The rapid rise of The Shires in recent years is one of the great feel good stories in country music. In the middle of a UK tour on the back of the hugely successful release of their second album, ‘My Universe’, I got to chat to Ben and Crissie earlier today on one of their few ‘days off’ on the tour!
Hi Guys! So right now you’re slap bang in the middle of a highly successful UK tour. It must have been an amazing experience so far?
Crissie : It has, it’s been really great going out all over the country, it’s been a lot of fun and people have been singing along to the words with us and getting up on their feet at seated venues. The response that we’ve had on social media, Facebook and Twitter etc has been amazing , it really has.
Can the British crowd sing?
Ben: Yeah, they can, especially ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’, they were really singing along.
Crissie: It’s quite regional I think as well. We were in Cardiff at St. David’s Hall and 2,000 people were singing along and that was just so cool. Bristol was pretty crazy the other day as well.
Has there been a highlight from the tour so far?
Ben: Yeah, when playing ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’ in Bristol a few days ago Crissie started a new dance move where she sort of pushed her hands up to the sky when she sang ‘Hallelujah’ and everyone started doing it.
Crissie: I’ve been doing it for every show but all of a sudden in Bristol they just started joining in. It was like a full on dance class going on in the room, the atmosphere was just electric, it was amazing.
Ben: We’ve been playing a lot of songs from our first album ‘Brave’ and I think it was in Belfast, our first show when we played ‘State Lines’ – it felt like one of those classic songs that had been around forever as everyone was just singing along. I think the fact that our songs seem to have so much resonance with people is great – think we are playing to 22,000 on this whole tour and they know the songs so well, they sing them back to us, you can see them smiling and the joy in their eyes. You can just see how much the songs mean to people.
Have you each got a favourite song that you enjoy playing live?
Crissie: ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’ at the end of the show just really rounds off the whole evening, it’s so much fun and everybody sings along. ‘Save Me’ is another one I love.
Ben: ‘Tonight’ is another one because we’ve been playing that for a long time now and we close the first part of the show with it and hopefully get an encore and do a few more. Everyone sort of chants the chorus (Ben actually sings a bit of the chorus) until we come back on stage and that never gets old! It’s just an amazing feeling, normally there are shouts of ‘more, more’ but to be sung back on stage is just incredible. The second we walk out on stage they raise the volume even more – it’s a great feeling!
Many artists have trouble with a ‘difficult’ second album. Yours was the fastest selling UK country album of all time! That must have been such a boost?
Crissie: Yeah it was a real buzz. The first week we went in at number 3 in the main album charts and I remember a time when we got really excited just to be in the country charts. It takes a lot of work, we’d been writing for this new album since the whole time we were touring ‘Brave’ and then we went out to Nashville to write some more songs out there. Being able to record out in Nashville with the exact same band and the same producers was like walking back into a memory, redoing everything we did from the first album. But yeah, we were feeling much more confident and stronger in our vision. It was weird trying to keep the music under wraps for the whole summer and not having people hearing it – we felt very selfish having it in our car and jamming away to it, so it was great when it was finally released and everyone could hear it!
After ‘Brave’ did you feel pressure to live up to such a good album?
Ben: The pressure really comes from yourself. We always want to do the best we can, write the best songs etc. I think because we spent so long writing, like Crissie said, the pressure was kinda off in a way because we had like a year and a half, almost two year’s worth of songs. I think where the difficult second album comes is when you do all the promo for the first album and then you say ‘right, we need a second album’ in 5 weeks and people try to squeeze that album from 20 songs you need to pick from. So for us the pressure was off – we also went to the same studio and because it was all so familiar it just felt more relaxed. The first time we went we were like ‘We’re in Nashville!’ etc. With it being more familiar, this time we just stuck to what we know and we were honest, trying to tell a story and really trying to be who we are with our music. That’s what makes it work for us, that is why people love our music, because we’re doing what we love. I think once we stepped back and thought about that, the whole thing didn’t seem too stressful.
The UK country scene is literally growing by the day. That must be an amazing thing to see and to be part of?
Crissie: Yeah it’s a really amazing thing. When we first started three and a half years ago there really wasn’t much of a scene and it felt like people were trying to imitate what was going on out in America. Our friends and our families thought we were crazy trying to pursue this UK country dream of ours and so many people have come forward and are choosing to hear it and we don’t get the weird faces and people saying ‘country music in the UK, it’s a thing?’. It’s great, the fact that we’ve been out to America, Australia and they’re saying ‘there’s something going on over there in the UK’, that’s just really exciting. The amount of people who have got behind the scene, and the amount of US acts that are now coming over here, it’s all so good.
A quick game of ‘Desert Island Discs’ – you’re allowed to take one country album. Which one do you take?
Ben: A compilation of great country songs! (laughs)
Crissie: Right now I absolutely love the new Maren Morris album ‘Hero’. She’s got ‘I Could Use a Love Song’ if you want something like a ballad, but then she’s got all these amazing really fun pop country tracks which are kind of my guilty pleasure!
Ben: Mine would probably be ‘Own the Night’ by Lady Antebellum. It was the first country album I really listened to from start to finish. I used to run in St. Albans where I used to live and I suddenly had this dream of doing country and I listened to that album just over and over as I was running. We got to meet Charles and he was everything that I expected him to be. They (Lady Antebellum) choose great songs and it’s just great music – if I had to listen to one last album, that would be the one I listened to definitely.
Fish and Chips or Pizza??
Both: Fish and Chips!
Grey skies or blue skies?
Both: Blue Skies (after a pause!).
Crissie: But don’t tell anyone…
Wembley Stadium or the Grand Ole Opry?
Both: The Opry.
Jack Daniels or Jack Sparrow?
Ben: (laughs) Jack Daniels!
Crissie: I’ll go for Jack Sparrow! (both laugh).
Bob Harris or Bob Dylan?
Both: Bob Harris (there was no pause for this answer!)
Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire?
Crissie: Well we’re both in Bedfordshire but we quite like Hertfordshire – we love Hertfordshire too!