I got to chat with uber talented ZZ Ward yesterday afternoon. She was at a laundromat doing laundry on her day off. Life on the road is definitely not as glamorous as we might think. At least her adorable terrier puppy, Muddy Waters, is along for the ride. ZZ was very kind and I appreciate her taking the time to answer some questions for me (and my students!). ZZ will be playing at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine on Saturday, June 15. You can get your tickets here.
Thanks, ZZ! Thanks to Brooke for putting us in touch! Keep scrolling to see what we talked about.
I took feverish notes. Here’s the gist of our conversation:
B: Hey, ZZ! How are you?
ZZ: I’m good, how are you?
B: I’m doing realy well! How’s Muddy Waters?
ZZ: She good. She has the hiccups right now, but she’ll get through it.
B: So she gets to go on tour with you?
ZZ: Yeah, she’s on tour with me right now.
B: That must be so much fun for everyone.
ZZ: Everybody really likes it. We have to pull the tour bus over for her sometimes. She’s a little diva. But she’s great. We love having her on tour with us.
B: And she’s pretty young.
ZZ: Yeah. She’s five months old. I just got her.
B: The town I grew up in in Maine is actually bigger than the one you grew up in in Oregon. I wonder how the transition to big city life in LA is going for you?
ZZ: Well I’m not there much. I live there, but I’m on the road all the time. Moving from a small town was really intimidating. The biggest thing was driving. If you’re from the city you might not even comprehend what I’m talking about. If you’re from the country you’re used to leisurely driving and LA has five lane freeways. It’s really intense. I remember when I first moved down there that I had a friend call and invite me to The Viper Room. I asked him to pick me up and he was like “don’t you have a car?” And even though I did, I wasn’t sure that I could make it down there. It’s the most terrifying thing. So, big changes.
B: You talked about being on tour all the time. Do you prefer songwriting, recording, or touring?
ZZ: I enjoy all of them. The creative process is very different than the live show. With live shows you’re out there interacting with people and fans who love your record. That compared to being in the studio writing songs about my life is very different than being on tour. But I like both in different ways. I love to write, though. That’s my favorite part.
B: I know that you played in Tampa last night and today’s your day off. What’s your daily routine when you’re on tour? Do you ever have time to explore?
ZZ: I’ve been doing this for about a year now. I realize I need to do it so that I can handle it so that I’m not running a marathon all the time. You have to make it work for you, because in every city that I go to there are people who’ve traveled to see me play so I need to be sure I’m my best all the time. If I have the day off I’ll try to see a movie or do something normal. Like, we’re at a laundromat right now doing laundry.
B: Well if it makes you feel better, I have to go mow my lawn after I talk to you. It’s grown a little out of control. How glamorous our lives are!
ZZ: I know! Very glamorous.
B: You clearly like to collaborate with diverse and interesting artists. Who are some people that you’d like to work with?
ZZ: I’d love to work with Gary Clark Jr., Salaam Remy, Kayne West, Azealia Banks…
B: I got to see Gary Clark Jr. from the front row at the Newport Folk Festival last summer and he was so impressive.
ZZ: Right on. He’s a great guy and he is super talented.
B: So you’re touring all the time and are never home in LA, which is good so you don’t have to drive, but are you making any new music?
ZZ: I’ve really been grinding with this record. The first single [“Put The Gun Down”] did really well and went top ten on the AAA radio charts and was on the charts for a long time. We’ve moved on to the second single now and I feel like the crowds are growing and some people know me now. It’s incredible to watch it build. But a lot of people haven’t heard of me still, so we’re really still working this record. I write when I can, but it’s not my main focus right. This record is my focus and I’m trying to get the world to know me.
B: Well the record is fantastic. I love it. I think I heard it early on and have known about you for a while now.
ZZ: Thank you.
B: I’ve been listening for a long time and I’ve enjoyed the album the whole way through. Your song “Last Love Song”—I don’t know if I was going through a breakup when I first heard it but it captured exactly how I felt during the last one!
ZZ: Well that’s how I felt, so I’m happy you could relate. Well I’m sad you could relate, but happy.
B: Well I’m sad for you, too, but that must be the amazing gift of music that people can relate to what you’re sharing with them.
ZZ: Well the good thing about me is that I’m kind of desensitized to that I’m talking about very personal things in my life and I’m sharing them with lots of people. But they’re things a lot of people want to share but don’t know how.
B: You were saying that some people still don’t know who you are. I’m a high school social studies teacher and I told my students today that I had an interview with you after school. I told them they’d probably know your song from Pretty Little Liars and sure enough, a lot of them did. They asked me if I’d ask you a question from them and I was impressed with their question, actually.
ZZ: That’s so cute!
B: Their question is—well, Eleanor wants to know your favorite color, and other question is if you have a favorite pre show ritual.
ZZ: I like this question. My favorite color is blue. Probably baby blue. Even though it’s not a color I really wear. And before every show I get together with my band and give a quick speech to help remind us that we can’t ever be perfect on stage so we should just go out there and have fun.
B: My blog actually focuses on the concert experience from a concert goers experience. From my perspective, I know what I think makes a good show, but from a performer’s perspective, what makes for a great show or what makes for a terrible show?
ZZ: Good sound helps. A lot of people don’t think about that, but on stage it makes a big difference. My favorite way to play is not plugged in at all and I’m just singing in a room because nothing can be in the way of me and the song. But for the most part, people come out—my fans come out—and they are so enthusiastic and so supportive that it just makes it easy. So for me as long as my crowd has a good time and when I meet them after the show and they tell me they had a fun experience then at the end of the day that’s what we came to do.
B: I’m excited to finally see you live next Saturday! Will it be your first time in Maine? I mean I know you haven’t played a show in Maine because I would have been at it, but have you been to New England before?
ZZ: No. I know this will sound cliché, but is it really the spot for clam chowder?
B: Yes! [We chatted at length about the delicious clam chowder, lobster rolls, and oysters on the half shell readily available in Portland, and I assured ZZ that there’s plenty of amazing and delicious restaurants within blocks of the venue.]
ZZ: Yay! Awesome. That’s really exciting. We don’t always have a lot of options, so we’re always excited for good food.
B: iTunes defines your album as “Alternative Rock.” I feel like that’s not quite right. What would you call your music?
ZZ: Well I don’t think they have this category, but I’d say back porch blues meets hip hop. Maybe we could make that happen someday.
B: I’m so glad you could squeeze me in while you were doing laundry and I am really looking forward to seeing you next week!