ZZ Ward: “My main inspiration at this point in my career is to just keep putting out music that moves me.” (9/6 at WCL)

“I’m excited to kick it off in Philly!  I don’t know that I’ve ever started a tour in Philly, starting where my roots are!” says ZZ Ward.  The Bucks...

“I’m excited to kick it off in Philly!  I don’t know that I’ve ever started a tour in Philly, starting where my roots are!” says ZZ Ward.  The Bucks County native – whose parents grew up in the area and who lived there herself until she was around eight, when her family relocated to Eugene, Oregon – is discussing her upcoming One Hell of A Night Tour, which kicks off Wednesday, September 6th, at The Music Hall at World Café Live.  “I think the coolest thing about playing Philly is that my childhood friends that I’ve stayed in touch with, or that I’ve reconnected with, can come out to the shows,” says the singer/songwriter during a recent phone chat.  The tour will be in support of her upcoming third full-length (and first since 2017), Dirty Shine, which drops September 8th, courtesy of her own Dirty Shine Records.  The album is her first independently released LP, after having released her first two courtesy of Hollywood Records.

ZZ Ward (who I last spoke to in February of 2014) made a name for herself with 2012’s Til the Casket Drops and 2017’s The Storm, which boasted a blend of blues rock, neo-soul, and hip-hop, and featured collaborations from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Freddie Gibbs, Fantastic Negrito, Fitz (of Fitz and the Tantrums), and Gary Clark Jr.  Over the past decade-plus, ZZ Ward has headlined local shows at World Café Live, Theatre of Living Arts, and Union Transfer.  However, her return to World Café Live next month will be her first time returning to the 215 since the pandemic, and her life and career have gone through a number of significant changes since then…

In addition to breaking free from the constraints of a major label (and starting her own), ZZ Ward also recently became a mother, both of which she tells me have had a major impact on her latest output.  “I have a lot more freedom as an independent artist…  My main inspiration at this point in my career is to just keep putting out music that moves me,” she says.  She also explains that, at this point, she has no concern for how people characterize her music or how it may or may not perform on radio or the charts: “I can’t tell you what genre my music is.  I’m just making music that I think is dope.”  She goes on to say that becoming a mother has only pushed her to further embrace these sentiments: “I never could’ve prepared myself mentally or physically to be a mother… But in terms of how it’s influenced me, I’m really inspired to make my son proud, and show him that his mother went after something.”

ZZ tells me that this September she’ll actually be taking her son out of school to bring him along on the bus for the One Hell of A Night Tour, although this won’t be his first experience on the road with Mom.  “I’ve been playing with this band all summer, and we’re really ready to Rock N’ Roll,” says Ward, who has been doing shows supporting Melissa Etheridge, which she says has been both an honor and, “really fun!”  She also says that the setback of the pandemic has reinvigorated her love for music and being on the road: “I don’t think I realized just how much music is part of my soul, part of my being.  For the past ten years I’ve been doing this, and with lockdown, you really have a different perspective, coming out of this.”

According to Ward, the most significant thing that audiences need to know about upcoming dates is, “I always really bring it to the stage!”  But in terms of setlist, she says that fans can expect a number of the classics, in addition to a lot of material from Dirty Shine, an album whose name reflects its sound to an almost inexplicable degree.  The phrase emerged from Ward’s own fans around the time that she dropped her debut, but upon the announcement of her third full-length, she admitted that the phrase seemed to ring true more now than ever before: “When I put out my first album, my fans and I started saying we are ‘dirty shine.’  It was about embracing who you are—we are all dirty, a little rough around the edges.  I’ve always had this vibe, but I feel like this time in my life is like ‘dirty shine’ on steroids.”

Dirty Shine was produced by a plethora of big-name producers, and frequent collaborators of Ward’s, including Oscar, GRAMMY, and Emmy-winning producer/composer Ludwig Goransson (Oppenheimer, Black Panther, Mandalorian, Childish Gambino, Haim), Oscar and GRAMMY-winning producer Mike Elizondo (Encanto, Twenty One Pilots, Carrie Underwood), GRAMMY-winning writer/producer Jason Evigan (Troye Sivan, Dan + Shay), GRAMMY-nominated Dave Bassett (Elle King, Vance Joy, Alice Merton), S1 (Eminem, Drake, Lorde), and Mark Jackson & Ian Scott (Bishop Briggs, Dorothy).  It has also produced a handful of singles since late 2022, including “Tin Cups” (featuring Aloe Blacc), “Baby Don’t,” “Ride Or Die” (featuring Vic Mensa), and “Forget About Us.”

And just last month ZZ Ward dropped “On One,” featuring artist, musician, and filmmaker Jean Deaux.  The track, which fuses hip-hop and the grittiest kind of soul, addresses the empowerment the singer/songwriter felt that came along with becoming a mother.  The song is accompanied by a music video that ZZ made with her filmmaker brother, Adam Ward (Parole Officers, Bad Advice), which follows up their previous video for “Forget About Us.”  The two videos combine to make a two-part Zombie-Western mini-movie.  And curious to hear what the future holds next for Dirty Shine, considering that there was at least a five-year gap between the artist’s first two full-lengths, I ask ZZ what she’s got planned for after these dates, but she tells me that there’s already brand-new stuff well in the works: “I’m already working on my next album…  I just want to put out music as often as I can that I’m really proud of.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.