Rocker ZZ Ward talks new music, emotional honesty and the reach of social media

Merging the past with the present, singer-songwriter ZZ Ward has been fusing the grit of retro blues with contemporary pop sounds for nearly a decade now. Ward kicks off her new tour this week, which brings her through Spokane for the first time since helping rechristen the First Interstate Center for the Arts in 2018.

Ward has put out two new singles in the last couple months: "Break Her Heart" is a bitter kiss-off to a cheating ex and their new flame, while "Sex & Stardust" is the flipside, a strutting ode to the intoxication of a fledgling romance. A new album is likely to follow.

The Inlander spoke with Ward in the week before she set out on the road, discussing release strategy in the streaming age, the struggle of revealing your personal life to audiences, and the crazy reach of social media. Responses have been edited for space and clarity.

INLANDER: How would you say these new songs differ, in terms of style and influence, to the songs on your last album The Storm?

WARD: That's always a tricky question for me because when I'm creating music, I'm really moving forward. I'm not thinking about what I've done in the past. These are new experiences, new emotions that I went through. These were new stories and new situations. What I can really do is just be a vessel, in a way, and put that into my music and be open about those things. At the core of it, that's what I'm doing with the music.

With both single releases, you took to social media to explain the personal backstories behind them. What is it like being so open about a song's inspiration to hundreds of thousands of people?

You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone in a lot of ways. I mean, singing in the shower is one thing. Getting on stage and singing in front of thousands of people is another. It takes a certain amount of confidence and risk. It's not something that's very natural, especially sharing the stories behind my songs. We live in a time where social media is something that you can use to connect with your fans. I'm just kind of trying to use it as a window to connect with people. It's interesting because you hear back from people. We live in a time where we can connect with an artist like this.

And I would imagine you hear back about peoples' lives after you've shared yours. It's sort of a two-way street in that sense.

Yeah, that's really interesting. I'm very humble to that. People will tell me how it's affected them in their life, and I don't know how that all works out. It's beyond me. I write songs to help get me through stuff in my life, or help get things off my chest, and that's been a really great form of expression for me. And I think that's what people connect with the most, artists that kind of do that, because it does feel real and it is real, and then it kind of meets them where they're at in their lives.

A lot of artists are focusing more on singles than full-length records. Is the plan to eventually put out an album?

I think that's what's happening. I don't really write fluff albums, where there's one song that's really strong and then there's just a bunch of shit on it. I really dig in and try to write a group of really strong songs. Ultimately, I think there will be an album release down the line. But I like doing it this way, because it gives me an opportunity to really make the most of every moment, and let every song have its life. In the past, there have been songs that kind of get lost to the world. They don't get the life they should have.

Without giving away too many surprises, what can fans expect of the show you're bringing to Spokane?

It's a little bit of a transitional time. We're going into a new era of my music, so it's going to be kind of an introduction into what that is. There are definitely parts of my show that I think are important to people that have been my fans. I know what they want to hear, so it's a balance of that, and introducing people to the new stuff that's going on. You always have to have dynamics, a little bit of bite, a little bit of edge. ♦

ZZ Ward with Patrick Droney • Fri, Feb. 21 at 8 pm • $22.50 • All ages • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague • • 244-3279

Keola Beamer & Henry Kapono @ Bing Crosby Theater

Fri., Jan. 28, 8 p.m.
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About The Author

Nathan Weinbender

Nathan Weinbender is the Inlander's Music & Film editor. He is also a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, where he has co-hosted the weekly film review show Movies 101 since 2011.