Country music still has the same heart as when it began. Love, heartbreak, home and travel still dominate the themes, big choruses still dominate the form and stetsons and cuban heels still dominate the style. However, despite the recognisable Nashville sound ringing through country as a genre, it still manages to remain current enough for more modern artists to experiment with. Nelly recently collaborated with country band Florida Georgia Line for a remix of their song ‘Cruise’, Beyonce wrote a country song about her father by the name of ‘Daddy Lessons’ for her visual album Lemonade, and Taylor Swift used country music as a segue into the mainstream. An up and coming UK band have also found their place in the genre. An electric harp, close harmony and soulful lyrics bring Two Ways Home on to the alt-country music scene.
Two Ways Home are a five-part modern country band who found their sound on a pilgrimage to Nashville. Initially starting out in university, Isabelle Mariee and Lewis Fowler began in a cover band. Both had moved up to London away from their hometowns and families – Isabella from Austria and Lewis from the Cotswolds – and found this feeling of separation inspiring. “Where is your home? Where do you want to be?” Isabella Mariee, or Izi, cited as one of her inspirations. “For instance, in London, it is so massive, and there are so many people, sometimes you feel so alone. A few of our songs touch on that”. Lewis recounted that they “both grew up on a lot of rock and groovier R’nB, with soulful vocals” that drove them both to experiment with big melodies, and not to shy away from their emotions in their lyrics, “whittling down” their sound until finally finding what they were playing in the Underbelly on evening I met them.
Izi and Lewis had first met in university, “Lewis started playing in my pop rock covers band” admitted Izi cheerfully as she recalled the humble beginnings of Two Ways Home. “We just started playing with the genre, singing together in harmony” recounted Lewis, showing already a classic country style that alluded them at the time. As their sound developed they realised they were “playing what [we] think is country music, but [we] really need to find out what everybody else thinks country music is” Here was the beginning of their awakening as a country band – deciding that touring through Nashville was their next step.
“The vocals kind of just sat in the country genre” admitted Izi, “Nashville was the hub for everything and still is, country-wise, so we decided to go and check it out for three weeks”. Gesturing wildly, Lewis told us “I think we ended up playing 10 or 15 shows, which is mad!” As they had travelled to Nashville with only a few tours booked, Two Ways Home arrived and conquered, building in confidence, technique and style in just three short weeks. Pursuing the country music sound to Nashville is not uncommon in country.
The first act of the night, set on a small stage to an intimate audience, was Lisa Wright. Blonde and vivacious with an acoustic guitar and a beautiful voice, her on stage chat blended beautifully with her songs as she lulled the audience into a blissful sense of being on a porch swing in Nashville, lonely and thoughtful, where she had written the songs she was playing for us that evening. With technical finesse and what can only have been a trained voice, she gave way, with riotous applause, to Harper’s Ferry, a band who had been on tour with Two Ways Home, and complimented them well. A five piece band, the singer sassy with Nashville experience and anarchic, literary lyrics, competed with the true star of the show, a guitar player whose ease and high ability gave Two Ways Home a run for their money.
The band of the hour, however, had no difficulty in captivating their audience. Izi adds truly powerful vocals, and a wide repertoire of musical talents to Lewi’s rhythmic guitar, close harmony and skilled vocals, completing their tight duet. Their drummer, Chris Brice, stylish and exuberant with arresting precision, admitted that the original duo called the rest of the band to play when they felt they needed “a bit of a beat”, which they brought, with bass and back up guitar by Adam East rounding off the sound. Lighting up the atmosphere of the room, their main song of their EP ‘Just For Now’ rang out, enthralling those who hadn’t heard it. Deep and captivating lyrics draw the listener into the song while an infectious hook and upbeat melody keep them from tripping into too much of an introspective puddle. The highlight of the evening for me, however, was the adept use of the electric harp, strengthening their bigger band sound and adding further depth and sadness to a slower melodic addition to their set: ‘Time Lasts Forever’.
Most of the songs played during their set are on their newly released EP, Better days, recorded at a studio called ‘The Doghouse’ owned and run by Barrimore Barlow, the drummer of Jethro Tull. The venue “definitely has a folky, rocky feel to it”, helping them soulfully find their way through to cutting their first alt-country album with the big band sound of Two Ways Home. “If you’re making earthy, rootsy acoustic music, it’s the place to do it” quipped Izi.
Better Days is available now on iTunes and Spotify.
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