My Day With ZZ Ward: Coachella Edition
So who is ZZ Ward? Imagine if her Twitter followers did more than just track 140 characters, and had the opportunity to follow her in real life. Or those hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans, racking up millions of views on YouTube, if they had the opportunity to “like” something in the real world, high-fiving this soulful artist every time she belted out a note to make you cry. Any fan would happily explain to you who ZZ Ward is and why her sultry, gritty voice is tearing up the music world, leading to an early-career appearance at Coachella. But since they don’t have the opportunity to trail ZZ in the real world (and if they did, it might lead to a restraining order), I’m here to report on their behalf. This past weekend, during the above-mentioned Coachella appearance, I had the opportunity to join ZZ Ward, “Almost Famous”-style, on a journey with a friend-to-friend-level intimacy, discovering an artist who casually conveys volumes of emotion with a feminine, yet staunchly tough, personality. From house to backstage, I tagged along with ZZ during her Weekend 1 Coachella performance. Yes, I was that person, the one with a composition book in hand, jotting down notes. But while I was losing cool points each time I did so, I don't care, because I was part of her inner circle for the day, and here's some highlights to prove it.
Finding which house ZZ Ward rented for Coachella wasn't tough to figure out. After turning the corner into The Haciendas gated estates, there was only one Spanish bungalow surrounded by a slew of black vehicles. While this entourage was suitable for a presidential detail, today it housed the powerhouse voice that is ZZ on an otherwise deserted Laredo Court. Ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit is usually about 17 degrees too warm for my taste, but today’s steamy weather seemed to burn through the clouds with a pleasantness that made the sky a little extra vibrant, and the palm trees lining my way a little more welcoming.
The full crew was in attendance. And by crew, I mean everyone you can imagine who’d want to be there for the Coachella Moment. The management. The PR team. The entourage. But most notably (after ZZ, of course) was Muddy. To clarify, we're not talking about the father of modern Chicago blues, Muddy Waters, although that would be pretty badass (and disturbing and impossible, God rest his soul). We're talking about the most adorable border terrier and ZZ's most important tour companion. I wasn't long until we were best friends. It also wasn't long before I reminded myself what I was there for…leading to:
Time to go through her clothes. No, I wasn’t being creepy; I had permission to dig through wardrobe racks, and to take pictures of ZZ's performance loot. "Daytime or Performance Options," her "Coachella Day Looks," whatever. And though there are a lot of unique experiences in my life, I can honestly say rifling through a female rock star’s rucksack and wardrobe wasn’t previously on the list. To clarify, I looked through these bags of accessories, her high-heeled shoes, and her signature black fedora all with the utmost manliness. Guys can respect good organizational skills, and a complimentary bracelet. Organized is the new effortless, bro.
A roll of film and stack of Polaroids later, the arrival was imminent. With ZZ’s impending descent into reality, the lights seemed to get brighter, and her entourage broke from their football huddle with a clear plan. All systems skipped "are you ready?" and went straight to "go." Credentials were distributed, itineraries were confirmed, passenger lists of which car and driver were all appointed. On the rush out the door, while both cameras swung from my shoulders, composition book and pen in hand, I couldn't help but take note of a fan-made banner ZZ had hung in the room that read in bright colored markers: "We Would See ZZ 365 Days."
Ten different people will have ten different opinions on the precise description of a manager. You'll also hear more often than not, that there are no friends in business. So, I guess the point I'm making here is that ZZ's manager is probably better described as family. A big brother if you will (however, with a car that's likely way better than yours), though of no blood relation. But a big brother whose every interaction is in sync with his client. From strategizing on social media to reviewing her day's schedule, from going over the notes she wants to hit (pun intended) during her upcoming interviews to simply when to let Muddy out for his fifteen minute swim, ZZ is counting on him, and he's there for her - and in most cases, one step ahead.
Let me set the scene. At this point we're mid-trip en route to ZZ's first radio interview, the black tinted windows are cracked, and the warm breeze wafts in from over the desert landscape. There was almost a serenity to it compared to what was already most assuredly underway a few miles in the distance at the festival itself. And while fans might be over there listening to a set, or jamming to the radio on their way, in our car there was absolutely no need for the radio when ZZ is sitting in the front passenger seat humming. Music emanates from her as naturally as it is for most people just to breathe. Unfortunately for me, this blissful moment was abruptly halted as our five-car caravan pulled into the La Quinta Resort & Spa where the ALT 98.7 & Stella interview & Pre-Chella Style Lounge awaited our arrival. Let the chaos begin.
Stella AND ALT 98.7 both pride themselves on targeting men and women who lead a certain lifestyle. Under the Stella tagline "She is a thing of beauty," ALT 98.7 interviewers position themselves next to ZZ, poolside, to indulge in that rare luxury of an intimate interview with the singer. And interviewing ZZ is to learn that she is not white picket fences, but rather an artist with a particular voice and grit. When she opens her mouth to share the latest tidbit or dulcet tone, that sound you hear feels like it’s taken seasons of weather to distress and wear down to just the right grainy perfection. That's my definition of sophistication, which took Alt 98.7’s DJ by the heart, just like it does me and her legions of fans.
Somehow, following the interview, ZZ's entourage continued to grow, and all of us were now in tow to the Pre-Chella Style Lounge. Nothing beats a refreshing beverage in this heat, except maybe the freebies for artists from generous brands like Drop Shades and Eye Cartel. Everything comes with a price, however, and ZZ was totally game to lend her support with a friendly amount of promotional picture-taking behind the various companies' step-and-repeats. And while I had already rifled through our artist’s wardrobe, this was the first time I could actually picture ZZ shopping, as she tried on different pairs of sunglasses. What do you get when you cross ZZ's stage persona, and a girl trying on stylish eyewear? Naomi Campbell? No, that’s definitely not it.
Time flies when you’re recording someone else’s every move. It seemed as though we had just pulled into the parking lot, but before I knew it, everyone was already back in the car buckling up. No wonder ZZ's so fit. This is celebrity cardio.
ZZ and her manager quickly downloaded their thoughts on the first interview and readied her for the next. The one hiccup—as it is for anyone attending the vast world of Coachella is what artist is your favorite? With so many on display, and 75,000 fans streaming across countless stages and other attractions, how are you supposed to pick a single favorite from the musical buffet? And it’s got to be harder for ZZ because here’s the difference: she’s part of the buffet. Swarmed and pounded by crowds, just the thought gave me anxiety, but she was playing it cool. I think she decided that when in doubt, just say Haim. And then time to hit the next questions, except, wait, we're already pulling up to the second radio review? Yep, that's us pulling in like the President surrounded by his brigade of Secret Service vehicles.
Heat. More heat. I can’t emphasize this enough about Coachella. But ZZ taught me something she learned from the all-wise Muddy. "Find shade and wait." Within a few seconds, the entourage fell in line and our caravan and the cardio continued.
Interviews. More interviews. A few miles from the festival, San Diego's independent radio 91X had set up camp in a nearby house, now a pop up station. This is the MO of every station on the planet, apparently. The only question is if you have a pool and ice water. When we arrived, the band “Cage The Elephant” was in the hot seat, so our team scattered under separate cover, while I followed ZZ to the kitchen (aka green room) in search of the above ice water. And the air conditioning was heavenly. It was the only location along the trip that I felt comfortable having ZZ sign the Polaroids I took earlier without fear of watching them melt away. And after, I figured I'd join them in the refrigerator afterwards if time allowed. It didn't. The interview was as a quick as the first, followed by more promotional pics and the signing of a few guitars.
Okay, time to trade the Sharpie for a wardrobe, as ZZ used one of the bedrooms to change into her performance garb. Sound check was about thirty minutes away, so everyone took up their position like expert gunners in an attack flight, each manning a position and ready for takeoff.
How many cars in a ZZ caravan can make a green light? This was something we put to the test against the smooth sounds of Jason Derulo's "Wiggle," featuring Snoop Dogg. ZZ's pump up music of choice. Maybe it was those Eye Cartel glasses she slipped on, or the song's stripped down trap beat, but with every passing moment, we had a dancing starlet in the front seat ever more ready to slay a sound check. Our Amazing Race crossed the Coachella finish line into the Artist parking lot. This particular lot is a luxury that not even the loser VIP wristbands are given access to.
How cool would it be to then have a golf cart to escort you onto the grounds, and backstage? I halfway know! While my credentials got me into the festival, I could only go so far without being on the Artist's A-team. The Coachella operation has a way of running a tight ship and stripping down the entourage, and so they did. Besides, I wanted to be in the crowd to watch her do her thing. There’s nothing like being part of a crowd when ZZ’s taking them away with her sultry tones and fiery performance. I gave ZZ a high-five until we met again.
Since losing out on golf cart status, my VIP wristband and I were forced to get in line. It's not even worth acting British at this point and calling it "a queue." It was a total line, with other "festival goers," bag checks, and pat downs. And the Ford modeling agency did not employ the pat downs.
Is that Umami Burger?
Umami Burger experience complete.
The fact that it was now 246 degrees and that I may or may not have been sweating my clothes off after my walk-jog-a-thon to the Mojave Stage is not important. What is in fact notable was the final team huddle between ZZ's bandmates before they took the stage. I was about twenty feet from this exchange but I'm sure they discussed at some level "How cool is it that Kick Kick Snare is here? Everyone put your hands into the circle and bring forth your loudest K-K-S!" Or maybe not. But I’m still reporting it just exactly as if it had happened that way.
ZZ didn't waste much time setting the Mojave Stage straight. "One rule. The more you give us, we'll give it right back to ya." That's when "Overdue" sounded off. Imagine the ground covered in Pop Rocks, and torrential rain pouring down through the tent's roof. That was meant to describe a shear explosion, and probably not whatever you visualized. That’s what happens when ZZ takes the stage and jumps right in. Shear explosion.
ZZ's harmonica came out to smack me across the face and demand a thank you. Me and thousands of other people.
"I've been waiting for you."
A singer-songwriter whose artistry spins on a luminous axis of voice and soul, ZZ is an artist in whose work bluesy southern rock & dirty beats collide. Often hidden under her signature fedora, and draped stylings, ZZ pulls back the curtain during a performance every now and then to show off a little. She may belt the blues, but there should be nothing blue about her joy and being blessed with ‘dem genes and ‘dat natural talent. Only someone comfortable in their own skin can allow themselves to take such chance and be exposed, and ladies and gentlemen, that’s what makes her performances rock.
If Adele was born half a century ago in a shed on the bayou and wore overalls everyday, then moved to 8 Mile circa 2000 to get her rap on, you’d totally have ZZ Ward AND Hollywood’s next biopic! “365 Days” makes me feel like I could seriously pound a whiskey shot and kick a chair right now. We’ve already established my manliness, so I’m okay admitting these are some good female empowerment songs. Dump the loser! Bash his headlights! Get it Girl!
ZZ’s soundscapes will indulge your senses, whether you’re living a tail of loss and rejection, or just need to get away. She’ll keep the rawness of your feelings in tact, and take you on an emotionally cathartic journey no matter where you are in life. Am I singing along to Last Love Song like no one can hear me? Yes. But luckily, it's pretty damn loud and you know what..? So is everyone else. But this is my private moment in a sea of thousands and everyone is trespassing and should probably be prosecuted.
What instrument do you want to hear ZZ play next? Harmonica, check. Guitar, check. Piano, check. Tuba? There probably just wasn't enough time in the set. I'm confident she could probably play Tuba and still score more cool points than Michael Jordan.
"Want to hear one more song? One condition. You better have the fucking time of your life during it. Let's do this shit."
The crowd’s energy was so intense, and their already-won love so exuberantly given, the day had the feel of a raucous coronation. Mark my words, ZZ is a star, quite possibly in a celestial sphere of her very own. I recommend listening to her "Til The Casket Drops" LP through trusted headphones to hear the intricacies within each bar. I’ve said it before but ZZ manages to balance being mainstream with a unique kitsch that drives every listener, myself included, to die hard fandom. And just like that, end scene.
I don’t even know what to do with myself at this point. Am I alive? Technically, the festival just began, but after THAT, I’d be cool calling it a weekend. If you’re a journalist, you’ll relate to the anxiety that quickly follows. Suddenly I’m religious praying to EVERYTHING that the notes I took will give the experience justice, and that the camera is holding the pictures I need. Take a deep breath. Oh shit, the set lists!
Two set lists, secured. And signed.
In terms of giveaways, we have hit the jackpot! And not just once - twice! We are giving away two prize packages including the following:
• Copy of ZZ Ward's 'Til The Casket Drops' CD • Signed Coachella Weekend 1 Set List • 2 Signed Polaroids • ZZ Ward Promo Poster • Exclusive ZZ Ward Harmonica
To enter, follow @KickKickSnare on Instagram, and "like" the giveaway image! We'll be announcing two winners today at 3PM!