hmv.com talks to... - March 4, 2022

"It’s about being grateful for what you have. There’s definitely a lot of reflection on the album..." - hmv.com talks to The Shires
by James
James
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"It’s about being grateful for what you have. There’s definitely a lot of reflection on the album..." - hmv.com talks to The Shires

When we last spoke to UK country duo The Shires the duo had just completed their fourth album Good Years, and were preparing to head into an extensive tour following its release in March 2020. But then the world changed, tour dates were cancelled, and for Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes that meant putting their plans on pause while Ben hunkered down in his studio and began writing and compiling a huge amount of material.

After finally getting to play some of those new songs featured on on Good Years on a low-key acoustic tour last year, The Shires return this week with their fifth full-length offering 10 Year Plan, which lands in our stores this Friday (March 4).

Ahead of its release we caught up with Ben and Crissie for a chat about their new album, baking bread, and why the normalisation of working remotely has been a huge benefit...


So the last time we spoke was just before your last album came out and literally just as the pandemic was kicking in – how did that affect your plans?

Ben: “It was crazy. It’s hilarious to think how blasé we were, well maybe not blasé but we couldn’t have even imagined how the world would change just a matter of weeks from when we last spoke to you. We released our album literally a week before the first lockdown. We were in Nashville, actually. We had a two-day trip to play to the label out there, Crissie was disinfecting her aeroplane seat and I thought she was crazy at the time. Joke’s on me now.”

Crissie: “To be fair, I always do that anyway.”

Ben: “But yeah, it messed up everything. With that album and we kind of feel that we didn’t really have a chance with it, so it’s amazing to think that we’re back here now with another album and a tour coming up, and we’re going to playing song from that album that never even got played live before. It’s been a crazy, crazy time.”

 

We saw you did a few online shows at the time, but there must be quite a bit of material now that fans haven’t had the chance to hear live yet?

Crissie: “Yeah, basically the whole of the Good Years album and the new set of songs we’re releasing now. But we did go out on the acoustic tour and were able to perform some of those songs. So many people were singing along with us and up on their feet, they knew the songs, so that was really cool, to see they did know them already. We did perform them in our online concert too, but obviously it’s like a closed set, it’s almost a like a TV special. There was no audience in there with us, so we had no idea still at that point whether people listening were into it or not.”

 

Was it a case of moving straight onto material for the next album? When did you start putting the songs together for this one?

Ben: “Kind of, but not in a conscious way, it was more just that I wanted to do it. I went through the whole baking bread phase that everyone went through and I had two little kids to look after as well, I had a 4-year old and a 2-year old at the start of the pandemic, so looking after them was a big thing, my wife is a teacher so I had to do a lot of the parenting during the day. But when we got used the routines of lockdown I used to come out here into my studio a lot of nights, a lot of late nights, I’d be in here until 12 or 1am just writing. There were no plans for an album, but part of my self-betterment process was that I wanted to be a better songwriter, I want to be a better producer with demos and stuff.

“I hadn’t fallen out of love with songwriting, but I just really fell even further in love with it and just getting back to that simplicity of just doing it just for the love of doing it. So when the call eventually came asking if we’d got enough songs for another album because they wanted us to deliver a new one in eight weeks’ time, we were sat here with about 40 or 50 songs at that point. And because writing over zoom had become so normalised I was writing with people over in Nashville or in L.A., even in other parts of England as well. So it was nice to do it that way and not have that time pressure.

 

We understand that the opening track was recorded for the previous album – were there any other older songs on this record or were they all written recently?

Crissie: “That one was actually recorded initially for our second album, so it’s really old, but it was one of my favourites, I loved it from all that time ago and I didn’t get all that involved with the writing process this time, so that was the one song I’d put forward because I thought I’d love to redo this song, and it fits so perfectly on this album. I don’t think it would’ve necessarily worked on the second album but it certainly fits really well on this one. Other than that all of the other songs are brand new, they’ve all been written during the pandemic.”

 

Was there any particular song that kicked things off on this record?

Ben: “Not really, I mean ‘Cut Me Loose’ is a great one in terms of setting the tone in terms of creating something uplifting. That was always the goal, to make something uplifting and joyful. We’ve always done happy stuff anyway, but I think one song that kind of surprised us was ‘Plot Twist’, how different and intimate that song is and really coming back to focusing on our harmonies and our voices being so close together. I think our fans are going be really surprised by that song, it’s still very ‘us’ and very country, but there are overtones of things like Radiohead in there.

"It’s been nice to get a balance between those uptempo songs like ‘Cut Me Loose’ and ‘Wild Hearts’, as well the big Coldplay-like numbers like ‘Skydive’ and the really intimate ones like ‘Plot Twist’ or ‘Peggy, I’m Sorry’. It feels like a good breadth. But as with the other records, we only really went with the songs that we love. We’re not precious about it, like I said there were 40 or 50 songs but there was generally a consensus. Usually I’m sat there going ‘oh, I wish this song had made it or that song had made it’, but this time I think we all agreed that those were the best songs.”

 

Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do on this album before you started? 

Crissie: “Not necessarily, but Ben did most of the writing and production side of stuff on this album.”

Ben: “I think with this album it was just about trusting our instincts a bit more, in terms of both the production and writing and also the vocals. Crissie came over here and did all the vocals and we sent them all over to Nashville."

Crissie: “Even that was interesting, to go from being out on the road and singing all the time - and most of the stuff we do is quite belt-y, it’s quite hardcore on the vocals – but then all of a sudden off the back of the pandemic I discovered this completely different side to my voice that never got used because I was constantly fighting vocal over-use all the time. So even just getting into the studio, literally where Ben is sat right now, and learning how to re-vocalise all these songs has been amazingly creative.”

 

Obviously the last couple of years have been an introspective time for a lot of people – does that shine through in the lyrics on this album?

Ben: “Yeah, it’s funny, when you listen to it as a whole there’s a lot of hope in there, there’s a lot of gratitude too, definitely. And I wasn’t sat here aiming for that, I think the pandemic has affected us all differently, in a way it’s a universal experience but everyone has different experiences within that, but I think one theme that emerged is that we just want to be better versions of ourselves. Everyone took that time to think about doing those things that they’d been putting off, whether that’s bake bread, or learn another language, or maybe exercise more. When you’re told you can only go out once a day you want to make the best of that. So I think that came through in the album’s title as well. It’s like: there’s things I want to do in my life but actually, if this is it, if it’s just you and me, that’s enough. It’s about being grateful for what you have. There’s definitely a lot of reflection on the album."

 


Last time we met we spoke quite a bit about the different ways of working in Nashville - was that where you recorded this one too? Is it a way of working that suits you better?

Ben: “Again it was a lot more over Zoom, and it’s funny because we don’t really eat properly when we’re doing a session. And you’re right, over there it’s very businesslike and it’s just about getting it done, not in a horrible way, I love that you’re just there to do the thing you’re there to do, if you know what I mean. And it’s been similar with Zoom and Facetime, you have a bit of pleasantries at the start but then you just write the song. And you have to listen a lot more there’s a time delay so you can’t play at the same time, so you really have to listen to what they’re bringing forward and what you’re bringing forward. And that’s really great, maybe it is a bit more academic, but I feel like the songs are definitely a bit better on this record. I love the fact that writing like this has been normalised, because you can write with people all over the world and then just walk into your kitchen and get on with your day.”

 

You’ve worked with Lindsay Rimes again on this album – is he producing the whole thing?

Ben: “Yeah, he’s produced the last three records.”

 

You’ve obviously developed a good working relationship there, what does he bring to the table to him a good fit for you guys?

Crissie: “He just gets it. He’s an Australian living in Nashville and he gets that we wanted to make an album that sits well here in the UK, that we can’t just copy exactly what they’re doing in America because that’s not going to translate well over here. So there’s that, but also him and Ben are completely on the same wavelength when it comes to production, it’s like they literally hear all the same things. It’s some kind of telepathic thing that they’ve got going on, it seems like a very easy way of working between the two of them.”

 

You’ve got some dates and in-stores in the UK coming up – where else will you be playing?

Ben: “We’re not sure at the moment, but our big thing still is to make it in the US and break into it a bit more. We did tour out here a few years ago and it’s a very different experience touring out there. In the UK, with country fans particularly, they really listen to every single lyric. American artists are always surprised when they come over here and our fans are singing along to album tracks. Our experience of playing in America was that they know the singles, but they’d happily have a drink and a talk over every other song! It was great fun though and there’s so much I love about the US, especially the people. They wear their hearts on their sleeve and they’re very loud, you know if they’re enjoying something. And for us it’s a bit like being in a movie still, we were playing in a place called Boise, Idaho, and everything just seems so cinematic and big over there."

“So we’d love to get back out there, but we have to be grateful because very few artists get to tour for the amount of time we do and the venues we’re playing in the UK are huge, so we’ll take this first and then see where the journey takes us.”

 

 

10 Year Plan is available in hmv stores now - you can also find it here in our online store.

 

10 Year Plan
10 Year Plan The Shires

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