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INTERVIEW: ZZ Ward on why she’s so inspired by female musicians

ZZ Ward still remembers the female bassist from her dad’s blues band.

“The callouses on her hands I’ll never forget,” she recalls. “Bass strings are heavy, so if you play guitar, you’ll have callouses on your fingers in one spot, but with a bass you have even bigger callouses.”

Ward was inspired by all of the artists in her dad’s bands, but she knew there was something different, special even, about female voices.

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Ever since then, ZZ Ward has loved female performers, particularly Tina Turner, Etta James and Big Mama Thornton. In a recent phone interview, Ward told me that these singers inspired her because “they were doing something with passion, and not doing what was expected of them.” Ward wasn’t just enraptured by the strong voices of these artists; she was moved by their lives and the risks that they took.

Believe me when I say Ward has not let this motivation go to waste. After the release of her latest single “Love 3X” and with her next album This Means War, now available for preorder, Ward is well on her way to becoming an inspiration in her own right. Her music clearly reflects her love of the craft and her interest in combining hip-hop and the blues. That being said, Ward’s fierce determination is what sets her apart from other artists, and what leads her in the footsteps of her idols.

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Ward’s dedication to the craft has been evident from the very beginning. Well before she was ever signed, Ward booked her own tour. With a clear vision for her music, Ward actively shaped her first album as an introduction to who she is as an artist. Her second album, on the other hand, is her chance to truly explore the music and the emotions that influenced it. All this goes to show that Ward truly does practice what she preaches. When I asked her if she had any advice for new artists, she had one clear message: “Don’t let no [one] stop you.” Ward was adamant. “Try and find your voice, your own artistry. Just be proactive.” In other words, artists have to be strong and take advantage of any opportunity that comes their way. As Ward warned, “The road can make or break you.”

Ward, however, did not have any specific advice for female artists. “I think that all artists always struggle.” While Ward’s advice is certainly universal, female artists have certainly had more to deal with. Ward herself eventually shared the particular hardships that women artists face. “Sometimes people might judge you,” Ward said half-heartedly, admitting that this kind of judgement was often reserved for women rather than men. As she told me yet again about the female artists that inspired her, she couldn’t help but murmur, “I can’t imagine what they had to go through. They had to be really tough.”

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We live in a world today where people truly believe things like sexism are in the past, not something we have to deal with today. It’s true: All artists grapple with the insane obstacle course that is the music industry, but women have consistently had to work twice as hard just to be seen as somewhat equal to their male counterparts. Ward may generously have advice for all artists, but her respect for “powerful female vocalists” honors the history that female artists like herself have had to deal with. Ward’s appreciation for the female singers who came before her gave her the necessary strength to book her own tour and craft her music in the way that she wanted. Ward doesn’t hold back; she lets her life influence her music, and she wants all artists to learn from the risk-takers who came before her. In the words of ZZ Ward, “Make things happen.”

ZZ Ward’s album This Means War is set to drop September 2015.

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