The Shires return with uplifting and self-reflecting new album ‘10 Year Plan’

Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes have dreamed of this moment. Ben and Crissie are the singer-songwriter duo behind the twice Gold-certified UK country act The Shires. With their brand album ‘10 Year Plan’ out this week it’s no surprise that they’re aiming for the stars – in more ways than one. ‘I See Stars’ was the first single to give a taste of the album – a huge anthem with its roots within pop. The song’s intimate lyrics and bombastic chorus channels the likes of Coldplay – cited by Ben as an influence for the song. A positive symbol of hope, ‘I See Stars’ was the first introduction to an album full of surprises but deep rooted in a love for the craft and a dream of grander stages. 

Although the pandemic put a pause on proceedings, the duo saw the time away from the road as an opportunity to reflect on the past 9 years of friendship, which seeps into ‘10 Year Plan’ almost undetected. “The adrenaline is kicking in, it’s really exciting,” Ben tells me. “To think that a lot of the album was made right here and kind of dreaming of this moment again when the world, where I could say be back to normal but it feels strange again at the moment. But to actually have these songs out in the world it’s just absolutely amazing because it felt like we may never be doing this ever again at some point, so it’s great to be back.” Ben speaks from Zoom in his creative “garden shed”, where most of the album was conceived. Crissie is also at home, sitting in a room with Gold-certified records lining the wall. Their positivity is contagious and inspiring, a clear trait that can also be applied to the album’s 13 tracks. 

“There wasn’t really a plan with this one, which was something great about it,” Ben says. “The world shut down and we were all stuck in our houses. I just started writing songs just for the love of it really and I think what was great was writing over the internet over Zoom and FaceTime and stuff. It became really normalised and that’s something we never really would have done in the past. But I ended up writing a lot of songs in here by myself which is kind of my solace and my escape.” Crissie adds, “I think it was just that chance to not have that timeline – that time pressure to get something done. I didn’t do a whole lot of writing during the pandemic. I kind of switched off quite a lot so thankfully Ben was in his garden shed writing like crazy, just trying to escape the kids and the full-time Dad mode.” They both laugh in unison, almost as if a sense of relief and satisfaction had filled the online room.

That feeling of satisfaction is mirrored by the success of their two singles, the previously mentioned ‘I See Stars’ and the latest track ‘Wild Hearts’. Speaking further about the former Crissie says, “Everybody was really excited to hear some new music from us, it felt like it had been a little minute since we had been away. But we had to change it just slightly – we did a remixed version that sits on Radio 2 just because the sound of Radio 2 is sort of changing. So for us to hear that dance track version of ‘I See Stars’ it felt like it didn’t necessarily represent the whole album, but we also sort of wanted to get it on the radio. We did have to change it just a little bit to fit it onto the radio station. The response has been really great so far; people are loving both the radio version and the original version as well.” Ben adds, “[The track] did kind of emerge and I think that’s what’s great about this record – the sound of the actual record, not just the songs, because I spent so much time doing demos. The demo for ‘I See Stars’ is quite similar to the actual finished version, we used a lot of parts from the studio. I was really trying to imagine stuff more in my head and sort of hear how it should sound eventually. Talking about influences – Coldplay has been a massive influence on me over the years and I was kind of channeling them a lot in this record.” 

The track is unmistaken in its delivery of hope to the ears of its listeners but also finds itself a larger than life home within the tracklist of ‘10 Year Plan’. “It’s about holding onto hope really and just saying that, ‘as long as I’ve got you all we need is one – just holding onto one little thing.’ You know, ‘I see stars, out of a million only one has got to fall.’ It’s going to be alright, basically. With the new true message of it really, there’s still hope up there and maybe that was subconsciously from that pandemic of just, ‘gosh, I need something to hold onto,’ basically. [Ben Laughs]” It’s an uplifting track that drives the duo’s sound to new heights and sits as a promise to the aspirations they both hold of headlining arenas. “Right from the very beginning when we had our own hire car which was just the two of us and at the time a radio girl from our label at the time – who just left that label,” Crissie says. “She came on the road with us and we remember loading all our own gear into each venue, driving ourselves all over the country and I feel like we have seen pretty much every venue along the road, and it’s been incredible. We’ve been able to play arenas as well, supporting some incredible artists. We get to watch them do their shows as well, which we are forever learning more and more from.” Ben adds, “[Arenas are] definitely the goal. I’m still as ambitious as day one and Crissie is too. It’s interesting when you go up because at the start Crissie was talking about that tour and that car, everything you do and your trajectory is kind of like that (handheld at an incline). Everything you do for the first time is kind of like, ‘oh gosh I’m playing this venue now, this song is on the radio now,’ and naturally when you get to where we are, things do that a bit (flattens hand) and it goes very slowly. So yeah, I think hopefully I’m waiting for that jump when we go to arenas because the level we’re at is amazing – we’re playing to 31,000 people on this next tour; [the whole tour] is almost sold out. Getting to that next level is not impossible – for a UK Country act it would be an amazing thing; we’d love to. But we’re very happy with where we are, definitely.” 

The duo’s latest single sees Ben and Crissie deepen their compelling, uptempo approach in the foot-stomping ‘Wild Hearts’. The video for the track finds the full band in The Roost, a London East-end former pub which ultimately gave the backdrop to the art direction of the album. An intimate affair, ‘Wild Hearts’ sees the band almost invite you into the room for dance whilst a glimmer of light drenches the group in a haze of sunlight. Lyrics such as “can’t fight this feeling inside anymore” sees Crissie launch into the main hook of the song – a decidedly huge vocal with Ben’s velvet vocals drawing us in further. “I just loved that guitar riff straight away,” Crissie says. “Like Ben said, a lot of the songs that he had written, he had already made really amazing demos. The thing is that in the past we’d often go to Nashville and we would just sit in a room and record a guitar, and then a vocal over the top. It would be how you hear it in the room is [exactly] what we would take away with us. And so at that point Ben would hear this whole symphony going off and, ‘I hear these parts and these parts,’ and I’m like, ‘I hear a guitar and a vocal,’ and that’s as far as my imagination goes with that sort of thing. So ‘Wild Hearts’ was a fully-fledged demo when I got to hear it first off and I was just like, ‘this is going to be amazing when we’re out on the road.’ I can see it at festivals and some of our tours – people are just going to be up dancing and singing and having a good time. I think that’s that kind of uplifting [feeling] that we want on the back of being so sedentary at home for such a long time – we all just need to get back together again.” 

Deeper cuts from the album such as ‘Side by Side’ sees the duo put their time together into words and music; a song that sits as a representation of both nostalgia and a sense of gratitude towards their history and a future that is yet unwritten for them. “We’re very lucky to have each other,” Crissie says. “We work so well together but that particular song, it really stood out for me and Katya that Ben wrote it with – she’d already done the vocal for the demo so it was quite easy to hear from a female voice perspective where that sat, so straight away I just started singing it. I was like, ‘you know what? This just sits so nicely in my voice.’ I just loved it; I loved the track and we did a completely different arrangement for the acoustic tour and it still worked just as well as the full production that sits on the album.” “I often think about that,” Ben adds. “The fact that we met – we lived so close, we met at the right time and we sing so well together. We’re so lucky that it happened in the way it did because there are so many people in the world. [Laughs] What are the chances that Crissie and I would end up singing – it’s amazing.” 

With ‘10 Year Plan’ being their 5th outing as a duo, it acts as a landmark for career reflection but also showcases their diverse talents as singer-songwriters. Other cuts include ‘Baby We’re Rich’, an ode to freedom. “That song always reminds me of my Mum growing up,” Ben recalls. “She used to say, ‘we may not be rich in money but we’re rich in happiness.’ She used to say that to me and I was always like yeah, when you go along this journey you sort of question what’s important and what’s not. I think that freedom is a thing I appreciate a lot. I was just literally thinking about this even this morning, I used to work in a phone shop and I was 9-5 and it was not what I wanted to do, and it was exhausting. Crissie was a waitress – she was an amazing waitress but I think you much more enjoy what we’re doing now. It never feels like we’re working, ever.” He continues, “we work very hard and some days are extremely long but at the end of the day we’re singing, recording and performing music for a living. ‘Baby We’re Rich’ is just that, it’s just saying as long as we’ve got each other and as long as we can do what we do, that’s all I want- I don’t need anything else. I don’t necessarily want a bigger house or a nicer car, you know – it’s great.” 

A huge UK tour awaits Ben and Crissie which sees them travel nearly the full length of the UK. Starting in Weymouth on the 22nd of April their headline dates end at a huge date at the London Palladium on the 22nd of May. Ben tells me, “there’s so many beautiful venues around the country and the Birmingham Symphony Hall as well is just stunning, and I love The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester because you can really see everybody. It’s big but it’s intimate. I think this is the best level of tour to do because the arenas are great but they can feel a bit impersonal at times. But this level is brilliant.” The setlist will contain a “real mixture of all the albums,” Crissie notes. “There’s some from the ‘Good Years’ album which obviously we didn’t get to tour. We’ve seen a few crowds react to some of those songs off of there, and it’s been amazing to see that so many people did know the words and were singing along. But also some from the brand new album as well. I’m saying we should do a line dance – we should make a line dance for ‘Wild Hearts’, I think that’ll be fun. Do it live on stage – it’ll be good.” “I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it,” Ben adds. “We’re going to walk out there and it’s going to be like (makes crowd sounds), which we experienced a bit on the acoustic tour but getting back to the size of venue, the sound of the band and taking people on that journey is going to be incredible.” 

The Shires new album ‘10 Year Plan’ is out now. You can catch the duo in the UK on their headline tour starting 22nd of April. 

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