When Zsuzsanna Eva Ward, more commonly known as ZZ Ward, hit the music scene in 2012, she released an EP, “Criminal,” the world got a taste of the bluesy rocker from Oregon. Then she dropped “Til The Casket Drops” where her single “Put The Gun Down” broke into the Billboard top 40 charts. Not too long after, her latest album “The Storm” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Blues chart and she’s selling out shows across the country and performing on live late night TV with the likes of Jimmy Kimmel and, in the days past, Jay Leno.
But don’t let her bluesy vibes make you think you can box her into one genre. Her roots of music are a mix of Muddy Waters with some Jay Z; a lot of blues with some hip-hop flair. After dropping her interpretations of popular rap songs at the times from big names in the industry like Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator on her mixtape “Eleven Roses,” ZZ Ward showed everyone she isn’t just a one-trick pony.
She’s performing at the Newport Music Hall on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m., but before she hits the stage, we caught up with her to reflect on her journey thus far and to see just what the future holds for the talented musician.
Who were some of your bigger influencers on how you made music?
Those blues artists and I always liked artists that wrote their own music. It was something I found very inspiring, something that should give you a voice as an artist beyond your actual voice. It’s your words, your ideas, your stories. That was definitely something that was important to me when I write my own stuff.
And through all your recent work, you’ve had the chance to work with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. What has been the most memorable experience for you so far?
They are all pretty amazingly memorable. Touring with Eric Clapton was obviously a huge, huge honor; I loved that, that was incredible. Playing on the Tonight Show for the first time was very surreal. It was incredible, definitely one of the highlights. I also got to perform “Sharp Dressed Man” with Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top and that was pretty awesome … Like we just did Jimmy Kimmel and that’s always such an incredible rush. It’s like an ultimate high after you played on something like that to know you’re being seen by so many people. I come from such a small rural town—like only 1,500 people—so like coming from there and having these incredible opportunities is really amazing.
You’ve also had your music featured on many different TV shows and movies, what was that feeling like when you got the first call from Pretty Little Liars that your work would be featured on the show?
It was amazing! I was really fortunate to have a lot of incredible placement of my music. And it was really cool to just see some of the different collaborations when TV and film happen … Recently, we made the end song for the movie “Cars 3,” the song is called “Ride” and it’s a collaboration I did with Gary Clark J.R., and that was first time I went to a movie premier and my song was in the movie. I’ve had my songs in movies before, I had a song in “We Are The Millers” and some other different movies, but this was the first song that I was asked to write for the film. And for an animated film. So that was really amazing.
Your EP “Eleven Roses” was kind of your interpretation of popular rap songs at the time and it’s really an interesting perspective from a bluesy rock/R&B artist. What made you want to do something like this?
My idea was, at that point, I was writing my first album and in a really creative space. Writing that mixtape for me was like a break from writing the album. I didn’t really have an intention with it, they were just songs that I was working on that I liked, I really liked the beats and I practiced writing these songs over the beats. I grew up with a lot of hip-hop and I’d go to Freddie Gibbs shows and I’m a huge fan of like Kendrick Lamar. It was just something fun that I did so it was really cool that it was so well received.
For your show, are you going to do more of your newer work or are you going to do more of a mix between older songs plus newer songs?
Definitely a mixture. This show for me is a culmination of everything that I’ve done. So it’s songs from “Eleven Roses”; it’s songs from “Til The Casket Drops”; it’s songs from “The Storm.” It’s really cool having so much material at this point to be able to play a long show with a lot of songs. I really paid attention this time to what people were requesting. I looked online and saw what all my fans were saying and asked them what they wanted to hear. I kind of planned the entire show around them and what they liked.
Photo provided by Hollywood Records.