Chances are you’ve never heard someone quite like ZZ Ward. And that’s just fine with her. Because after you do, you’ll be hooked. Raised on her parents’ blues records and her brother’s rap CDs, you can understand why ZZ is not your typical singer/songwriter. And after releasing her debut mixtape, Eleven Roses, in January, the world is starting to take notice. Wonder how she got where she is today? Hear it from the woman herself.
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How To Make It: I see you grew up in Roseburg, Oregon. Did you ever cross paths with Art Alexakis, the lead singer of Everclear?
ZZ Ward: No! (laughs) But I heard that Tim Buckley’s mother lived in Roseburg also, which is cool.
How To Make It: Did you grow up an Oregon Ducks fan?
ZZ Ward: I was never really into football, but I went to a game once and painted my face green and yellow.
How To Make It: How did you land in L.A.?
ZZ Ward: I wasn’t able to get my music heard by enough people when I lived in that small town in Oregon, so I moved to L.A. to pursue my dream.
How To Make It: What is the first song you can remember singing?
ZZ Ward: “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles. I danced to it at a recital when I was little, and whenever it came on the radio I would yell at my mom to turn it up.
How To Make It: What is the first album you can remember buying?
ZZ Ward: I stole from my brother’s collection. The first one was The Chronic by Dr. Dre.
How To Make It: I hear that you used to sell your music in parking lots. Are we talking like rappers in the south?
ZZ Ward: I don’t know how rappers in the south sell CDs, but I would just walk up to people and talk to them about my music. A lot of people were cool, some people would be mean, but it didn’t stop me.
How To Make It: What is the meaning behind the title Eleven Roses?
ZZ Ward: Eleven Roses is what I called the mixtape because it was a collection of songs about a relationship I got myself into that wasn’t healthy. The notion is that a dozen roses is the norm, while eleven just isn’t enough.
How To Make It: On Eleven Roses you sing over samples from Wiz Khalifa, Childish Gambino and Tyler, The Creator. How has hip-hop influenced you as an artist?
ZZ Ward: I have always loved hip-hop and beat-driven music. I also learned a lot about lyrical confidence and flow from rap artists.
How To Make It: You were also featured on Asher Roth’s Pabst & Jazz mixtape. How did that come about?
ZZ Ward: I work with Blended Babies a lot and they produced a lot of Asher’s mixtape. So we are all basically in the same crew.
How To Make It: Tell me about your time in the studio with DJ Premier. What advice, if any, did he give you?
ZZ Ward: Working with Premier was amazing. He’s so down to earth and so talented. He fully understood my sound – back-porch blues meets hip-hop.
How To Make It: And you were just in the studio with Freddie Gibbs as well. What was that for?
ZZ Ward: I’ve been a Gibbs fan for a long time. He raps on my song, “Criminal.” Gibbs is a beast in the studio. He went in the booth, laid down his rap and I was really speechless. It was so dope.
How To Make It: How would you describe your style?
ZZ Ward: Porch-roasted marshmallows dipped in honey. My sound is one part blues, one part hip-hop and a whole lot of heart.
How To Make It: What advice would you give an aspiring artist today?
ZZ Ward: You have to dedicate your life to music if you really want it. I moved down to L.A. and slept on an air mattress for the first year and a half. I had no idea where to start, but it doesn’t take long to figure it out if you want it bad enough. Just don’t let anything or anyone get in your way. Be Ray Charles to the bullshit.
How To Make It: What’s something you wish you had known before you started out?
ZZ Ward: That everything happens for a reason. Some opportunities don’t pan out, and you never understand it when it happens, but it’s because there are better things down the road.