It’s safe to say that 2016 has been a year defined by broken precedents – we’ve lost nearly every musical idol we held dear, felt the UK become isolated from Europe, and witnessed the election of the first ever reality TV president. It’s comforting to know, then, that we have in The Shires a UK band that’s still breaking precedents on the world stage in a way that might give us hope for the future.
Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes formed The Shires after years of hard work in bars and clubs, writing and playing for other people and covering the artists that inspire them. They have recently become the first ever UK country artist with an album in the top ten, and the first ever to be signed to a major US country label. Somewhere along the way, they transformed from vocal duo to global phenomenon. The first thing I asked them: how does a musician stay grounded in the face of it all?
Crissie: It’s been amazing, the journey that we’ve had in such a short amount of time. It’s a thing about country music – everybody that we’ve met has been so humble, and we’re so lucky that we get to put so much of ourselves into the music, that’s kind of what we do it for. We see the same fans over and over again at our shows and it makes us feel warm to know that they support us every step of the way.
Do you find that your fans in the US and the UK differ at all?
Ben: The fans in the US seem to listen to the lyrics a bit more, but the thing with UK fans is that they tend to listen to every album track, whereas in the US it’s more about the singles. We’re a bit more reserved over here, generally, and Americans are a bit more gung-ho! It’s great for us to get to experience both sides of it.
How have the country artists over in Nashville received you?
C: I think they love what we’re doing because we’re honest in our songs; we’re not trying to be something that we’re not. The fact that they can now bring their music over here because of acts like ourselves too, they love the UK crowds!
On the subject of Nashville – what was it like to play the Grand Ole Opry?
B: It was amazing, really surreal. It’s one of those things that we’d dreamt of doing one day, so to do it so early on in our career was just unbelievable. I remember we got there and Crissie had left her dress at the hotel, so we had to rush back and get it. Once you get up on that stage though it feels like a stamp of approval. Loads of Brits had flown out to see us too, which grounded us.
My Universe is your second album. What’s different this time around?
C: The difference I think is that we toured with artists like Little Big Town, The Corrs and Tom Jones, performing in a lot of arenas. To be able to fill that kind of venue was something completely new to us. We wanted to play songs that would reach the top of the room, get the people up there dancing and singing as much as somebody in the front row.
You’re on tour right now – do you prefer touring or writing and recording in the studio?
B: I think we both love touring, purely because you get to see that instant reaction from your fans. Your brains can’t really process a hundred thousand people buying your album, whereas it’s easy to feel a hundred or even two thousand people having a really good time.
Many students reading this will want to make a career out of their music. What advice would you give to them?
C: It’s an all-rounder thing now. You need the best song possible, that’s very important, but I also think you’re not only a songwriter these days, you need to perform as much as you can. I performed at every type of venue, we played in pub corners to people who didn’t even care we were there, it’s all those gigs that give you that grounding to keep you going and make you appreciate what you’re doing.
B: You need to keep learning. As an artist, when we both started doing our big festival slots, we’d never done that kind of thing before, so Crissie and I were both on YouTube looking at people like Bruce Springsteen, learning what they do live. Study songs; learn why they’re good. Be true to yourself, but always try to keep an open mind too.
What’s coming up?
C: We’ve just signed up with Big Machine in America, so there’s talk about going over there for awhile to write and promote this album around there and Canada too. Taking over the world, basically.
So, world domination?
C: Something like that!
Head here for The Shires tickets. My Universe is available to buy and stream now!