Interview with UK’s biggest and best Country Act – The Shires
Homegrown Country Duo act The Shires have made quite an impact in the UK Country Music scene over the last few years. Since releasing their first single Nashville Grey Skies, Ben and Crissie have been working incredibly hard in the industry making sure they deliver not only great music but great performances that we never tire of.
With quite the career to boast about, including a top ten album in the mainstream UK charts, The Shires still remain as humble as ever and kindly sat down for a chat with me about their fast paced – fast growing career, the loyal fan base, the new album My Universe which is set to be released October 7th and can be pre-ordered now and their headline tour during November and December, tickets on sale now.
The Shires are two of the nicest people in Country Music who make an Interview feel like a catch up with friends and before you know it, time has whizzed on because boy, can they deliver great detailed answers, something you can only hope for in an interview.
I hope you enjoy it!
Hello – how are you both?
Both – Good, thank you!
Congratulations on all the success so far, you have had quite a busy few years.
You are named one of the UK’s biggest Breakthrough Acts of 2015 alongside James Bay and Years and Years, your debut album ‘Brave’ reached the top ten in the all genre album charts and went GOLD, you have been out on tour with Sir Tom Jones, The Corrs and Little Big Town – and you have played Glastonbury twice, headlining this year.
You’ve also played at The Grand Ole Opry, which is a major deal for any Country artist, let alone a UK act. If we went back in time to your first gig together and I told you this was all going to happen within three years, would you have ever believed me?
Ben – Well I think it was something we would have hoped for over about a 25 year career maybe, not in two years or maybe three. I mean it has, like you say when you list it all like that, it’s just – it still hits me and it takes me back. I’m sure for the both of us , it has been a whirlwind. It’s been non-stop and it just keeps on going, it keeps on going up and up and, yeah we just feel very privileged to have done that and to bring fans along with us like yourself and other people from the UK Country scene. It’s so amazing for us all – like just last week at the album launch we looked down and there were probably 400 people together there and we probably knew 399 of them , and it’s great. I mean we were definitely lucky at points that things have gone our way – Graham Norton for example, being on the couch with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. But yeah, we worked really, really hard for years before this, so we feel that it’s about time in a way – and, yeah it’s just been absolutely amazing and hopefully we can keep it going for the second album.
Oh, I am sure you can – and the fan base will always support you. Speaking of fans, when you toured with Little Big Town with all the festival crowds, what were the audiences like, because obviously they may not necessarily have been your fans. How did they react to your music?
Crissie – Erm they seemed to really like us actually –and Drunk On A Friday Night. Every single time the crowds just went mad for it, they loved it – and obviously out in America it’s all about the drinking scene so they really liked that song. It was quite hard just being the two of us acoustically, because we had been out on the road for a while with the boys playing behind us, so to strip it back acoustically – it was fun but a challenge to try and win over a new audience and you know, see if they like the Brits.
Definitely – but it seemed to go well for you.
What was it like playing the Opry?
Crissie – Oh, My God! The Opry was just so surreal. You walk out on to that stage and, oh first of all, I forgot my dress! How I managed to do that, I have no idea, so there was this massive panic before going on stage that I needed to get my dress which was like a half hour’s drive from the Opry – but we got there, I got my dress and we got there on stage and it was just so surreal. We stood on that circle that so many legends have stood on and to see the crowd, we actually recognised a couple of faces from the UK out there and it was so good to see – I think there was a Brit flag being flown. Some of our fans who wanted to go to Nashville and then saw that we were playing The Opry, kind of booked their holiday around us being out there, which was pretty, pretty great.
Ben – I think the crazy thing is, going back as well now. I mean, we were in Nashville back in March and Justin and Sarah from Striking Matches were playing and so was Sam Palladio. Crissie missed it but I went along to see it and it looks completely different now from how it felt when we were there because, back then, we were just a huge bag of nerves and had jet lag and Crissie forgetting her dress and then getting out there on stage – it is all just so hazy. Going back now and watching them from the side of the stage, it’s just such an incredible place and is just an amazing venue with all that history. Looking back, if I think about the memory, it’s just like playing in this massive huge arena, you know, in this once in a lifetime thing.
Crissie – I think we had only performed at the O2 at that point hadn’t we? We couldn’t see much from the 02 when we performed at Country 2 Country but before that we hadn’t really performed for any large crowds, so that was pretty overwhelming to see the size of that venue and not in our usual territory.
Well, like I said, it is amazing for any Country Artist so I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for you. It’s pretty cool and I wish I could have been there to see you.
Now that you have gained recognition in the US, what other steps are you taking to break the US Country scene, are you going back there any time soon?
Crissie – Yeah, we are hoping that this second album will be fitting for the American market and that they will embrace us. We definitely want to go out there and tour and try and put our stamp on America basically but we haven’t got anything in position exactly yet – so our plan is: tour over here first and kind of work our way around the UK and, when the time is right, get out there and take the album out then.
Well I am not going to argue with you staying here, certainly not.
So you have just finished recording album two which is exciting – I can’t believe you are on album two already, it’s amazing. The album is out on October 7th and is available to pre- order now. The album is titled ‘My Universe’ – why have you titled it ‘My Universe’?
Ben – The funny thing is with that song is that it came right at the last minute, similar to the first album Brave with Friday Night and State Lines, which were written again, literally a week before the album. We were in Nashville for pretty much the whole of March and we were just writing and writing and had been for like a year and then Steve, our manager, said to me ‘I want you to do this session with a guy called Martin Brammer, a writer in the UK’. I had my first ever sort of Diva fit of the year because it was like 8 in the morning out in Nashville and I just went ‘Steve, I’m not writing anymore, I’ve written, I am not a machine, I can’t keep writing and writing and writing’ and he said,’ I really think you should do it’ and I said ‘I’m not doing it, I’m not doing it’. Then we came back to the UK and we were both completely exhausted. It had been full on and I went to this session and we wrote a song the first day (me and Martin) and finished the next day and we had about four hours left and I just played this riff on the piano at the time and we bashed out this song called My Universe. I thought it was ok and was alright and I was so tired at that point that I couldn’t really tell what was good and what wasn’t. Then I showed it to Steve and I showed it to Crissie and they thought it was ok and then we sang it in Crissie’s kitchen the next day and, as with a lot of the songs, when Crissie sings them, they sort of come to life a lot more and have a different sort of meaning and suddenly we were like WOW! This could be a really huge song. Then we recorded it with the band in Nashville and it just sounded massive, a huge move on, a huge step up in sound as well. Then we started to think about what the song really meant to us and with us we have sort of really grown up over the last two, three years and we kept thinking about what each person’s Universe is to them. I mean mine has changed very recently with River (my son) and about my family and also the fact we have been part of this huge Country Music family in the UK and for us the title My Universe sums up everything – and your Universe can be however small or however big you want it to be and it just seemed like the right title for where we are moving on to now in our lives and in our music.
Well in that case it is a very appropriate title, I like it!
So, what can we expect from the new album? Are there any surprises? Anything completely different from Brave?
Crissie – Well, I mean we are sticking to our tradition of ballads and we have got some real tear-jerkers in there – and some very personal ones about our dads, who are in our lives and not in our lives. We have other different things like the song Drive, that we performed on our last tour – so many people that came to that show have heard the acoustic version, so now they get to hear the production, the more produced sound as well. There are some really up-beat songs on there that are about having a good time so you know you can ‘let your hair down’ kind of thing.
Well I really enjoyed the ones you played at the showcase.
Crissie – Aww, thank you.
Ben – I appreciate that, thanks so much.
Can we ask what the first single will be – or do we not know yet?
Ben – Yeah, it’s Beats To Your Rhythm, and that is going to radio on the 29th July, a week today.
Crissie – It gets its first play on Radio 2 on Ken Bruce’s show in the morning of 29th.
Exciting, I will make sure I listen.
So you co – wrote some of the songs with great songwriters such as Nina Nesbitt and of course the very lovely Kip Moore. As he is such a huge Country star, what was it like writing with Kip?
Crissie – Well, it was extremely surreal to have him, this gorgeous American man in my living room! You know like he is massive out in the States and then he comes out to the shires and just hangs and we played Monopoly the night before and then we wrote the next day. He really is such a Southern man. He is a very kind chap but it was fun writing with him, he was just jamming away and he often kind of went off into the garden and just kind of went into his own space and would say ‘Hey, I have been thinking about this’ or ‘What do you think about this idea?’ and we worked on the song together – so we came up with Drive.
I do remember that song. I really liked it on your last tour, so I am glad that that will be in the album and I am excited to hear the studio version.
You hosted a secret launch gig for fans and media at One Embankment in London showcasing some of the songs off the new album. Were you nervous about playing unknown songs to a crowd that usually sing along to every song, or as you said around 399 out of 400 were your loyal fans, did you know they would react well?
Ben – I think it’s almost more nerve wracking in a way, because when we play songs like Brave and Friday Night and Nashville Grey Skies, we know the reaction of the crowd generally, they are our fans and they love the songs.
Crissie – Yeah and they sing along as well so, you know, to see those big radiant smiles out there looking back at you and everybody knows the songs and they are hearing the songs that they love – and then this showcase, nobody knew the songs. Well there was a few of the songwriters there so they would have known the words to the songs, but other than that, it was extremely surreal that nobody knew these songs.
Ben – We could literally see people from the stage trying to work out the songs and they get to the second chorus and are like ‘Yeah, I like this.’ and then they start dancing. The thing is yeah, we only played those songs with the band and learnt them with the band just three days before and we rehearsed – and that in itself is nerve wracking, the first time you play them out to people who really know their stuff. But it felt great, we got to the end of the set and it was just like wow!
Crissie – Loads of people I spoke to, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I am a ball of nerves.’ – and I really did not feel confident at all, I never get nervous unless I am performing new songs and sometimes, if we perform just one new song, I will be nervous up until we play that song and once that one song is out of the way then I feel better. But pretty much the whole half set I guess, was new songs and I was an absolute wreck backstage thinking ‘Oh, my gosh – I hope it goes well.’- but a lot of people said they couldn’t tell, though.
You couldn’t tell and I have actually heard people say it was one of the best performances they had ever seen from you actually.
Crissie – Wow!
They said that it was just a completely different performance and that you seemed a lot more confident and so comfortable. Loads of people said it was just so good.
Ben and Crissie – Oh great, thank you so much.
Speaking of your fans – you have a very dedicated fan base with so many of your fans, myself included, that support you every step of the way, whether it be a gig, a signing, a showcase or a support slot on someone else’s tour. How does it make you feel to see so many familiar faces at every event because, whilst every artist has their followers, not everyone has fan dedication quite like yours?
Ben – I mean I think we should get some sort of Loyalty card scheme.
Crissie – Yeah, we should.
Ben – And every gig you come to you get it stamped and get your sixth gig free or something.
That would be pretty cool, ha!
Ben – People must be spending a fortune and it’s the most heart warming thing to look out at the front row and see the same faces and see them smiling and enjoying it because you know, we know how much the songs mean to us and the fact we play them to people and they keep coming back and just having a good time and making friendships as well. I mean it’s just, it’s an amazing thing to be part of and to share all of that music – and Country 2 Country is the pinnacle of that in some way, and we get to be part of that as well, and we just love it and hope that people keep coming back.
Oh, I think so.
Crissie – I would say the showcase we had the other day was a big thing for Ben and I. For the record label, it was media they wanted to bring down, but for us we wanted to have our biggest fans there. That was a big event for us and it was really special to do that photo booth afterwards and see all of our fans – it was a great thing to be able to see everyone.
Yeah, I think everyone that was desperate to go got to go and I was extremely happy that ‘super fan’ Madeleine got to go.
Crissie – Aww, Madeleine.
Ben – I saw your interview with her, it was great by the way, I loved it.
I am so glad, she was over the moon that you retweeted it.
Ben – It was a really good read, so thank you.
No, I was happy to do it, it was all her words.
Both – Awww.
After the release of album, the two of you will be heading off on a headline tour. How many dates are you doing?
Ben – I think about twenty? Haha, something like that.
Crissie – I think we have blocked out most of December and November.
Tickets are on sale today?
Both – Yes.
What can we expect from this tour that will differ from the last, apart from new music? Any surprises? We will have a bit of acoustic and the band?
Crissie – I think Ben is going to fly out into the crowd at one point!
Haha, brilliant, good, please don’t be joking – haha.
Ben – Haha, no, I think the thing for us is a lot of bands get huge production, we just want the songs to do the talking – obviously we will step it up slightly, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, we want people to just hear the songs. When we saw Kip for example at the KoKo, it was just him and his band playing great songs and that is the way Country should be, really. We will definitely play for longer, as we have more songs now.
So, last question..
Country Music is starting to get bigger in the UK and, although it is still a rather niche market, do you think that will change over the next few years – and with yourselves having a top ten Country album, do you think you have helped pave the way for other UK Country artists to start gaining recognition, especially as you have so many radio hosts supporting and playing your music?
Crissie – Yeah, I think there is such a massive scene now. I mean three years ago, when we were looking for each other and going on the internet and trying to find anything remotely connected to UK country, there was just nothing on there, there really wasn’t. It is such a big scene now, I think – and because we are amongst it all the time, and there are so many more people who now have the confidence to say that they love Country Music. There are so many more UK acts that are coming through now, so it is exciting.
Ok well, thank you so much – and see you soon!
Both – See you soon, thank you.
by Hannah Compton