The mould has been broken, the dominant aspect of Country music in its own backyard taken apart, its historical birthplace, has been, if not smashed, then certainly demolished brick by brick, blade of grass by white picket fence and tales of the homely and beautiful swept aside. It is the mould set out by the American Country genre to which The Shires, Chrissie Rhodes and Ben Earle, have become quite rightly known as the band in which sit up, take notice of and toast as the modern day British saviours of a genre that was wobbling under its own weight across the pond.
The band’s debut album in 2015, the sensational Brave, was notable for becoming the first by a British Country act to break the Top 10 of the British album charts, a feat that seems astonishing given the lengthy history of the charts in the U.K. However, breaking that slice of history is nothing surely to what is about to happen with the duo’s new album, My Universe, which is released on Decca Records on October 7th.
My Universe is the announcement at the dinner party, the tuxedo suits and fancy shimmering gowns glowing in the stare of a moon high above the shore line, the fancy and scripted invites bearing a name in the American ballrooms and the surprise, the look of the flabbergasted faces when they realise that the British have not only come but are intent on stealing the night away.
Camden is arguably, like Whitechapel and Islington, one of the more interesting places within the ever expanding London border, its natural tendency to offer the Bohemian life to all who come into contact with it, the more artistic pursuits greeted like an old friend and it is where I find Chrissie Rhodes and Ben Earle relaxing in the sunshine of a hot sultry day.
Hello Ben, hello Chrissie, I hope you are both very well! I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine down in Camden!
Chrissie: “Yes, we are!”
Camden really is a universe in itself, the album that I’ve been listening to today is My Universe, it’s outstanding, it’s a beautiful piece of work. I had the great pleasure of reviewing Brave when you released it and when you performed in Liverpool at the Echo Arena and My Universe just seems to have taken your music on to another level, is that what you deliberately tried to do?
Chrissie: “Yeah, we’d been on the road with The Corrs in every big town over the past two years and seeing how they’d got back on in arenas, we both wanted to kind of make a bigger sound and be able to fill out arenas with that kind of area sound, so it was a conscious decision to do that. There wasn’t any different to the way we were writing the songs you know, we still wrote in the same way, we went out to Nashville to write the songs and focused on the storytelling again and we just wanted to progress, we’ve added a few more production sounds on this album now and we’ve also got songs like Desperate and some of our personal songs on there that are a bit more stripped back, you know.”
You said that you have some personal songs on the album, there are two that stick out, Daddy’s Little Girl and Everything You Never Gave, both with differing points of view so to speak, a female perspective and a male perception, they are back to back on the album and sound deeply private.
Ben: “Yeah, the interesting thing about them as well is that I found out that I was going to be a dad and I started writing songs about my relationship with my dad and what I wanted to give my baby basically. Everything You Never Gave was a very hard song to write, it was always one that I felt I should write and wanted to write but it was very painful in many ways, I think it’s important to do that. What’s fascinating is that I didn’t tell Chrissie I was writing the song and she went to Nashville and she went to this session and she said right, Daddy’s Little Girl and it was complete coincidence, we didn’t know that either of us was going to write these songs and that it would all end up so personal. They couldn’t have ended up any more at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what they are about really in terms of the emotion.”
The album is very emotional but those two songs are very deep and full of emotion, they have so much beauty within them, it’s almost very scary in a way to listen to them especially with Everything You Never Gave, because we’ve all had those personal moments with members of our families.
Ben: “You’re right, it’s true; we’ve all had personal things with our families, it’s a difficult thing to do sometimes I think. As songwriters, I think it’s what we need to do – to try and make sense of the world and when you’re welcoming someone else into the world, then that gives you a wealth of emotion to write about. I think those two songs are personal and I hope when people hear them on the album they will unite people.”
The album starts with such an upbeat song the title track – My Universe, you’re not sure where that’s going to go because with Brave there was obviously a steady flow but with this one, you seem to bring out the big gun at the beginning of the new album.
Ben: “I think it’s a really big song, it’s interesting what you said before about the album having bigger moments basically but I think that we wanted to start the album with a big shock – wow, this is not what we expected of us, when we recorded it, we knew that it was going to be a big moment, that’s why we called the album after that track as it was a big step up for us. I think a lot of people are going to be very shocked and also quite shocked at the video as well. The video again is a step up, we filmed it a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles and we’ve just got the final edit back, it’s absolutely great, it was filmed in 35 degree heat, we can’t wait to share it with people and also it’s a very poignant moment for in the video and really it just extenuates the song and that big feeling – just wait to you see it, you’ll understand.”
The point obviously of the first album with Brave, was the fact that you became the first British act to have a country top ten album, that was huge and to know that this album surely is even a step up again, how does that feel?
Chrissie: “It was a very big moment for us to have a top ten country album. I think when we first started out; it was quite scary and daunting because we wanted to play country music. Going top ten really cemented the fact that there was an audience over here to play this genre of music and I think with this next album, there’s already a lot of excitement for it, many people are asking for it and we can’t wait for everybody to hear it. I don’t think when we were recording it and writing it, there didn’t feel like there was a lot of pressure on us to deliver; it all just came very naturally. The big step up that we’ve had from Brave, we think we are still retaining that Shires’ sound but we’ve definitely moved on and evolved our sound a lot more. I think our fans are going to really like this album, we both hope they will.”
I’m sure they will because as I said, I’ve had the great pleasure of listening to it this morning and it has absolutely knocked me sideways. It’s an incredibly good album, very cool! One last question, you’re obviously going to be touring with the new album and you’re coming back to Liverpool on 9th December, you must feel very comfortable playing your music to a Liverpool audience?
Ben: “We’ve had great shows recently, we were upgraded at the Academy to a bigger room and it’s funny that a few venues like Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool seem to be the three cities that we have great nights, every one. They all have a wonderful musical tradition in each city which goes without saying. We love playing Liverpool, we can’t wait to come back, we had a really good night out at the Albert Dock last time we were there, can’t wait to come back!”
I know Liverpool will really enjoy seeing you again, because you were outstanding when you supported The Corrs earlier on in the year, so thank you for that and all the very best with the new album.
The Shires will be performing in Liverpool on the 9th December, tickets are available from the 02 Academy Box office.
Ian D. Hall