When you think of country music, chances are it conjures up images of cowboy boots, pick-up trucks, beer and rhinestones. But Britain is falling in love with country music again, thanks to a host of UK artists who are proving that there is much more to the country genre than the American stereotypes would have you believe.
Up bright and early at 8am in Nashville (where else?), British sisters Ward Thomas are excited to be preparing to play some huge shows in the UK as well as releasing their fifth studio album, Music In The Madness.
‘We love cowboy boots and trucks as much as anyone, you just don’t get many of them in London!’ laughs Lizzy.
Catherine elaborates: ‘There’s so much country music that we love, but it’s very much about living in the Blue Mountains or growing up as a coal miner’s daughter or dating a cowboy.
‘That’s very relatable to people in the south of America, because that’s a version of their own lives whereas if you grew up in London, you’re not going to know what it’s like to have a cowboy and a truck.’ They both smile.
‘The main root of country music that’s really stuck is the fact that it’s three chords and the truth,’ Catherine continues. ‘Singing about your raw feelings in a country vibe.’
As non-identical twins, Lizzy and Catherine Ward Thomas possess enviable harmonies and a way with words that saw their second album, Cartwheels, head straight to the Number One spot.
Their career began after a music teacher sent their tapes to a record producer in Nashville, and the duo found themselves at the airport at the age of 17. Lizzy recalls: ‘I always say this when whenever we arrive in Nashville Airport, that the smells and colours and stuff takes you back to that first time we stepped foot in there.
‘We were naive 17-year-olds – still at school, still at college – and it’s crazy just how much we’ve changed and evolved, and how much has stayed the same.’
One of the new songs on the album, Justice & Mercy, was inspired by their love of all things to do with true crime. ‘Country music is one of the genres where a story song is fully at home,’ says Catherine.
‘We all like to listen and hear about serial killers and murderers. We thought, “Oh, my goodness, we should write a song that’s kind of Western in the 1800s.” Imagine this Wanted poster everywhere, and imagining this person that’s going from town to town and ruining everyone’s lives.’
Lizzy jokes: ‘Basically they were born a bit of a wrong’un!’
Do the sisters think that country will ever reach the same levels in the UK as it is in Nashville?
‘I hope so!’ says Lizzy. ‘The parties in Nashville, and the parties on stage where you see people like Luke Bryan and the big country acts, they are like no other.
‘It’s beer, it’s all-out partying, and at the other end of the scale with the emotional songs everyone is crying, everyone has their heart on their sleeves when it comes to country music in Nashville.’
Music In The Madness is their fifth album, but despite their success the duo are aware that they still have work to do, says Catherine:
‘There’s a humongous amount of people that have never heard of Ward Thomas and are completely unaware of us, and we’re used to being referred to as a new act even though we have five studio albums, but it’s genuinely nice to introduce ourselves to new people and potential fans!’
Lizzy adds: ‘You’re always wanting to stay fresh and current so it’s lovely when people are excited to discover us!’.
Music In The Madness is out today. Their UK tour starts at the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, on March 30.
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