Country music is most famous in the USA, with most artists hailing from country music hub Nashville. So when the British country music duo, The Shires, came on the scene, it was a breath of fresh air for the genre.
Crissie Rhodes, who sings lead vocals and Ben Earle, who plays guitar and shares vocals, have always had a strong passion for music, but neither of them had found their place in the industry individually. Once they found each other, everything started to work. They were introduced via a mutual friend on Facebook, quickly started making music together and soon got a record deal in Nashville – they were even the first UK country music band to make the top ten.
Other successes of the band include touring with Shania Twain and having Ed Sheeran write a song for them. We had a chat with Ben and Crissie about their rapid success within the industry, working together and what it was like to have Ed Sheeran write a song for them…
“When I finally met Crissie and we started working together, everything that I was doing before, suddenly became easier when we were working together.” – Ben Earle, The Shires
Taylor Magazine: Tell us about you as a duo and what you guys do.
Ben: We’re a UK country act – we’ve been together five and a half years now, which is crazy! We actually met on Facebook – we were introduced to one another through a mutual friend. We started making music together in Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire and it was amazing how we were introduced. We were both doing our own thing for a while – Crissie was singing at weddings and things and I was trying to make it in songwriting (and wasn’t!)
We got together, played some shows in the local area. Very quickly we got a record deal and were out in Nashville nine months after we met. A year after that, we had our first top ten album in the main charts, which was just an absolute dream come true. Now, we’re here on our third album and it’s in the top five. We spend half our time in the UK and half of our time in Nashville – we’re having a great time. Living the dream!
Taylor Magazine: And why country music? The country music scene is big in the UK, but what was it for you guys in particular that led you to singing this genre?
Crissie: So, we’d both been working in the music industry for a long time. I’d gone on to study music at university and it was definitely what I wanted to do. The two of us both got into the genre quite differently – I’ve always been a life-long country music fan. My Grandma used to teach me Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, the old school country stuff. I always listened to Leanne Rhymes, Shania Twain – they were manufactured as pop over here, but I always loved their voices and the story behind their songs.
Ben got into it more recently, around six and a half years ago, through a band called Lady Antebellum. He discovered them and it was almost like ‘Is this country music?’ It’s changed so much over the years, and has a lot more pop in it. It’s all about the story-telling and the voices of the songs. Both of us separately love Ronan Keating and Westlife – a lot of their songs, especially Ronan Keating, were country songs deep down.
“Country music has been at our core for most of our lives, and we never really knew it.” – Crissie Rhodes, The Shires
Taylor Magazine: When you first started, what was the reception like for you being a UK country music band?
Crissie: So many of our fans will tell us they’re so glad they we’ve done this, for UK country music in particular. They can say that they’re proud and are a fan of the genre!
Ben: Yeah, our families in particular were like ‘Really?’ at first. I think that’s mainly because they didn’t really know what country music was. When we first started out as a band, it coincided really well with Dolly at Glastonbury, the TV series Nashville and Country 2 Country exploded as well. We, by complete coincidence and luck, decided we were going to do country together as a band at this time. The label believed that we could get into the top 10, but we just thought, ‘No way!’ We actually found out at Country 2 Country, in front of around 15,000 fans that we had made the top 10. That was a big turning point for us, but we were also the first UK band to do it, so it was a big moment in country music in general.
Taylor Magazine: Who were you both inspired by when you started getting into country? And more recently, who inspires you now and who are you listening to?
Ben: There’s loads of stuff coming out in Nashville at the moment, and a lot of them are our friends now… it’s weird! Little Big Town have been a massive inspiration for us – we’ve supported them a few times in the US and the UK. I’ve always felt like they’re around three or four steps ahead of where we are all the time – it’s so inspiring to see their growth and their live shows in particular have really motivated us. Our last tour that we did, which was our biggest, the staging and what we want people to feel is what we feel when we watch Little Big Town. I’d say they are a huge inspiration to us.
Crissie: Yeah – definitely those guys and also Maren Morris. She’s crossing over into the pop market but she’s quite clearly country at heart. We love Old Dominion and Dan + Shay – they’re amazing songwriters and incredible singers.
Taylor Magazine: It’s so refreshing to see that people are embracing the genre and really getting into it!
Crissie: It’s really nice to hear that you recognise the names, because for so long we were doing interviews where we would say that we love Little Big Town or Lady Antebellum and they’re like ‘…Who?’ But they’re mega-stars! The UK didn’t know a whole lot about them, but to us, they’re so well-known.
“Making the top ten was a big turning point for us, but we were also the first UK band to do it, so it was a big moment in country music in general.” – Ben Earle, The Shires
Taylor Magazine: With people like Dan + Shay, they are so unique and it’s so nice that they’re a duo. Did you ever really think about doing it independently, or was it when you got together that you realised it worked?
Ben: We both tried doing stuff independently. I was a solo-artist for a while and had a record deal at the time – I supported Amy Winehouse and things. Crissie was on the X Factor and was favourite to win, just as we first met. I think it’s complete fate that she didn’t win because otherwise we wouldn’t have met! When I finally met Crissie and we started working together, everything that I was doing before suddenly became easier when we were working together. We met in my flat in St Albans, we just started singing and that was that.
Crissie: Ben is a song-writer, and an amazing one, and I came from a non-song writing background but I have learnt so much by just getting into the studio with him – he’s at home when he’s song-writing. I was more nervous about that but getting up on stage for me is easy – the two of us work off of each other. When we came together, everything became really straightforward.
Taylor Magazine: Do you find that the creative process in Nashville is easier because you’re in a country music hub?
Crissie: Definitely – as soon as you touch down in Nashville, you’re just ready to go. I do sometimes get a little burnt out over there because we’ll write for three weeks solid. We often take a lot of our ideas from the UK over there – we’re always writing things down wherever we are. It’s such a creative place and the thing in Nashville is that you have to be able to write during the day and then go and play in the bars and clubs at night. Everybody is connected to everyone out there.
Taylor Magazine: Yeah! Tell us about Accidentally on Purpose – it’s your third album and it’s been out for a few months now. You got to work with some incredible song-writers, how was that experience?
Ben: This album is a lot more up-tempo and a lot more pop actually. We’ve had so many great experiences playing to big crowds which has really inspired our writing. Like Crissie said, there is such a great community of younger people in Nashville now. The first few trips we made, we were writing with a lot more established writers but now we’re writing with younger people and that has inspired us so much. We’re also a lot more comfortable and relaxed, which shows through our music. We believe and have trust in what we’re doing.
Taylor Magazine: You’ve had the opportunity to work with some really cool people – Liz Rose co-wrote one of your songs, as well as Ed Sheeran (Liz Rose is a favourite of ours!) It must have been iconic to work with these people?
Ben: Liz is absolutely amazing. When you get into a room, you’re all just song-writers. Most people in Nashville are the same, they’re real and down-to-earth. It’s all about writing a great song. It’s so nice to see someone that has had so much success, still looking at being better and writing great songs.
Taylor Magazine: Tell us about the song Ed Sheeran wrote for you – he’s not typically country, so how did that come around?
Crissie: I actually see him as quite country. The way he writes his songs have country in them, and he obviously puts a pop twist in there too. He writes very visually, it’s conversational and that is definitely a Nashville thing. He’s spent a good amount of time out there, because he loves writing country songs and working with the artists out there.
We were actually out in Nashville writing and our good friend Sam Palladio from the show Nashville bumped into Ed at a gig the night before and Ed said he had a show the next day and asked if he wanted to come along. Sam called us and asked if we wanted to go and see Ed Sheeran, so we went down there to watch his show (which was incredible). We then found out it was his penultimate show in America and that he was having a big party backstage. Somehow, we ended up getting into that as well! It was typical Nashville vibes, alcohol flowing, there was a live band and it was so much fun. We said “Hi’ to Ed and he already knew who we were which was so cool! He pre-ordered our last album and said he particularly liked a song called Other People’s Things. After the party we reached out to him to see if he wanted to write with us – he sent us a few tracks and Stay The Night just stood out to us. We couldn’t wait to get into the studio and record it.
Taylor Magazine: Amazing – what a story! It sounds like an incredible journey for you both but also quite hectic and full-on. When things get stressful or busy for you, how do you relax and unwind?
Ben): I love to cook, I find it so relaxing and I just switch off. I also love exercising too. I’ve definitely been rediscovering my childhood now I have two young kids as well – seeing the world through their eyes makes everything so magical. Even just going to the local park can be so much fun!
Taylor Magazine: Who would you love to collaborate with and why?
The Shires: Dolly Parton definitely. She’s such an amazing songwriter too and people often forget that. It would be incredible to write a song with her and to then sing it together!
Taylor Magazine: Proudest career moment so far?
The Shires: Definitely headlining the Royal Albert Hall! It’s a night that we’ll never forget and it was so great to share the whole experience together. It wasn’t that long ago that we were playing outdoor in a pub garden in Bedfordshire to about 10 people, so it really was such a proud moment to have come so far.
Taylor Magazine: You should be really proud! What should we expect from both of you in the near future?
Ben: We have the Shania Twain tour coming up, which is absolutely massive for us! It’s going to be long for us because we’ll do our set, and then we’ll be singing along to every other song as well! We keep joking that we’re going to sneak on stage and start singing with her! We’re touring Canada and China as well, plus we’ve got our song Echo out at the moment – and lots more to come!