ZZ Ward has been turning heads nonstop with her soulful performances for the last year and a half. After crisscrossing North America on multiple tours and playing at SXSW the past two years, the buzz has been building for this singer-songwriter whose sound is a potent mash-up of rock, soul, hip-hop, and R&B. She's playing to sizable crowds nowadays, but she has not forgotten some of the first surreal moments she experienced on tour.
"I remember one of my first solo shows, where I realized people knew the lyrics to my songs and my album wasn't even out yet," Ward says. "It was so new to me, having fans -- fans that have never met you, but they love your music and they love you and are so excited you're there. It's a really amazing experience."
The fans' enthusiasm at her shows has been all the fuel she needs to keep going.
"It really does help," says Ward. "It makes a huge difference. When we walk into a room and the people are pumped, and they're cheering and screaming, and they want to have a good time -- that makes it so much more fun. No matter how tired you are sometimes, people can really get you pumped up."
People have good reason to be pumped up about Ward, because she brings it on her full-length debut, 2012's 'Til the Casket Drops. Ward's throaty vocals give the hip-hop piano title track a confident vibe, and she puts the smack down on a woman trying to take her man in the Motown-flavored rocker "Put the Gun Down."
Ward's lyrics make the already groovy "Move Like U Stole It" hotter than a five-alarm fire, and when she howls on the bluesy "Cryin Wolf (Featuring Kendrick Lamar)," the results are electric. Her live shows produce a similar result.
"Fi-yah!" Ward exclaims, when asked what her live show is like.
"My band and I love playing. We love being on stage and we love music, so there's going to be a lot of energy, and the audience is going to feel our passion for music. We give it our all. We leave it all on the stage! That's what people want to see and what people keep coming back to see."
With the recent release of her 365 Days EP as well as releasing a cover of blues singer and guitarist Son House's "Grinnin in Your Face" for Record Store Day earlier this year, Ward has been keeping her fans engaged while introducing some people to the blues.
"I love that song and thought it would be cool if I covered it," Ward says. "But when I think about where it started and where it got to...sometimes people come to my shows now and know the lyrics to 'Grinning in Your Face,' and they had never heard it before I had done it. So I think bringing blues to a new generation is a really cool thing."
With all the attention ZZ's music has been drawing, both she and her fans have to be glad she never gave up on being a musician even when times were tough. But she did have one weak moment she never forgets.
"I decided to get a job in a diner," Ward recalls. "It was right by the freeway and I kept staring at the cars driving by, thinking I needed to get out of there. After one day.
"I just felt like, 'I am not supposed to be working in this restaurant and I can feel it in every part of my body! I need to leave right now!'"
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ZZ Ward is scheduled to perform Wednesday, September 11, at Crescent Ballroom.