This last year we have all been homebound doing the best we can; staying safe, supporting each other, supporting local businesses, homeschooling, working from home, learning new skills, trying to stay sane and more. Hopefully not many reading this have lost anyone due to covid but if you have, our thoughts are with you and we are deeply sorry.
We have all missed being with family and friends this past year, it has been so hard and of course many of us have missed going to live shows too and having that live music feeling and connecting as a community.
The Shires are a duo who are exceptional live and have one of the best crowds going at their shows. We love being part of their audience because it is so varied from country fans to non country fans and people from all over. Their shows have such great audience participation during certain songs and every show feels truly magical.
The Shires have had to postpone their tour twice now and we very much look forward to seeing them in April/May 2022. What a moment that will be! We know Ben and Crissie will feel the emotions just as much as we the audience will and it will be a memory I think that we will all share forever. Tickets for the live tour can be bought here
The Shires didn’t just miss out on a huge tour this past year but also a slot on the main stage at C2C Festival which no UK act has had the privilege of having before apart from guest appearances.
Having released their fourth album Good Years just weeks before the first lockdown in 2020, The Shires embarked on a promotional tour starting in Leeds and then had to cancel it all and like most of us at the time, didn’t really know what was happening.
We don’t have to wait too long for a Shires gig though. In terms of actual live music they have just announced a headline acoustic set at Buckle and Boots Festival in July 2021 but even sooner, The Shires are treating us with an online gig which will be like no other. This won’t be just a regular streamed gig but a very much professionally done show with fantastic quality in both its sound and visuals. You can grab tickets here. We also have a charity raffle for Great Ormond Street running where you can buy a raffle ticket at £2 to be in with a chance to win a 30 day pass for their online show. Info and tickets here
We caught up with Ben and Crissie to discuss this online show on April 10th, their postponed tour, being in lockdown, their album Good Years and the interesting process behind production and putting a tracklist together, what they miss since lockdown, writing songs and so much more.
Ben and Crissie as always are an absolute delight to speak with. Massively successful since the day we first met them back in 2014, these two haven’t changed a bit and still remain to be two of the nicest people going. Proud of their achievements and incredibly grateful for their fans, Ben and Crissie have missed their fan interaction and speak about it in the interview. Being in a relatively good position during lockdown isn’t lost on The Shires. Aware they have it better than many, The Shires really do miss their fans and hope they are all doing well.
I hope you enjoy our chat!
How are you both?
Yeah we are good Thank you!
How are the kids Ben? How is River ? How old is he now? as he must be back at school now after the school closures? No more homeschooling?
B- He is almost five. He went back to school two and a half weeks ago. My partner works at a school so online learning was a bit easier, she was telling me what to do haha. But it’s been tough as Crissie said (when she asked BOON’s Hannah about having a baby in lockdown) there’s no escape in a way and they are not getting to socialise a lot. We have been trying to balance and juggle like everyone is and everyone with young kids who are trying to balance and juggle.
It’s been great though and I have been lucky to have that time with the kids and especially my youngest who is definitely more of a mummys boy.
We have had the last three weeks together (since schools have been back) I have been looking after them almost every day and we have connected a lot more than we probably would ever have done.
It’s been challenging but when we look back (and as long as it does end, as we don’t want to be sat here another five years, )and say it’s been nice to spend the time I wouldn’t have been able to with the kids.
Yes I was going to say because you should be on tour and out quite a bit promoting etc so it must be bittersweet for you not being able to tour and so on but instead having precious time with your children that you may not have had as would have been working so much.
B – Totally! The thing with the Good Years album in particular is that it came out (and every album we have toured as we have released it ) and so we released Good Years and we went from this complete high of about to play on the main stage at C2C , a big tour that had sold well and you look at this whole year that you have planned and think that by end of the December we will be exhausted and just fall asleep but suddenly everything was gone, that whole plan.
We were supposed to go to Vegas and play for country radio too.
C- Ha and I didn’t know anything about that haha. I forgot about that.
B- We were in Nashville two weeks before everything shut down for two days playing for the label . I remember Crissie disinfecting her whole tray on the aeroplane seat, just wiping it down and I just thought she was crazy!
C- I do that all the time when I get on a plane anyway because I have heard that’s where you pick up coughs and colds anyway so as a singer I am like euggh!
B – I remember taking that flight and seeing some people with masks and you think, you can’t even imagine life would be like that so like you say it’s bittersweet but we will get to tour this album and maybe more music at some point soon. You just have to try to keep positive and remember that it has been a great time to be with the family.
Definitely! Has it been weird promoting Good Years basically from the comfort of your own home?
C – Yeah,we were meant to go and do a load of in-store performances and really small shows, really intimate and they all got postponed.
We managed to do one up in Leeds before everything shut down but most things just went quiet. I have never known emails to go that quiet for such a long time because nobody knew what to do you know? It was a really strange time and a strange time to try and pick people up and nobody knew what was going on really, it was so bizarre.
It must also be kind of sad because you are so good with your fan interaction , those record store moments really mean something to you both so that must have been quite sad for you as well as the fans because you probably felt you were letting down the fans even though it wasn’t your fault
C- Yeah absolutely! Even that one show I feel like for the fans that were at that one show that that was really cool for them as they came to the only promo of that whole album. It was a small venue called The Brudenell club in Leeds. It was really intimate. I remember in the daytime watching Boris Johnson’ announcement and everything was just shutting down and then we got up and played the show and afterwards we couldn’t sign any autographs, we couldn’t shake hands with anyone or hug anyone, it was just “out the back door” and we were gone. It was just weird, it was so strange.
So the future now will be meet and greets behind a screen haha. I laugh but I hope it won’t be like that.
B – I think things will get back to normal at some point. In the grand scheme of things it has only been a year hasn’t it? It feels like a lifetime. There have been pandemics before and we will come out of it it’s just for the most of us we live our lives at such a fast pace now but it has only been just over a year so it isn’t really that much.
We are spoiled in a way so we aren’t used to it. What do you think this will mean for the future of shows and festivals? Your tour has been announced for Spring next year and will hopefully be at full capacity by then surely?
B- Hopefully! It will be a beautiful thing that by then we will see all the auditoriums full. That’s what we do it for, that’s why people go to shows for that collective feeling.
We sit apart on trains and things but at a show it’s a collective experience, we all come together and just forget everything. If you are sat there and you have ten chairs between you because you can’t sit too close it’s just a bit of a reminder that things are a bit crap at the moment. It will be amazing when we come back. I hope the festivals come back this year because you can social distance to a degree.
I hope by the time of the 2022 tour we can do it properly. There will be a lot of tears from everybody especially myself haha.
Well your first show back is going to be truly epic, a really special moment to be a part of. Where is the first date?
Both – Weymouth
C- So many of those love songs and ballads that we play like Crazy Days we haven’t managed to perform just yet! To be up in front of a crowd and perform that knowing what we have all just been through over the last couple of years will definitely be an emotional one for sure!
Your online concert that you are going to do will be fantastic and we can’t wait but that fan interaction of course won’t be there. Tell me how you feel about that because many of your songs have such a great audience participation moment.
C – I never thought that we were going to do an online concert. We have been approached in the past to do something where a company comes in and streams the event for people to watch at home and we always thought “yeah that’s not our audience”. We are about being in person but given the situation that we are in at the moment and so many more people are getting used to working on line and figuring it out that we thought, actually we can do it.
What we can bring now with Stabal (they’re incredible) is special because it’s not going to be a live stream, it’s not going to be dodgy quality audio, it’s not going to be pixilated, we are not going to drop out at any moment. It is going to be well shot, there are lots of different camera angles.
It is going to look really great and it is also going to sound amazing because the sound guys are incredible as well. It’s not going to be like the Accidentally on Purpose tour and all the craziness that goes on with the big live shows, it’s going to be much more intimate and acoustic.
It’s still going to sound quite big to be fair but some of the songs we are going to strip right back like On the Day I Die. If you listen to that song on the album it’s really production led but the version we like to do is completely acoustic. All Over Again, we are going to do an acoustic version of that. That is one of the very first songs that we wrote together. It is going to be really nice but it will be weird to have no audience there but we are hoping we can still make it feel like we are in the living room with our fans.
I think it’s pretty cool that we can bring a show to people’s living rooms.
Definitely! Especially for people like me who if you were doing an actual live show I cannot attend having had a baby recently so this for me, I mean I just can’t wait as wouldn’t have made your tour. My baby can be there too.
C – Exactly! You can wear what you like, eat what you like, we are not going to judge you so just sit there and enjoy it!
You said you are going to have stripped back songs but how do you put a set list together for an online concert that would differ from a live show? Will it give you an opportunity to put songs on the set list that you may not necessarily have put on usually?
B- Yeah definitely! Like Crissie said with songs like All Over Again there will be a lot of different versions of songs. We really wanted to make it a different experience and everything Crissie said about audio being incredible quality is totally true.
The cameras will be getting really close so in a way you will be much closer than you would be at a live show. We just want it to be a different experience and not just an online version of what we usually do which will never be as good as you can’t replicate that.
We will be telling a lot of stories, playing the songs in the way they were originally written. It won’t change the meaning of the song but just the feeling of the song a bit.
Probably my favourite song off the Good Years album is On The Day I Die . It’s a celebration of life that song so it, like Crazy Days will have a different meaning. Well not a different meaning perhaps but it will hit home pretty hard.
We want to approach the setlist by thinking “how can we engage with fans as much as we can without being able to see them?”.
If I was a fan and got to hear All Over Again like it was originally written I would be really excited. Ha it feels weird to say that but I was excited to write it and to play it that way because we haven’t done it like that for years, it always has a big production. It will be a different experience.
I can’t wait. And it won’t be available on dvd after will it? If people still buy those? Haha, I do!
B – There is the 30 day pass that you can buy and that also has bonus content. No plans for a dvd, I haven’t even got a dvd player haha.
C – I have
I still have a video player
C- Wow haha
Oh it’s not that bad I don’t have a betamax anymore haha
So skipping ahead to actual live shows and still talking set lists, you now have four albums so how will you put a set list together now with so many loved songs and having to promote the latest album (Good Years) ? You must find it hard in “I really want to squeeze this song in here but we have to put this there, etc”
C – It is pretty hard now that there are four albums in the mix. We just want to play all of them really.
We want to make sure we have enough of those upbeat songs that we all really love but also those intimate stripped back moments with just two vocals and a guitar or a piano.
We want to make sure that we are always taking people on a journey through the set. That is kind of our goal each time. It’s going to be fun putting the setlist together for the live shows next year. What the stage is going to look like, what songs will go into another song. I really enjoy that process.
You are now with a label who are no stranger to country music (BMG) . When you put an album together, how much involvement do you have with the overall production because Good Years in particular is very country sounding with some very strong country instrumentation.
B- It definitely comes from the label really. It’s interesting because there’s a guy called Jamie Nelson there who offered me a record deal when I was 16/17 and it never worked out as a solo artist and it just seems like an incredible twist of fate that many years later maybe 16/17 years later he came in to offer us (as The Shires) a deal.
We had made a really conservative effort with Accidentally on Purpose to kind of step it up sound wise and go a bit poppier and bigger because the live shows were growing so we wanted songs like Guilty and Echo to have those moments. It was definitely a conscious thing to go back to more of an acoustic sound, a bit more country instrumentation and give us more of a chance in the US too.
Also country has definitely moved back to a more acoustic sound as well. When we released Accidentally on Purpose It was a lot more poppier generally in the market but we literally recorded this album with the same producer Lindsay Rimes.
I went to Nashville for a week before Crissie came out and we just tracked a lot of the stuff, most of it ourselves, me and Lindsay playing and then there’s this amazing Mandolin player called Ilya Toshinsky he plays Mandolin, Bazooka and I think he did some of the pedal steel as well and plays on everything, if you google any country record, he will probably be on there. He was amazing.
When Crissie came over (to Nashville) she added her incredible vocals. It didn’t take long to vocal.
I think the most amazing part is when we did the strings for Crazy Days (which we never saw as being a big single). Jamie (the A&R guy) from the label really brought it to our vision that we needed real strings. He said the electric ones are fine but we needed real strings. So we had a string session in Nashville and it was beautiful to hear the string quartet playing those strings so beautifully.
In an age where people don’t want to spend money in general, BMG (the label) have been totally behind us. The connection with Broken Bow (records) that they also own has been amazing for us because the amount of opportunities we have had so far with Broken Bow, the Lauren Alaina duet on Lighting Strikes.
We have another duet coming which we are going to announce soon and that stuff wouldn’t have happened without Broken Bow and BMG believing in us.
We did love our years at Decca but there was never really a real chance to go out to the US just because of the politics of Universal which is no ones fault but with Broken Bow and BMG we’ve got a real chance. Also with the Apple show (London to Nashville Radio Show) that has come in we have felt that our stock in Nashville and the US country market has gone up massively so even though the pandemic has been bad, we have had a lot of opportunities come out of it.
When we get back to the states I think we will be surprised how well, fingers crossed, things could hopefully go for us.
Oh I hope so! How does an album meeting go? Do you yourselves put a list of songs together that you have recorded and think will work for the album and hand it over? If so, is there ever a situation where the label will say “Ok we love it but we want this song out and this song in?”
C – basically what we do is we go out to Nashville and we write a whole load of songs. Ben often writes in the UK as well with various writers who are in the UK.
Jamie our A&R guy at the label also sourced some songs for us. The demos come in and we get to hear some of these pitched songs as well and so we have a whole hoard of songs and between us (Ben, Crissie and Jamie the A&R guy) we all make our own lists of what songs we like for the album. We do a list of definites, maybes and see if other people agree.
There are ones where we are like “hmm, I’m not feeling this one” and then we just kind of discuss between us and we fight it out basically and work out who wants what song and what it means to that person and why it needs to be on the album. That is basically how it works.
That’s amazing! Do you know when you have written the single? A single or lead single? Do you go into the writing room aiming to write that hit single or does it just happen naturally? And if so do you then just say “This is it, this is the single”. ?
B – From the process that Crissie described, it is very obvious at that point because normally the ones that everyone wants a single , the three or four we have chosen we very rarely disagree on.
In terms of the writing room, I always love everything I have done and always imagine it being a massive thing. I have grown out of slightly as I used to be like “oh this is a massive hit” every single time but the thing I have learnt over the years doing it is that the songwriting, all of it, the artistry, whenever you try to do something, it just doesn’t work.
Being on album four and going into album five, it can be a danger sometimes looking back and going “why did that work? Why was Nashville Grey Skies such a massive song? Oh it’s because it meant so much to country music in the UK” if you start to take that energy into the writing room you’re just screwed because the truth of it is that any song is just written from a place of truths and at that time of Nashville Grey Skies I was just excited about country music as I had just discovered it and I wrote it because I just loved the idea of Building Our Own Nashville.
Crissie with the song Daddy’s Little Girl they were all sat (Crissie and her co-writers) in the room and they just went “let’s write a song that is really personal about our dads”.
All the stories that you spin out of it, all the songs that mean something to this person or that person have come from those stories that mean something to that person so we don’t try to make that hit anymore, that single , we don’t try, we just do. Do or do not, there is no try. Did Yoda say that? Haha!
He did yes haha! Do you ever dream melodies or lyrics and just wake up and write them down, record them on a device?
Both – yes
B – Often! There’s a thing called writer’s pages have you heard of that?
B – there’s a thought that when you just wake up is when you are at your most creative. You haven’t got any subconscious rubbish. I can’t do it because I have kids who wake me up before I can do it but there’s a practice where you set a timer for ten minutes and you literally get your laptop, phone or a piece of paper and you just write out as soon as you wake up just anything.
It can be “eating rice crispies in the bed, moisturiser on the side” a lot of people do that and some of those melodies you had in your sleeping thoughts you get them out even subconsciously so look up writers pages it’s quite an interesting thing.
I will be honest, I don’t know anything from that that has made it on to our albums haha but it’s just a good practice to keep the brain going.
What have you learned during lockdown? Have you picked up any new skills or hobbies?
C – We have had very different lockdown experiences to each other. Mainly because I have no children so I have mostly sung with the dog. She’s not as tuneful as Ben but she’s been good fun!
I have been doing some renovations at home, something I would not have done prior to lockdown. I have just taken on a new project of knocking a house apart so that’s been pretty good. We have been redoing the bathroom.
Luckily I have a boyfriend who knows all about that stuff so he has been on hand and thank goodness for youtube that shows us how to do stuff. And cooking! I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to cook again! Cooking really nice meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I have really enjoyed that but have equally missed being out on the road eating everything out on the road.
What is the first thing you want to do not workwise when things can go back to how they were again?
B – having a pint of Guinness! That’s all I want, a pint of Guinness from a draught not a can with a widget, whatever that is. I want a proper pint!
C- I am hearing more about festivals kicking off again and I like the idea of just going to absorb some live music any way that I can and whether that is in a local pub and it’s a local band playing there or not, I just want to somehow get some live music to hear other than myself. That would be lovely!
I agree. I have been saying that if I found out my elderly neighbour was on the local bandstand in the park playing the triangle for half an hour I would totally be there.
C – Yes! The thing is, there’s not even a karaoke night to go to anymore so even if everything else was shut down but we could go to karaoke at the local pub then I would be there. It would be fun! There would be people in there drinking, having a nice time and yeah, there’s not even that option right now.
Will you or have you written a lockdown song? The things that we took for granted maybe?
B – At the moment it’s a bit too raw but I have thought about it. I think we are all still adjusting mentally. We still have that no one knows what is going to happen or how is it going to end feeling but once we have had a bit of closure, it will be easier to write. Whereas in the thick of it, it’s a bit tricky to write. I find that anyway.
When you finally have your live tour you will be bringing back Eric Paslay as the support so I assume you have been in touch with him to keep everything connected? Eric is such a cool and layed back guy that I can imagine he was like “whenever it is man, I will be there”.
B – Eric is very chilled out! I did message him recently, we spoke on email and he, like we all do just wants to come out and play and he loves the UK. I will be out there watching Eric’ set every night because I am such a huge fan.
Same! I hope I get to go but I will definitely be there for the online show especially seeing as I found my Shires beach ball from your tour a while back.
(Shows them beach ball)
B – haha I hope we get more of those!
Well thank you so much for talking today, it has been so much fun and I have really missed you guys. I can’t wait for the online show and of course the live tour next year.
Both – thank you, lovely to speak to you