The Shires have been breaking all kinds of records. They are signed to Universal Records in Nashville and their debut album reached the Top 10 of UK Official Album Chart.
National Country Review recently caught up with Ben Earle and Crissie Gudgin at the SummerTyne Americana Festival at the Sage Gateshead to talk about their appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, their musical inspiration and their UK tour in support of their debut album Brave.
NRR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us here at National Country Review, we really appreciate it.
We are here at the SummerTyne Americana Festival at the Sage Gateshead. You seem to becoming quite regular visitors to The Sage, you’ve played here a few times before. Do you enjoy playing in the North East of England.
Crissie: Yeah, we love it up here. We have a really good crowd up here. They singalong and join in, yeah it’s really nice.
NRR: There seems to be a real groundswell in country music in the UK right now and you guys are riding the crest of the wave. You are the first English country act to be signed to a Nashville label, your debut album Brave was in the Top 10 of the Official UK Charts. It must be quite overwhelming for you. How do you manage to stay grounded with so much going on.
Ben: We’ve got a great team, we’re lucky. We just love songs and songwriting and the singing that’s what it all comes back to. I think where some people go wrong is they get wrapped up in everything else and forget that at the end of the day all it’s about is the music.
I think going to Nashville a few times we’re reminded of that because out there we worked with and met so many huge songwriters, yet they are so humble. They write their songs during the day and then they go out to the bars and play them and it’s the way it should be.
I think with country we haven’t really seen any egos. It just seems to be all about music and I think that’s how we stay grounded we just love the music, we like discovering new music, we love playing songs and we are so lucky to be able to be touring around the country and playing our songs every day and other countries to now … Germany, we’ve been to Nashville and played out there. So yeah just keep doing what we are doing, that keeps us grounded as it is.
The Shires – Friday Night
NRR: Speaking of Nashville, you recently made your debut at the Grand Ole Opry. What was that like?.
Crissie: It was incredible. Honestly, we arrived backstage and we had already been there once, Sam Palladio took us there who plays Gunnar in the TV show Nashville and we went and saw The Striking Matches debut there. So we felt kind of comfortable in the backstage area, we knew our way around there, but walking out onto that stage was just incredible. It was like we see in the TV show Nashville and knowing all the history.
The fact that Dolly Parton stands on that stage, Carrie Underwood is on there as well, Tim McGraw and everyone that’s going about now and also like Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash you know all the history that’s stood on that one circle of stage whether it’s been in the new Grand Old Opre or the old one at the Ryman you know, just knowing that.
The debut room backstage has all these quotes on the wall and Taylor Swift’s said “Oh My Good I’m on at the Grand Ole Opry” and another quote was “It’s just the history behind this that makes me nervous”. So you are like, great you know that’s great support for me going out on my first time you know. It was just incredible and we stood up there with Bill Anderson as well who introduced us, and it was just a pinch me moment.
NRR: Besides the Grand Ole Opry is there anywhere else in the world that you would like to play, like your dream gig. If there was any venue anywhere in the world, where would you choose.
Ben: Shepherds Bush Empire. It’s not the biggest venue in the world, but just the history behind that and we’ve seen so many acts there. We have actually played it now, we did a support with Little Big Town when we played with them. We’ve got it coming up on our tour coming up. I think everyone we speak to that’s the one where they are like, that’s going to be great.
Crissie: Other than that, like Wembley Stadium (both laughing).
Ben: I think the thing about Shepherds Bush is that it’s still intimate even though it’s big. When you do the stadiums and the arenas the sound is never good and that’s a fact, but the vibe is great. We saw Taylor Swift at The O2 on the Red Tour and that was just unbelievable as a show, but you know the sound is always better in the smaller theaters.
Crissie: It’s great to see people’s faces, that’s what it’s about seeing that interaction between us and the crowd so that we can actually see it ourselves. In the big venues you are almost in pitch black in front of you. So it’s almost like you have to make it up, you have no idea if they are enjoying it until someone puts the houselights on or people are waving their iPhones or something. You just don’t get to see their faces as much. So the smaller intimate venues like Shepherds Bush, although there are bigger numbers in the crowd it’s still intimate in there.
NRR: Despite the attention you are getting from U.S. your roots still seem to be very much grounded in the UK. Obviously with the band name that’s got an association with the UK and tracks like “Made In England”. Is that something that is important to the band to keep your British identity.
Ben: Yeah, totally I mean I think a lot of people are surprised that we make country music, because they think it’s all about the rhinestones and the cowboys etc, whereas what we love about country and we’ve always loved about it is sort of the honesty of it and the story telling. In terms of honesty we just write about things that we know, we don’t know about trucks and cowboys etc and it would be pastiche and not honest, so when we sit down we write about milky cups of tea or you know having a pint of beer or those sort of things.
Crissie: Fish and chips.
Ben: Or like in “Made In England” fish and chips as well and also “Nashville Grey Skies” which is all about people dancing in the rain in their wellies basically is what the idea behind that was. Country fans dancing around at a festival, you know that’s what we know and we are really, really proud to be British.
That’s why we wrote that song, I know it’s “Made In England” but Britain didn’t work basically as a word (laughing) but that’s why we wrote that song because we’ve had so many great experiences in America and they are so proud to be American we came back and we were like why do we not celebrate being British. It’s such a great country that we live in.
Crissie: We get so many people crying in that song. The amount of people that cry in the middle of that song, they are just so in the moment and proud of our country and finally we recognize how much we love it.
The Shires – Nashville Grey Skies (Official Music Video)
NRR: Obviously there is a whole host of country music in the U.S. I was just wondering how are the U.S. country fans taking to the British country scene with artists like yourselves and Ward Thomas going across there. What’s the response been like.
Crissie: We’ve only done a couple of shows out there, so we aren’t 100% sure of what the reaction is but the people that we’ve worked with a really excited about it. You know they can’t believe there’s the Brits doing what they are so well known to do, but also keeping or sort of British-ness on that as well. They’ve been nothing but nice to us so far, they are just really embracing what we are doing.
NRR: Where do you find your inspiration for your song writing.
Ben: Country songs firstly, we listen to so many songs, we are always discovering new music. The Civil Wars were a huge inspiration for us, Lady Antebellum as well and Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood. There’s just to many, but when we try to write we just write about what’s in our brains and our experiences and what we are doing at the moment.
Crissie: It’s taken from our experiences as well as you know when we are on the road with the boys we might hear a story from them, or we might hear somebody else’s story from fans that we maybe meet ay gigs and stuff and you write from other peoples perspectives as well as your own.
NRR: If you could collaborate with any artist, who would be your dream collaboration.
Ben: I think Lady Antebellum for me.
Ben: I just think there would be five part harmonies (laughing). They are great, I mean we saw them first time at Country to Country in March and just the high quality of everything they do, the songs are just incredibly well crafted, the production and when they do it live, just everything is done really well.
We get compared to them quite a bit, which is really flattering but I think if we could sing with them it would be just incredible.
Crissie: We do love them a lot.
The Shires – State Lines
NRR: You’ve been out on the road across the UK this year. How has the tour been going.
Crissie: Yeah the tour was absolutely amazing. It was so much fun, we were on the bus for the whole time as well and it was a very different way of touring and we really enjoyed it. A lot of different places we got to explore, which was really nice each time we would have some hours to kill. The fans they came out, and because they’d had the album by then as well for like a month, they were singing all the lyrics.
I think Bristol managed to sing everyone of them almost, even the ballads you know “Black and White” they were full on singing every single word, which took us by surprise. They also came up with a chant as well for “Tonight” and I think that started in Glasgow, they were the rowdiest bunch I think we came across.
We finish the set with “Tonight” and we have a little singalong part where we split the crowd in half and they just carried on singing, as soon as we walked off they just carried on singing that part and it brought us back up on the stage and we were shocked to find that. We thought that’s a great idea, who thought of that (laughing).
NRR: So what else do you guys have in store for 2015.
Ben: We’ve got another tour in October, which we are really excited about. Like I said we are doing Shepherds Bush Empire and a quite a few big iconic venues which is great.
Crissie: We’ve got Hyde Park coming up in as well in September, the BBC Proms. We’ve got lots more writing.
Ben: We’re touring with Little Big Town in November. We’re doing a week with them, then hopefully back to Nashville to do some writing.
Crissie: Apparently Little Big Town, their “Girl Crush” has been number 1 for 10 weeks, and Sam Hunt can not budge them (laughing). It’s pretty amazing you know.
Ben: So yes, very busy, we’re not stopping until December 24th I would imagine (laughing).
NRR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us here at National Country Review, we really appreciate it. We are looking forward to the show tonight and we will see you there.
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