearing fedoras and did you know from the beginning that it’d be a huge part of you look?
I was just trying to be like blues artists that I grew up listening to. I was scared to get on stage when I was little so I just wanted to be like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and they always had fedoras on. So I have always tried to embody that and now I feel like it would be really strange if I went on stage without it. Plus, people don’t really get excited if I don’t have my hat on. Literally, I was outside of the tour bus before and fans were asking for pictures and I didn’t have my hat on and they would come back after the show and ask me to take another picture with my hat on.
It’s pretty similar to James Bay’s situation and how he has become associated with always wearing a fedora.
It’s so funny. I brought James on his first U.S. tour. He opened for me and he’s really taken off, I’m so proud of him.
Your songs have been in TONS of TV shows and movies including Pretty Little Liars, Shameless, Awkward, Degrassi, The View, Veronica Mars, We’re the Millers soundtrack & tons more — Sync deals are often overlooked in music, did you or your team specifically target sync deals with your music or did it happen naturally?
It just happened! I never would have expected to get so many of my songs in movies and tv shows. A lot of people have heard my music through Pretty Little Liars or through We’re The Millers. There’s so many shows that have used my music, it’s really been amazing. It’s just exciting to go to the movies and hear your songs there.
You’ve worked with Current rappers like Kendrick Lamar & Freddie Gibbs, legendary producers like Pete Rock and Ali Shaheed Muhammad and upcoming rappers like Pell, who Im a huge fan of. You’re dad was also in a blues band. Did this love for Hip-Hop come from your father and his musical background?
Actually, no. My love for Hip-Hop came from my big brother. He used to blast Jay-Z and Nas in his bedroom and my parents never used to let me listen to it so naturally I would take his CD’s and I just fell in love with their passion for the lyrics and music.
I know one of your dream collaborations is with Pharrell, who else in the Hip-Hop community would be on that wish list?
Well Pharrell is definitely still on that list but I actually got to work with S1 who has produced with Kanye before. He produced “Power” by Kanye! It was so inspiring working with him and just seeing how dedicated he was. So I guess if I had to pick anyone else for a dream collaboration it would be Kanye.
I’ve read a lot of comparisons about your Hip-Hop and Blues influences to Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly — do you feel as though that’s a fair comparison?
Yeah, I mean Kendrick is incredible. What I really love about Kendrick is that he does what he wants to do musically. I think his fans appreciate that about him too. People had some negative opinions about the album, which they always do, but he did what every artist dreams of doing which was creating an album that reflected who he was and what his musical vision was.
Lastly, the Love & War EP came out in August, your 2nd full-length LP is due out this upcoming March — How do you feel this new LP is different sonically than the first album?
So many people related to my first album and for that to happen, it made me feel even more confident to go further into my artistry. To, again, go and talk about what’s happening in my life and ask myself what moment in time am I at right now? So I feel like I really captured that on the new album. I’ve gone further into the blues and further into Hip-Hop on my 2nd album so I’m really proud of it.
Remaining Love and War Tour Dates at www.zzward.com