Lauren Ruth Ward stands in front of a mirror holding up a shimmering disco ensemble. We’re in the Echo’s green room joined by a few people that play in other bands on tonight’s bill, as well as some peripheral friends. It is the first night of Ward’s January residency and the two-piece suit and jacket on display are brand new--to her; the jacket alone is over fifty years old. “I think this has been folded in plastic since the seventies,” she remarks, gently tugging at creases in the pant legs. “I need a steamer.” Her hands continue to massage the material more and more urgently until she concedes defeat.

Fashion has always been part of Ward’s life. You can see her flaunt her style in the digital halls of Nylon, her Instagram feed, or, of course, onstage. She wishes she could spend more time at her sewing machine like she used to years ago, but she’s gotten too busy to keep up the hobby of late. That could be said of many aspects of her life: she’s finally been able to take on some painting projects since returning from a short tour, and though she no longer works in a salon, she can’t seem to give up styling hair. Needless to say, helming an indie band is no small task.

Ward has been hustling ever since she made the move to Los Angeles three years ago. She came from her hometown of Baltimore after a brief, unsatisfying stint in New York. She was realistic about it, planning ahead by saving money and getting a full-time job before committing all her energy to her art. After about a year, she put out an eponymous EP and wasted no time working on new material. (She continued to work at a salon until well into 2017.) Her more heavily rock-oriented debut full-length, Well, Hell, due out February 9th, is completely unapologetic and a shining milestone in her career.

Ward insists that this era was ushered in by her guitarist and co-writer, Eddie Rivera. They both have numbers-oriented minds, but their perspectives wildly differ--Rivera tends to write orchestral solo material rather than pop songs. “I met Eddie on November fourth, two thousand fifteen,” she recites like a machine, as we discuss the origins of the band. He had introduced himself after one of her shows and began as her bassist before graduating to lead guitarist. When they write, he helps tap a vein of grit not fully seen in her last release. Her previous EP seemed almost timid, surrounded by acoustic folk instrumentation, but the new record boasts a bolder sonic fabric.

Liv Slingerland was the next of the band brought on board, after being explicitly recruited for her skills on bass. Her solo project (named simply: Slingerland) has been gaining traction in its own right and has kept her and drummer India Pascucci busy between LRW gigs. The two met in college at USC, and though they weren’t exceptionally close, Slingerland trusted Pascucci’s talents enough to suggest her as a provisional drummer in Ward’s band when they needed her. Eventually, they decided to make her full-time as well. Clear from her antsy fidgeting in the green room, Pascucci is the most energetic of the four: she wants to record and perform and party. First, though, she wants to go on tour. “I can’t wait to spend weeks cooped up in a van with these guys,” she says beaming, motioning to her bandmates sitting beside her.

Lauren Ruth Ward

The completed cast makes Ward’s music truly come to life. In fact, some of the lyrics cannot be fully understood until you see it live. They occasionally open their shows with 'Staff Only', where Ward sings, “I was a bad daughter” and “I'd probably make a bad mother.” These lines seem self-deprecating, but are actually quoted attacks on her character that she’s endured from others. She pantomimes a talking head beside her, separating herself from these accusations as she spits into the mic, seething: “You don’t wanna make nice, you just wanna make some money.”

The slow fade-in on 'Staff Only' makes it a perfect introduction to her show, revving everyone up for the high energy spectacle about to ensue. As the record opener, lines like “You wanna throw a punch? Well, I can take a punch” prep you for an audacious thirty minutes of fury and passion. She isn’t subtle about airing her dirty laundry via songwriting, but the songs aren’t so much angry as they are hot-blooded--and ultimately cathartic. Lust accompanies resentment at a partner’s ex and heartache over an absent lover. Fierce anthems like 'Blue Collar Sex Kitten' and 'Make Love to Myself' are more immediately captivating than her previous folk ballads, and compared to her last EP, Ward’s vocals on Well, Hell soar. Aspects of the lyricism are clever, with rhyme and assonance enticing you to sing along, too.

One need not listen to this carefully to join the cult of LRW. And cult isn’t even that much of an exaggeration; already Ward has well-established fan clubs in France and Italy (not to mention all the European fan pages centered around her fiancée LP that have adopted Ward as their second mother). The French club president even sent her flowers and chocolates on the first night of her residency. Though too aloof for such gestures, her audience in Los Angeles is undoubtedly more numerous given how she continually strains the capacity of local venues. In September, she sold out her show at the Bootleg (originally meant to be an album release party before Sony’s Weekday Records moved the release date back) and to accommodate the crowd in the final two weeks of her January residency, they also moved her shows into the Echo’s more spacious sister, the Echoplex.

Ward’s charm has cultivated more than just a group of faceless devotees; at times, it seems that the entire music community is behind her, from bookers to journalists to her musician peers. Walking around the Echo before her set, she assumes the role of mayor, greeting at least a dozen fans and friends alike in our short journey to the Echo’s patio stage. When she had my ear, she’d seize the moment to rave about the band who had just wrapped their set inside, a young group called the Yip Yops. Once outside, we gave our attention to another of her talented friends, Deanna Passarella. (She would later join Ward onstage for a song.)

We make our way back up to the green room before Ward and company are set to perform. Andrew Martin of Moon Honey, who were slated as DJs that night, slinked into the room, decked out in a clean white suit with red accents, grabbing from the bowls of snacks on a table near the door. He greets her and she compliments his outfit in return. You could almost see the gears turning in her head just before she asks, “Do you have a steamer?” Without hesitation, Martin pulls out his phone to arrange for one to be brought over before her set was to begin. Not all heroes wear capes, but Martin could easily pull one off.

The stress over the steamer was worth it, as Ward looked flawless in the ensemble. She pranced around the stage with her usual gusto, wailing during the 'Sideways' chorus and channelling every beat of her band’s rendition of 'Sir Duke'. When I visited her the next day, the adrenaline hadn’t yet worn off. She gave me hints about what to expect from the next few residency sets and gushed about some of the other acts slated to open for her. I asked if she’ll sport the same 19th-century disco look at the future dates, and she chuckled, shaking her head. “I didn’t notice until I was at the merch table that there was a huge tear in the pants! There was basically one thread holding it together,” she explained. Despite this glaring detail, Ward still cherishes the suit, not concerned so much with whether anyone else noticed the tear. And why should she? In her own words: “I got myself for loving and I don't need nobody!”