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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Singing has always been easy for ZZ Ward

ZZ Ward performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., on April 18, 2014.  (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

While growing up in Roseburg, Oregon, ZZ Ward divided her time between her father’s blues record collection and her brother’s hip hop mixtapes. Both had a profound impact on her eventual career.

“What I listened to had such an effect on me,” Ward said while calling from Englewood, Colorado. “I loved listening to my parent’s Howlin’ Wolf and Etta James records. And then there was my brother, who was into Nas, OutKast and Jay Z.”

As a prepubescent, Ward learned how to play guitar and piano but she was most impressive as a vocalist.

“I didn’t realize that I was such a good singer until I was 8 or 9 years old,” Ward said. “It was evident that I had a special gift since when I went to slumber parties I would be asked to sing. When I would sing at the high school talent show it was like, ‘There she goes to sing.’ ”

Ward, 37, has a massive set of pipes, which is reminiscent of the soul of Adele and raw blues power of Elle King.

“I’ve always loved to sing,” Ward said. “It’s what I do.”

Ward has created three albums and a pair of EPs over the last decade including her latest, “Dirty Shine,” which dropped in September. The album blends blues, country, rock and some hip-hop elements. Dirty Shine means being authentic and that’s what the album is thanks in part to Oscar and Grammy Award winning-producer Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple and Keith Urban).

“Mike is phenomenal to work with,” Ward said. “He did such a great job with ‘Dirty Shine.’ The concept of ‘Dirty Shine’ is bigger than the record. It goes back to when I put my first album out.

“My fans and I said we are ‘Dirty Shine.’ It’s about embracing warts and all, what’s rough around the edges. It’s about being yourself and just doing what you want to do.”

Ward is on tour while being six months pregnant with her second child.

“It’s cool being out on the road like this,” Ward said. “Fortunately, I have easy pregnancies. I’m not like (comedian) Amy Schumer, who I know was very sick throughout her pregnancy.”

The songwriting approach has changed for Ward after having her son, Ezra, two years ago.

“My life has been completely altered since having my first child,” Ward said. “My approach is different now that I’m a mother with life and music.”

But what remains the same is Ward’s approach to her set list.

“I let my fans decide,” Ward said. “I kind of let them vote on it and I see what they want me to play. They’re the ones coming out so they should have a say.”