With their new studio album ” 10 Year Plan” due for release on 11th March -lead single/video “I See Stars” out now
an acoustic tour just wrapped up and a full band tour imminent, there was a lot to talk about when I chatted to The Shires’ Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes recently via Zoom! 10 minutes definitely wasn’t enough (thanks to Ben for suggesting I emailed him the questions I didn’t get to ask!) but as always it was a fun and interesting conversation and it’s clear that they are so passionate about this new album, which I’m lucky enough to have been given access to already and to my mind is honestly their best yet. I hope you enjoy the read!
1 BEN Hey Lesley ! It’s been a while since we spoke….a couple of years isn’t it?
LH Ha actually it was just last April…
BEN Oh yes, the Stabal online show …amazing!
LH Indeed!! And so much has been going on with The Shires since then! It must feel so good to immerse yourselves in your music again as much as I’m sure you enjoyed lockdown time with the kids, Ben, and sorting out your new home, Crissie?
CRISSIE It’s been so, so nice! Being back out on the road, seeing the reactions of everybody being around live music again! Seeing people smiling and having a great time. And as you say we’ve been writing and recording the album during lockdown off the back of there last album that we didn’t even get to tour! We didn’t see peoples reaction to it, we had no idea if anyone had listened to it !! It was weird! And it wasn’t until we went out on there acoustic shows that we saw people were singing lyrics along with us and they’d really responded to that last album so that excitement is to be carried on with the next one a well.
2. LH Those acoustic shows must really have taken things back to the format you used to perform in when you started out I imagine….how did that feel, was it nostalgic performing songs in a more stripped back format and in smaller venues?
BEN Yeah it’s funny because although they were smaller shows for us now they were still quite big .
LH Ha indeed, not like playing in a pub to 25 people!
BEN Exactly! The first show we did on this run was before Christmas at Bromley, I think it was the weirdest mix of emotions because there was all that kind of excitement to be out again, but like you said we’d built it up to be intimate and acoustic and where we got there it was a 700-800 seated venue and it was like “oh it’s not as intimate as we remember!“. But we hadn’t played in front of people for 2 years…the Stabal thing wasn’t in front of an audience…and as Chrissie said it was quite overwhelming to see so many people, especially in quite a difficult time, coming out to see us. It kind of reminded us quite how much people like what we do! Some of the venues WERE quite small, at Pocklington the venue held 200 people, we could literally see every person which was quite nice as you can definitely connect with people which reminded us of the shows we used to do.
3. LH Talking of nostalgia, many people used lockdown as a time to reflect and reset….is that something you both did particularly in regard to your music, and did that impact in any way on the direction “10 Year Plan” took?
CRISSIE I think definitely ! Ben describes it the best I think….the last few albums were written off the back of the busyness and craziness of being on the road, whereas our first album and this one were almost written in a similar way. We had time to work on that music and a lot of the time with the last few albums we only had the demo versions of the songs with just an acoustic guitar and scratch vocal which had been laid down in the room on that day …..unlike me Ben can always hear the whole song coming together ….but this time Ben was sitting in his studio recording and putting EVERYTHING down so that the songs sounded almost done when it came to me to listen to them. It was more obvious where the song was going, and Ben you’ve said you enjoyed having more time to sit in your studio and to write this time round?
BEN Definitely! It was a really conscious thing ..at the start of lockdown we went through all the baking bread kind of things, but then I looked at it and thought this is a really good opportunity to get back to doing music just for the sake of doing it, like we did when we were younger. I sat in the room I’m in now and wrote songs just by myself, ….songs like “Skyline” was just me sat at the piano. I got the mics up and recorded them, like Crissie said they were almost finished when I sent them to our producer Lindsay who’d embellish them or pull parts off …it was a great time but a challenging time obviously! My wife is a key worker, a teacher, so she’d be at work all day and I’d look after the kids ’til about 6, then we’d do a swap and I’d come in here and write ’til about 11 at night . It was really magical, specific to this time and not something you’d be able to do again.
4. LH So were all the tracks written in recent months, specifically for album, or were there some you already had in your back pocket so to speak that maybe hadn’t been a fit for previous albums?
CRISSIE So all of them are new apart from ” Cut Me Loose” which is the opening track. That was meant to be on our second album, we recorded it all that time ago. We went to Nashville and Ben went to writing session and saw the songwriter play it in the bar, and asked if we could have it! At the time it didn’t necessarily fit onto that album, but with every album that came up i was like ” please, I love this one!” and so finally we have managed to re-record it and it fits so nicely on this one!
LH Ah so it’s an outside cut…interesting!
BEN Yes, Lizzy McAvoy and Justin….. ( LH oops sorry, I didn’t get the surname!)
LH Chrissie your vocals on that one are absolutely insane and off the chart! I must say throughout the album both your vocals are the best I’ve ever heard them.
BEN Aw, honestly Lesley, thank you!
5. LH Does the huge success of your previous albums put added pressure on you when you put a new body of work out into the world?
BEN You know in all honesty with the last two it kind of did. With the last one it’s unfair to judge as it was released in the first week of the pandemic, but with album three particularly ( ‘”Accidentally On Purpose”) which was our last album with Decca, looking back I felt like we were all a bit complacent I’d say….we sort of went through the motions again. Not with the writing, I thought the music was really great, but this time round now I don’t know why but it feels like the pressure’s off in a way and there’s genuine excitement. It feels like we’re starting again and you can hear that in the songs I think, it all starts with the songs and I’m falling in love with that again and we are both genuinely enjoying it. There is some pressure, but it’s different these days because how do you judge success, ( is it streaming ?) but I think that the acoustic tour has been a real reminder that people love what we do.
6. LH Sadly we don’t have long enough to discuss the tracks in much detail, but I gather ” Plot Twist” which you co-wrote with UK’s Beth McCarthy is particularly special to you both so could you elaborate a bit about why that is and where the idea came from please?
BEN We have always loved the Civil Wars and beautiful tension they create.” Plot Twist” is very much in that world and It’s very interesting musically, quite different for us. The lyric idea literally came to me one day while I was cooking, and I just knew that Beth was the right person to finish it with. She’s so brilliant at getting across the vulnerability of that lyric but in a very relatable way. The whispered way she sings really inspires the melodies when you’re writing too.
7. LH And maybe you can briefly indulge me and tell me a bit more about one of my favourites as I love its clever spin and that’s ” Bar Without You” which I gather was recorded in Ben’s shed!
BEN Haha, all the vocals were actually recorded in the shed. The instrumental parts were split between the shed and musicians in Nashville. I wrote “Bar Without You” with Eric Paslay and Jennifer Wayne. I’m a huge fan of them both as writers and artists. Their number 1 single “She Don’t Love You” is one of my favourite songs of all time.
Writing “Bar Without You”, they were both on a bit of a roll really. The initial idea came from Jennifer, but Eric really pushed the spin on the lyric, which makes the song. Some sessions you just have to sit back and take more of a curator/editor roll which I definitely did that time. We think it’s our most Country Radio sounding song we’ve ever recorded and hope we get a chance to take it to the US.
8. LH Of course there’s been a lot of speculation regarding album release day coinciding with C2C weekend…..do you have any comments in that regard?
BEN C2C is our favourite time of year and we can’t believe it’s been so long since the last one. We released our last album “Good Years” the week of the first lockdown, which was such a shame. We want to give “10 Year Plan” the best chance possible to be heard by as many people as possible. Releasing the same weekend as C2C is a no brainer. As to whether we’ll be making an appearance or not, well you’ll have to wait and see!
9. LH And of course we need to talk about your upcoming full band tour which can finally happy after a few false starts! I remember joking last time we spoke that it would end up being a two-album release celebration and it seems I was correct ! What are you most looking forward to about playing with your band again?
CRISSIE Well we are putting the tour together at the moment, talking about lighting, what the stage is going to look like, which is always my favourite thing to do when putting big tours together.
BEN Yes playing with the band again is going to be a big moment, feeling the noise and energy.
10. LH Which of the tracks on the new album are you most looking forwards to being able to stand on stage and belt out with the band, so to speak?
CRISSIE Oh for me I can’t wait to finally perform ” Cut Me Loose! ” . The band have been waiting for that moment as well!
BEN Yeah, me too….plus probably ” Wild Hearts” , I can’t wait to play that one.
LH I’m just excited to hear all of them…I’ll be at the Oxford show.
11. LH I’ve already mentioned your collaboration with Beth McCarthy, and another incredible UK talent Kezia Gill will be opening for you on you upcoming tour ( as on the acoustic tour) ….to my mind there’s never been more talent from our shores out there on the country music scene, and there’s so many new country music festivals springing up lately….. how would you compare it now to when you started out 10 years ago?
BEN It’s a completely different world to ten years ago. It’s so exciting to see so many festivals, headline shows and radio play nowadays. Also, the support that the streaming services are giving to so many UK Country artists is really exciting. Seeing UK names next to the big US Country acts on playlists is so brilliant.
12. LH And finally….you had very modest aspirations when you started out 10 years ago….what is on The Shires bucket list for the next ten years?
BEN Having a hit at US Country Radio and selling out the O2 Arena! Honestly though, to just be able to tour and still release music as we are now would be amazing. Very few artists get to experience as long a career as we have already had. We genuinely are so grateful to all our fans and supporters in the UK Country scene, and can’t wait to see where the next 10 years takes us all.
LH It will be very exciting for all of us, definitely!
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to me today! I can’t wait to see the reaction to the new album when it’s out in the world in a few weeks, and of course to see you on tour very soon too.
CRISSIE and BEN Thank You, Lesley!
To pre-order “10 Year Plan” and check out The Shires upcoming tour go to theshiresmusic.com