In the second of our interviews around what we’ve dubbed ‘New Music Friday’ on March 11, Six Shooter Country’s Alison Dewar has been chatting to Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes from The Shires about the forthcoming launch of their new album ‘10 Year Plan’.
Since breaking through in 2014, The Shires have scored three consecutive UK Top 3 albums, four #1 UK Country albums, 100 million+ streams, two Gold-certified records, and countless sold-out headline shows, including filling the prestigious Royal Albert Hall. They have also won two CMA Awards, hit the C2C Festival, and played gigs as guests to Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town and The Corrs.
Often described as ‘the UK’s biggest country music exports’, this is the fifth album for the pair, who recently wrapped up an acoustic tour and will be taking to the road again this April with dates including the London Palladium.
The first single I See Stars has already been a smash hit, being championed on BBC Radio 2 as a Record of the Week; while legend Bob Harris recently premiered a world exclusive for the second track Wild Hearts.
AD: Ben and Crissie, I’ve had a sneak preview and wanted to say many congratulations on the fabulous new album. Tell me about it and the reactions so far.
Crissie: It is brilliant to see the reaction. Everything has just gone from quietness off the back of the pandemic and having all the time in the world to write and record, to it being quite a full-on schedule, which is so much fun. It’s so good to be back, we’ve been together nine years and we’ve never had that much time apart from each other or even off from what we do all the time.
It feels like we’re sort of not really starting over, but it is like starting again because it’s been such a long time – in our eyes anyway.
Ben: Everyone seems to feel really excited about it. It may have been to do with the way it was made. Right now, I’m sat in the studio in the garden where I made it, in my little shed and there wasn’t this kind of pressure that there was with other records to get it done in within a time frame.
It was similar to the first record in that I was just writing for the sake of writing, because I love it so much and the pandemic just gave me that time to come in here. When I wasn’t looking after the kids I would come in and write and I wanted to use this time to just be the best writer I can be.
Production-wise as well, the starting point for most of the songs was the demos and I tried my best to make them…in my head, I wanted to make a finished record and I didn’t. I couldn’t get to that level but I got to a very good level, and then Lindsay (Rimes), our producer, took them to the next level. He added this real gloss and all the amazing stuff that he does, and then Crissie came and sang on them. And I think that whole combination of the process has been a lot more … just natural… not trying anything, just doing it.
Crissie was in this room, the vocal sessions were all relaxed, it was like…’let’s just sing’ and also, our relationship now, if I think it should be sung a slightly different way or if Crissie thinks it should be sung a different way, there’s no ego any more, we’ve been together 10 years now.
Now we’re here, we wanted to have the best record to do it with and get it out to people. So yeah, the reaction generally has been incredible.
AD: In terms of a favourite song, I think mine is Skydive. You’ve already said Ben that Plot Twist is your favourite. Crissie, how about you?
Crissie: One of my favourites is the opening track Cut Me Loose, it was a song that we recorded initially for our second album – My Universe – and it was a song I absolutely loved. Vocally it is just so much fun to sing and I have championed it for every single album since then. With this album, it fits really nicely. I know the band are really excited to play it as well, it’s going to one of those live ones that is going to be a lot of fun, especially as a vocalist. Singing is my thing and it’s going to be quite fun.
AD: Have some of the songs been played on your recent acoustic tour or are they all new to audiences.
Ben: Side By Side and When It Hurts we’ve done on the acoustic tour. With When It Hurts, we’ve got the pedal steel on there and when our guitarist Joel was doing that live…that one is so country.
Crissie: Side By Side, we played that in our encore set, so nobody knew the song whatsoever, we played it in a completely different version to the album. It was just piano and our vocals and I think there was so many times that people just went ‘huhhh’ you know, that kind of they couldn’t breathe. They were just in awe watching and in so many different venues I heard people make that noise of just how taken aback they were at how great that song is.
AD: With the pandemic, your acoustic tour was stop start, stop start, and you’ve only just finished wrapping up Glasgow. Now you’re back out on the road with the full band in April. You’re not getting much of a break.
Ben: We had such a long break before…it was a bit of a shame, I caught Covid before the last three dates so we had to postpone them, but the benefit was we got to add four extra dates on the run we just did, so we ended up doing seven shows.
We went back to Stroud, which was great, then the show in Glasgow, which was postponed twice, it felt like it was the most incredible night to end the tour. It felt like fate in a way, that we got to end it that way. It was 600 people in Saint Luke’s Church, which is an incredible venue, you can see everyone and the noise – it felt like one of our headline shows in terms of a big full band show.
We’re just grateful to be out there and a show like that reminded us just how great it is, what we do and how fun it is and what a privilege it is to do it. It didn’t feel too stop start, it felt like two tours in a way.
Crissie: You know, we had so much time at home and you (Ben) were in the studio and with the kids all the time. Now, all of a sudden, we’re going to be in and out all the time. When we were away for the last week, they were like ‘Daddy, we want to be locked in again’. (laughter)
AD: Crissie, while Ben was busy songwriting, how did you keep your voice warmed up – were you singing in the shower to keep the vocals going?
Crissie: For most of our songs, there are a lot of power ballads, so there’s a big vocal that’s required and actually, I didn’t really exercise that side of my voice. It’s not something I do at home all the time.
We were so solidly touring before, I think my vocals were strained quite a bit, having that time off just gave me this light and airy head voice that I never got to explore before. A song like Naked, off our second album, I used to struggle with that so much. Yet we’ve just toured that for weeks and I didn’t struggle with it whatsoever, because I have found this new area of my voice. I’ve realised I don’t need to sing full pelt all the time, actually there is this lovely sort of more intimate side of my voice that I’ve discovered just from having a bit of a rest.
AD: Coming back to 10 Year Plan, March 11 is the launch date which is, of course, the first day of C2C. Was that the plan or was it just serendipity?
Ben: It felt the best time, we love Country2Country, it’s like our Glastonbury, it’s the thing we look forward every single year. It’s a good time to release a record and we’ll get to see so many of our fans and so many UK country fans, it’s just a great time of year and the perfect time to release it.
AD: Talking of fans, Madeleine asked me to send you her love and says she can’t wait until you’re reunited.
Crissie: It’s been such a long time, I remember spending two hours with her at the last C2C.
AD: Madeleine says the one she’s looking forward most is Forever Tonight, because it sounds like a romantic ballad and she loves romantic songs.
Ben: Ahh, she got that one right, she nailed it. The song was about trying to say ‘how can you say I want to marry you, without saying I want to marry you’. It’s like ‘let’s spend the rest of our lives together’ or ‘hey, what are you doing for the rest of your life’. That was the first line we had and we went with it.
I love the kind of back and forth on the vocals, I love those old Motown duets where you really felt they were singing together and to each other and I think that’s really what we got to try and embody in that.
AD: So at C2C, will you be doing any showcases, like the gig at All Bar One you did before.
Ben: We’re definitely not doing an album playback, but I’d be surprised if we got through the weekend without doing some kind of performance.
AD: The album is called Ten Year Plan – would you say it’s a kind of coming-of-age album – Ben, you talked about how well you know each other now and obviously there’s a huge level of trust and understanding. Also, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned and the takeaways and highlights of the last decade.
Crissie: There is definitely that trust there, because if it wasn’t for Ben writing as much as he did and doing the production, the album literally wouldn’t be here right now.
I love going out to Nashville and just being all part of the Nashville scene and writing and just having lots of ideas; but for me, I struggled quite a bit with the whole zoom sessions and just feeling inspired.
There’s something about being at home that just doesn’t really spark creativity in a writing sense. I did a lot of home renovations and creatively, I am a visual person, so when it came to what the album looks like that’s when all of a sudden, I wake up and I’m thinking this or that sort of thing…I think that’s where we both work so well. We both work to our strengths and a lot of trust has gone into Ben to be writing songs. I just knew that he would get it.
Ben: I think it’s funny that you say the word trust though, because I think, over the last 10 years, especially with this record, you just learn to trust yourself, or trust myself a bit more. Every artist I know has a level of neurosis that’s off the scale and it sort of comes out in different ways.
I think with the writing and our songs, and our sound and being country, there is the neurosis of like, being trying to make sure it is the best it can be. Is it country enough, is it good enough, is it this… With this record I just wrote for the sake of it.
It’s like with Brave, our first record, I love writing songs, I absolutely love songs, it’s all I really care about and along the way, you go to Nashville, you do the promos, you release the album, you have the gold records, you do all this stuff and you don’t lose sight of that…it’s just you start wondering why that song worked.
Maybe I should do this in that song, maybe I should write a song like A Thousand Hallelujahs and get everyone up. That was never the goal when we wrote that song, it was just to write an uplifting song because we felt energetic that day. I think, going back to that, it’s the basics of just resetting and trusting your instincts.
AD: It’s about just seeing what comes out?
Ben: Totally – and having the time to do that. Skydive, the song you mentioned, I just sat at the piano – like since I was a kid, I was about seven, I was meant to practice but I just loved playing – and I played and played.
I have lists of titles from my trips to Nashville. Crissie knows, you sit in session and you go ‘I’ve got this title, and this title, I’ve got this title…’ whereas with this, I just sat down and played a song and the word Skydive just came into my head and the song came out of me. So. I think it’s been an incredible journey, I can’t even begin to think and list all the things we’ve done in 10 years, but kind of unlearning everything and just going ‘right, let’s just do it,’ I think that’s why this album resonates so much.
AD: What are your goals and for the next 10 years?
Crissie: World domination! (laughter)
Ben: I’m going to moisturise a lot, because it’s funny looking at each album cover. I’ve got every record in my studio and you think ‘I was really young, we were really young’ and then you get to the last one…it’s like ohhh. (laughter)
No, I think just trying to keep the joy of it. We’re really lucky, my kids go to school with lots of professional people and they work so hard and they don’t get to see their families often. Whereas we get to go and do something we absolutely love, and we get to spend time with each other and have so much fun. You can forget that or lose sight of it when it gets busy, there are challenges along the way of course, but hopefully the next 10 years will be looking back and you know, just go, ‘that was great, let’s do it again. Here’s to the next 10 years’.
AD: Is there one goal, one venue, some amazing place or location where you just think, I want to get there.
Crissie: I would love to do arena tours. I think that’s one level we haven’t done. We have performed in a lot of arenas but always as the supporting act. I just remember when we watched Shania Twain at the arenas across the country; watching her show, her whole rig come together, it just looks like so much fun. Every step of the way, I just feel like we’ve done every venue but the arenas for ourselves would be pretty crazy.
Ben: Definitely 100% and then just US country radio. We want to have a shot and a song that breaks out there. We’re very well known on the scene in Nashville, but the reality of having a song that connects with people out there, those two things would be our goal definitely for the next 10 years.
The Shires’ new album 10 Year Plan is available to pre-order now and launches on March 11.
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