Q&A with ZZ Ward: The Blues Queen of the Pacific Northwest

ZZ Ward and her band play at the Aloft Seattle-Redmond Hotel

Written by Tristan Olav Torgersen
Editor in Chief – Originally posted on IndieEntertainmentMagazine.com
Photos by Madison Drew Daniels and Stephen Brashear

There we were. Waiting our turn on the stairs to the upstairs lounge to interview ZZ Ward. Now, as soon as I received the offer from the folks running the Live at Aloft Hotels Concert Series to come up to Seattle to cover the show, I had to find out who ZZ Ward was.

I know, I know, a music lover like myself should have been on it. What can I say? My senior year of college shut me out from lots of things, including the best music of late.

In preparation, I put her albums on repeat on Spotify and really listened to all she had on there. I fell in love with her sound immediately. It was rhythmic. It was powerful. I couldn’t wait to hear her live.

That being said, when we walked up those stairs and sat on the couch with her for our short Q&A, I was definitely taken back. The only thought in my head was, “How on God’s good earth does so much soul and power emanate from such a petite, blonde, fashionable white girl like this?”

Now, don’t misunderstand. I wasn’t expecting to see Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, or Aretha Franklin sitting on that couch. I will say though, I did not expect who I saw. Yet, after listening to her music, it was more a sense of awe than a sense of confusion. Like, the Blues goddesses up above saw this little girl in the heart of the Pacific Northwest and said, “Yep, that one. She’s the one. Give her the gift.”

And it is a gift she has. Just listen to one of her recent hits, Cannonball.

Yeah…I hope you’re catching my drift there. Soul. Blues. Funk. All of it. The full package. She’s found her sound.

That being said, here is our Q&A with ZZ Ward at the Aloft Hotel Seattle, Redmond, WA:

Q: What brought you on this path to become a musician?

A: I got into music at a young age through my dad. He was always singing, writing songs, and playing music, and he was always encouraging that expression. My parents listened to a lot of blues growing up, so I listened to a lot of blues. Then, my brother started getting into hip-hop, so I started listening to hip-hop.

I think when I was about eight years old I singing in an elementary school choir concert, and people noticed that I was a good singer, and I became ‘The Singer.’ Ever since then, I realized this was what I was good at. That’s all I wanted to do since then.

Q: What are some of the struggles you’ve faced as you’ve grown in popularity, played bigger shows, and you’ve drawn larger audiences to your music?

A: It doesn’t happen very often, but there are times where people ask what you think about other artists, and they try to bring things out personally, and I don’t play those games. I don’t have a problem avoiding those things. I think that the ability to put out good albums, there’s an art to it. There’s an art to having an identity and to really owning that and being who you are. You have to be able to not only put out one album and get attention for it, but then put out multiple albums and keep your fans happy while getting to express yourself.

Q: How do you stay true to your music? Or what you feel is your music as you have bigger audiences and more fans to play to?

A: I feel like on my newest album The Storm, which came out June 2017, I really had a lot more confidence than my first album in who I was and what my music was to me. I come from the world of blues and the world of hip hop, and I’m always told my music is different and doesn’t really fit into a certain genre. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with my identity, who I am, and being different, and I think I did that on this new album.

Q: What’s your process like for writing new songs, and at that, an album?

A: I found a lot of inspiration for this new album through past relationships that didn’t work out so well for me. Some broke my heart, and there were things that I didn’t want to face yet. There were things I had swept under the rug, and I didn’t want to talk about them. For this new album, I realized I wanted to just clean out this closet and really get in touch with all of those feelings and the emotions I have for those things. That was the genesis for this album.

Q: Last question for you, you’re stuck on a desert island. You only have 3 albums to listen to for the rest of time, what do you choose?

A: Illmatic, The White Album, Ike and Tina Turner -Sing the Blues. It’s an amazing album. It is all Tina Turner singing the blues, and Ike is right there with her. I mean, their relationship is messed up, but the emotion coming through those songs is real.

Well ZZ, after a good listen, I have to agree with you. I took a good liking to Bold Soul Sister myself, and Ike and Tina are full of emotion, funk, and the blues. Thanks for opening me up to that classic.

Her and the band played a fantastic set in a personal environment. The Aloft lobby was fit more for acoustic tones and vocals than her album does with electric guitar and loud riffs.

Shadarius Shields laid down some fat bass lines that kept everyone moving along with the music. The interplay between he and the drummer showed a level of musicianship that really sticks out to those keen to good playing. Everything was top notch.

ZZ attracts a good crowd of loyal followers too. I talked with a few of the folks before the show started, and they’ve followed her since her debut album and before. They make sure to hit any concert in the Pacific Northwest and show up with friends as well.

ZZ Ward playing guitar at Aloft Seattle Redmond
ZZ Ward performs at Aloft Live on Wednesday August 30, 2017 in Bellevue, Washington. (PHOTO by Stephen Brashear)

I love seeing people who love the music enough to get into it, and that audience got into it that night. Clapping, stomping, knees bending, heads bopping, it was ZZ Ward’s take on the blues, and it was pure music that night.

Her performance at Bumbershoot the next night was amazing. It is not an easy task to transition from small venue to festival stage, but ZZ Ward and her crew made it seem effortless.

The huge amps and cabinets, the light show, the screaming fans, all those elements absent in the Aloft Hotel didn’t seem to phase the band at all. In fact, it gave them an extra level of energy that got everyone dancing and singing along.

You should listen to her music if you aren’t familiar with it.

Keep tabs on ZZ Ward.

She’s on her way to the top, and you won’t want to miss what’s next.

Find Out More:

ZZ Ward’s Official Website
YouTube Channel.

She recently performed her hit song ‘Cannonball’ with Fantistic Negrito on Late Night with Seth Myers, check it out!

ZZ Ward donated to the ASPCA in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, read more about her efforts and love for animals.

Read more about the Live at Aloft Hotels tour and lineup, and find a show near you!