ZZ Ward - free live performance
Saturday, February 16th 1:00 PM
ZZ Ward is someone you haven’t heard before.
Hold up, let’s amend that: With early praise from Esquire (“damn near NSFW”) and Marie Claire (“will raise goose bumps down your spine”)—not to mention buzz-building appearances at South by Southwest and on Last Call with Carson Daly—this bold new voice may indeed have captured your attention already. And if that’s the case, then surely you know the deal: ZZ Ward is doing something all her own.
She calls it “dirty shine”: the bone-deep wail of old-fashioned blues crossed with the big-city gloss of cutting-edge hip-hop. Currently based in Los Angeles, Ward forged her one-of-a-kind sound growing up in small-town Oregon—“out in the sticks in the middle of nowhere,” as she puts it. “There was nothing to do, so that gave me a whole lot of time to play around with music.”
Her dad owned a pair of Hammond B-3 organs, and she learned to play those; guitar came a little later, as did the remarkable vocals she first honed singing with a blues band at the age of 12. Then, at 16, Ward entered the world of rap—which she’d first discovered thanks to her older brother’s CD collection. Soon enough, the members of Oregon’s hip-hop scene knew exactly who Ward was, as she crafted hooks for rappers and proved her mettle as a songwriter in her own right. Part of that meant developing the confidence to be herself—to accept that her style doesn’t slot easily into any of the music industry’s current categories.
Ward’s debut full-length, Til the Casket Drops, features collaborations with Grammy Award winner Ryan Tedder and Michael Fitzpatrick (Fitz & The Tantrums), Kendrick Lamar, Freddie Gibbs, Ali Shaheed Muhammed (A Tribe Called Quest) and Pete Rock. Album standouts include “Til the Casket Drops,” inspired by Ward’s love of Alan Lomax’s influential field recordings, and the provocative “Charlie Ain’t Home,” which the singer conceived as a response to “Waiting for Charlie” by the great Etta James. Strong cuts, all—yet they scarcely prepare you for “Last Love Song,” a stunning soul ballad. “The title pretty much says it all,” she admits with a laugh. “It started to make me cry as was I writing it—that’s always a good sign.”
And so it is. But for this exciting young artist on the cusp of a breakout, those tears also serve as a reminder of where she came from. ZZ Ward hasn’t forgotten anything. Now you won’t forget her.