Last year, bluesy belter ZZ Ward released new music in three different formats – a mixtape, an EP and a full-length album. This year, she’s co-headlined a tour with Delta Rae and appeared on Conan and Good Morning America. We asked about her musical apprenticeship singing in bars as a kid, the music she listens to when no one is around, and her favorite rap lyricists.
There was an article recently comparing you to Rickie Lee Jones. How did you feel about that?
I think it’s really flattering to be compared to Rickie Lee Jones. She had really good style and she also had a really strong identity, so it’s an honor to be compared to her.
Has ZZ Top sent you a cease and desist letter, or welcomed you into the fold?
No! I haven’t heard anything from ZZ Top, but I love their beards and their music and I can’t wait to meet them.
You began playing in bars with your dad when you were twelve. That’s impressive.
I’d always go to my dad’s shows and watch him play with his band, and I would usually be singing at the same time. I think at some point my dad just asked, “Why don’t you sing a song with us?” and then it just happened. We used to play four-hour bar sets. We’d play for a really long time and the bartenders used to draw big X’s on my hand.
Your song “Put The Gun Down” was featured on Nashville recently. What do you think of the show?
I haven’t gotten to watch the show yet since I’ve been on the road, but I think it looks like a very fierce show. I love Nashville the city, and if it represents that at all, then it’s gotta be awesome.
Who are some rappers you consider brilliant lyricists, and why?
Jay-Z is a brilliant lyricist, because he twists words around to create his own definition. He uses words in different ways and it’s incredibly creative. I think Nas is as well. With Illmatic he makes you feel connected to him. He can use those lyrics to make the listener feel closer to him, and I admire that a lot.
What do you like to listen to in your off hours?
Sometimes I listen to Taylor Swift in between listening to Kendrick Lamar and Lupe Fiasco when I’m running on the treadmill.
What’s your typical approach to songwriting?
Usually I try to get concepts first. If I can get that first, it usually makes things easier and faster when writing a song. Good concept is key.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Diane Warren is an incredible songwriter because she writes the most ripping-out-your-heart ballads. Evan Bogart is also an incredible songwriter. I think he’s very diverse. He can write a fun pop song and also a huge ballad.
When did you start writing songs? What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
The first song I ever wrote was when I was 14. It was called “Collapse.” I wrote it on a Hammond B3 organ and it was super intense. The most dramatic song you could ever imagine.
What’s a song on Til The Casket Drops you’re particularly proud of and why?
“Lil’ Darlin.” I feel like I was really able to capture a good blues feel in that song. I could be singing that in a blues club.
What’s a lyric or verse from the album you’re a fan of?
From “Blue Eyes Blind’ – “You’ll be my Hughes. I’ll be your Harlow.” (Howard and Jean respectively)
Are there any words you love, or hate?
I love the word “amazing,” but I say it too much so I’ve been tying not to do that. I don’t really like the word “fork” very much.
Do you enjoy any other types of writing? Were you good at writing papers and stories in school?
No. I felt like I pretty much improvised my way through school because I didn’t like it very much. Every time I wrote something I feel like I would paraphrase something else. It wasn’t my favorite form of expression. I was more into visual art, and more into music of course.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
“Last Love Song” seems to really touch people. People come up to me at my shows and they tell me it’s really been helping them get through a divorce or relationship or breakup, or it’s made them stay with their relationship. It’s been pretty crazy.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
There’s so many underrated songwriters. So many songwriters are the unknown artist in a lot of ways. I think Eric Bellinger is an amazing songwriter.
What do you consider to be the perfect song, and why?
“Who Wants to Live Forever” by Brian May. I thought Freddie Mercury wrote it actually. Whenever I listen to it I feel like it’s almost like somebody singing their last words before they die. It’s such a powerful song. I’ve always admired songs that make you feel intense emotion whether it’s happy or sad, and that song is very emotional.