It's a bit of a hitchhike from Hampshire to Huntington Beach; the rural English home of Ward Thomas to the US beachside birthplace of Camaron Ochs. But where there's a will, there's a collaboration; years after British country trailblazers Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas fell in love with American country disruptor Cam, a wish has been realised with the release of their new duet, 'Don't Be A Stranger.'
A finger-snapper, written by the sisters with producer Hight and the ever in-demand Fiona Bevan, is taken from their current album, Invitation. But now, with the added addition of Cam, the track has found new life for the duo.
The bond that saw the artists become friends is a shared, natural determination to stay themselves. Chart-topping success hasn't changed Catherine and Lizzy a bit; they're as refreshingly unpretentious, fun-loving and frank as when we first met, even before their debut single. Cam is cut from a similar cloth, something that's marked her out as one of the most honest - and one of the sharpest - songwriters at the pop-end of country.
Holler had a hankering to find out more about the background to the friendship and exactly why the twins hold their bestie in Music City so dear, so caught up with the Ward Thomas sisters to delve in.
Can you remember when you first became aware of Cam and her music?
Lizzy: We've always listened to her songs, but 'The Village' was what got us really addicted to Cam's stuff. There was this one show she did, at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London, a few years ago. She started the set on a sofa, gradually brought out her band members and then finished the show with a full band. But most of it was an acoustic show, and that's our favourite kind to watch. Both of us are songwriters first and foremost, so we love to watch other people and hear the stories behind the songs. She told the story behind 'The Village', and she was so articulate with it; she really brought the audience in, describing it in such a creative way. It was about one of her best friends' brothers, who'd passed away.
Catherine: She said that she wished she could explain to her friend, who’d lost their brother, that her heart was like a snow globe. Everyone in that snow globe was living in her heart, working there to build her up and make her feel ok again. It was so poetic. I think she made a lot of her  album Untamed from that set-up, with the vocals stripped back. We'd been fans of hers for years before, but she totally won us over at that gig. She’s also just a proper badass - she's got some really amazing opinions on things, she speaks up when she needs to speak up, and I just felt like we'd had an amazing therapy session after watching her. We were always like, “One day, we'll get Cam on a song”, and the right song came along.
When did you first sing together?
Lizzy: We first collaborated with her on her song 'Diane' in Sony Studios, when she was over supporting Sam Smith in the UK. That was the first time we met and collaborated; from that day onwards, we always got in touch when she was in the UK. Then, she was the one who awarded us the CMA Award at the 2019 C2C festival, when she was doing the CMA songwriters' round. We went up on stage and the other guys were like, “Why don't you sing us a song?” Completely spontaneously, we ended up borrowing one of their guitars, Catherine was playing it and we were singing 'Cartwheels'. Whenever we go to Nashville, we get in touch and see if she's around to hang out or write. This time around, we thought, what's the harm private-messaging her and sending her 'Don't Be A Stranger' and seeing what she thinks – she might say “Yes, I'd love to sing this with you guys”, and she did.
Did Cam customise the song to her style at all?
Lizzy: She brought so much energy to the choruses, she just suddenly made them bang, in a really positive way. She also really put her own spin on the second verse. She changed the melody on “I miss these secret smiles”, working in more of a country twist. It was quite pop-sounding before, but she added the country vibe to the song. It suddenly sounded like the proper foot-stomper with a big chorus that we've always wanted it to be. Because we wrote it with Fiona Bevan, it was naturally a three-part song rather than just a duet, so it really lent it itself to Cam's voice.
Catherine: When we wrote the song, Fiona and Tim (Hight) carried on after we left. We had to rush off and vote, because it was election day. They reworked the chorus and then sent us the demo with Fiona singing over the chorus. So her voice was on it for the beginning part, and I definitely think that planted the seed.
So even though you and Cam couldn't see each other, you were together in spirit?
Lizzy: Yes. In an ideal world, you want to be in the room together, bouncing off each other creatively and congratulating each other's performances; that's what's so fun about collaborating with people, when you really click. This time around, we had to put a lot of confidence in each other's performances without being in the same room, but we had no doubt in our minds that Cam would deliver something amazing.
In a country world that can be quite buttoned-down, Cam seems bravely outspoken at times?
Lizzy: That's another thing we love about her. We love The Chicks, and obviously everything that happened with them was really unfortunate.
Catherine: It sent the message of 'Don't speak up', and it shows a huge amount of courage when people like Cam do.
Lizzy: She fits in the country / Nashville world but also in pop too; she's a songwriter and has written some songs for really big artists [Sam Smith, Miley Cyrus]. She's a girl's girl, she's really supportive of women in the music industry and up-and-coming artists, and she's really passionate.
Has Cam taught you anything about stage craft?
Lizzy: Watching that performance, it made us realise that a lot of our favourite moments from our own shows are where it's just Catherine and I on piano and guitar. We relax because we're talking with each other; you feel more intimate with the audience, there's less of a barrier. Watching her did inspire us to break our show up even more; sitting on stools, even with a cup of tea or something, just being relaxed.
Catherine: I think there are artists out there that can put on an amazing show, with all the bells, whistles, choreography, lights and drama. We got close to that with the Restless Minds tour, but every time we re-evaluated the set, our favourite moment was when we sat down and sang a song, just the two of us.
I bet she's fun to hang out with?
Catherine: She's quite worldly and she's spent a lot of time in the UK. She's very interested in everything, and she's got a degree in psychology. She's desperate to introduce her baby Lucy to our Shetland pony, so hopefully that will happen.
Lizzy: We've only seen pictures of her baby, but she's very cute. Cam is very passionate about being a mum for the first time. But we can get into deep discussions with her about lots of different things. You meet a lot of musicians in Nashville and they live, breathe and eat music, songwriting and the industry. Cam has got other things to put on the table.
'Dont Be A Stranger', Ward Thomas' new single featuring Cam, is out now via WTW Music.
Photography by Sophia Burnell