Lizzy and Catherine Ward Thomas on their chart topping album and hopes for 2017
PUBLISHED: 10:01 03 January 2017
Twins Lizzy and Catherine Ward Thomas made the history books in 2016 when their latest album reached number one in the UK charts. But how did these country girls from Petersfield go from singing in bars to the big stage? Claire Pitcher spoke to Lizzy to find out
“Country songs aren’t just about trucks and cowboys anymore,” insists one half of music duo Ward Thomas, Lizzy Ward Thomas. “People now seem to understand it is storytelling and authentic melodies. That’s what it is all about; we’ve moved away from traditional and it’s more relatable to people worldwide.”
Twenty-two year old twins Lizzy and Catherine, from Petersfield, have been singing together their whole lives and this year their talent and hard work was realised when their album ‘Cartwheels’ reached number one in the album charts.
At school in Hampshire, the pair were in a classical choir: “I was a soprano and Catherine alto,” explains Lizzy. “That’s how we learnt how to harmonise.” It was an introduction to the music of Johnny Cash by their Canadian cousin that started their love affair with country music. “We realised this was the style we wanted to sing, so we began to perform gigs at the local pub, family parties and get togethers.” The twosome clearly had something special so the decision was made to start writing songs and begin a career in the music industry.
Lizzy recalls: “We were about 16 and at sixth form college when we wrote a song called ‘Footnotes’ and our singing teacher, who used to be a session singer in Nashville, sent the song to a couple of her friends who were producers and session players and they got excited about a couple of English twins getting into country music. The next thing we knew we were going international and recording our first album. It was such a surreal experience. It was also during our A-levels, which made it quite hard to concentrate on our studies.”
Catherine and Lizzy have never looked back and their popularity has been growing ever since. But has all the fame, travelling and living in each other’s pockets been as much fun as it sounds? They say never work with friends or family, so do the pair always get along? “We get on very well,” confirms Lizzy, “we’re very used to each other’s company. Obviously we do the normal sisterly bickering about really stupid things, but we make up really quickly. It’s actually a blessing that we’re doing this together because it’s basically taking family on the road with you.
“Both of us are similar, but very different at the same time, if that’s possible. Catherine’s a lot more level headed and I’m more dramatic. We help each other keep grounded. I couldn’t imagine doing it without her.”
Hampshire girls at heart
The twins grew up on a farm in the small village of Empshott, just outside Petersfield. “We had a country upbringing,” describes Lizzy. “We’re very much Hampshire girls at heart. We love living here because it has such a great community and we have a lovely group of friends.” But the buzz of the big city is a huge draw for the pair and they have already started the search for somewhere to live in the capital. “But we will always come back and settle down here. We’re very lucky to live here. It’s nice to escape back to Hampshire; it’s such a nice relaxing thing to do. There’s nothing like the peace and quiet.”
When they’re not working, the sisters are walking their two dogs, Twiggy and Pocket, on the South Downs or the beach. Catherine can often be found in the kitchen baking “and she loves knitting,” says Lizzy: “She knitted all the boys a hat on the road. Whenever there’s a new member of the band or the touring team they have to have a hat. Me, I’m more of a reader, and I write stories too.”
Reaching new heights
Music, of course, is their first love and when they’re not making music, they’re listening to it. But it’s not all Johnny Cash, as Lizzy explains: “We love all genres, our new album isn’t actually a country album. I would say it’s more influenced by country and a mix of others.
“We listen to Taylor Swift, Fleetwood Mac and our parents were in a 70s covers band when we were growing up. They used to sing Blondie, The Kinks, the Beatles, so we often play those. There are some songs on our album that are pop songs, some country, a definite mixture.”
It was this mixture that led to huge numbers of album sales and them reaching the top of the charts. Lizzy recalls the moment they found out: “It was a surreal couple of weeks. We were hoping to be in the top 40. Our management team was speculating, ‘you could get top 10, you could get top five’ and then we were number one in the mid-week charts.
“It was so tense, we were competing with The Carpenters and Jamie T. Even now Catherine and I still can’t believe it, we keep thinking there must be a bigger album chart out there.” Needless to say, the girls celebrated in style at home: “We had all our friends over, including those who helped write the album. One of them lived in LA and when she found out she flew over especially to celebrate with us.”
Moving on up
Beating the likes of Jamie T to the top spot demonstrates the sudden growth in popularity of country music, but how did the listening public’s change of heart come about? “About five years ago people labelled country as gimmicky,” surmises Lizzy. “People dressing up in cowboy hats and so on. But now, when you go to festivals and you see lots of different country bands with their fans, they’re dressing normally, going simply for the music.
“There are a lot of singers and bands helping to spread country music, as well as its appearance on television shows like Nashville. Taylor Swift did a lot for country when she released her ‘Red’ album over here. People are opening their ears and minds to it more – it’s becoming ok to like it. It’s becoming cool.”
There’s no more proof needed when you consider the girls have just finished a sell out tour of the UK and Ireland. “It’s exhausting,” admits Lizzy. “The best bits of being an artist is writing the songs, going to the recording studios then on tour where you see the audience singing the words back at you.” There’s no time for rest however, as 2017 promises an even quicker tempo. “We’re hoping to work on a new album and to release more singles. Catherine and I can’t wait to go back on tour in Europe as well as the UK. Plus there’s the CMC Rocks Festival in Australia in March and the Dixie Chicks are headlining. Playing there is a dream come true.”
Lizzy and Catherine’s musical message is clear: country is cool.