The Shires, the UK’s best-selling country act of all time (comprised of Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle), new album, “Good Years”, was recorded in Nashville and includes 12 new tracks, 10 of which are co-written by the duo. Produced by Lindsay Rimes, the release also features some of Nashville’s top songwriters, including Cam, Bob DiPiero and Canaan Smith.
“For me, growing up so inspired by country music through my grams and knowing Nashville was the home of that music, I always wanted to find a way to get over there. When Ben and I met and we had the opportunity to go to Nashville, it was everything I imagined that it could be and more. To be surrounded by so much talent, it was quite overwhelming. Then getting in there with people who’d been writing songs for years …that was quite daunting to try to do that and to try to put our Brit spin on it at the same time. It’s been an amazing place for us. We just love landing on that runway and feeling like, ‘Ah. Here we are. We’re back.’ It feels great every single time.”-Crissie Rhodes
You were both The X Factor contestants. A Facebook post brought the two of you together. Ben, read you sent Crissie some original songs after she responded to the post. Have you ever recorded any of those songs?
Yes, “Brave” was one of the first songs we recorded as a demo and that went on to be the title track of our album. Also, “Black and White” from those first demos was released on our first record.
How did you choose your band name?
We always wanted to retain our sense of being British but also a name that showed our love for Country. ‘The Shires’ really summed it up perfectly. When we hear it, it just makes us think of the English countryside.
The song “Nashville Grey Skies” includes the line, “we can build our own Nashville under these grey skies”. Where would you say is the home of country music in the UK?
That line was always meant more metaphorically. There is great support around the whole of the UK, but we’ve always had amazing shows in Glasgow. Maybe it’s the Celtic connection that Country is steeped in!?! They even have their own Opry in Glasgow as well.
Your debut studio album, “Brave”, was the first UK country act to chart in the Top 10 on the UK Albums Chart. Being ambassadors for country music, which UK up-and-coming artists should we be adding to our playlists?
We’re big fans of Catherine McGrath and Twinnie coming through on the UK scene. Also, King Calaway are brilliant. They are based in Nashville, but two of the members are from the UK so that kind of counts right? Their harmonies are great.
Crissie, which US female country artists were the most influential in your decision to pursue a music career?
My early memories of singing country music was with my Gran. Back then we would sing songs by Tammy Wynette & Dolly Parton but growing up in the 90’s and 2000’s Faith Hill and LeAnn Rimes were my leading ladies. I would listen to every detail of their voices and try to imitate what they did. Whenever I performed in a talent show, I would always perform either a Faith Hill song or LeAnn Rimes. They were always my go-to songs! They always sang heartfelt ballads too which were my favourite!
You received your Country Music Association award, the first for a UK country duo, from Kristian Bush at the C2C: Country to Country festival. The Jeff Walker Global Country Achievement Award recognizes outstanding achievements by a country music artist signed outside of the US. Can you describe what it was like to receive this recognition?
We were shellshocked, we literally had no idea we were going to receive the award. We had been asked to say a quick hello up on stage at the CMA Songwriters Series. Next thing we know, Kristian hands us a CMA Award. Everything is such a blur after that. It’s such a huge honour to be recognised by the CMA, and luckily they gave us an award each so we don’t have to timeshare!
Do you see more UK artists crossing over to the US to perform?
It’s definitely starting to happen yes. We’ve noticed it in the small venues and writers rounds when we’re out in Nashville. It’s probably fair to say no UK Country artist has broken through into the US yet, but we would love it if we were the first.
Which US venues and festivals are on your bucket list to play?
We were so amazed to be asked to play at the Grand Ole Opry early on in our career, and also the Bluebird. They were two of our huge goals to play there. The huge venues like Madison Square Garden or Bridgestone Arena would be awesome. Also, so many of our US friends have told us how great Stagecoach is. We played lots of the big UK festivals like Glastonbury but never any US festivals. It would be great to be up on stage at Stagecoach one day.
Local music stars Tom Grennan and The Shires awarded Honorary Doctor of Arts
Local singer Tom Grennan and band The Shires (Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes) joined students from the University of…
Another recognition of your place in country music — receiving Honorary Doctorates of the Arts from the University of Bedfordshire for services and contributions to music. What majors are available in the UK for aspiring country artists?
Crissie studied music at secondary school from GCSE’s, went to College and gained a BTEC National Diploma in Music and then gained a BA Hons degree in Music specialising in vocals at the Academy of Contemporary Music. Although country music wasn’t all that popular in the UK while she was studying (over 10 years ago) there has been a rise of the genre now and can only hope that it’s been incorporated into education over here.
Ben, you play piano and guitar. Are there any instruments you’d like to learn to play?
I love all the classic Country instruments. I have a mandolin and a banjo at home. I’d love to play them well but it’s definitely as inspiring as it is disheartening when you’ve been in the studio with some amazing players. Never quite sounds the same when I play it!
Can you describe what it was like to play the Grand Ole Opry, the first UK band to do so?
It was such a surreal experience. If we hadn’t have played it on that trip we probably would have been tourists having a tour!
New album, “Good Years” is your fourth studio album and with its release has come comparisons to Lady Antebellum’s harmonies. How has your music been influenced by the trio?
We love harmonies so much. Along with the Civil Wars, Lady A have been a huge inspiration. There’s something so magical about two lead vocals singing together, particularly a male and female. Blending our voices together is something that did come naturally but we also something we have worked very hard on.
Which song on your new album was the most challenging to write? What is the backstory of that song?
“Good Years” was a challenge. We wrote it with our good friend Canaan Smith. The chorus came really quickly, but we just couldn’t get any type of verse at all. Canaan suggested bringing in Dan Couch a week later, and we finished the song in about an hour!
What drew you to “About Last Night,” one of only two songs on Good Years you didn’t have a hand in writing?
It’s such a great story and a really visual song. We love that it’s two sides of the same story. The demo was actually very different to the record. We both had a very clear vision for the record and we’re so pleased with how it turned out.
You were set to replace Old Dominion this year on the main stage at the C2C: Country to Country festival until it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. What songs were on your set list for that night and how have you continued to stay in touch with country fans in the UK during this difficult time?
We were so excited to play C2C this year. The set was going to be lots of our old fan favourites but also quite a few new songs. It was a a crazy 7 days for us going from being asked to fill in for Old Dominion to the whole event being postponed. It was gutting for us. We’ve performed a couple of videos online for our fans, and it’s great chatting directly with our fans on Instagram and Facebook Live.
What songs do you like to cover? Are there any that are especially challenging to put your own spin on it?
We love putting our own spin on songs. Probably our favourite we’ve ever done is “Young Hearts,” original by Candi Stanton. For a disco classic, the lyrics are actually heartbreakingly beautiful and sad.
What role do you see music playing in helping people through these tough times?
Music is such a comfort to so many, and brings so much joy to our lives. In such uncertain times, it’s so nice to just fall into the arms of your favourite songs or artists and think of better times.
Have you put together a playlist for fans to listen to right now?
Our Shires complete playlist is a good one. It’s actually been really nice for us to listen to all of our songs. Each album is like a time capsule of that point in our lives and brings back so many memories.
📸 credit: Pip