Musician and singer-songwriter Zsuzsanna ‘ZZ’ Ward brings a bluesy R&B and pop rock sound to the Independent for a sold out show on April 6. Her 2012 debut EP, Criminal, and album, Til the Casket Drops, have been well-received since release thanks to an energy that elicits rock and hip-hop sonic subtleties.
She is one of the many Coachella artists performing in the Bay Area in the coming weeks as bands make their way to and from the music festival in Indio. We asked ZZ Ward about growing up on the West coast, musical influences and recent collaborations, as well as the launch of her own mobile music app.
Growing up, why did your family move cross-country from Pennsylvania to Oregon?
I don’t know. What were my parents thinking? Gosh, I need to know. My mom grew up in the center city of Philadelphia. She didn’t want us to grow up in the city. She really loved the country and nature. I think that was the reason. We moved to a 23-acre farm in a town of about 6,000 people right in between two towns out in the middle of nowhere.
Do you have fond memories of playing in a band with your dad when you were 12 years old?
Yeah, definitely! My dad moved out to Oregon and got involved in a blues band. When I was 12 or 13, I would go to their rehearsals. I was their biggest fan and dad’s biggest fan. Eventually I got to sing with them, play more songs and start playing with other musicians, and learning how to use a microphone and be on stage.
How did you learn to play the piano and the harmonica?
I’ve played piano ever since I was a little kid. I never learned any theory on it. I felt I needed to pick my greatest strengths, which was writing songs. I didn’t want to get too involved learning an instrument. I only really play piano and guitar to write with, I’m more of a rhythm player.
I got into the harmonica a little later in life. My dad always played and even my grandmother played harmonica, so it was big shoes to fill. Dad is a good player. I’ve only gotten into it recently in the last year or so.
Who are your biggest soul and blues musical influences?
On the blues sides, I’d probably say Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Big Mama Thornton and Etta James. On the hip hop side of things—NAS, Jay Z and Outkast. Also Tom Petty, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones. The way they crank out and write songs is incredible.
Did playing in the blues band help teach you swagger and confidence on stage?
Yea, it really did. The more you do something the better you get at it. I’m a touring artist and tour for the majority of the year. I’ve had a record out for a couple of years and I’m very, very free on stage. I love being on stage. I have so many amazing fans that come out. They have such a good time, it makes it easy.
How did you arrange studio sessions with Fitz from Fitz and the Tantrums?
I was a big fan. I had the opportunity to go and have a writing session with Fitz. I went out to his house in Los Angeles and to play this song I wrote called, “Save My Life” and I had a great time working with him. We brought him out on tour, which was an amazing experience. Their band is amazing live. He was cool enough to get involved to put out a behind the scenes video.
Did Kendrick Lamar share any advice when he worked with you on your debut album?
I had some amazing, amazing people on my first record—Freddie Gibbs and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest produced a song on my record. These artists are very, very talented and for them to believe in the songs they heard and wanted to be part of the record is truly an amazing thing. It was really fascinating for me to watch Kendrick and Freddie Gibbs be as passionate as I am about music. To have their own way of doing it. Kendrick Lamar on “Cryin’ Wolf,” his verse just blew everyone away.
You’ve been on quite a roll lately with sold out shows, festival appearances and TV performances. What is your favorite moment or accomplishment from the past six months?
I’m opening for Eric Clapton coming up pretty soon. That feels really magical. I’m really looking forward to that. I have Coachella and Bonarroo coming up, as well. I’m enjoying the ride as a new artist to get these opportunities. I feel so honored. There’s so many things. That’s the fun of being a new artist, you get really excited.