Five years since they were discovered playing a gig in a Bedfordshire pub, Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes are now raising the bar in Nashville. Indeed, thanks to their two gold-certified record-breaking albums, Brave and My Universe, The Shires have become one of the most talked about acts in the home of country music.
And now to the delight of their legions of fans on both sides of the Atlantic, they’ve released their eagerly-anticipated third album Accidentally on Purpose, recorded in Nashville, which won over a whole new mainstream audience with its fusion with pop.
The duo are most excited by track Guilty, which they feel best sums of their new sound. “We both like to socialise, we’re both young and enjoy having a good time and going out with our friends,” explains Crissie. “We wanted to reflect that in our music so Guilty is definitely a sign of a change for us. It’s the kind of song I’d play before going out.”
Perhaps the best illustration of why The Shires have become huge players in music, and not just country, is how some of the world’s top writers want to work with them – and they don’t come much bigger than Ed Sheeran. The global superstar provided his song ‘Stay The Night’ for their third album after seeking out Ben and Crissie at his Nashville concert last October, where he also got to see the latter’s drinking ability first hand.
“Crissie and I went along to an after-party Ed was hosting after his concert at the Bridgestone Arena but she wasn’t feeling great,” explains Ben. “He told us he was familiar with our music and we were like ‘whoa, that’s incredible’. A few hours later I was about to leave and I saw Ed and his mates playing a drinking game with a girl who was downing beer out of a keg while doing a handstand, everyone was cheering – it was pretty mental. Then I did a double take and it was Crissie! Afterwards we said it would be great if we could work together in the future and a few days later he sent us his track Stay The Night.” Crissie added: “So basically my drinking ability got us an Ed Sheeran song!”
Working with Ed shows just how far The Shires have come since Ben’s 2013 Facebook plea for a female singer with a mutual love of country to work with him. A year later they signed to Decca records and have gone on to play Glastonbury, tour with Irish chart-toppers The Corrs, presented awards at the C2C awards and become a staple of BBC Radio 2.
The Shires also became the first UK act ever to win a prestigious CMA Award, the Jeff Walker Global Artist Award, which recognises achievements from artists outside of the US. “That was a huge honour,” said Crissie. “Definitely the highlight of the past two years, it’s such an amazing awards ceremony that celebrates achievements in country music.“
After five years of hard work, Ben and Crissie are now enjoying the fruits of their success – in and out of the studio. “The hotels and the tour buses have definitely increased in standard,” Ben jokes. “Crissie used to ferry her music gear around in this huge car – I used to call her ‘Soccer mum’. But now we’re fortunate to enjoy a bit of luxury on the road with our band.”
However, neither of them can ever be accused of over indulgence now the royalty cheques have come in. Ben, 30, said: “Genuinely the last thing I spent a bit of money on was filters for my water purifier! I appreciate that’s pretty pathetic.” “It is,” Crissie adds.
Given how much they’re appreciated in the US city, it’s easy to see why they both want to eventually lay down roots in Nashville. “We love it here,” beams Crissie, 29. “Hanging out and socialising in the bars. There’s such a good vibe out here right now and is the obvious place to be if you want to make it in the US. But the UK is our home and still very important to us.”
It certainly is as The Shires will be playing a 23-date UK tour this year which includes a gig at the Royal Albert Hall on May 18. Fans will get a glimpse of their new material which features on Accidentally on Purpose.
The title track is a song Crissie wrote about a holiday romance after a relationship which broke down over the past year. The Bedfordshire-born singer, who is currently single, is very open about her relationships with Ben as they have inspired songs featured on their three albums, including debut Brave which became the first UK country album to make the Top Ten in 2015.
“In the writing sessions I can’t exactly hide anything,” she reveals. “We wrote Accidentally on Purpose on our last day in Nashville when I was deliberating whether to stay in town longer to spend time with a guy I’d met. Ben and I used all my thoughts in that situation and put them into the song – so you can see how Ben ends up knowing everything about my love life!” “It’s true,” Ben adds. “Everything always comes out in the writing process!”
Being a male and female duo inevitably leads to speculation the duo are romantically involved. But as Ben, who has two young sons called River and Tennessee with his long-term girlfriend explains, it’s never been on the cards. He said: “We’ve never seen each other like that, eww, no. We’re more like brother and sister.”
Whatever the formula, it certainly works.