Ward Thomas, currently on tour alongside The Shires on their joint headlining Homegrown tour, recently played an outstanding gig at Band On The Wall. We got to catch up with incredibly talented sisters Lizzy and Catherine Ward Thomas to discuss touring, Nashville and their debut album, the excellent From Where We Stand – which last night scooped the award for Best UK Album at the British Country Music Awards 2014.
Welcome to Manchester. How’s the tour going so far?
Lizzy – It’s going so great. I can’t believe we’re already on our sixth date. It’s all going so fast. I think we all expected it to go fast because we’re having such a good time. We’ve just come back from Bush Hall in London and we’re now ready to start our tour in the north.
Catherine – We’ve got two more weeks of staying in the van!
Last time you were in Manchester was around four months ago when you played at The Castle.
Lizzy – Yes, we loved that gig. We love that venue – it’s such a nice venue. We’ve played there twice and it’s always so great. There’s always a good crowd coming in – it’s intimate and you get to know the audience really well.
How’s this tour differing from your previous tour?
Catherine – The venues and bigger and it’s much more organised. Me and Lizzy are so used to going on tour off our own backs, jumping in the van with our guitar player Dan, booking a hotel ten minutes before we’re meant to be staying there, running in a bit late, doing a quick sound check, slapping on some makeup – very disorganised – which was a lot of fun and was part of the whole experience and we would never have wanted to have done it another way, but this time around we’ve got it a lot more organised. Everything’s already pre-booked, we’re with The Shires as well, so we’re sharing the headline spot, which is really cool.
Lizzy – We’ve also got a tour manager, which helps!
Catherine – We get to share a dressing room as well sometimes with their band. It’s really good sharing the headline spot because you get to see the crowd react differently in different areas. The Shires will come on stage and they’re like, ‘these guys are really cool’ and they’ll laugh at the jokes, so we’ll be ‘ok, cool we’ll try and be a bit more funny’ and things like that.
Starting out, why country music? What drew you in to it?
Lizzy – Well, we’ve always grown up in the countryside, on a farm and country music has always been in our family, like our grandma has always loved people like Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, so we’ve always known traditional country. Our cousin who lives and grew up in Canada came over to live with us for a while and she introduced us to people like The Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw and Miranda Lambert and all the modern country music artists, and Catherine and I were like ‘Oh my God, we love this music’. We were so inspired as all the songs told a story, the harmonies, the musicianship on them and how honest all the songs were. We love storytelling and were completely inspired by it, so from that day onwards, when we listened to country music, we were like ‘this is what we are doing!’ That was exactly what we were doing – we knew it.
It’s not exactly a mainstream choice when you’re growing up, so how did all your friends react to it?
Catherine – Well at first they were pro-Spice Girls and we were pro-Dixie Chicks so there’s a bit of a difference there, but because there’s two of us we got to stand up for the music. You know when you’re young you go, ‘Oh I like The Spice Girls too’ to fit in, but both of us were like standing strong for country music and now all of our friends listen to country music. I found Luke Bryan on our friend’s iPod the other day.
Lizzy – That was a surprise, such a surprise. We were like ‘You like Luke Bryan?’ and he said ‘Yeah, I love him and listen to him all the time’ and another one had Eric Church on his iPad.
Catherine – We like to take credit for the fact that they’re listening to it.
Lizzy – Yeah, we’re getting our guy friends into country music, which is good because it’s more popular with females in our age group, with the likes of Taylor Swift. Everyone we know loves Taylor Swift, her country album – I love her new album as well – so, yeah, I think especially with country music in the UK now it’s getting more popular.
When you were in the sixth form, you were sending songs over to Nashville.
Catherine – We were very lucky to have a vocal coach at the sixth form school, who was a session singer in Nashville before, so she had a few friends over there and we didn’t really speak much about it, we voiced to her that we really wanted to go into country music and wanted to be singers in our careers and she was ‘Oh cool, have you written anything’, so we played her Footnotes, which we’d written with a guy called Matt Griezen. She sent it over to her friend Bobby Blazier
Lizzy – and Chris Rodriguez who are the two producers on our album From Where We Stand so it all just started from there really and we just wrote a whole load of new songs and the next thing we knew we were recording in Nashville. It was such a bizarre feeling. A great feeling.
Why did you choose to record in Nashville? Do you feel that brought anything extra to it?
Lizzy – I think a lot of people would agree that Nashville has a real sound. You can’t really replicate a Nashville sound – it’s got the authentic country sound and I think that all our songs are all country songs, and it’s all authentic. It’s about where we came from, our countryside and we wanted to keep that authentic country feel.
Catherine – The thing about Nashville is that we probably wouldn’t have the songs that we have if we weren’t in Nashville, because we wrote them over here, but when you go there they’re all so in the music that the steel player will be like ‘how about this’ and nobody else would have come up with it. It’s that vibe and they all feed off each other. The city itself is so inspiring and gives you ideas all the time, so to go to Nashville is to get that sort of sound and vibe. You have to be there to get it I think.
A lot of your songs are written from a personal perspective. Your song Town Called Ugley has been the theme tune to a lot of my journeys over the last few months! Which of the stories behind the songs particular stick out for you?
Lizzy – Well for me, Take That Train on the album because it’s a personal experience I had about how I met a lady on a train. She was a complete stranger and we just started a normal conversation. I was actually eating a muffin in the morning, having breakfast, and she came up to me and said ‘Some people don’t have a proper breakfast these days, it’s so good to see a young person eating breakfast’, and it all started from there. We ended up talking for the whole train journey from London to Portsmouth. She ended up telling me her whole life story and it was such a tragic story – she was on her way to see her daughter who she had when she was 17 and she hadn’t seen her since. It was quite interesting for her to tell me all of this because I was a complete stranger. I wrote the story down and found it very inspirational and we wrote the song Take That Train.
Catherine – I think what we found was really cool about the whole concept of the story was that Lizzy met her on the way to do something which her whole life story was leading to – she was on the train for the purpose of what she had told Lizzy, it wasn’t just a random meeting, she was actually going to meet her daughter …
Lizzy – for the first time since she was a baby
Catherine – And I think that’s what made it such a powerful story. And made us want to write such a specific song.
So you get the idea, the story behind the song. How do you then go about putting it down on paper and recording it?
Catherine – Every time is different. For example with Push For The Stride, I was walking around school saying that for ages, because our Dad used to teach us to Push For The Stride when we were jumping over jumps, riding horses when we were younger. And so I always used to think ‘Push for the stride, push for the stride’ and then we were in a session with these two people from school and we sat down and I had this idea for the hook, Push For the Stride, and it just sort of happened – we started strumming
Lizzy – and we came up with the tune. It happens all the time, but differently. If you’ve listened to Taylor Swift’s new album, 1989, she has voice memories at the end of the album and we can really relate to that because we have similar techniques to her with some of the songs. Sometimes you write a track, sometimes you write with a line, like Push For The Stride, or sometimes you’ve just got a melody in your head and it goes round and round in your head – you don’t know what the story’s going to be but then it comes out. So it’s different every time and it depends who you’re writing with or if you’re writing on your own.
Why do you think country music is enjoying a resurgence in the UK?
Catherine – Oh we’re so lucky with the timing. We timed it completely by fluke that suddenly all these people came out of the woodwork that we didn’t know existed, who love country music and it’s so cool to feel part of such a community in the UK, and I think the main reason it’s caught on over here is because there was a long phase in Nashville of music coming out which was very relative to Americans, like people got it in America because, for example, they grew up in Texas and they understood what it was like to be a cowboy and to drive down an old dirt road – and they got that. Whereas over here you’re like ‘well I like to hear stories about cowboys but I’m not a cowboy and I don’t understand what it’s like to be one’. People, especially in Nashville, are now writing songs which are really relevant …
Lizzy – globally.
Catherine – They say three quarters of the truth is country music and that’s one thing we love so much about country music.
Lizzy – I think it’s also really helped with artists such as Taylor Swift and recently Kacey Musgraves, who is really pushing the cool aspect of country music – she’s making country music, well she’s a young beautiful girl making conventional country music. People look and aspire to be like her now. We love her music – I think she’s amazing.
Catherine – But what she’s done is very clever, she’s taken the conventional look of country music, she wears the pinafores, shirts and cowboy boots like a conventional Loretta Lynn or Patsy Cline look and she’s made it cool again. So people would look at her, because country, Nashville is very trendy. Everyone wears nice dresses, leather trousers, cool boots, whereas Kacey Musgraves has gone right back to the roots of old country and brought that back
Lizzy – but with a modern twist to it as well.
You’ve got the debut album, EPs and tours under your belt. What’s next for Ward Thomas?
Lizzy – Well in the new year, we’re planning a new single release which we’re very much looking forward to and after this tour (well we can’t wait for Christmas!), after Christmas we’re wanting to carry on pushing our album From Where We Stand and we want to make a deluxe version.
Catherine – We want to go on tour again! We can’t stop touring. Doing all the cities we might have missed on this tour, because being from Hampshire we haven’t managed to do a home gig this tour, so it would be cool to do all the towns we haven’t managed to get to.
Lizzy – We’ll be carrying on writing as well. We’ve written a whole load of new songs we’re desperate to record, but that will be after the other plans.
Any plans to go back over to Nashville?
Catherine – Definitely. In an ideal world we’d be going there again in the new year to do some more writing. The vibe out there is so cool for writing.
Any final words for your fans?
Catherine – Thank you for having us!
Lizzy – Yes, thank you for having us. If any of you are around and coming to our Homegrown Tour, we can’t wait to see all of you and we’re looking forward to seeing those who haven’t made it on the next few tours coming up!