As the first UK country music act to go Top 10 with their debut album Brave back in March, and with their new single All Over Again set for release on August 21st, British duo Ben Earl and Crissie Rose – aka The Shires – have had major success recently in bringing country music to the forefront in the UK. We caught up with them at this year’s Somersault Festival to talk American and British influences…
In the grand scheme of things, you’ve recently formed as a band, how did the two of you meet?
B: About two years ago, we met on Facebook. I had just gotten into country at the time, and put a post out looking for a few more country singers to sing songs with. A mutual friend of ours got us in touch and the next day we found out we lived 20 minutes from each other and it all went from there. We had this ambition and this idea that we could make country music popular. We had been doing a lot of stuff individually, but when we met, everything went really quick.
Did you have any background in country music?
C: I did. My gran used to teach me all the old country songs, like Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Charlie Pride and Willie Nelson. So she taught me all of that, and growing up in the 90’s, there was quite a lot of country music around, but it was more on the pop side with people like Leanne Rimes and Shania Twain.
Would you say you have any influences from American bluegrass country?
B: Mine’s a lot more recent, like Lady Antebellum sort of pop, as I was a pop writer. I love the bluesy rootsy stuff, but I haven’t gone that far back yet. I’m quite into the modern stuff just because it’s a bit more accessible. A lot of the stuff they sang about was great, like getting drunk and divorce, but it’s not always so easy to relate to. I personally prefer the newer stuff.
C: We love The Civil Wars and their harmonies, but they’re quite quirky. Which we absolutely love but we’re more on the Lady A side of things.
Have you had a chance to go over to the States?
B: We did our album out there, it was where it was recorded and written as well. We played some shows, including a little bar which was an authentic experience. Out there people write songs during the day and play them in the bar at night! That show was amazing and the next night we did the Grand Ole Opry, which is the biggest venue in the country. We did two songs on that stage and it was just incredible.
C: We even had some British people who said they wanted to go to Nashville, saw that we were playing the Opry and booked the trip for that time. We got recognised more in Nashville than we did anywhere else!
Did you have an opportunity to do a round trip around the States or was it primarily based in Nashville?
C: We literally flew into Nashville and didn’t really have enough time to travel. We were writing every minute of the day we had, and if we weren’t, we were getting ready for the shows in the evening. We’re going on tour with a band called Little Big Town in November though, playing one show in Canada and a week and a half tour in the North East of America.
What would you say your favourite part of being out there is?
B: Crissie’s is the fried pickles! They don’t have them here, it’s like a gherkin, it sounds gross but they’re battered and fried and amazing.
C: That is my favourite part probably! But in all seriousness, the writing out there, you can just go out there and meet influential people constantly.
B: There’s no separation between work and play – their jobs are their lives, it’s what they do and what they love doing. It’s a great community with music 24/7.
Having done a lot of writing out there, would you say there’s now a greater connection with your music?
B: Not subject wise, because one thing that’s important for is is to really keep our Britishness. For us, country music is about the honesty and the story telling side. Whereas a lot of people think country is just about tones and cowboys. The process out there is definitely a lot more organic, but for us it’s really important to keep to who we are. Our song Made in England celebrates all the things about England that we love, like British beer and tea!
C: Also, there are different phrases when you work with Americans, they say things a little differently and we wouldn’t say certain things in England.
So you’re still confident in keeping a bit of yourself?
B: Definitely! It is very important for us.
As country music is such a big part of American identity, as a band, are you trying to break into the scene over there or pioneer a new British country scene?
B: I think to be recognised there would be incredible. It’s very similar to the 6o’s invasion of the likes of the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. That was American music, but they put their spin on it and took it back out there. That’s what we want to do with country – we’re not going to forge a new genre. We’re just really inspired by the music and to be recognised out there would be incredible because that’s the home of country music. If we can get that, it’d be truly amazing.
Throughout the Autumn, The Shires are set to play BBC Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park on September 13th, before commencing on a three week UK tour, which closes with a date at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Following that, the duo head over to North America where they’ll be supporting Little Big Town.
Interview by Simi Abidakun