AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Even though Madisen Ward is in a band with his mother, when the duo performs onstage he sees her as something else: a musician.
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear consist of 26-year-old Madisen and his mother, Ruth. The duo has been building buzz at coffee houses for nearly six years in their hometown of Kansas City, Missouri with their striking, folk-roots sound. It led to a recording contact, signed in October, with Glassnote Records — the home label to Mumford & Sons and Phoenix. They've already performed on "Late Show with David Letterman" and will release their debut album on May 19.
"When we're playing together, I don't look at Madisen, my son, I look at my fellow musician," Ruth said in an interview Wednesday.
"He can get mad at me and it won't affect me — well, a little bit," she adds, as Madisen laughs and says, "And vice versa."
"I hate to say it — it's kind of not really mother and son that much whenever we play music. And then as soon as we come off, we're right back," Madisen said. "When it comes to the business, we're being business people."
Madisen is the chief songwriter and lead vocalist of the group. Ruth, who sings as well, edits the songs and vocals with her son to round out their sound. And they both play guitar.
"We are hard on each other though," he said after taping a Daytrotter session at Danny's Studios in Austin, Texas — one of many performances slated around the South by Southwest festival.
"People see us as a family and they think, 'Oh, it's just so much love,' and I'm like, 'Family is the most blunt, most real experience with another person you're going to have.'"
Their honesty — and directness — pierces throughout the 12-track "Skeleton Crew," which they recorded in Nashville this winter with producer Jim Abbiss (Adele, Arctic Monkeys). Ruth, a veteran performer, has recorded albums, played in bands and sang solo since she was 19. She said she initially grew up listening to Motown, but that changed when her brother introduced her to acts like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Simon & Garfunkel and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Madisen, the youngest of her three children, grew up watching his mother perform. And as he got older, he would join her onstage.
"I'm sure she thought this was a dream that was far gone, not necessarily something she was going to pursue again, and for it to come back to life and know that I can be a part of that, I think about that often," Madisen said. "I think it's incredible."
"I am very proud of my son ...and sometimes I can get choked up when I think about it," Ruth said, looking at Madisen. "I just see him becoming who he is. ...I'm blessed to have him as my son."