ZZ Ward is not who you expect her to be.
The singer/songwriter born, Zsuzsanna Eva Ward has a voice that can only be best described as lacking manners. Its not soft and Its not gentle. Her husky voice is in your face, its strong and most of all, undeniable. The 27-year-old fell in love with the blues while working with her father’s band and in between practice, would steal her brother’s Outkast, Biggie and Jay Z CDs.
Now signed to Hollywood records, this musical hybrid is slowly, but surely making a name for herself. GIANTLife.com only had 12 minutes with the chanteuse but we chopped it up about everything from her love for Big Mama Thorton to how she, a white girl from Oregon, was able to relate to some of hip-hop’s finest lyricist and how she convinced a certain West Coast rapper to hop on a song with her.
ZZ might be all of 5’3, but that voice of hers makes her at least eight feet tall. Everyone, say wassup to ZZ Ward.
GIANTLife.com Why don’t you describe your sound for me. Who is ZZ Ward?
ZZ Ward: Well for me, I would say its back porch blues meets hip-hop. That’s the way that I would describe my music.
GIANTLife.com: When I did some research on you, I learned you joined your father’s band when you were 12 years old. What was that like?
ZZ Ward: Yeah, I played with his blues band and the first song I sang was an Albert King song that’s called “As The Years Go Passing By” It was a really good experience for me. I learned how to play with musicians at a really young age. I learned how to give solos to different people and how to play with other musicians, so yeah, it was a wonderful experience.
GIANTLife.com: So who are some of your musical inspirations?
ZZ Ward: On the blues side of things my parents used to listen to Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thorton, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. I was really attracted to strong female voices, that was my shit. Tina Turner singing the blues, Etta James the list goes on. On the hip-hop side of things I would steal my brother’s Nas and Jay Z CDs. I loved Outkast and Biggie Smalls and Snoop Dogg and Missy Elliot. I was always into both styles of music. The blues for the authenticity and the rawness of it and the emotion I felt from it. In regards to hip-hop it made feel drive. I mean obviously, what they were rapping about was different from what I experienced growing up in the middle of nowhere in Oregon [LAUGHS] It’s not like I was going through the same things they were talking about, but I felt really driven through that music.
GIANTLife.com: Tell me about your project Eleven Roses?
ZZ Ward: It was kind of like this fun little project I started to do. I wasn’t taking it seriously at all. I was just writing my record and the first song I heard on this mix tape was Tyler The Creator’s “Yonkers” and there really was no big thought process behind it. When I heard the chorus to Yonkers, it sounded like an instrumental and I just started singing this melody over it, which became “Better Off Dead.” I kept doing it because it was fun and it opened up different creative channels for me. It helped to get my mind out of writing for the album. I did some more records and I ended up putting it out. By that point no one knew who I was anyway, so it’s not like I had anything to lose [LAUGHS]
GIANTLife.com: So Is that how the Kendrick Lamar, “Crying Wolf” collab came about?
ZZ Ward: It definitely had something to do with it. These guys like [Freddie] Gibbs and Kendrick obviously heard what I did and I wanted them to be a part of my record. That’s the cool thing about hip-hop, things get recycled and things get reused. Me flipping his song “Oil Money” and writing a song over called “Criminal” and then him actually getting back on and putting a verse on the song, totally sick! With Kendrick, he heard crying wolf and wanted to be a part of it. It was one of my most obscure songs on my record, which was so magical he was on it and he just owned it. He went into the song that didn’t necessarily need a verse on it but he made it.
GIANTLife.com: Were you nervous how your voice would be received coming into the industry?
ZZ Ward: Not really. I think that happens a lot. I get a lot of people who say ‘I didn’t think you would look the way you look by the way that you sing.’ People are surprised by the way I sound and by the way I look. I don’t see the way that I look, I just feel the way that I feel and music resonates with me a certain way and that’s just how I choose to express myself. I wasn’t really nervous going into it. I always knew I was going to do music and I wanted to be a recording artist. Either they take me or they leave me.
GIANTLife.com: If you could work with anybody, dead or alive, who would be your dream collaborations?
ZZ Ward: I would like to play with Muddy Waters. That would be sick. I would love to sing with Tina Turner, that would be amazing. I would like to work with Salaam Remi. I would also like to work with Azealia Banks, I’m a big fan of hers.
GIANTLife.com: I was looking at some pictures of you and noticed that you have a lot of hats. Why is that?
ZZ Ward: [LAUGHS] I love Fedoras. I have more than 60 of ‘em and I’ve started my own Fedora line. Its my way of paying homage to the blues and the music I grew up listening to. It also makes me feel comfortable on stage when I’m performing.
GIANTLife.com: Last question, what’s the best piece of advice anyone in this industry has given you?
ZZ Ward: Evan Bogart told me to not care about what anyone thinks of your music and that really stuck with me.
ZZ Ward Talks Working With K.Dot. Freddie Gibbs And All Those Hats! was originally published on giantmag.com