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10 things to know about hip-hop-influenced blues singer ZZ Ward

Whether or not you watch “The Voice,” you’ve probably seen recent commercials for NBC’s show and wondered about that incredibly catchy song playing in the background.

It’s “Put the Gun Down,” one of many irresistible tracks from ZZ Ward’s debut full-length “Til the Casket Drops,” out Oct. 16. The record blends blues and hip-hop to incredibly effective ends and features guest turns from Freddie Gibbs, Kendrick Lamar and Chicago soul rockers The O’My’s.

Here are 10 things we learned about the 24-year-old singer (who lives in L.A. but grew up in Pennsylvania and Oregon) when she sat down with us before her show at Schubas.

In light of her song “Move Like You Stole It,” the worst thing she ever stole was … “I guess when I was little--we were in a candy store recently and I was like, “I remember when I was little I used to literally walk around and think that you could just eat the candy. Like, ‘Why can’t you just eat the candy?’ And then I got in trouble and I was like, “Wow, not supposed to do that.” [Laughs]

At the age of 13 or 14, she performed blues sets with her dad at bars for up to four hours. “I’m happy that I have those experiences because sometimes things go wrong in a show and it doesn’t always go as planned … a lot of times they would just draw X’s on my hand [because I was underage]. So then I couldn’t drink, but I’d go sing in blues bars.”

Why wasn’t she supposed to listen to her brother’s albums when she was younger, which sparked her hip-hop influences? “Probably because of curse words. That’s the number one reason I’m’ sure. My parents, and even my brothers were like, ‘She can’t listen to that, she can’t hear that.’ That made me want to listen to it even more.”

What she learned from opening for rap artists such as Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: “Probably to work the crowd. I think that with blues it’s all about the sincerity and it’s all about feeling the song connecting with what you’re singing with, but I think the hip-hop shows taught me to work the crowd.”

Why is her current tour called the “Down and Dirty Shine” tour? “Dirty shine is something I started saying because this is my first record and a lot of people are hearing that it’s different, the style, it’s hip hop and blues and it’s not something that people have heard before. I didn’t really think about that when I was making it, I just thought it’s me. So I’m just going to do  it… so dirty shine is just like shining dirty. It’s just being who you are.”

Her album focuses on the ups and downs of relationships. How do you know when something is worth fighting for and when it’s time to throw in the towel? “That’s a great question. I don’t think I wouldn’t be the one to say that I know, but I think when I was making this record I was trying to figure it out.  [Laughs] So at the end of all of it I think I got my answer … I think that every writer can connect with different things. For me, I don’t know, when I feel a certain way about a relationship that I’m in, whether I’m super excited about it or really really pissed off at someone, that’s the time where I go write.”

She’s described herself as “back porch blues meets hip-hop.” Is there a difference between back porch and front porch blues? “[Laughs] No, I just think that when I was making my record, I put a lot of acoustic guitar on my record because I just wanted to keep that feel of that really rootsy blues feeling. I listened to a lot of Allen Lomax recordings before I made this recording, so that really inspired me.”

Which judge on “The Voice” she’d want as a team captain: “Probably Cee-Lo Green. I think he’s very cool and interesting. It would be fun to work with him. [Laughs] … I’ve seen the cats that he has. Have you seen he has these cats that he has with him? …I don’t watch the show that much, but I’ve seen him in pictures where he has these cats with him, so I respect that a lot. It’s different.”

She owns 40 or 50 hats: “I love having an option with the hats. But it’s hard to travel with hats. So when I go on tour I’m still trying to figure out how to like … I need a giant hat box.”

Her guilty pleasures: "Forrest Gump,” John Mayer’s “Continuum”

@mattpais, mpais@tribune.com
 

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