SALT LAKE CITY — Some people call ZZ Ward “the hat girl,” as the blues-rock artist from Oregon always dons a fedora while singing her heart out.
To date, Ward estimates she owns around 15 fedoras of various shades and styles — a small collection, in her opinion.
But the fedora isn’t an accessory Ward wears just to be trendy: It’s a style she developed when she was 12 years old, singing onstage in her father’s blues band.
“Wearing a fedora onstage somehow made me feel like I could be more confident like Muddy Waters and Big Mama Thornton,” she said. “So that’s actually why I started wearing a hat onstage, and now I’d feel really weird if I didn’t.”
Ward isn’t the only one benefitting from the fedoras. For Halloween 2015, the singer loaned one to her fellow musician and friend, violinist/dancer Lindsey Stirling, who thought one of Ward’s fedoras would be the perfect addition to her homemade Mary Poppins costume.
The two first collaborated to write Stirling’s song “Hold My Heart,” which is on the violinist’s 2016 album “Brave Enough.” The song features Ward’s bluesy vocals and Stirling’s violin flare. In between recording sessions, Ward was surprised — and amused — to find Stirling dedicated to creating her Mary Poppins outfit.
“I love Lindsey, and to (be with) her in the studio was really cool. She really knew what she wanted to write about, and she’s so powerful and confident, and I love that about her. And she was in the studio sewing her Halloween outfit — like making it from scratch,” Ward said with a laugh. “For as successful as she is, she’s so down to earth and she’s got such a good heart.”
Ward and her fedora will take the Depot stage in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 30. The singer shared her devotion to music — from playing on street corners to performing four-hour restaurant sets to finally making it on a big stage — with the Deseret News in advance of her upcoming show.
By the time Ward was 12 years old and performing in her father’s blues band, she was singing music well beyond her years, thanks to her parents raising her on the music of Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton and Howlin’ Wolf. But today, the singer doesn’t think of herself as solely a blues artist.
“It gave me a really solid appreciation for blues music, and I think that’s been a huge part of the music that I make today,” she said. “I like to stay inspired. I don’t like to put myself in a box, so I think that some of my songs aren’t always blues songs, but my foundation is definitely in the blues.”
This is evident from Ward’s two albums, which blend blues, rock, R&B and pop to share the stories and experiences that have shaped Ward into the musician and person she is today. Her breakthrough single from 2012, “Put the Gun Down,” tells of a relationship that had Ward feeling threatened at the time — although she assures her fans that an actual gun was not part of the experience.
“As a songwriter, you have the ability to make more out of less,” Ward said. “Because I’m a very emotional person, a very sensitive person, some (situations) can drive me crazy. Luckily I’m able to write music and that’s real therapeutic for me. … The one thing that I try to do consistently is be authentic with my words, be very honest about what I’m going through. I think that’s all I can do.”
Perhaps nothing illustrates this point more than the process Ward went through to create her second and most recent album, “The Storm,” which was released last year. During the five-year gap between the two albums, the blues songstress created a full-length record that she ended up tossing out the window.
“I wrote the majority of (my first) album in my brother’s apartment by myself. It was so at the core of me — it was so real,” Ward said. “When I started to do that (second) album that I threw away, … I just realized that I wanted to go deeper, that I wasn’t fulfilled with what I had done.”Comment on this story
The result of this painstaking process is a strong and emotional album Ward believes to be authentic to her life, and she plans on giving all of that real-life grit to her audience at the Depot Tuesday night when she performs the entire record.
“My music’s coming out of the blues, my music’s coming out of struggle and heartbreak, and people relate to that,” she said. “And I think that’s why people come to my shows. It might not be their exact story, but they can relate to those feelings and, in that moment, they’re not alone.”
If you go …
What: ZZ Ward in concert
When: Tuesday, Jan. 30, 7 p.m.
Where: The Depot, 400 W. South Temple
How much: $25 in advance; $27 the day of