Ward Thomas on new album Restless Minds, working with big-time songwriters and starting a brand new chapter
For the last 40 years, it has seemed like country music was destined to be a phenomenon only made and understood in North America.
Singers like Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney, who could fill football stadiums in any state in their homeland, were curiosities in the UK, probably only capable of filling a small theatre. It was simply not worth the while of most acts to make it over to the UK, so they didn't, leaving it to remain a curiosity and minority interest.
Now though, that's all changed. Country music is a big deal in the UK, both in importing American acts and our own homegrown talent, talent like The Shires and Catherine McGrath. And no one exemplifies that change more than twin sisters and country troubadours Catherine and Lizzy Ward-Thomas.
Their debut album, 2014's From Where We Stand, was released on a tiny label with little expectation. But through hard touring and word of mouth, it ended up selling over 25,000 copies.
For their second LP, 2016's Cartwheels, the pair partnered with Sony Music and producers Martin Terefe and Jimmy Hogarth and produced a more polished, slicker effort, full of catchy singles.
It gathered good reviews and plenty of airplay on country shows, but when it was released in September of 2016, the pair were still largely an unknown quantity. It was a testament to the newfound power of country music in Britain when the album went straight in at Number One.
It made the sisters the first UK country act to score a Number One album and set themselves up for a sellout year of touring and a support slot to US country giant Miranda Lambert.
Now though, it's time to make a step up and for new album Restless Minds, the Ward Thomas sisters have brought in some serious production talent to help them become household names.
Among the collaborators on the new album are Ed Drewett, who helped Olly Murs write 'Dear Darlin', One Direction pen monster hits 'Best Song Ever' and 'History' and Little Mix with their stormer 'Black Magic', Steve Robson, the man who helped Busted write all their early hits, and Joe Rubel, a key collaborator on Ed Sheeran's ÷.
The album arrives in stores today and we spoke to Catherine and Lizzy about their new album, heading out to Nashville and how they've evolved as songwriters...
How did you want this album to move on from Cartwheels?
"We wanted this album to be different from Cartwheels. We love Cartwheels as an album, but we have written it and it will always be there, so now we can go somewhere else. We experimented with a lot of new sounds and harmonies, and pushed ourselves more in our songwriting and our vocals."
You were able to do some writing in Nashville for this album, what was it like to live and work there?
"Nashville is a different world when it comes to writing. The first day we did a session, we were shocked to hear that both the co-writers had to dash off to another session at 3pm! But we still managed to get a song out of the session, it's so fast and disciplined, but everyone is so creative and always full of ideas!! There must be something in the coffee!"
Has the way you write songs evolved over the years?
"Very much so! We have found that the writing has really changed, mainly because as we have grown, our perspective on life and the world has evolved. We also find that writing with different people has helped push us out of our comfort zones and to develop our craft."
Do songs start in the same manner as they did when you were starting out?
"Every song still gets written differently! And that has remained the same since day one."
You’ve got some big songwriters on this album, Ed Drewett, who has written a lot with One Direction, Steve Robson, who has written for Olly Murs and Take That, what were they like to work with?
"They were all amazing! We were a little apprehensive and that we might be a little out of our depth but it was amazing to see how Ed worked, and how enthusiastic he was in a room, it was really inspiring. With Steve Robson, we co-wrote one of the most country songs on the album, which is a very unexpected result!"
You did the album with Martin Terefe and Joe Rubel, what did they give you as producers?
"They were both very different in the way they worked, which was really interesting. Having worked with Martin before we were really interested to see how differently he approached the new songs, and how he let the songs speak for themselves."
"We tended to build a song from the bottom up more with Martin, but with Joe, we played them all out and then went back and fine-tuned them more. Both Joe and Martin were a joy to work with on so many levels, we felt so lucky to have two people work so hard and put so much into the songs."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to the songs?
"Very much so. The themes very much nod towards the battles we all face in this ever-changing world, the way we are constantly playing catch up, and the realisations the two of us have had as we enter our early adult years; the main one being how much more we have to learn."
What was the song on the album that took the longest to get right?
"The song that took the longest was definitely 'No Filter'. When we originally wrote it, with two of our favourite co-writers Rebekah Powell and Jessica Sharman, it was called 'Moment Of Truth'. After living with it for many months we felt that the verses had promise, but the chorus could be stronger. Luckily we all reunited in Nashville 6 months later and sitting under a willow tree by a lake re-wrote the chorus. After that, it became 'No Filter'."
And which came together most quickly?
"'Deepest You' and 'This Too Will Pass' were two songs that came out most easily, mainly because of the personal nature of the lyrics."
When did you settle on the title of Restless Minds? Were there any other titles in contention?
"We really wanted the title to come from a lyric in one of the songs as we feel these lyrics are so important to the whole story we are trying to tell. We were floating a lot of very long title ideas about, until we sang 'It's Not Just Me', and after the lyric "Because my restless mind keeps me up at night", we suddenly both stopped looked at each other and yelled “RESTLESS MINDS”!"
Ward Thomas's new album Restless Minds is out now