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Some Very Good Years: Getting Reflective With The Shires

Tuesday, 10 March 2020 Written by Simon Ramsay

When poised to move forwards and embrace exciting new opportunities, it’s often worthwhile to look back and take stock first. We have to know where we’ve been to appreciate where we’re going. Following a short hiatus that saw them recharge and reflect, the Shires are set to return with ‘Good Years’, an album that meditates on their journey so far while also being tailor made to catapult the duo to even greater heights in future.

After smashing records aplenty following their formation in 2013, Ben Earle and Chrissie Rhodes, who famously met through Facebook, had certainly earned their rest, having gone from obscurity to releasing the fastest selling UK country album of all time in ‘My Universe’ and headlining venues such as the Royal Albert Hall. Yet one goal has, thus far, eluded them.  

Despite all their triumphs on these shores, the Shires have yet to make the kind of splash they’d like in Tennessee’s historically deep country ocean. Off the back of ‘Good Years’, however, that may be rectified very soon. Not only because it’s a more rootsy and appropriately sentimental record than their pop-centric third effort ‘Accidentally On Purpose’, but due to the fact they recently signed a very promising deal with BMG’s Nashville label Broken Row Records.

We spoke with Ben and Chrissie about everything from the thematic focus of ‘Good Years’ to handling success and how they plan to crack that all important American country market.   

‘Good Years’ features a number of tracks that address missed opportunities and the need to make every moment count. What made those themes come to the fore? 

Chrissie: We’d had six solid years of craziness. We barely touched back home and when we did it was hard to take in everything we’d been up to. This was the first time we got some home time to hang out with friends, family and be away from the craziness that is our life.

Ben: Dealing with success is a weird thing. Where we are now is somewhere we’d always dreamed of being and when you get there, it’s not an anticlimax—we’ve had successful albums and some of the stories people have shared with us about how our music’s changed their lives is humbling and life changing for us. But you go from that intense period to suddenly being sat on your sofa at home going ‘Oh, this is everything we ever wanted’ and then ‘What do we do now? How do I feel about the success? What does it mean?’ That’s where the reflection comes from and  songs like On The Day I Die or Crazy Days sum up everything you just said. It’s like ‘Where do we go from here?’ Time at home definitely gave us that.

And are you still the same ‘crazy dreamers’ you were when you began or have you had to fight to hang on to that mindset after your success?

Chrissie: We’re still riding the wave. We’re excited to bring out another album full of stuff we are very passionate about and we’ve put a lot of love into. We have a new record label and whole new team around us and that’s brought a freshness. We’re putting together the tour at the moment. There’s so much going on that we get to relive it again. We’ve been away for a while and it’s been fun putting it all back in place so we can go out there and show people this new album.

Ben: What’s interesting about the ‘crazy dreamers’ thing is how dreams and goals change.  Headlining the Royal Albert Hall, when we first met that wasn’t even on our list of things to do, but now our goals would be headlining the O2 and breaking America. That is, in some way, a crazy dream but I feel we’re close to the tipping point. With the last album, I don’t think we were complacent, but something’s just changed in these last six months to a year where suddenly we want it. We never didn’t want it, but now we really want it again because we’re so close. To have any success in America would be incredible. That’s what we’re aiming for now.     

That looks like a distinct possibility now you’ve signed with BMG. What was your vision for the new album, in terms of how your combined desire to break America shaped the resultant music?

Ben: With ‘Accidentally On Purpose’ we had a vision. We wanted to make our live shows as big and exciting as possible. Whereas with every other album, and now ‘Good Years’, we’ve written songs, recorded them and the vision has shaped itself. We’ve gone back to our roots and done what we wanted to do. Ironically, we’re getting a lot of excitement from America now because we’ve gone back to doing what we do naturally. Obviously BMG, being signed to them is a massive help, but going back to basics is exciting for us and everyone else.       

What needs to happen for you to take the next step in America?

Chrissie: The fact we’ve actually got a record label out there now is a big step. For such a long time we kept making albums and thinking we might be picked up in America but it never happened. This is our first opportunity to get a record out and played on the radio stations there. Radio’s an important factor in breaking the American market. We’ve got things like Spotify that are helping and Apple and Amazon Music spreading our songs as well.

Ben: That’s helped massively. The support we’ve had in streaming, the amount of playlists we’ve been added to, we’ve never had that before and it’s going to give us a chance to get to the US, hopefully keep that going and then break into the radio side.

How did you find recording ‘Good Years’ in Nashville?

Chrissie: The coolest way to experience Nashville is with these pro musicians who are seasoned from going into the studio day after day. We’d worked with a drummer who listened to the tracks and charted it out in the Nashville numbering system they all work by. Then it was like one, two, three, four...go! They all started playing and the two of us were like ‘Oh my goodness, this is amazing.’ But that way, as much as we loved it, didn’t give as much freedom for us to pick and choose things. It was recorded in a couple of takes and then created, whereas Ben sits noodling on his computer a lot of the time working, doing the demos, and loves creating different sounds.

Ben: We got to bring some of those parts from the demos into the sessions too. For example, Crazy Days was written and recorded in my shed on a cold January night. It was literally about 11:30pm and I had a whiskey in my hand, feeling very reflective. I knew that I would never do a vocal more ‘right’ than that. It was inspired at the time and that vocal is on the album now.  

Although more reflective, there are still some big pop songs that have more of a mainstream vibe. How do you craft music that has a strong crossover potential while staying true to your country roots?   

Chrissie: We definitely try to take the approach of ‘What does the song need?’ It doesn’t necessarily need to stay in the country genre. If a song doesn’t lend itself to sounding a set way we’re gonna produce it the way we want it to sound.

Ben: A song like Thank You Whiskey, it’s the first time we’ve ever said whiskey in a song.  When we got together we hadn’t spent a lot of time in America and hadn’t drunk lots of whiskey. Now we have. There’s one line in the bridge ‘Thank you whiskey for making losers winners.’ That’s a nod to two bars in Nashville we go to called Winners and Losers. The myth goes that you start off at Losers as a band and once you’ve made it you play Winners.  We could only have written a song like that with those experiences. Coming back to your question, we always try to be honest about what we’re going through and, whether that’s uptempo or downtempo stuff, the songs that made it for this album are the ones that did that.  

Lightning Strikes is a great opening anthem. Where is that story from?     

Chrissie: That song was pitched to us. It’s by an artist called Cam, who’s quite big over in the States and well known here. It was something she wrote but didn’t feel it was right for her at the time. I remember Ben playing it to me and he was like ‘I don’t know if you’re going to like this but I love it because it’s a little quirkier.’ I had a listen and loved it. I don’t think people expect that kind of sound from us and the fact we had nothing to do with the writing gave us an opportunity to take it in a direction we wouldn’t have necessarily thought of ourselves. That opening part with the vocoder, we can visualise how that’s gonna fit in on our tour, opening shows and going out there in festival season.

Ben: The demo was quite messy, though, I’m not gonna lie. Our A&R Jamie was like ‘It’s quite weird, this song.’ But the story behind the lyrics, again talking about the reflective thing, has a very nostalgic feel. Whenever we listen to that song or sing it I can visualise my upbringing, being in that suburbia and riding around on my bike. I can just see it, that young love thing.      

Chrissie, your performance on The Day I Die is exceptional and it sounds like you really connected with the heart of that song. What does it mean to you?

Chrissie: I remember when Ben sent it to me. He’d written it with two other writers and I absolutely fell in love with that song. It’s funny how you can have nothing to do with a song but it makes so much sense to your life. I’ve always been a believer that you’ve got to live life the way you want to. As long as you do everything you love, and it doesn’t need to be extreme, out there and crazy, just appreciating the everyday, you can know you’ve done it right. It’s such a reflective song. We do an acoustic version that’s completely different to the version on the record and is intimate and quite moving. We did it recently and I don’t remember breathing. It was so silent and magical in the room.

You’ve had a number of good years so far and always seem very bright and bubbly, but what have been the most difficult parts of your journey so far?

Ben: I’ve had my own personal struggles with stage fright. A time like the Albert Hall, which should have been the best of my life, for a lot of it I was shit scared. I was rooted to the spot and it’s amazing no one could tell when they watched me. I wouldn’t say it was a dark time, it was just frustrating, creating problems where there weren’t any. We are bright and bubbly because it’s pretty fun and we get to do what we love every day.

Chrissie: We are living the dream but there’s always stuff that keeps you challenged. Image is a thing, making sure that you always look the part. That side is hard work but someone like Lewis Capaldi is changing it for all of us. For such a long time you had to make it look like you’d got it all together and then Lewis came along.  Everybody has fallen in love with him because he’s just himself and a super talent. That’s having a ripple effect on so many people now. You might look like you’ve got it altogether but there’s always stuff going on in the background that’s hard work. But what Ben and I always try to do is be positive. We love what we do and just want to inspire and uplift people. 

'Good Years' is out on March 13 through BMG.

The Shires Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri July 24 2020 - MACCLESFIELD Gawsworth Hall 
Wed October 21 2020 - BEDFORD Corn Exchange (Rescheduled date)
Mon October 26 2020 - BRISTOL O2 Academy (Rescheduled date)
Tue October 27 2020 - TORQUAY Princess Theatre (Rescheduled date)
Thu October 29 2020 - BRIGHTON Dome (Rescheduled date)
Fri October 30 2020 - LIVERPOOL Philarmonic Hall (Rescheduled date)
Sun November 01 2020 - YORK Barbican (Rescheduled date)
Mon November 02 2020 - BIRMINGHAM Symphony Hall (Rescheduled date)
Tue November 03 2020 - CARLISLE Sands Centre (Rescheduled date)
Wed November 04 2020 - MANCHESTER Bridgewater Hall (Rescheduled date)
Fri November o6 2020 - CARDIFF St Davids Hall  (Rescheduled date)
Mon November 09 2020 - IPSWICH Regent Theatre (Rescheduled date)
Tue November 10 2020 - ABERYSWYTH Arts Centre (Rescheduled date)
Thur November 12 2020 - FOLKESTONE Leas Cliff Hall (Rescheduled date)
Fri November 13 2020 - NOTTINGHAM Royal Centre (Rescheduled date)
Sun November 15 2020 - LONDON The Palladium (Rescheduled date)
Mon November 16 2020 - WEYMOUTH Pavillion (Rescheduled date)
Tue November 17 2020 - BASINGSTOKE The Anvil (Rescheduled date)
Thur November 19 2020 - LINCOLN Engine Shed (Rescheduled date)
Mon November 23 2020 - GUILDFORD G Live (Rescheduled date)
Tue November 24 2020 - CARDIFF St Davids Hall (Rescheduled date)
Thur November 26 2020 - OXFORD New Theatre (Rescheduled date)
Mon November 30 2020 - GATESHEAD The Sage (Rescheduled date)
Tue December 01 2020 - ABERDEEN Beach Ballroom (Rescheduled date)
Wed December 02 2020 - EDINBURGH Liquid Room (Rescheduled date)
Mon December 07 2020 - CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange (Rescheduled date)

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