The Shires are the most successful UK country music act ever! The duo composed of singer-songwriters Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes have gone from strength to strength since their formation in 2013 after connection with eachother on Facebook. With their third studio album Accidentally On Purpose released this year, and a successful UK wide tour, I was interested to find out more about the pair of country-influenced musicians. I caught up with Ben and Crissie to find out what it was like making music in Nashville, the joys of working with Ed Sheeran and whether they plan on visiting Dollywood?
Q: Being the Uk’s top country act, what does America think of your music?
A: Crissie: Within Nashville they are really excited that there is a UK group performing country music and to see how much it’s kind of taking off over here is very exciting.
We haven’t actually released any of our records out there yet, but we’re hoping with this one that’s what we are going to do, take it over there.
Q: Are you nervous about America’s reaction?
Ben: No not at all. We’ve got so many friends out there, especially quite big artists now as well, that we’re friends with, like Little Big Town. The reaction from those people is really great.
I think like Crissie said with this record we definitely sort of stepped it up. It’s definitely more in keeping with what’s going on in Nashville and on country radio at the moment.
We never want to forget the UK, that’s the most important thing for us because we’re from the UK and we love where we’re from. We are doing this tour at the moment and it’s incredible that so many people still love our music here and know our stuff.
We’re not really nervous about America, what will happen is just finding the right moment for it.
Q: You recorded your album ‘Accidentally On Purpose’ in Nashville. Is it a welcoming place to non-Americans?
Crissie: Yeah definitely. When we first went there like 5 years ago we genuinely thought it was going to be like people riding tractors and like horses around and like tumble weed and stuff. We thought people would be all covered in mud, working out on the land but it genuinely is a massive city, well a small city and there’s so much music coming out of every single bar, and every venue there. And the writers, we’ve written with some of the top writers who are writing for all the number one artists out there and everybody is just excited that we’re coming out there from the UK. I know there’s Australia’s living there and people from Canada are coming down to be there, it’s this kind of hub of country music.
Q Ed Sheeran wrote the song Stay The Night on your new album. I know there’s a crazy story about that involving a night out. What happened?
A: Ben: Well our friend Sam (Sam Palladio, actor in TV show Nashville), bumped into Ed at another show, a small show.
Ed just kind of went ‘ahh hey man nice to see you. Do you want to come to my show tomorrow?’ which was at the Bridgestone arena, the big arena in Nashville. Sam then called us as he had four tickets so we went along with him and another guy from the show (Nashville) as well and we had amazing seats.
The whole gig was just unbelievable. It was there penultimate show of the whole tour in the US so they had a big party to kind of celebrate and we went along to that. It was amazing. We had such a great time but what was crazy, a couple things happened, which was really funny. I came back from the toilet, I came back in about 10 minutes into the party and saw Ed and he kind of pointed to me and I said oh I’m Ben from The Shires and he said ‘I know who you are, I pre-ordered your last album.’ I just couldn’t believe it!
We had a great time. It was a really awesome party. It felt like family almost, a touring family. They were very welcoming.
They had a beer keg at this party. I remember I turned around about half way through and I saw this girl upside down, being held up by Ed, doing a keg stand where you drink beer from the keg upside-down, and I thought that looks a lot like Crissie, and it was Crissie. It was very unlike Crissie to do that kind of thing but it was quite funny.
We said to Ed basically we would love to write a song with you, but obviously he’s quite busy touring the world as he’s one of the most famous artists in the world, but he sent us a song he’d written with John Newman and John’s brother and another guy.
He sent us the song and we love it. It sounds like an ‘us’ song and it’s going down really well on this tour and people seem to love it on the album.
It was one of those nights that could only happen in Nashville.
A crazy night when one thing happens, then another thing and it keeps on going.
That’s what Nashville is like.
Like Crissie said, loads of people from all around the world are going there, being creative and just having these crazy experiences. The next morning wasn’t hilarious. A couple of sore heads.
Q Ed said he wanted to write with you buy obviously he’s very busy. Do you think that’s something you could revisit in the future?
A: Crissie: Yeah. I know that Ed’s a really big fan of country music. I think he had a place out there (Nashville) at one point. His songs are very country so you know I think the three of us getting together, we could create something really fun.
Q: Do you reckon that means you guys might get an invite to his wedding?
A: Crissie: I’m not sure about an invite to the wedding but that would be nice.
Ben: We’re actually going to the royal wedding on Saturday. We are doing an event for Radio 2 at the royal wedding so that will be interesting but we’d love to go to Ed’s wedding, but we’ll settle for a royal wedding.
There’s a Radio 2 event in the park
Crissie: In the park near the castle and there will be some big screens and about 6000 people there watching as the wedding happens so it’s going to be really fun and such a nice day.
Ben: When I was a kid I was actually a chorister in the castle, so for me it’s kind of like coming full circle. I sang at the royal wedding of Edward and Sophie.
It’s going to be great coming back and going full circle. Alexandra Park is like a place I used to go and sort of hang out with my friends so its crazy for me.
Q: Are you guys looking forward to performing at the Royal Albert Hall? (which happened on 18, May)
A: Crissie: Yes a big historic venue the Albert hall. We were there the other day and we know the venue as both of us have been there before. I performed there years ago with a choir but the two of us have never performed there together and we were kind of standing in the stalls the other day and looking out over the venue thinking wow! This is a big venue. It’s iconic. We just can’t wait to get on that stage and perform our show.
I think it will be a proud moment for our fans as well because I think we are the first UK country act to headline the Royal Albert Hall, which is an amazing achievement.
A lot of our fans we recognise them by their faces and we know them by their names. They would have seen us in some of those venues that were like a hundred cap. Those tiny little venues from the very start so for them to get to see us up on a big stage and all of us being in that moment together, I think its going to be really amazing.
Q: You both failed to make it all the way on X-Factor. In hindsight are you pleased now all these years later that you didn’t?
A: Ben: Yeah definitely. What’s been so incredible for us and our journey is we’ve been so in control through every step of the process so we get to make the music we wanna make. We have such a say in everything, the videos, the photos. We are completely in control of the whole process.
Crissie: We didn’t go like nought to sixty, which these sorts of shows do propel you into a kind of fame you don’t really know how to deal with it almost. We get to see every tiny little venue along the way, then it gets bigger and bigger. We add more and more people crew wise. We have an amazing family unit around us and we have people that keep us really grounded. It really is just the great way to do it. The show was a lot of fun and it was interesting to see how it works back stage and behind the scenes and stuff.
I think for our style of music, country music, it’s about honesty and I think we’re very lucky to be in the position that we are now.
Ben: Like Crissie said, we’ve been on that journey with our fans. If you win the show and you suddenly end up performing to thousands of people you don’t necessarily know those fans.
Crissie: I think it’s very much like the Ed Sheeran story. I think everybody has there own personal story about when they saw Ed performing you know. With country music especially it is that organic way of building yourselves up because if you just shoot out of nowhere, sometimes you don’t get that kind of process in the middle. So I think its really important the way we’ve done it.
Q: Taylor Swift is touring again. Will you go and check her out?
A: Crissie: Yeah definitely
Ben: We actually went to the Red tour and saw her. We would love to go. She is just absolutely incredible
Crissie: Her journey has just been amazing, getting to watch her from this little small town country girl to the humongous stadium tour she’s doing right now. It looks like she’s stepped it up every step of the way and it’s really great to watch all of that happening. We get to watch on social media what she’s up to but we would definitely love to go and see her show.
Q: She has kind of veered away from the country influence and embraced pop more and more with every album. Do you think she’ll gradually return to it?
A: Ben: It’s funny that if you listen to what country is at the moment there’s a big debate about what it is and isn’t. Her last single ‘delicate’ I think there’s still this kind of root of country running through it in the sort of story telling.
Crissie: I think she still writes country songs but gives them to other country artists, which is amazing. I know Little Big Town had a song from her recently and another band called Sugarland had a song with her as well. As a songwriter you just keep writing what ever you feel and if it’s not right for her, she’s going to give that to somebody else that it is right for.
Ben: She’s kind of earnt the right to do what she wants. As long as it’s real, which it is for her, this is where she is right now. I think that’s why her fans love her.
I think she is country to the core in the way that she approaches song writing.
It’s just a way of doing it like when you sit in a room and write a song, whether you start with the backing track or you start with a guitar, it’s just that ‘What are we gonna say?’
Whether you’re gonna say, lets just have a good time tonight, which is just as real of an emotion as I’m feeling really sad that you don’t love me anymore. There’s just real emotion in it, and that’s what she does amazingly.
Q: The Greatest Showman has been number one for a few weeks now. Do you think there’s space for a country themed musical?
A: Ben: We would love to do that! Definitely 100%.
Crissie: Ben’s pretty much written the whole lot already. In his head it’s all written.
It such a massive thing, The Greatest Showman and so many people are loving it, so perhaps that’s something we could think about for sure.
Q: Have you guys ever been to Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s Themepark?
A: Ben: We haven’t been but we’d love to go.
Crissie: Yeah we haven’t been.
Ben: We really want to go. I mean she’s amazing as well I think people often forget that she writes all her songs as well. I think they are focused much more on her image, it’s all that people talk about, but she’s an incredible songwriter. You look back at some of the older songs she did and it’s just incredible.
(Speaking about Jolene) That song is just; I can’t get my head around it. It’s so straight but so clever. Yeah she’s amazing.
The Shires album Accidentally On Purpose is out now.