Interview: Ward Thomas: “Taylor Swift’s not country anymore but we are big fans of her and her movement”

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This week I went to see Ward Thomas in their biggest headline show to date. I also had the great opportunity to meet and interview them backstage at Islington Assembly Hall ahead of their performance.

While I had seen the girls perform a short set at C2C a few weeks ago, I didn’t know an awful lot about the sisters prior to this show, however, it quickly became apparent that we share pretty similar views in terms of our country influences and it was a pleasure getting to chat to them about their music. Catherine and Lizzy are twins who have been raised in the English countryside and brought up on country music. This is what we caught up on before the show.

So I saw you at C2C – how was that for you?
Catherine: So much fun!
Lizzy: Oh my god, that weekend was just insane.

What is it about country music that drew you to this genre?
Catherine: We love the honesty of country music.
Lizzy: We’ve grown up with country music. Our grandma used to sing Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline to our mum when she was a girl. But we really got into country music when our cousin from Canada came over and introduced us to the Dixie Chicks and Carrie Underwood and we then started singing it at the local pub and family parties. Then when we started writing our own stuff, that’s when we really knew we wanted to do this.

How have your inspirations evolved as you have evolved as artists?
Catherine: We are very inspired by what Kacey Musgraves is doing at the moment and we love Taylor Swift – she’s not country anymore but we are big fans of her and her movement.
Lizzy: I have to say I am pretty impressed by Taylor Swift, musically and everything else.

It’s really refreshing to hear that take on Taylor Swift’s movement as I think many within the country music industry have knocked her for turning away from country music.
Catherine: I think she’ll probably go back to country music.
Lizzy: And I think it’s incredibly brave what she’s done. I think she’s always going to be, deep down, a country girl – [even in her songs now] you can hear it.

So how would you define UK country music and how does it differ, if at all, from American country music?
Catherine: I think it follows the same kind of patterns in terms of [the fact that] country music is about family and where you grew up and stories that someone wants to tell. I think the difference is that we’re telling stories of our own life, which is English and from the countryside. We’re not singing about Tennessee.
Lizzy: I think there are many similarities and many differences. Country music is authentic so we take our own authentic twist on the style. That’s what we love – we’ve always been storytellers and we loved the style of country music but we had to write what we knew and that was from the Hampshire countryside.

You’ve been to Nashville and performed and recorded there – what’s the difference when you’re performing in the UK compared to America?
Catherine: There is a difference. Being from the UK, you can relate to a UK audience with your own lingo and your own in-jokes.
Lizzy: I find the audience harder in the US, especially in Nashville because it’s Music City so they see music everywhere.
Catherine: But at the same time I think it can be to our advantage sometimes that we’re not from there because we can joke about the differences and they find that quite amusing. But the audiences are very different.

So, in terms of your hopes for the future of UK country music, where do you see it going in the next five years?
Lizzy: I think the C2C festival is a great example to see how country music’s doing. Last year it was big but this year, it was huge, there were thousands of people there and it just shows that people are getting it more because they’re being shown country music more now. There are artists like Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift who have had a big impact on country music, making people understand it globally. Country artists, like Miranda Lambert, are talking about everyday life things that people can relate to globally rather than trucks and cowboys and dirt tracks and cowboy boots – I love those songs too but people can’t relate to those over here. It’s growing every year and I have a real confidence with country music.

Who would you most love to perform or record with?
Catherine: If I wanted to have a really good time The Band Perry would be amazing. They’re all siblings, we’re siblings – it would just be fun!

Who’s on your iPod’s most played at the moment?
Both: Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, Alison Krauss, James Bay, George Ezra – country and non country.
Catherine: We like to mix it around and use different influences.

After this quick chat, I headed out to watch the show. After two support acts, Kerri Watt and Jessica Ridley, Ward Thomas came on stage to a packed out crowd. Their energy and openness clearly comes across in their stage presence and the crowd warmed to them instantly. Their whole set was masterfully performed, mixing mostly their own songs with a few country covers of classics such as Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror, as well as more current artists like Hozier’s Take Me To Church.

The harmonies they demonstrated were a perfect country blend with the rawness of two 20-year-olds raised in the English countryside. This was clearly showcased in their song Footnotes. They certainly have a way of interacting with the crowd during their upbeat numbers, as well as in the genuine, emotive introductions to songs such as Who We Are, written for their mum who was in the crowd.

Catherine and Lizzy both have an infectious, excitable energy to them which they bring to their performance and I have a real respect for these sisters and the way in which they are developing the UK country sound. It was clear that they really were having a lot of fun on stage and their relationship as twin sisters adds to the personality they share during their performances.

After speaking with Ward Thomas on where they see the future of UK country music going, and seeing their performance, it seems clear to me that they will play a significant role in the development of this genre in the UK market. Their gig left me with a raw excitement for where UK country is headed that only comes from truly talented artists and genuinely nice people.

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