Earlier this year I began falling in love with Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar, and I was lucky enough to have one of our music-savvy readers point me in the direction of a song Kendrick had with ZZ Ward. PITNBR Jess officially put me on to the bluesy, hip-hop, bone-chilling amazingness that is Cryin’ Wolf and voila! Another ZZ Ward fan was immediately born (in me, lol). Since her debut album Til The Casket Drops was released back in October, ZZ‘s been compared to artists like Joss Stone and Duffy, but I can safely say that I’ve never heard anything like her. But I get the comparisons. I mean, it’s sorta like Joss Stone had a baby girl with Adele, and that baby grew up and listened to a lot of Lauryn Hill, and Nas, and Odd Future, and Earth Wind and Fire. And then that baby girl made ‘Til The Casket Drops, lol. Anyway, I love this album and I still cannot believe I actually got to chat with such an amazing talent. Click inside to read our exclusive interview with an artist who truly is the next big thing– ZZ Ward!
PITNB: So I know that you come from a family of musicians and performers. Do you think you were kinda destined to go this route?
ZZ WARD: When we moved from Pennsylvania to Oregon I just really got into the Blues and my dad got into a local Blues band. My dad was always a songwriter, and so I guess maybe I was destined in some way. I mean it comes very natural in our family. My dad and I would always sing together in public, and he taught me when I was young that it was fun to get in front of people and perform. I think that definitely has helped me with what I want to do with my life.
PITNB: Now, according to your Wiki page, you come from a very multi-cultural background– African-American, Irish, Mexican, German, Jewish, Cherokee and–
ZZ WARD: No. What?! No. Does it really say that (laughing)?
PITNB: (laughing) Uh, yes. It does. So… no?
ZZ WARD: (laughing) No! Oh my gosh, no. I’m Jewish and I’m white. That’s about it!
PITNB: Well I’m glad I asked.
ZZ WARD: (still laughing) Well, it’s very exciting to hear that it actually says that about me.
PITNB: I think somebody just listened to your music and thought There’s gotta be some black in there, there’s gotta be a little bit of this and that, and just assigned you all these different nationalities based on that. It’s probably a compliment to your music. But that ixnays my question about cultural influences, so we’ll just move on. Let’s talk a little bit about Blues! One of the songs that I really love on the album is Blue Eyes Blind. Obviously we can hear the Blues influence in your work, but I also hear hints of Gospel– which makes sense, since the Blues comes out of the Gospel tradition. But I was wondering if you had any experience with Gospel music at all.
ZZ WARD: Not really. I mean I definitely feel connected with soul music and really anything soulful. I grew up listening to a lot of the Blues, so I would say it’s more my Blues influence that’s in there. I loved vocalists like Etta James, Tina Turner, and Big Mama Thornton. I just really love powerful female vocalists. And the Blues just kinda resonated with me because of the sincerity of the Blues.
ZZ WARD: I wrote Blue Eyes Blind with Ludwig Gorannson and he produced it. And I just kinda went in and strung some chords together for the chorus melody. And then he came in and he dropped this beat for the chorus and I was like I love that! We have to do it! I also have a big background in Hip-Hop. I loved Nas and Jay-Z growing up. So Blue Eyes Blind is definitely one of those songs that brings those two loves of mine together.
PITNB: Well, our readers know me for being kind of a Hip-Hop head, which is why one of them pointed me in the direction of your song with Kendrick Lamar [Cryin' Wolf]. I loved the song because I felt like I’d never heard anything like it, and it was such a unique collaborative effort. Normally when someone collabs with a rapper, it’s like an R&B song and the rapper comes and jumps on and does a verse, but you and Kendrick flowed so well together. It had that awesome call-and-response feel to it, that kinda reminded me of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. So yeah, I just love that song and was wondering if you could talk a little bit about working with Kendrick.
ZZ WARD: Definitely. Well, I still feel like Cryin’ Wolf is one of the most obscure songs on my record, just because of the subject matter. I had this idea for a song. I think it’s Maceo from The O’Mys who was singing on the track, and when I first heard him he was really drunk in the studio (laughs) singin’ that part. And when I heard him, I started running with this idea of a person– that’s drunk– coming after me and so I called it Cryin’ Wolf.
ZZ WARD: So I still feel like it’s one of the most unique stories on the record.
PITNB: Right, because not a lot of listeners would know the back story to it.
ZZ WARD: Right. So I had flipped Kendrick‘s song on my mixtape [Eleven Roses]. I also flipped a Freddie Gibbs song and both of them heard about what I was doing. They liked the mixtape and that’s how Kendrick got on it. And he– I mean, he just murdered it in my opinion.
PITNB: (Laughing) Agreed.
ZZ WARD: Especially coming onto a song that was so unique and really had its own story to it. He just really came on and made it his own.
PITNB: Now Lil’ Darlin’ is another song that I want to talk about. That one is so erotic! And when I first heard it, I thought Okay. She really does have a sense for the Blues. Because sometimes the Blues is just straight sex… but it can also be very subtle. So with this song I was wondering if you sat down and said I want this song to be sexy, I want it to have this erotic vibe, or did it just turn out that way?
ZZ WARD: I wrote a lot of these songs in my apartment and that one was definitely very bluesy. It’s the one song on the record where you could just walk into a smokey Blues bar and just sing it! The lyrics in it, just like with a lot of Blues song, are open to interpretation, so it could be everyone’s story for sure.
PITNB: The collaborations really blew me away on the album. Who are some other artists that you’d like to work with in the future?
ZZ WARD: Oh, I’d love to work with The Black Keys, Jack White.
PITNB: Yesss! I so hear the Jack White collabo.
ZZ WARD: I’d love to work with Kanye West. I get really excited when I think about what could happen with the second record.
PITNB: So what’s next for you?
ZZ WARD: I’m going out on tour with Delta Rae. They’re an awesome new band that’s been making a lot of noise.
PITNB: That’s amazing! I’m sure it’ll be exhausting but it’s always cool to do what you love. Again, ZZ, I loved the album and I can’t wait to share all this with our readers. Thanks so much for chatting with me today!
ZZ WARD: Thank you! It’s been great.