ZZ Ward Brings Her Dirty Shine to Dallas [Interview]

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

Thank you GoodBAMMSho for the amazing opportunity to interview one of my favorite artists! Here’s the interview!!


Wednesday night ZZ Ward brought her Down and Dirty Shine tour to a packed house at Trees in Dallas. With her signature fedora, blinged out tooth and delicious blend of hip-hop and blues, there is nothing mediocre about this Oregon native.

Performing songs from her debut album, Til the Casket Drops, and Eleven Roses mixtape, ZZ delivers an effortless swagger onstage that feels completely raw and authentic when she performs. Jumping from the keys, guitar, harmonica, and yes, even the drums the amount of talent in this pint size singer is ridiculous.

Before the show started I was able to sit down with the singer and talk about love, what songwriting means to her and what’s ahead in 2013.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

Is this your first time performing in Dallas?

I was here for a radio show for NPR but no I’ve never played a show. This is my first time at this venue. I really like Texas a lot, love the whole feel.

I love how you’ve merged hip-hop and blues to make a sound that’s completely unique and yours. Starting out did you ever feel the pressure to conform to a particular “radio friendly” or “industry specific” sound?

Luckily no, the label that I chose to sign with, I based my decision on the people who worked for Hollywood Records. I mean they really just believed in my artistry from the beginning. From the moment I played my songs for them they loved it, which is wonderful. I never felt like I had to try and be what was cool or what was popular. I really had a lot of freedom making the record.

Do you feel like that’s an issue in the industry today, not having a lot of creative freedom?

I think on the industry side a lot of people don’t want to take chances. You know, they don’t want to lose. They’re scared to lose and a lot of times, I think they shelve artists because of that. I know artists that are making records and they can’t put their record out because there are so many people behind it. So I’m very thankful for where I’m at.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

Save My Life is such a beautiful tune and you can definitely hear that Fitz and the Tantrums flare. What was the process like working with Michael Fitzpatrick?

It was wonderful working with Fitz. He has such a good throwback feel. We wrote the song at his house, where he actually records a lot of the Fitz and the Tantrums albums. He definitely brings that throwback feel. He’s just such a great, real down to earth guy.

The metaphors and visualization in your songs are so vivid and relatable. How old were you when you wrote your first song? 

I use to write pieces of songs. I was just putting a lot of ideas together, sometimes like five pieces, and every song would be like Bohemian Rhapsody. So, I would say the first time I sat down at the piano and wrote a full song I was 13.

Do you consider songwriting to be a blessing or a curse?

I think it’s a blessing and a curse. When I was writing this record I locked myself in my apartment and I didn’t live a normal life for a while. I didn’t go out to the bars and sometimes I would be writing and if the song wasn’t done I wouldn’t go out. But it feels so good when you actually finish a song and you like it. There’s really no other high. It’s a pretty great experience.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

How many songs did you write for the record?

Well you know that’s interesting, that’s a good question. There wasn’t a lot of fat. I didn’t really write a lot of songs, actually I didn’t finish probably any songs that didn’t go on the record. Every song that I finished went on the record. But it depends, I’m very critical from the beginning. So if I’m writing something that I think is okay, it doesn’t make me feel sexy or mad, or empowered, if it doesn’t give me a strong emotion from whatever side that it’s on then I’ll usually throw it out.

When I wrote Home I had been working on another song for about 3 hours and all of a sudden I just went into the chords of Home and had a melody and I was like, this is great. Forget the other song. You kind of just have to follow it.

Your passion and pain really shine on this record. How easily do you fall in love?

Well I don’t know, it might have changed a while ago. Then I might have said something different because when you’re young you think you’re in love but you don’t really know what love is. I don’t think I fall in love very easily, but I love very hard.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

The title track, Til the Casket Drops, you’ve said is “a song about going to war for someone that you love. Not only was it the first song I wrote for the album, but it ended up being the perfect embodiment and emotional foundation for the entire album”. Was the song written early on for the album or later?  

It was the first song I wrote for the record and I didn’t know I was writing it for an album. I feel like Til the Casket Drops was the first song where I really, I didn’t shy away from who I was going to be as an artist. I just kind of embraced it and that was the first song that did that.

How did it shape the rest of the direction for the album?

I think just the concept of the song about going to war for somebody that you love and the ups and downs of relationships. I think the album is a very passionate record. So it just made since that it would be the title of the record.

Put the Gun Down is the first song Neff-U produced on the album. You’ve mentioned all the sonic experimentation that went on during recording it. What final mix or part sealed the deal for you knowing the song was perfect and finished?

You know that song came so easily. When we were in the studio, being the first song we worked on, we didn’t really put a lot of stuff in. I think some of the hardest times in music are when you get stuck . If you get stuck with something and you have to push and push and push until it sounds right, that will test your patience. With Put the Gun Down we didn’t really have that. Neff-U played piano, I wrote the guitar structure to it, I actually already had that, and then he did the drums. It was actually pretty straight forward with that track.

The metaphor, Put the Gun Down, is so brilliant, in your writing do you come up with the metaphor first or do you just start writing?

It’s easier that way. I mean it doesn’t always work that way. A lot of times it’s just, you have to write, or you want to write. It would be the easiest thing in the world if you had a million ideas that were great concepts for songs. If you can get that story, I feel like it’s almost like writing a script. If you have that one story or idea that’s different, it’s easier from there. But it doesn’t always happen that way.

Last Love song, I didn’t know what I was going to call it. I wrote the chorus, I had everything, but I didn’t have a hook. So I just called it Last Love Song, I’ll tell the story about the song at my show, because I didn’t want to write anymore songs about that person anymore. That’s why it became Last Love Song. So it just depends.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

For Blue Eyes Blind: Ludwig Goransson said “you are one of the new voices of today and it’s never been so easy writing a song with someone.” Why do you think the creative chemistry worked so well between your melodies and his beats?

You know what, I don’t have an answer for that. I didn’t do a lot of co-writes on this record but I have done a lot of co-writing since I moved to Los Angeles. Before I wrote this record I went in with a lot of different people  and wrote a lot of songs. I learned a lot from it. I think it helped shape me to be a better writer. But two of the co-writes, one was with Fitz and the other with Ludwig, I don’t know, they just worked. I didn’t walk in and say, man I’ve got to hit this sound, we have to get a song for the record. I really didn’t feel that pressure. I went in with Ludwig, came up with some chords, a melody for the chorus, Ludwig just dropped this ridiculous beat in and it kind of went from there. It was really easy with him.

On Crying Wolf Rich Parry of Blended Babies said that “you took a very rough idea and made it shine or “made that shit shine”. Then he added that “ONLY sometimes drinking too much in the studio is a good thing.” How many drinks did it take exactly to build the song?

Well it’s really interesting because that song came along and for me, coming up with an idea that is different and hasn’t been done before, I don’t feel like you have a lot of opportunities to do that. It’s always really fun and special when you can do that.

I was sitting there with Blended Babies going through some of the tracks and I heard Maceo Haymes from the O’My’s singing on this track. I was sitting there and I could kind of come up with the idea in my head, I was really excited, and I asked, “was he drunk when he sang this?” And they were like, “yeah he was throwing some ideas down, he was drinking, wasted on whiskey, we told him go in there and just sing some melody. Don’t even worry about the lyrics.”

It’s authentic, he was really wasted when he sang that. So I was like, oh my gosh this is the perfect opportunity for me to vent about being in some of the relationships I’d been in where this person is wasted and they’re constantly doing this and that, threatening you, and I had the best idea in my head. I don’t think anyone in the room really knew it but I was like, I’ll show you, I’ll show you…I’m going to write this song.

I flipped Kendrick Lamar’s Look Out for Detox and he was cool enough to rap on the track.

What was it like working with Kendrick?

He’s such a talented guy. I think it’s incredible how he went into such an obscure song, and it is one of those songs where it doesn’t really need someone on it because it’s so different. But putting him on it was such a left idea and he just destroyed it.

ZZ Ward - Trees Dallas

You were discovered on MySpace. How can artists utilize today’s social media to propel their music career?

It’s a different world. I heard an older musician on a late night show and he was talking about when there use to be no such thing as social media. Now, every performance you do, every performance I do, goes up online. No matter where I am, I mean there is no forgiveness.

But I think if you’re an upcoming artist you can definitely use social media to your advantage. You can cover songs and get a following on YouTube. But if I would give any advice, to an upcoming or aspiring musician, it would be to write your own music. It takes time to find the right people to help you get to where you want to go. It’s not a one man or one woman job, you definitely need to have a team of people that can help you. You can’t wait for people, so my advice would be to think about what kind of music you want to make and start the train yourself.

What was it like moving from Oregon to LA?

Scary, terrifying…it was terrifying. About 6 months ago for some reason I started having those memories about what it was first like to move down and I was so depressed when I first moved. I left everything behind. I left a boyfriend behind, I literally started a new life. It was really scary but I just realized there wasn’t enough for me where I lived for what I wanted to do. I needed to get around people that were doing the same stuff I was doing.

From Eleven Roses to the Criminal EP and now Til the Casket drops and this amazing year you’ve had. What are you looking forward to the most in 2013?

The thing about being a recording artist is there’s a lot of variety and there’s a lot of stuff that nobody can tell you how it’s going to go. You just kind of have to go with it, buckle up and go for the ride. I’m excited about doing different stuff, doing different performances. I’m doing a co-headlining tour at the end of January with Delta Rae. So we’ll just see where it takes us.

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