“My dad would sneak me into blues bars when I was 16, and I would just go and jam with the musicians,” ZZ Ward said from beneath her sun hat. “I love this hat, but I hate it because I can’t see anything.”
The songstress, who describes her sound as “back porch blues meets hip hop”, owns over 60 fedoras. Today was a rare occasion – she didn’t have one on. “I wear them to pay homage to the blues,” said Ward. “Also I don’t have a skull, I just have a brain peeking out so I have to cover that up,” she laughed. “Could you imagine, I take my hat off and there’s no skull?” I probably would have enjoyed that – I have a sick side.
ZZ, whose vocal chords are pure Baptist choir meets Biggie Smalls, meets the butter that melts on the top of your homemade biscuit, recently added a new talent to her roster: fashion designer. ZZ created a line of hats from Broner’s. “I designed one line – it has two playing cards and a feather. That’s just where I started. When I become bigger, I hope to design more styles,” said ZZ. “This is something that you probably can’t even relate to, but where I come from in Oregon, if you dressed up, you were a showboat. Fashion is something I’ve just started to able to embrace living in LA I love it.”
Custom design ZZ Ward fedora for Broner Hats
ZZ’s first album Til the Casket Drops, debuted October 2012, and this year she broke the Top 40 on the Billboard Alternative Chart. Having cut her on-stage chops in her Dad’s blues band at 12, I asked her if her parents would have been upset if she didn’t go into music. You know, kind of like the parents of those Russian gymnasts you see yelling at their toddler, “Oksana, you WILL learn the backflip, or else!”
“My Dad would have been let down. My Mom wouldn’t care,” said ZZ. “I called her last week and said, ‘Mom I’m on Jimmy Kimmel’ and she was like, ‘That’s great, tell me something else.’ For me, it keeps my feet on the ground – it helps me not care.’” Having your own mom not act like Kris Jenner is a plus to helping you keep it real. ZZ added, “I’m not from the city. I’m from a 23-acre farm lot in Oregon. I really appreciate everything. I think it’s fun. The industry is kind of a game sometimes, but I think: enjoy it, or don’t be a part of it.”
Another comforting force is her road puppy, Muddy Waters. “Touring is hard, I’ve toured a lot in the last year and a half. I got my dog, and it helps a lot. I wake up every day and this dog is so excited to be on the bus, new grass everywhere,” said ZZ. Based on her current itinerary, that dog has seen more than most Americans of their own country.
When ZZ’s bus pulled up in Brooklyn, I saw her at Warsaw, a quirky Polish rockhall located in the Greenpoint. I beyond dug ZZ’s band and her ability to play the harmonica out of the harmonica. Damn. If you’re sitting in your office on this summer day, explaining to someone that no one faxes anymore, wishing you were somewhere else, put this in your ears. It’s ZZ singing ‘Charlie Ain’t Home’ – her rebuttal to Etta James’ ‘Waiting For Charlie to Come Home’.
Ladies, promise me you’ll wait for no man. ZZ Ward sure doesn’t have to.
Featured Image: Big Hassle Media