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Music in the Madness as Ward Thomas prepare to return to Cambridge

Modern country-pop duo Ward Thomas will soon be returning to Cambridge where fans can expect to hear songs from their latest album, Music in the Madness.

English twin sisters Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas are not yet 30 but are already five albums into a successful career. Their fifth long-playing effort came out on March 10 and the hardworking pair have already started work on a sixth.

Ward Thomas. Picture: Marek Puc
Ward Thomas. Picture: Marek Puc

Produced by Ed Harcourt and mixed by Dan Grech (Halsey, Lana Del Ray, Liam Gallagher), Music in the Madness finds the duo seeking solace in hope. The album is also a powerful reminder of how wonderful the world can be.

A trip to Nashville in February – the sisters’ second home since they recorded their debut in the city, the home of country music, while still at school – nailed the spirit of the record, and the first song written was the uplifting title track, described as “an Abba-meets-Americana ode to hope”, and which is reminiscent of American pop band Wilson Phillips of Hold On fame.

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent via Zoom from their home county of Hampshire, Lizzy says: “We record mostly over here but we write a lot of our songs in Nashville.”

Catherine, who got married in May last year, continues: “Music in the Madness is inspired by... well, we’re living in a crazy world at the moment, so we wrote a song called Music in the Madness and it’s all about how even in the most crazy situations – or darkest places – there’s a lot of joy going on and love going on.

“That’s the theme of the album. We wrote a lot of songs kind of following that theme, so we decided to name the album Music in the Madness.”

Lizzy reveals that she and Catherine write with a lot of other songwriters. “Most of it’s co-writing because we discovered co-writing was so much fun, with a lot of people that we love,” she says, “and then we just keep working with the same people.

“Our priority is always to get the best song and having sometimes a couple of extra voices in the room gives you a fresh perspective, so we co-write a lot and we like to write with loads of different people to see what else we can make.

“But we do tend to go back to the same ones as well because we do find that when you get a good song out of one co-write, you want to keep going back to it because there’s a relationship and a chemistry there that you’ve formed.”

Catherine says that she and Lizzy started writing songs together when they were “about 15”, though they had written on their own prior to that. Lizzy notes: “When we went to school and we started actual songwriting lessons as well, because they offered songwriting lessons at our school – it was very artsy and musical.

“So that’s when we started writing together and we realised that our songs were so much better when we wrote together. And the first time we went to Nashville was when we’d just turned 17 and so we took our songs to Nashville.

“We recorded the first album [2014’s From Where We Stand] in Nashville, in a few really cool studios, but our first experience was in a studio called Dark Horse Studios, which is a big, iconic, treehouse-like studio outside of Nashville, which was pretty cool, and there are horses all surrounding it – so very country.”

Ward Thomas. Picture: Marek Puc
Ward Thomas. Picture: Marek Puc

The pair acknowledge the fact that they have achieved quite a lot for two singer-songwriters who are still in their 20s. “There’s a lot of momentum when there’s two of you and you’re both driving it and you’re both writing,” says Catherine, “so it does help to just get on with it sometimes.

“And the album that we released in the lockdown [2020’s Invitation] that was more of a surprise record, mainly because we had the time to record it during lockdown, so I think we’re one album ahead of what we would have been if we hadn’t had lockdown.

“It was recorded around the kitchen table in our pyjamas with a cup of tea, and the producer we worked with, Jonathan Quarmby, we dealt with mostly over Zoom and email. He got all of his musicians to record their parts remotely and we just pulled it all together very remotely.

“Then at the very end, when lockdown had eased, we did go up to the studio and do a session where we did some vocals all in one room with all the strings players – but that was the most interaction we had in the whole album-making process.”

Music in the Madness consists of 12 tracks. Asked to name standouts among them, Lizzy says: “I think I can speak for both of us and say Love Does, because I think as a song lyrically it just describes the theme of the whole album for us.

“That’s one of our favourites, and I think we also love Next to You because it’s just a happy, upbeat, feelgood song. But I think our favourites always change after we’ve toured the songs as well, because you get a moment live with different songs which is completely different with people.

“It always changes but right now it’s probably Love Does, Next to You, Loved By You and Music in the Madness – and Justice & Mercy is definitely a big favourite on the album.”

The record also includes a version of America by indie rock band Razorlight. “When we do covers we do try and make sure that they’re different to what you would expect,” explains Catherine, “so we can put our own spin on it.

“We were covering a lot of songs as well as America at the time and that one just sort of clicked and it felt very much like it encapsulated the vibe of the album as well, so it felt perfect to put it on the album and we really enjoyed covering it.”

The twins, fans of American country stars such as Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Zach Bryan, Kacey Musgraves, and Taylor Swift, are hoping to get another album in before they hit 30.

“That would be nice,” says Catherine, “we went to Nashville to do more writing and got back last week. We just want to try and keep the momentum up because it’s very easy to get swept into the promo train as soon as the album’s ready to come out and then when you finish your tour and everything, and then you start writing, it takes so much longer.

“So when we have gaps, we want to try and keep writing and keep the albums coming.”

Have Catherine and Lizzy ever considered moving to Nashville – also known as Music City – permanently? “When we were younger we did,” replies Lizzy, “but then we came back and started our career over here and we spent a lot more time over here promoting it.

“We felt like our career was starting here and we wouldn’t have wanted to move to Nashville and neglect our career over here. Now there’s a direct flight to Nashville, we can go there often.”

Catherine adds: “And I think the American market as well is such a different kettle of fish to try and dive into; you have to really live out there, but as British artists we’ve always been advised to start a fire in the UK and see what happens maybe in America in the future.”

[Read more: Cambridge prepares to welcome back Ward Thomas]

Ward Thomas. Picture: Marek Puc
Ward Thomas. Picture: Marek Puc

Ward Thomas will be appearing at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Monday, April 10. Tickets, priced £28-£30.50, are available at cornex.co.uk.

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