Okay, so, I’m SO excited about this post. A couple of weeks ago, thanks to the lovely music team at Redbrick Newspaper, I had the most INSANE opportunity of being able to interview one of my absolute favourite bands, Ward Thomas, before the Birmingham leg of their tour.
Now, usually, it’s up to the music promoters and management to arrange the interview, and it generally takes the form of emailing questions and answers back and forth, or conducting the interview over the phone. So nothing prepared me for actually being invited to the venue before the gig, to chat with the girls in their dressing room !! I was a right bag o’ nerves and the girls were honestly so, so lovely and I tried my best not to fangirl directly at them. But I’m pretty sure it was v obvious that I am obsessed with their music and everything that they stand for anyway, so I just thought I’d capitalise on my hilariously-awkward self and draw on that in the interview write-up. If you make fun of yo’self, nobody else can do it first. Life advice, and all that.
I also got to spend the evening at their show, and it was honestly the most magical evening, ever. I mean, they had fairy lights across the top of the stage and their backdrop lit up with stars. That’s Maddie sold in a heartbeat.
So with that, here’s the full interview for you all! Enjoy!
It’s 4pm, on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve just spent the day cramming more revision into my head than I know is physically possible to remember, but I’ve got my first exam in a few days, so cramming away is the only way to reach that beloved 40%. First year problems, I know.
I’m stood outside the O2 Institute in Digbeth, 100% looking like a lost and forlorn sheep, phone shaking in my hand as I call the tour manager of one of my absolute favourite bands, Ward Thomas. Standard Saturday afternoon, one might say.
My nerves genuinely aren’t helped by the fact that it’s only 4pm and there are already members of the public queuing outside the venue, for a gig that isn’t even beginning until 7:30pm. There are three teenage girls, adorned with customised ‘I heart WT’ caps, sat on the floor at the front of the queue, blasting Ward Thomas’ hits from one of their mobile phones and singing along like no one’s watching. There are some older fans, queuing with a silent maturity, who are without a doubt wishing that they too could join in on the karaoke session. Two security guards are manning the queue, who are without a doubt wishing that people would start queuing up a little less earlier in the afternoon.
Trying to ignore the clear popularity of Ward Thomas, along with my own silent fangirling about one of my favourite bands on the planet, I dial the tour manager’s number and brace myself for an actual conversation with an actual human being, a conversation that I definitely need to be coherent and professional in. The fact that I’ve spent the last 3 days cooped up revising in my flat, talking to no one but myself as I recite many a flashcard, doesn’t really help my cause. Neither does the fact that around an hour ago I was still in tracksuit bottoms, staring at my computer screen, cramming.
Phone conversation semi-successfully achieved, I follow the tour manager’s directions round to the back of the venue, where I’m met with her and the band’s tour bus. She shakes my hand, I internally hope that my palms aren’t sticky with nerves or that my hand shake wasn’t too limp, because it definitely was, and with that, I’m led in through the back of the venue, along the corridors backstage and to a door that says, ‘Ward Thomas Dressing Room’, ominously printed in black lettering.
Before I’m able to try a yoga-inspired breathing technique to calm my nerves at meeting my favourite band, the door opens and I’m face to face with Catherine and Lizzy, the 23-year-old twins who’ve, for want of a less hugely expected cliché, taken the country music world by storm.
If you, like me, are mourning the loss of young Taylor Swift, whose country roots have now been abandoned for the pop machine, you’ll adore Ward Thomas. With poetic, heartfelt lyrics, that seem to eerily speak to how every single teenage girl has ever felt; these girls have got country music with a British twist nailed. A musicianship like no other, you can tell these girls are twins as soon as you hear their beautiful harmonies. Can you tell I’m a big fan?
So, as I sat down in Ward Thomas’ dressing room, to Catherine exclaiming ‘I love your shoes!’ and Lizzy complimenting my outfit, I tried extremely hard not to fangirl, and potentially cry with happiness. With glowing yet barefaced skin, hair in curlers and each sporting a casual yet stylish jumper and jeans combo, they immediately apologised, as they hadn’t yet started getting ready for their headline show. Considering that just a couple hours before I was sporting greasy bird’s nest hair and pyjamas whilst revising, I resisted the urge to just stare in awe and ask the girls what the secret to their barefaced glow is. Keep it professional Maddie, you’re here for an interview. I know they’re your favourite band and they just said they like your shoes but remember, you don’t want to appear like a crazed fan right now.
And with that, the interview began:
First of all, how’s the tour going?
Lizzy: We’ve just started!
Catherine: The first show (last night, in Guildford) went really well and we’re just getting into the rhythm of it at the moment. It’s a much different set-up this time around, because we’ve got bigger venues and bigger production behind us, so it’s good fun!
Lizzy: It’s really exciting!
Are you excited for Birmingham tonight?
Lizzy: Of course!
Catherine: We’ve played Birmingham a few times before- we actually played the second room in the Institute and the Glee Club.
Lizzy: When we first started gigging, we played a really tiny pub in Birmingham, too. So it’s our fourth time here, now!
You’ve got some insanely exciting things coming up- you’ve got British Summertime at Hyde Park, which I’ve actually been to when Taylor Swift performed a few years back!
Catherine: We actually had tickets for that! But we couldn’t go in the end.
Lizzy: We had a best friend’s big 21st birthday party so we had to give our tickets away!
You’re also heading to Isle of Wight Festival as well.
Lizzy: Oh my god, we can’t wait. We did that last year and it was just so amazing. It’s such a good atmosphere there and it’s close to home for us too. It’s all coming up very fast!
Do you prefer making the rounds on the festival circuit, or do you prefer more intimate gigs?
Catherine: I think it depends! When we’re playing bigger gigs, we’ve got the opportunity to be more theatrical with the stage set-up- especially on this tour! But I don’t think we can ever beat the interaction with the crowd at more intimate shows.
Lizzy: It’s really fun to have a variety of different shows, because it keeps things exciting. With a big show, it’s great to be able to rock out with the band, but I love the intimacy of really getting to know the audience, see everyone’s faces and talk to them after the show with a smaller gig.
What are the worst and best parts of touring?
Catherine: The best parts are definitely the gigs. I think we’ll always love them. Also, it’s amazing to be able to see all the cities around the UK that we probably otherwise wouldn’t have seen a lot of.
Lizzy: I think the worst part is probably the travelling. We’re in a sleeper bus, so we have to sleep with the smelly boys, which is going to be interesting. It’s a good adventure, but there is always a moment in the middle of the tour where everyone gets so tired- we just need a day off, basically.
I’m currently studying at the University of Birmingham and right now I’m in the thick of exams, stress and revision. And on top of that, if you have a career goal you’re aspiring towards, it can often feel impossible and like you’re never going to reach it. How did you guys get from singing for fun in sixth form, to the UK’s biggest country act with a Number One album?
Lizzy: We always think of it step by step, you know, you’re not gonna get there with a click of a finger.
Catherine: Yeah, there’s a lot of hard grafting and hard work. We’re at the same age group – a lot of our friends have graduated, or are still in their last year, and it can be scary finishing your exams and then going out into the big, scary world. When we left sixth form, we just went and played loads and loads of little pubs in the country for ages and I kind of feel like that was our sort of university.
Lizzy: We went round Tennessee – we played literally a sandwich shop and the only two people there were the owner and a barman. You just gotta do the hard work, have it in your head where you wanna be and you’ll get there.
How did you get into country? Is it always something you’ve listened to?
Catherine: We didn’t really know that we’d listened to it so much! Our Grandma loves Patsy Cline and used to sing it to us all the time. When our cousin came to live with us when we were fourteen, that’s when we really discovered country. She played us The Dixie Chicks and we suddenly thought, oh my goodness, this is exactly what we should have been singing our whole lives.
Lizzy: We learnt to harmonise in the school choir – Catherine was the alto and I was the soprano.
Catherine: So it just sort of happened that way – we just loved the genre.
If you could give me your top 3 pinch-me moments, what would they be?
Lizzy: I think the first time we played the main stage at Hyde Park, that was a pinch-me moment. We were so scared and Terry Wogan came up to us backstage, put his hands on our shoulders and was like ‘you’ll do a crackin’ show ladies’ and we instantly felt so relaxed.
Catherine: I think another one would have been Friday 9th September  when our album went to Number One. That was probably the biggest! We still can’t believe it. We always think, oh there’s another album chart that’s bigger in the UK than that one and then we realise that there actually isn’t and it’s just really insane!
Lizzy: I think we have a constant pinch-me moment every time we go on stage, seeing how many people know the words to our songs! Every night of every show we both look at each other like, ‘oh my god, this is amazing’.
What’s it like to perform every night with your sister?
Catherine: I would really struggle to be on stage on my own, so I’m very lucky to have a sister that’s there with you. It can be quite scary sometimes, especially when you say something silly and you’re like ‘oh my god, why did I just say that’, but if you’ve got a sister with you it’s fine, because you’re in this together.
Lizzy: It’s a home away from home!
‘Cartwheels’, the title track from the album, is absolutely beautiful. What’s the song about?
Lizzy: It’s about a dying relationship, where one person’s trying to keep it alive and the other person has moved on. It’s like, ‘I’m doing cartwheels, I’m doing this and that, I’m doing everything to make you notice me’.
Catherine: It’s a sad song.
When writing songs, do you have in the back of your mind the commercial aspect, such as whether the song is going to get radio play or how the song will translate in live performance?
Catherine: When we write we never think commercially at all.
Lizzy: It’s like, ‘this is what we’re feeling right now, so we’re gonna write it’.
Catherine: If a song’s under 3 minutes, we’ll know it’s perfect for radio. And sometimes we find that we’ve written like 8 slow songs and our management will probably want us to then write something more upbeat, but basically our motto is write hundreds of songs and then whittle it down to your best.
Lizzy: Then that’s always the hardest part – whittling down the songs for an album!
How do you try to get the balance between country music, with a British twist?
Catherine: I think the main thing about country music is that it’s authentic. It can be from any country as long as it’s true to you.
Lizzy: We don’t talk about trucks or cowboys or American things, because we don’t know that! But I think we try to write subject matters that are very personal to us and that are hopefully universal. Everyone feels heartbreak, everyone feels joy.
What can we expect from Ward Thomas for the rest of 2017?
Catherine: We finish this tour at the end of May and then we hit the festival circuit!
Lizzy: We’ve written a whole new load of songs, and there’s two new tracks in the gig tonight! But me and Catherine always wanna show that we’re growing slowly step by step and that each album and each tour brings with it a new development.
Later that evening, after I’ve refuelled with a McDonald’s for tea, because you know, student budget and all that, I arrive back at the Institute to see the longest queue for a gig that I have honestly ever seen in my life. Digbeth just may have turned into a human queue. What then ensues is the most magical gig I’ve been to in a very, very long time. Ward Thomas’ beautiful harmonies and poignant lyrics translate emotionally in performance and I may have been that girl openly sobbing at the front of the crowd. No shame, no regrets.
P. S.: If you’re also a student at University of Birmingham, I honestly urge you to go and get involved with Redbrick Newspaper, because they’re a bunch of lovely people and you’re able to get involved with the most amazing of opportunities. If you’re on campus, make sure to pick up a copy of the paper! And if you’re not a student, you can head to Redbrick’s website here, for all the latest online articles! [Shameless plug over n out x]