Charlie Ward

The Incomparable Indie Artist That Is Miss ZZ Ward

On her own in the best way possible, ZZ Ward’s career has found a new path – one that is just as personal as before, even more close to home, and finds her challenging expectations like only she can.

ZZ Ward literally and figuratively wears many hats. As a newly independent artist, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter books her own tours, serves as a cast stylist, catering coordinator, and more while filming music videos. She also designs her own line of her trademark fedoras. Did we mention she is also a new mother who deftly balances her professional and personal lives? Yes, that is ZZ Ward.

She’s also one of the most unique and inspiring artists in music. Her infectious songs blend aspects of blues with rock, neo-soul, R&B, and more. When she performs, she exudes energy. Her vocals on her forthcoming album Dirty Shine, out September 8, are powerful with confident verses and smart choruses. 

You could say that Ward’s music is simply a blending of genres, but that’s not accurate. She does much more than simply throw what some would say is a disparate mix of music on the wall and see what sticks. Rather, Ward has crafted her own, captivating sound. Such is her extraordinary talent. 

Her fans have taken to her Dirty Shine ethos of self-empowerment, following her journey while understanding how to embrace your true, authentic self – including scars and imperfections. We loved getting to speak to her.

Your upcoming album, Dirty Shine, melds several musical styles for a sound all your own. What was your first love?

I grew up listening to a lot of my dad and mom’s music, which was a lot of blues – Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, Robert Johnson, Son House. I really got into the blues when we moved from Pennsylvania to Oregon when I was eight. That was always playing in our house all the time. Then I started singing in my dad’s blues band when I was 12 or 13, so I started learning how to sing in front of a crowd and perform with a blues band. Then I started listening to my brother’s hip-hop and rap CD collection, like Nas and Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige. It was kind of like this mish mosh of music I grew up listening to. 

Is there one genre that you prefer most? 

I don’t try to adhere to one genre of music. I just make music that moves me. I make songs that make me feel badass and make me feel empowered. As far as what genre it is… I know it’s a mixture of different genres, but I never think of it that way. That’s why it’s probably so hard to put me in one genre. 

You are performing at the Gramercy Theatre on September. 9, one day after the release of Dirty Shine, which is also your first album as an independent artist. How much are you anticipating the show? 

It’s really special. The whole tour is going to be incredibly special to me because it’s my first tour as an independent artist. It’s a brand new chapter in my life. Coming out of the pandemic, I became a new mother. I also parted ways with my record label that I’d been with for 10 years. It’s a really rewarding time in my life right now because I feel like I’m not taking the path that’s easy; I’m taking the path that’s less travelled. I’m just so proud to put this album out, and to be going on this tour and playing in New York will be so special. I always love playing in New York. It’s got such a certain vibe to it that just can’t be replicated anywhere else.

Why did you decide to become an independent artist?

It had just been a long time and I think that it just made sense to go down this new path for me and it was the right time to do it. I’ve had a lot of experience with so many facets of the business and creating music well, from the writing to the recording studio, booking a tour to how to tour. I learned so much about it over the years.

I started out doing all this stuff. I started out booking my own shows. I started out selling my demos in parking lots, busking, playing my music with a guitar on street corners with my guitar case open. Playing everywhere I could, telling people about my music – telling them that they should check out my music. A lot of that is not new to me. It’s not super hard for me to dig in and get my hands dirty. It’s something that comes natural and that just feels like full circle for me. 

Speaking of rebirth, how has becoming a mother impacted you as a person and as an artist?

It’s an enormous life change. I couldn’t have expected how much it would change my life. In so many ways it’s influenced my music. It’s influenced my life. It’s the best thing in my life without question. He’s the best thing in my life, but I also have this love for music that cannot be contained. It will always be there in my soul and it has to be expressed. It’s this interesting balance between becoming a new mother and figuring out what the balance is between the things that you need and the things that you crave. And then also being selfless and taking care of another human life.

It’s a very interesting thing and in the most magical way it has made me feel even more motivated and inspired to play music and to work hard and continue to learn. I play music around my son all the time and he’s really into it. It makes me want to show him about working hard – that his mom took the road less traveled and he can do whatever he wants if he works hard at it and is smart. 

The album title, Dirty Shine, has been your motto for years. What does it mean?

When I first started playing out nationally, touring here, I was a blonde girl with a fedora on singing this kind of interesting combination of blues and hip-hop. It felt like this kind of movement that my fans actually came up with; just being your true self and letting it shine even if it’s not the norm. It’s embracing who you are to your core I feel like that when I play live, too. I have such a diverse fan base. I felt like it was a no brainer to name my album that. 

Your brother, Adam William Ward, works on the video aspect of your music.

It’s been an incredible, incredible chapter of my music career working with my brother on this series of music videos. He’s so talented. He’s an independent filmmaker and he’s made a show called “Three Guys and a Couch.” He made his own independent movie called “Wally Got Wasted.” I have a little cameo in it! Just being able to see him make independent films by himself and with his friends, it really inspired me to keep going and be an independent artist.

My brother knows how to do film and I know how to do music. I have a lot of good ideas for videos and Adam knows things like how to put together a shot list and how to find a good director of cinematography. He’s so gifted. He’s also a director and a producer. He’s so great at giving direction. We have such a fun time working together. It doesn’t feel like work. All the music videos I ever made before – when I was signed to a label – were easier in a way because I had a bunch of people helping me. Now I do everything myself. I’m helping order the food and I’m doing my own makeup. I’m my own stylist. I’m everybody’s stylist. We’re all wearing all these different hats. The truth is I’ve never had so much fun in my life doing music videos because I’m doing it with my brother Adam William Ward and my brother Charlie is taking photos. He’s become a really big photographer. He shot the album cover. It’s just been such a great time. It’s only brought us closer.  

Photo by Charlie Ward

You also keep it in the family by working with your husband, Evan Bogart.

I’ve worked with him for 12 years. I worked on my first album with him, as well. We get along quite well. He’s very, very talented. We’ve been continually working together on this new album. We love to collaborate. He’s amazing and I’m very fortunate that I have his help with writing and working on the videos and putting the tour together. 

Dirty Shine includes several interludes between the songs. Is that to bring a sense of connection to the album? 

I think it’s interesting. There’s a part of it that’s against the grain. Music has changed so much; what the album experience is to people isn’t what it was anymore and it’s sad in a way. Because I think that’s something special and that I want to fight for (the album listening experience), putting this album on vinyl to make it even extra special for people. The interludes, for me, were a way to make it feel that you aren’t just slapping 12 songs together. That’s the way albums used to be made when they were thought of as a body of work. 

What is the inspiration behind making your own fedoras?

I’ve always worn fedoras since I was a kid. I used to shake when I went onstage when I was little. I was so nervous to sing in front of people. I would shake so much I couldn’t even sing properly.  I started wearing a hat to be like my dad – be like a bluesman. It was almost a cape that I would wear like a superhero. It gave me more confidence, more meaning. It’s something that has always had meaning for me. 

I’ve always performed with a fedora on since putting out music professionally. I wanted control of the shape of the hat I was hearing, the feeling, the design. I had so many ideas and I learned from a milliner how to make hats. I have my line up on my store now, on my website. I can make my own hats when I want to. It’s something I really enjoy. I hope that people that get my hats can also share that feeling of having some kind of new level of confidence.