Ward Thomas on finding 'moments of joy' in their new album and the state of UK country music

Ward Thomas on finding 'moments of joy' in their new album and the state of UK country music

Ward Thomas are releasing their new album, Music In The Madness, this week on March 10. 

Coming out via their own WTW Music imprint, Music In The Madness is Ward Thomas’ fifth studio album, and sees the duo embrace their country roots as they explore how music has helped them navigate a tumultuous few years. 

“It's about finding that music in these moments of madness and seeing those joyful moments when things feel a bit rubbish,” Catherine Ward Thomas told Music Week. 

In 2016 the duo made chart history by becoming the first and only UK country artist to score a No.1 album in with their record Cartwheels, which has 102,521 sales to date, according to the Official Charts Company. 

On the day of release, Ward Thomas will be taking to the stage at C2C Festival to mark the beginning of their tour, which will take in dates all over the UK throughout March and April. 

To celebrate the release of their new album, Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas talk Music In The Madness, exploring their roots, recording in Nashville and the future for UK country music… 

Congratulations on the new album. How was the process of making this album different to your last record, Invitation? 

CWT: “I think when we were recording Invitation, we'd already written a lot of the songs before we knew that Covid and lockdown were a thing. We went straight into the recording process in our pyjamas at the kitchen table and we were in a very different place to now. In the last couple of years, so much has happened in the world and everyone's been through a lot. So I think for us, we just wanted to try and make sense of the crazy world through our music, which is why we originally wrote Music In The Madness.” 

LWT: “I think, in the sound, we also made the conscious decision of wanting to go back to our roots a little bit more with this album. A bit more country.”

You’ve said that the war in Ukraine and post-pandemic life formed a backdrop of this album, especially in the title track Music In The Madness. What emotions were you drawing on in your writing throughout the process? 

LWT: “We were feeling a whole range of emotions throughout this whole process. I remember we were in Nashville when the war broke out in Ukraine and it was all very overwhelming. We felt quite far away from home when it was all going on and we were worried about it, it was all quite scary. So we channelled that into our writing and talked about it openly with the people we were working with. 

“And through the pandemic, getting used to the uncertainty of plans changing constantly and with our tour being cancelled about three times, we’d put all our energy and effort into something and it would be a real let down. So just getting used to those kinds of emotions and realising that you're not in control and being okay with that, that was a lot of the theme of the writing.”

We’re living in a tumultuous time right now but you wouldn't necessarily know that from listening to the music in the charts. Do you feel that there's enough socially and politically engaged music being made or being publicised? 

CWT: “I think there is definitely a lot of that music being made, but from a consumer point of view, I like to listen to things that make me feel good as well. So I can imagine there's a lot of things that you end up listening to on the radio that make you feel free and happy, which is a lot of what we were trying to do in this album. The idea was like, ‘Let's still celebrate the wins because it can all feel very overwhelming’. 

“Also, now we're in an age where everyone's their own tastemaker and can go and find their own music. So even if you're not hearing that kind of music on mainstream radio and TV, you can still go and find it wherever you look.”

LWT: “I think when you watch the news, for example, the light hearted things like music or acting or the entertainment come in at the end, because there's only so much we can take. I think that's probably why, in the mainstream world, a lot of the music being shown is quite empowering and feel-good.”

What is your relationship with country music at the moment and do you see yourself as part of one genre? 

CWT: “It's interesting, when it comes to genres, we never really knew where to place ourselves, even at the very beginning. We always loved country music and always wanted to listen to it, but we also loved Americana and we very much gravitated towards a lot of Americana acts. Country music was such a baby genre in the UK when we started out, a dn w never really knew how to place ourselves because we were just writing songs and had kind of country sounding voices. So with our voices and in terms of what we listened to, we went down the country route. 

“Then when we started writing Restless Minds, we didn't want to be restricted by that genre and we wanted to feel like we could go to different places. And with that came an opportunity to discover different sounds. But every time we come back to it and look at the songs that we listen to and write, they always sound organic, Americana and country. So this album feels so perfect with the sound we’re at right now.”

You recorded Music In The Madness in Nashville, how did that influence the sound of the record?

LWT: “We recorded a lot of this record with the producer Aaron Eshuis in his studio, personally in Nashville, which was great. But we recorded half in Nashville and half in the UK with Ed Harcourt. Creating and writing the songs out in Nashville is really helpful because you are surrounded by music, of all genres. You're living and breathing music, whether you're going out in the evening and seeing live music, or you're creating all day and recording. You almost want a break from it when you get home. But I think it is a really inspirational place to create and write and that's why we love going over there.”

Do you find the songwriting process very different in Nashville compared to the UK? 

CWT: “Totally, it's so disciplined there. They come in at 11am and they finish at three, and then they go to another session or do something else. When you give people those time parameters, for some reason, you get the song out in time, whereas when writing in the UK and you don't have those parameters, you're just there until you get the song and you chat for longer, it's just less disciplined. I think discipline suits songwriting, for the most part – it depends on how you work, but yeah.” 

Country music is popular in the UK but people might not know that from reading the media or listening to the charts. Do you think that media outlets do enough to support the genre?

CWT: “I think it's a mix. Sometimes we've had a huge amount of support and it's been wonderful. It’s much more common to hear country music on the radio now whenever you're tuning in, so I think it's definitely come up loads. The one thing I would say is when you see award shows like the BRITS, they're very much centred around a specific genre and you don't see a huge variety of other genres being represented. But I think that it's definitely getting better. It’s becoming apparent that people are finding their own music and they don't just want to be told what to listen to, so genres are getting more varied in the UK, but it's definitely a little bit behind America where you watch the Grammys and everyone's represented.” 

You were the first UK country act to achieve a No.1 album. Does it surprise you that there hasn't been another country artist who's achieved that since? 

LWT: “There are so many people out there who are incredibly talented artists and doing a more country or Americana kind of sound that could get more representation, but it's hard to get through all the other music that's coming out. Streaming, Spotify and things like that are a double-edged sword, because these platforms give people more opportunities to release their music, and if it gets put on certain playlists then that's great, but if it doesn't then that's just the nature of it.”

CWT: “I hope that there are many more UK country acts that get a No.1 in the future. But we were very lucky in that window of time, because there was a huge amount of support coming from the radio. It was a brand new story because UK country music was seen as a brand new thing. It's less brand new now, but it's still such a baby genre. 

“There are so many amazing artists here in the UK making really cool music and not getting the platform they deserve, but I think it's going in the right direction, and I definitely think there will be many more UK country acts that get No.1 albums, we were just in that sort of perfect storm at that moment.” 

You’re doing Country To Country festival this week, can you tell us a fond memory you have of the festival? 

LWT: “The first time we went, it was the first or second year of the C2C festival and it was when we’d just released our first or second single. It was a real surprise to realise how many people in the UK love country music, because we had no idea until we stepped foot into the festival and there were thousands of people walking around. It was just the first proper feeling of people liking what we were doing and enjoying our music. 

“It was also when Terry Wogan played our song on Radio 2 for the first time that it was like, 'This is really exciting'. We were really riding the wave of feeling very hopeful for the future. So our fondest memory of being involved in the festival was probably just realising that we weren’t the only ones who like country music in the UK, as well as seeing some of our favourite artists and acts. To be involved is always a real buzz.” 

When talking to Music Week in 2019 you said that you wanted to have ‘longevity’ and you wanted people to connect with the album. What is longevity to you?

CWT: “For us we want a career. We want to be able to keep doing this, we want to be able to keep touring and keep releasing music. The overnight fame is never what we wanted to get into, it’s never been a source of much fulfilment…”

LWT: “Fame has never been our aim!”

CWT: “We’re all about the fact that we are so lucky to be able to do this, to be able to write music and record it and tour. So for us, it’s all about the music. And in a world where you don’t really know if anyone’s going to like what you do, we realised over the years that the only thing we can control is quality control. So we just want to make the best music possible at that time and hope that everyone likes it, and if everyone hates it then at least we feel like it was good! So for us that is what longevity is – stick to making music the best you can and hope for the best, because you can’t control anything else.” 

LWT: “And just keep developing.”

CWT: “The kind of albums we might be making in the next ten years will be very different to the one we made when we were 17. And that’s cool, we want to be the kind of artists who can look back at our albums and go, ‘Wow that phase in our life was this...and this… and this’, and not be driven by popularity and letting the tail wag the dog.” 

Ward Thomas' Music In The Madness is out March 10 via WTW Music. 

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