Despite Success, Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear Still Feel Like 'Punks' From Independence | KCUR

Despite Success, Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear Still Feel Like 'Punks' From Independence

Mar 27, 2018

Three years have passed since the release of “Skeleton Crew,” the breakout debut for Independence, Missouri, mother-and-son folk duo Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear.

In that time frame, they've toured Europe, been guests on The David Letterman Show and collaborated with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt to create a music video for “Childhood Goodbye,” their latest single.

The video opens with Madisen Ward stepping through the entrance of Clinton’s Soda Fountain on Independence Square.

Madisen co-wrote “Childhood Goodbye” in Nashville with producer Nathan Chapman, who is perhaps best known for his work with singer Taylor Swift.

Working alongside a producer and harmonizing with a full band has involved a learning curve, Madisen told Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard.

“You’re very green when you first get into the business,” he said. “Playing with bandmates, that was a big thing for us. We always just played together. Expanding upon that sound has been a journey.”

He comments on that journey through the nostalgic sentiments of "Childhood Goodbye."

Moving away from live tracking and heavy acoustics to a more fleshed-out band with percussion has been a challenge.

“As far as writing goes, there’s a lot of times where I feel like I’ve been writing something that feels way before we signed: just bizarre. A little less green, a little more savvy on syncopation with other artists.”

Before the folk duo made the big stage, they started out playing in coffee houses throughout the Kansas City metro.

At first, Ruth “Mama Bear” Ward flew solo, playing covers of various songs as a hobby.

Madisen (left) and Ruth Ward share the stories behind their latest single, 'Childhood Goodbye,' with Central Standard host Gina Kaufmann.
Credit Matt Grobe / KCUR 89.3

“I just enjoyed sitting in the coffee houses. I had a lot of friends, other musicians — it was just part of who I was,” Ruth said. “I also liked being in control over my destiny. If I didn’t feel like playing that week, I didn’t have to play.”

Madisen Ward followed his mother’s footsteps as a musician and started playing in the same coffee houses and writing his own songs.

“I really started kind of late as far as songwriting,” said Madisen. “I want to say I was in mid-high school.”

Ruth saw potential and asked her son to play for her during breaks. Eventually, the two started playing together.

Lyrics from one of the first songs Madisen Ward wrote, about falling in love with a girl while being unable to afford to take her out on a proper date.
Credit Madisen Ward

“He was very good with words," Ruth said. "When he started putting words to melody and writing, I knew he was gifted.” 

Audience members were soon requesting that they play more original pieces than covers.

“Once we got to that point and people were requesting originals, I was like ‘I think we’re a duo. I think we just became one,” said Madisen.

And then they became sensations. In February 2015 they were guests on The David Letterman Show, and in May, “Skeleton Crew” launched.

“It was incredible. I didn’t have any time to process what we were doing,” said Madisen. “Anytime anything has happened to us on this journey, it’s been a pretty big just kind of ‘Close your eyes, shut up and do it’ kind of thing. We’ll process everything later.”

The rise in popularity has been more than a shock for the family duo.

“We’re some punks from Independence,” said Madisen. “We’re not supposed to be on this stage.”

Listen to the full conversation here.

Coy Dugger is an assistant producer for KCUR’s Central Standard. Reach out to him at coy@kcur.org.