‘I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt before’: Singer ZZ Ward on embracing motherhood, cutting ties with a major record label
In the past couple of years, ZZ Ward has become a mother, cut ties with a major label, released her first album as an independent artist and will soon welcome a second son
ZZ Ward isn’t shy about admitting she needs help. And the blues/rock/hip-hop artist feels lucky that she has a large group of people she can count on in a time of need — supportive fans who have bought her albums and come out to her shows over the years.
In a recent Facebook post, Ward, 37, shared that she needed help getting the word out about her tour, which extends through Nov. 18. Through Google Docs, she assembled a “street team” to hang up concert posters in the cities she’d be hitting.
In Nashville, fans showed up and helped her load her tour bus and trailer. It’s an act of service Ward isn’t bound to forget anytime soon. Reaching out to her fans on social media and asking for help is a level of transparency Ward says most likely wouldn’t happen if she were on a label, and she would know: She was signed for 10 years.
But now, as she has released her third album — her first as an independent artist on her own label, Dirty Shine Records — Ward is excited to break down some corporate walls. She’s finally meeting and learning the names of people who have been fans for years. She coordinates with her fans on a regular basis through the chat system Discord. And she’s seeing firsthand just how much her music means to people.
“I’m not scared to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I must seem like small potatoes if I’m reaching out to my fans.’ I don’t care, then it’s small potatoes. I’m trying to get my music out there, and I need help,” Ward said with a laugh. “If I was on a label, I probably would never say that kind of stuff, because you got to kind of keep this certain level of coolness. I’m past that point at this point.”
On a late October afternoon while her 21⁄2-year-old son was taking a nap, Ward, who is expecting another son in February, chatted briefly with the Deseret News about this chapter of her life that has simultaneously been “so magical and so messy.”
Going independent has been somewhat of a full-circle move for Ward, who was playing on street corners and performing four-hour restaurant sets before she ever made it to a big stage, and before labels ever showed any interest. Before she would break into Billboard’s Top 40 Alternative chart with her debut, and hit No. 1 on the Billboard Blues chart with her second album, “The Storm,” Ward was fueled by belief in herself.
And that gives her the confidence to do the same thing roughly 10 years later, although she does have more knowledge about the ins and outs of the music industry this time around.
Ward is diplomatic when asked about her split from a major label — “I’m a very loyal person, so I tend to be loyal to people even if it’s not always working out,” she said.
She’s grateful to have been signed for a decade, and she learned a lot. But changes amid the pandemic — including becoming a first-time mother — shifted her needs and priorities. Her songwriting and vision for her music were evolving. It took her day by day to find the empowerment to separate from the security of a major label, to believe that she could make it work.
But she’s there now.
“It’s weird because I think when you first start you’re like, ‘I have to get a record deal. Like I have to get signed. I can’t do this by myself,’” Ward said. “But it’s kind of interesting, because it’s not really true.”
Although Ward does acknowledge she’s not completely on her own. Her husband, Evan Kidd Bogart — whose songwriting credits include Beyonce’s “Halo” — has been a longtime partner and is her manager. Her brother, Adam Ward, has been transforming her new songs into cinematic music videos.
And then there’s her son, whose boundless energy and curiosity about everything inspires her every single day.
ZZ Ward opens up about motherhood and songwriting
Ward knows this isn’t the conventional life for her son. On a tour bus, he’s not around kids his age. But he is with both of his parents, and he’s seeing firsthand what it looks like to be proactive and take matters into your own hands. He’s learning early on that life doesn’t need to be linear or have a perfect roadmap. Every single day, he’s watching his mom live out her dream, and, as Ward said in a recent Facebook post, it is “so magical and so messy.”
“I think it’s a great time for him to be out there,” Ward said. “He’s just at that age where he’s got such a zest for life.
“One of the greatest assets you can have is to be able to reinvent yourself, to be resilient, like if one career doesn’t work out, maybe you take it, shift it somewhere else and do something else,” she continued. “I think that’s one thing the pandemic has showed us all about life in general, that things can change and things can be out of your control. Being on tour with him, being pregnant, it’s been really fun. It’s been quite an adventure.”
Ward knows the first few months after the birth of her second son will be particularly tiring and time-consuming, so she has been working pretty much throughout her entire pregnancy. Over the summer, during her first trimester, she opened for rocker Melissa Etheridge. The second trimester marked the first leg of Ward’s first tour as an independent artist, and now, as she enters her final trimester, Ward has embarked on the last leg of her tour.
For Ward, there’s some vulnerability that comes with this stage of her life — a soon-to-be mother of two overseeing every step of her music career as an independent artist. And it’s seeped into her songwriting.
While she’s written straightforward songs about the love she has for her son, songs like “On One” tap into more complex themes, combatting a societal perception Ward has often felt that motherhood makes one weak, that women are less valuable and have less to contribute once they’ve had children.
“You know what? I have to say, I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt before,” Ward said. “I feel like I’ve lived through something that almost killed me. I feel like every day I am selfless. I feel like I’m bringing up another human in this universe. Like, there’s a huge amount of empowerment and power and confidence to tap into there. So that for me speaks the loudest. That’s where I seem to draw inspiration as a new mother.”
Ward doesn’t know what her career will look like as a mom of two, but she does know she will continue to rely on the support from her fans and family that has gotten her this far. She knows it’ll give her a wealth of new experiences to draw on for her songwriting — the best way she knows how to process major life changes. And she knows that while it’ll probably be even more messy, it’ll be just that much more magical.
And she wouldn’t trade it for the world.