Last month, Oregon-raised singer/songwriter ZZ Ward released her premiere album, Til The Casket Drops. Distributed via Hollywood Records, the record marries the sounds of a smoky jazz club, ‘60s girl groups, and contemporary hip-hop beats. And the result is one of the most refreshing and original debuts in recent memory.
I caught up with ZZ about the release of her first album, its inspirations and collaborations, her current tour, and more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: How would you describe your unique sound to someone who has never listened to your music before?
ZZ WARD: Dirty blues and beats.
As someone who’s a relative newcomer to the big league music scene, is there an artist in particular whose career you would most like to emulate? In other words, who are your biggest idols and why?
Tom Petty, Bob Dylan or David Bowie because they wrote their own songs and had the ability to always evolve.
This past summer, you toured with Fitz & The Tantrums and with Allen Stone. Now that your album is out, what new things do fans have in store from your fall tour?
They know my songs now which makes it all the more fun. Now they can sing all the lyrics with me!
What’s the first thing you do to unwind in-between shows when you’re on the road?
I like to drink tea with honey and get in my PJ’s.
At your show at Joe’s Pub in New York in September (which I reviewed here), you mentioned that you wrote “Charlie Ain’t Home” as a response to Etta James’ “Waiting For Charlie.” What was it about that song that inspired you to want to write a follow-up to it?
Her song was so different and had such a story, it pulled me right in. The emotion in Etta’s voice is very inspiring!
After hearing your interpretations of their songs on your Eleven Roses mixtape, both Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs reached out to provide guest vocals on your album. Were you surprised when you heard they wanted to collaborate with you?
I was VERY excited both Gibbs and Kendrick wanted to collaborate. Both are so talented and I always dreamed of working with them!
In addition to those two names, Til The Casket Drops also features contributions from Ryan Tedder, Pete Rock, Theron “Neff-U” Feemster, Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest), Ludwig Goransson, Blended Babies and Fitz (of L.A..’s Fitz and the Tantrums). As a new artist, what was both the best and scariest career advice these seasoned veterans gave you?
Probably when Fitz told me how nonstop, sleepless, hard and exhausting touring would be. And when Neff-U told me to always make music that I love!
When you were 16, you started going to underground hip-hop clubs in Oregon to write and sing hooks for the rappers who were performing there. What do you find to be the biggest creative difference between writing a rap hook for someone else and a full song of your own?
If you’re writing a hook for someone then you have to kind of go into their head and help say what they are trying to say. When writing my own song, I think about what I want to say.
I imagine that October 16 was a big day for you, seeing as it marked the official release of your first full album, “Til The Casket Drops.” How did you celebrate that night?
I went out to watch Ellie Goulding’s show at the Troubadour and had sushi with my brothers.
Britney or Christina? Why?
I mean I gotta go with Christina because she is an amazing singer!
Since we’re coming off of an election, I have to ask – if you were running for President, what would your campaign slogan be?