Dirty Shine: An Interview with ZZ Ward

Queen of combining soulful blues with just the right amount of hip-hop, ZZ Ward is an up and coming artist not to miss. Her powerful, catchy tunes are appropriate for nearly any situation and provide endless hours of musical enjoyment. You’ll find yourself channeling your inner soulful temptress and belting them out along with ZZ after only a few listens. Her debut album Till the Casket Drops (Listen Here!) is a great mix of fast and slow, exploring the ins and outs of her past relationships. Never without her signature Fedora, ZZ embodies the sincerity of blues while maintaining the undeniable swagger of hip-hop.

I got a chance to catch up with ZZ before the Philadelphia stop on her ‘Fire and Shine Tour’ with Delta Rae.

S: How did you get your start in music?

ZZ: My dad was into music. He was into the blues a lot and got me into the blues really young. He played in a blues band in Oregon. Also, when we lived in Pennsylvania, he had a studio and he was always in their working on music. I kind of saw it from a young age. Then I started singing in his blues band in Oregon and kind of got into music that way.

S: You’re music is a great balance of blues, hip-hop, and pop. How do you combine them all together and where do they come from?

ZZ: I got into Hip-hop through my older brother. He really liked Naz and Jay-Z and I followed in his footsteps with that. I used to steal his CDs when he was done listening to them. I kind of got into hip-hop that way. I just really think that trying to make music that you love listening to is really important as an artist. I was always listening to hip-hop and blues and my sound just kind of became a mash-up of the two.

S: In mashing your styles together, what does your songwriting process look like?

ZZ: It’s a little different every time. It’s always easier if you have a concept first before you start writing. But sometimes you don’t. Sometimes I come up with melodies first and then end up putting lyrics in there later. A lot of things that I wrote, I wrote in my apartment with guitar and piano. Some things I wrote over tracks for the record too. So, it just depends.

S: Does where you are influence what you write about?

ZZ: Not so much where I’m at. Usually the relationships I’ve had influence what I’m writing about regardless if it is in Oregon or in LA.

S: On this last record, Till the Casket Drops, what did you enjoy most about making it?

ZZ: It was really fun pushing myself with writing, pushing myself and seeing what I could come up with. Also the collaborations on my record were really fun. So, collaborating with Kendrick Lamar, Freddie Gibbs, Ryan Tedder, Fitz from Fitz and the Tantrums. Those were really fun too because seeing how other artist and producers work really inspired me.

S: Do you hope to do more collaborating on your next record

ZZ: Yeah I hope so. I’d love to collaborate with Azealia Banks or Gary Clark Jr. or Salaam Remi. That would be amazing.

S: Your music has been featured on ‘Gates’ and ‘Pretty Little Liars.’ How has your music being on TV affected your career so far?

ZZ: Well, its really cool having my music on TV and different TV shows. I haven’t actually gotten to see a lot of them on TV because I’m usually working or touring and I don’t watch a lot of TV. But, I have fans that come up to me after shows and say that heard about me through hearing my music on TV or through Pretty Little Liars. That’s really great. It’s awesome just hearing that my music is getting out there through different sources.

S: So you seem to have a sort of mantra: “Dirty Shine.” What does it mean to you?

ZZ: “Dirty Shine” means embracing your authentic self. For me, writing this record really was finally me just making the music that I wanted to make and when I stopped thinking about what other people would like and just made music that I love. So for me, that’s what “Dirty Shine” means and that’s where it came from. It came from a conversation with my manager. I moved out to LA and I wasn’t sure where I should start or what kind of music I could be making. He just said don’t think about what other people like or what they want. Just make music that you love.

S: You are bringing your “Dirty Shine” back to South by Southwest (SXSW) this year. What are you looking forward to about going this year having been there before?

ZZ: Its interesting coming back after being there my first time last year. I’m excited about it. Not only that I’ve been there before but what happened in this year has been incredible. I’m looking forward to playing down there.

S: After SXSW and the rest of the Fire and Shine Tour, You have a bunch of festivals to play this summer. What is different for you about playing to smaller indoor crowds and festivals?

ZZ: Its very different! I haven’t done a lot of festivals like this in a row. So it will be really interesting. Playing outdoor festivals is very different than playing inside clubs. I enjoy the versatility of it all. You always have to be on your toes as an artist. The challenges of a new audience is always fun.

S: There is a recent video of you singing on a Southwest flight. How did that come about and what was that experience like?

ZZ: That was pretty wild, honestly. I didn’t really know what to expect and I didn’t know how it was going to be singing at 30,000 feet. It was cool just to say that I’ve done it. It was also really fun surprising the passengers because they had no idea we were doing. I should have expected that elevation would affect me. I mean the elevation when we play certain parts of Colorado is really high and makes it harder to breathe. So, when we were playing at 30,000 feet, I was getting really tired really fast. But it was a really fun experience. We stayed on board afterwards to talk to the pilots and everybody was thanking us.

S: What’s next on your agenda?

ZZ: We have those festival dates. I’m getting a puppy (A pic of ZZ and her puppy!)

as soon as we’re done with this tour and I’m really excited about that. He’s going to be a road dog. There’s always new things happening though and I can’t wait to find out what they are!

After you get your groove on listening to her sultry music, check out ZZ Ward at:

Promotional photo credited to ZZ Ward

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