Lauren Ruth Ward walks to the beat of her own drum. She can't help it. She was "born on a Friday," so... say no more, right? The L.A. (by way of Baltimore) musician is a ride or die rock star, effortlessly evoking Janis Joplin's cadence with Florence Welch's wailing vocals. She's fearless in her outspokenness and half-asses nothing.
"I like to be a rebel with a cause," Ward says over the phone from her L.A. home. "I can't turn off my empath switch." It's her nature, then, and songwriting is her way of making sense of the world around her; it has been since she was an early teen. The "cliché age of wild tornadoes of emotion" gave way to an innate need to self-express that has grown from "1950s-style hair and a '80s wardrobe" to Penny Lane-levels of California cool. She's her own source of empowerment. She's her own source of release. As she so matter-of-factly puts it in one of her songs, "Buddy, I don't need you/ I can make love to myself."
Come February 9, Ward's debut album, Well, Hell, will be out and, with it, a force not felt in the music scene since Lana Del Rey dropped "Blue Jeans." Well, Hell is a fully-formed project, one that wears its influence on its sleeve, so, naturally, it's by an artist with an unwavering vision of herself and her body of work. It's rebellious, but it's not just for kicks. Ward prefers thoughtful recklessness over the alternative. "I like to make sure I'm doing things as correctly as possible," Ward says. She's her own champion, making magic with people who champion her and hold her accountable. "My vibe is, if I'm gonna be affected by it, like my music, I need to be in control," she says. "But what helps me calm down is focusing on the one thing that I'm actually doing and work with people that believe in your vision." Hence her devotion to her band members, Eduardo Rivera, Liv Slingerland, and India Pascucci.
Photo by Victoria Craven
At the end of the day, though, it's Ward's show, and she prefers it that way. "I think that if you just rely on yourself and something goes wrong, it's a reflection on you," she says, "not those around you." That she holds herself accountable to an aspirational degree only amplifies the conviction that comes through her music. Well, Hell isn't just a shrug of emotion, like complying with some sort of rebuff, it's a shout into the abyss. "Is hell real?" Ward asks. "Like I say in the song, 'If you don't believe in hell, well, hell.' Like, what's keeping you in check?"
A lofty question that isn't easily answered, but you best believe Ward's in pursuit of it. But it's only through songs that explore the complexity of queer sexuality ("Blue Collar Sex Kitten"), long-distance relationships ("Sheet Stains"), and unbridled independence ("Staff Only") does she begin to find clarity. And when delivered with the raspy, warped gusto Ward boasts, that clarity is possible. Well, it certainly feels as though it is. Sigh. Well, hell, indeed.