ZZ Ward,
The TVD Interview

It’s not easy to describe what ZZ Ward does, and thank goodness for that. When her first single, “Put the Gun Down,” became a critically acclaimed sensation in 2012, Ward’s relentless talent and drive was turned up to eleven. Just like that, her sonic finger painting with blues and soul and hip-hop and rock was everywhere, and so was ZZ Ward.

It’s been three years of touring and writing and touring some more for Ward. After much perfecting and polishing with the help of S1 (the Grammy-winning producer who’s worked with Kanye West, Eminem, Beyonce, and Madonna), she’s completed a highly anticipated EP, Love and War, which is out now. (The full-length album, This Means War, is due September 18.)

Perhaps the best thing about Love and War’s signature single, “Love 3X,” is that it is not what you might expect from an artist who is routinely compared to both Tina Turner and Etta James; ZZ Ward is all about creative turns. The summery pop of “Love 3X” retains all of ZZ Ward’s unmistakable swagger and soul, and is insanely catchy at the same time. It’s not fair to call it a balancing act, really, because ZZ Ward makes it all look so easy.

And so ZZ Ward continues to deliver a genuine alternative to music-by-committee and to fly in the face of critical expectations. When we chatted with her, she was about to embark on her Love and War Tour. She talked about her inspirations, on being a perfectionist, and what it’s like caring about every single bit of a project (including vinyl).

I see your dog Muddy in a lot of pictures with you. It must be great to have her with you on tour to kind of help you chill.

Yes! I take her everywhere. We’re ready to get on the tour bus for two months! She loves it; she spends more time on the tour bus than she has at home, so she’s used to it.

I’ve read and watched quite a few interviews with you, and I don’t think anybody has described you, as an artist, the same way twice. It changes from “blues and R&B singer” to “new rock chanteuse” to any number of categories. Does that bother or inspire you?

[Laughs] I don’t know… I mean, especially when people ask me what genre of music I am, it’s always really tricky because I think being a songwriter and a producer and a creator, it’s like… I’m not really thinking about categories I want to stay in when I’m working on music. I’m just thinking about what things make me feel like. So it’s always really a tricky question when people ask you, “So, what genre of music does your music fall into?” It’s like, wow, you really have to put a label on it? But that’s how it is. I’ve learned to give it my best shot and say it’s kind of a mixture between blues and hip-hop.

But I feel like, especially if something’s new, you have to compare it to something else if you’re telling your friend about it. “Have you checked out so-and-so? They sound a little bit like this.” And that always gives somebody a good idea of what they’re getting into. I’ve noticed that that just kind of exists, you know, when you’re an artist.

Your latest single, “Love 3X,” is such a sunny, summer song. Did you write it with that intention, to create a true summer single?  

Well, what’s funny is that with “Love 3X” is that I didn’t think about it like a summer song, but it actually is. You never know, even if there’s a timeline of when a song’s gonna come out, when you’re album’s going to come out… things change. Also, you usually don’t know when an album will actually be done. So, I didn’t plan for it to be a summer song, but it’s working out that way perfectly. [Laughs]

When I wrote “Love 3X,” it was so catchy that I thought, “Oh my god, I’ve definitely heard this before!” I thought it must already exist, so I stopped writing it. And it came so easily, too; I wrote it so fast! And then I walked away from it because I felt like I’d heard it before.

Then my manager said that it was so catchy and that maybe I should finish it, give it a chance, and later if you don’t like it you can forget it. So, I finished the song and it just really held its own, from writing it acoustically to the production. It really was a standout track. That’s how it came to be.

It’s funny that you have this single, “Love 3X,” out ahead of your new album, which is titled This Means War, which feels a little ominous in comparison. What is the album all about?  

The album’s really, for me, kind of “love is a battlefield,” in the sense that you sometimes really want to get into a relationship if you’re single. The first album was really about me trying to be in a relationship with someone and my heart was really broken because it wasn’t working out.

When it came time to write the second album, I thought, well, what about the feelings when you’re actually in a relationship? How the battle has really just begun? It’s not like now that you’re in a relationship, it’s done—everything is perfect. That’s not what it is—it’s totally a different chapter of the book of your life. Nothing really has changed; there’s still ups, there’s still downs you still have to go through, and there’s still passion.

The thinking and the inspiration behind this album, for me, were all of my doubts of being in a relationship and also all the joy I felt being in a relationship. That’s what This Means War is all about.

You’ve got a longer gap between your first album and this album for this day and age. I get the sense that you’re an artist first, obviously, then really closely followed by a perfectionist. Is that true?

[Laughs] I feel like you might know me too well! [Laughs] Yeah, I’m definitely a little bit of a perfectionist, especially when I’m working on an album. When I’m promoting an album, it’s such a different experience. It’s immediate gratification where you play for people and then they cheer for you and then you’re like, “Yay! That feels great! I did my job for the day!”

Writing an album is so different because you don’t have somebody there to be like, “That song’s amazing!” You really don’t know until you pull the record out; you’re really kind of like on your own when you’re creating and in that world of coming up with songs for an album. It’s funny… it’s like a blessing and a curse when you’re an artist, when you’re creative.

But you are a relentless promoter; pre-orders, exclusives, all these cross promotions… it’s amazing to me.

Also, right now we’re preparing to go out on tour, so it’s like guns blazing, really. This time around, having already put out one record, I’ve just learned so much from the experience and kind of taking the ride with the first album and realizing that, on the second one, I could get [more] creative with it. My creativity doesn’t have to stop with just writing the songs; it can be designing merch shirts—it can go that far. I’ve really enjoyed getting more involved in that kind of stuff and making sure every little thing… like, I’ll make sure a merch shirt is something that I would wear before I’ll put it out there. I would hope that that’s what my fans would want me to do, so that they know that I actually care about every aspect of the project.

Is putting out your EPs on vinyl part of that involvement? 

There’s something so classic about vinyl. We did it for the first album; we were part of Record Store Day, and I think there’s something about keeping music alive… my dad had a record player and he would play vinyl. There’s a certain feeling vinyl gives you, and I think that we shouldn’t let that get lost as artists. So yeah, it’s definitely important to me that my music is on vinyl for my fans.

If I could touch again on the whole “genre-defying” thing for a second again, when I was growing up, I listened to a lot of what was considered “guy’s music,” like blues and rock and things like that, and I always felt like I had to explain myself in doing that. I know you were performing from a very young age, did you ever get that kind of a compulsion to say, “Yeah, I’m a girl, but I like all this music that you typically don’t associate with girls.”

Yeah, absolutely. But it’s funny—there’ll always be people who are gonna doubt you, and there’s always gonna be people who are going to question you. I feel as an artist you do your best job in trying to inform someone about the music you grew up listening to, where you’re coming from, and your artistry. At the end of the day, you’re not going to convince everybody, and that’s okay. As long as you try to you stand up for yourself, then I think that’s what’s important.

You mentioned you’re going to be on tour for a couple of months… what keeps you going when you’re out on the road?  

At this point in my career, it’s easier than it once was. I used to do these van tours where I was, like, in a van every day, every night—it’s really tough. I mean, I know so many bands and so many women on the road go through that… oh, I can’t even tell you how much I admire them. It’s tough. It’s really tough!

Now it’s like I’m on a bus, I have my own room… it’s different. It’s still… I mean, it’s a very small room. It’s not like my house; the living space does get challenging after two months.

I’d say the real thing that really keeps me going is the fans. They really do. It’s so funny… it’s like they’re so excited for you to come and give your all to them on stage and really give them a show and have an experience with you. But it would not be the same without them. It would never happen without them. Them coming to the show and giving their energy to the show and telling me how much my music means to them, being excited to see us… that’s what keeps us going for two months. Absolutely.

ZZ Ward’s forthcoming full-length release, This Means War is available now for preorder. On vinyl.

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