"It’s an invitation to a party we’re going to have at the end of all this. Maybe in 2050…" Ward Thomas on writing and recording their new album in lockdown
When the Prime Minister announced earlier this year that we were all to stay at home, the natural assumption for all the musicians who were suddenly deprived of the chance to go on tour would throw themselves headlong into the one thing they could do, writing new material.
We’re all expecting a glut of new albums in 2021, but some have been quicker off the mark than others, particularly country-pop twin siblings Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas.
Their new album, Invitation, was largely produced by Jonathan Quarmby, whose credits include Lewis Capaldi and Tom Walker, and mostly recorded in lockdown from their Hampshire cottage.
We spoke to the pair about the making of Invitation and how they went about making a record in lockdown…
Was an album planned before the world stopped? Or did you do it because the world stopped?
Catherine: “We had planned to make an album. It wasn’t a lightning bolt thing one day. We’d written a lot of the music before lockdown and we thought we’d try and make some vocal demos while we couldn’t go out and it was really working. We thought why not keep going and do it now? We had the time. So it was a loose plan, but we suddenly had the time.”
Did you have a goal of what you wanted to do differently from Restless Minds? Or were you still exploring things?
Catherine: “We wanted it to be a pop album that reflected how we felt. Restless Minds was a very reflective album. We put mirrors everywhere while we made it and all over the album art. It was very analytical, looking at being young in the modern age. Invitation is a much more positive record, much more about people coming together. Lockdown has taught us all that plans don’t always come together. We should rally together and be positive.”
Lizzy: “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel record. While we made this album we had glorious weather and it’s got a real summery vibe. We went to spread positivity while we’ve got so much uncertainty.”
Catherine: “It’s an invitation to a party we’re going to have at the end of all this. Maybe in 2050…”
A lot of artists have found it hard to be productive in lockdown, but not you two clearly…
Catherine: "It was on and off. We were lucky to have something to get on with and we wanted to get busy."
Lizzy: "It wasn't a relentless session. It wasn't like being in a normal studio. There were days where we'd get lots done before nine in the morning and weeks where we'd get nothing done at all. I feel like that's been a lot of people's experience."
Catherine: "We'd record two songs, I'd make a loaf of sourdough, Lizzy would have finished a book. Then there were other days where we barely made it out of bed."
Lizzy: "I'd never been more grateful to live in the countryside. We went on long bike roads and a lot of long walks. There are a lot of ways to be productive. You have to keep yourself fit. Physically and mentally. The last thing you want is to feel boxed in."
You did a lot of the record with Jonathan Quarmby, when did he come into the picture?
Catherine: "We'd worked with last in late 2019 and we really enjoyed it. He was just a writer in those sessions, we didn't do any production. But, just before lockdown, we sent him some songs we'd written out in Nashville and he sent back some rough mixes. And they just clicked."
Lizzy: "He nailed the vibe we wanted straight away."
Catherine: "We get mixes back from producers a lot and most of the time they need a look of work. But with him it was instant. He was the perfect man for the job. We didn't need to furnish him with lots of notes, which was very important given the way you were working."
So things would just disappear out of your laptop and come back a couple of days later?
Catherine: "We'd send a big old WeTransfer and a couple of days later it would come back. We did the whole album like that."
Did you ever find yourself longing for a studio environment?
Lizzy: "Oh god, yes. We did end up finishing vocals on a few of the singles in RAK Studios in London and we added the strings then. Home is wonderful. You're very comfortable. You can sing at your kitchen table with a cup of tea, wearing your pyjamas. And that does lead to good performances, because there are no inhibitions or pressure. But it doesn't always match being in a studio with a producer giving you proper direction. Almost all the vocals are at our kitchen table, but we polished them up a bit."
There's a track with James Blunt on the record, how did that come about?
Catherine: "We were asked to sing on his song 'Halfway' last year and then we went on tour with him. It's a song with this great country vibe and we played it every night with him on tour. So we wanted to add it to our album as well."
You're a band who tour a lot, how are finding the prospect of there being no live music?
Catherine: "It's been an adjustment. We're a live band. We love the studio, but there's nothing like the instant rush of live. We've spent the last six months putting music out there and it's been weird to just put things out and not know how the songs have been received really. We've got a live streamed gig this weekend at the Haymarket in London. and it's been great to be back with our team and with our band. We've put a lot of energy and production into that."
Lizzy: "When you write a song, there's no better feeling than hearing it sung back to you. That's how you know if a song really works. It's hard without that confirmation. It's why we do what we do."
How's 2021 looking? Are you making plans?
Catherine: "We had to reschedule our Unfiltered tour, which was supposed to be in May. First, we pushed it to September, now it's in April. We planned it pre-Invitation, so it's going to be a strange tour. We're hoping it goes ahead. But it is touch and go."
How do you plan on spending the time until then? Do you think you've got another album in you?
Catherine: "We're sitting on a lot of songs. So there might be a part two. We just need to come up with a good name that goes with Invitation. What do you think of RSVP?"