Making records in the UK with their debut album 'Brave', The Shires - AKA Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle - are one of the most exciting British country acts to have ever formed.
We got the chance to catch up with one half of the duo - Crissie - about what we should expect from the group in the coming months, how they prepare for the biggest shows of their life and much more. Read on to find out what she had to say.
First of all congratulations on a hugely successful debut and past few months, can you tell us about what you've been up to?
Thank you! So, we released our debut album 'Brave' in March and then off the back of that we went into number 10 with the album, as the first UK country act to go in at number 10 in the main album chart.
Off the back of that we went on tour pretty much for the whole of April, most of the venues were sold out, it was absolutely mental, the fact that country music's really getting some acknowledgement at the moment.
Just last week we got back from Nashville, we were out there for a week and had our Grand Ole Opry debut which was incredible. It's the most amazing place, we were very honoured to be asked to perform there.
How does it feel to be part of pushing the country genre forward?
It's really amazing, it feels about time. Ben's been a country fan just a short while, maybe about three or so years, but for myself I've loved country music since I was a child, it always felt like you couldn't really admit you liked country music, because there was this stereotype that it was all about rhinestones, and cowboys and stetsons, and cowboy boots and stuff. Although that stuff still exists from the older stuff, nowadays it's just so much more accessible. It's things about everyday life, what people go through in today's life as opposed to just what happens in the south of America, kind of thing, you know?
As you mentioned your debut album 'Brave' broke records going into the Top 10, how did that feel?
Oh, it was absolutely incredible, we couldn't believe that we went Top 10. To believe that we wanted to do country music and we didn't think we would be taken seriously, and just every step of the way has been an incredible journey and to have so many people get behind us and want to hear country music in the UK, it's just been really, really great.
This past weekend you performed at The Isle of Wight Festival, what was that experience like?
Ah, it was great! Our first festival of the season! It was a really great festival, actually. The tent was absolutely packed inside and the nice thing was that people were passing as well and they could hear our songs outside, and they kinda spilled into the big tent that we were performing in, and a lot of them just stayed and listened. Hopefully we were able to let them hear something that perhaps they don't hear very often and open their minds to country music.
And you have other big shows coming up such as Glastonbury, how do you prepare for a gig like that?
Well, we just love what we do. We don't change it too much from what we do out on tour anyway. We know that people at festivals, we've all been to festivals so, we know that people love to sing along. It's great to have a singalong with a big crowd, so we try to incorporate singalong parts in the songs.
We've got one song, 'Tonight', where we split the crowd in half and have a battle between whose side's better than the other, which is really good fun and hopefully people can take away from those songs and hear those memorable parts and wanna listen to them again.
How do you find the touring life? As we've heard it can be tiring as well as rewarding...
Well we were on tour for about three and a half weeks and it was such a great time. It was really hard to adjust to not being on tour, because you get in this bubble of performing every night and you get one day off, which is just enough because I think if you had more days off, you would really chill out.
Just having that time away - we had an amazing support act called John and Jacob who are from Birmingham, Alabama - they were just a lot of fun. I felt like it was a whole show, those guys playing then us coming on. They were acoustic then us coming on with a band afterwards, I feel like we gave our fans the best show we could possibly give them.
Do you and Ben have any rituals or things you do before hitting the stage?
We have a playlist that we put on of some country songs that really get us happy and in the right mood to get on stage. We absolutely love getting on stage anyway but there's a few songs that really get us going - Lady Antebellum and Brad Paisley on there as well, and Sheryl Crow as well - then we have a little kind of chanting that we do with our band just to try to hype up before we go on, for all of us to say have a great show. We do that without fail. We never tell anyone what we do but we have our own little things that we do before hitting the stage.
Can you tell us about how The Shires was formed? I hear Facebook brought you together?
Yeah, so the two of us were working individually. Ben more songwriting and I was more performance working the circuit as a session singer and a performer. Ben came into country recently at that point and wrote these songs and just thought it'd be really great to have a female singer.
He put up this status on Facebook saying there must be a female country singer in this country that wants to sing these songs with me. A mutual friend of ours tagged me into that status and he looked online, on YouTube and saw a couple of my videos and kinda took a chance on me and played me the songs he had.
We met up the next day and we just couldn't believe we'd found somebody else that liked country music and had the exact same ambitions that we had.
So, it was a really important time for us and we were so pleased to have found one another.
You're touring the UK later this year, what should fans coming to those dates expect?
We're gonna have the album songs from 'Brave', we'll be performing and hopefully, maybe put in some songs that we're already writing for the next album as well, just to give a little bit of a taster and get people knowing what the next album's about as well.
It's gonna be a lot of fun, we've got the band on the road with us as well and hopefully a support act, it'll be great.
Can you tell us about the creative process you go through when making new material?
We try and live as much as we can and try and experience a lot of life, so that we can put that into our songs. Tour life really helped. We're constantly writing all the time, we just went out to Nashville and we were writing lots out there. We're writing individually with other writers as well just to try and maximise the amount of songs we can get in the time that we have.
And I imagine Nashville is the perfect place to go and write country music?
Oh yeah, you could be out there for a long time just writing every single day and never get bored of it, because it's such an inspiring city with so many inspiring people to work with as well.
Finally what's coming up for you and The Shires going forward?
We have all the festivals which we missed out on last year so, we're really excited about. All the festivals this year and then the tour as well, so we've got a lot to look forward to, we've got a really busy time ahead of us and we're really excited about the whole thing.
The Shires debut album 'Brave' is out now. They're currently gearing up for more festival dates and a UK tour later this year - find out more at http://www.theshiresmusic.com/