With five consecutive UK top ten albums, The Shires are regarded as pioneers in the rise in popularity of country music on this side of the Atlantic. Whilst Crissie Rhodes is a recent mother to twin daughters, the other half of the duo; Ben Earle has continued to keep himself busy as a prolific songwriter and radio host on Absolute Radio Country but has yet to release music himself. Until now and his forthcoming collaboration “Make It Easy” with Scottish genre crossing singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt.
Livingstone born (half Swedish) Nesbitt has an artistry that has continued to evolve over the last decade which has freely flowed between what people may define as pop, folk, indie, singer-songwriter and even electronic genres but as a songwriter and musician has always had a true sense of relatability and realism that would be a natural fit to country music. An opportunity for a first venture into country music which, she has been a long-time admirer of presented itself with the offer to duet with Earle and resulted in “Make It Easy” which the pair of them jumped on Zoom with us ahead of the release to tell us more about it.
Whilst Ben has been an integral part of the country scene over the last decade and the two of us had spoken on more occasions than begs to think about counting, this was my first time properly speaking to Nina in any capacity. However, I first saw her on stage back in 2013 at V Festival and have since seen a number of her own gigs at venues across London so have got to witness the transitions and styles through her artistry which now finally brings her to dip her toes into country music. “Yeah, it’s always been a secret love of mine, well not an actual secret but I’ve always said to Ben that I’d make that country album one day. We’ve talked about that and shared a common love of country music, but I’ve been inspired by watching The Shires story in the UK and seeing how country music has become so big here, so it feels like a good time to dip my toe in and give it a go.”
This collaboration is not the first time that the pair have worked together as Nina was a co-writer on two of the tracks from The Shires sophomore album which Ben recalled how they first got to know each other. “We actually met through Twitter. I think Nina had just released her record and just reached out on Twitter saying it would be cool to try writing something together. I’d never met Nina before, and we met in Fulham where I just found that we were on the same page with writing songs. I have written a lot and all over the world but mostly in Nashville where I feel that she writes in a very similar way to a lot of the writers over there. The first song we wrote was “Other People’s Things” which I think I had the title for that one and we both just got the concept straight away. We chatted about the concept and the lyric first, which is not what you do a lot with pop music, it’s a very country way of doing things and that is still one of my favourite songs that I’ve ever written and been a part of. I was just so surprised how musically and lyrically we came from the same place, then we co-wrote “Naked” together. That is the song I’m talking about, we both had clothes on during the session. From there we’ve been good friends ever since and had a couple of fun nights out in Nashville then I’m not just saying this, but I really am a huge fan of Nina and her music.”
So, by all accounts, this sounded like a case of Nina just sliding into Ben’s DM’s? “Probably! I do that all the time, if I like something I’m just like hi, do you want to write? I remember had actually been dropped and was thinking I wasn’t going to be an artist anymore, just going to be a songwriter and my first ever cut was with The Shires. Honestly, it gave me such a boost that you could write songs that could come out via other people and tell other people’s stories. I find that so interesting and I remember going to Ben’s gig somewhere in London and when they played “Other People’s Things” it was the first time I had heard I song I had written being sung by not just me and I remember crying as I watched it as it was so special. So, yeah, I think I did pretty much hit him up and ask him to write.”
Talking about “Make It Easy” which was a track that neither Ben nor Nina wrote but was a track that Ben got sent to him and he had been sat on for a while just waiting to work out the right thing to do with it. “One hundred percent. Again, that’s what I love so much about country and if the song is right, it doesn’t matter where it’s come from. As I songwriter I obviously want to write or be part of every song, but I’ve loved this song for years and it was never right to release as The Shires. The second I really considered releasing a solo record, well I know this is a duet but there is this storytelling in the song with the classic twist on the lyric. When I asked Nina, I was actually sat at Heathrow airport about to go to Australia and I had asked a couple of more country, US artists if they would feature on it where they gave a “Nashville No” where people come across keen, but nothing happens. I was really frustrated and, in my head, thought there was no way that Nina would do it as she’s really busy, but I sent the song over and she came back straight away saying she loved it and wanted to put her vocal on it. I was literally about to get on the plane, sent her the parts over and was so excited that we were going to release a song together because the way that Nina tells the story in her verse and I tell the story in my verse, I think is just perfect and we both believe in the song which is the most important thing.”
I asked Ben whether the song was something that he knew he liked, wanted to do something with and felt it would be a duet but just didn’t quite feel right in projects that The Shires were releasing? Yes, definitely. When you make album, there can be a million reasons why songs can’t make it, but this was always a song that I wanted to get out and I’m excited for it to come out. Like Nina said before, as a songwriter it’s really hard to get things out. It was James Newman, Adam Argyle and Cleo Tighe, so for them it’s great for them too to have the song out.”
Nina’s musical avenue across the last decade has freely crossed genre lines and she had said that there had always been an almost secret love of country music. If you follow Nina across her socials, you will see that there are links to a certain Miss Swift, so we talked about whether Taylor was instrumental to her love of the genre. “I feel like I literally went to Taylor Swift University! I grew up with pop music, R&B and stuff like that so mainly just chart music and pop divas. I had always seen the girls dancing and maybe they didn’t write their own songs, but I remember the first time I heard Taylor Swift, I was fifteen, she had a song called “Fifteen” and thought this is about my life. I just fell in love with the “Fearless” album, and it made me realise I could write my own songs, tell my own stories and that’s how I really started properly witing through country music. I have always had that base but also growing up on pop music, I have a love for that as well so it is really hard to pick and stick to a genre, that’s why I love writing songs because you can do anything but definitely have floated around a lot and had a lot of cases of identity crisis.”
From here I followed up and asked her if she was surprised in a way to be putting music out that is being badged as “country”. Her second full length album and her most recent offering “Älskar” has more variety ion the sound, compared to her early EP releases and debut album “Peroxide” which possibly would have brought a more obvious transition into the realms of country music. “I think I’m not becoming country but nowadays I feel like you can dip your toes into anything especially as there are so many collaborations that happen. I do dance collabs and pop, where I don’t necessarily want to be a dance artist, but it is so freeing to collaborate. People aren’t listening to music today as they were ten years ago, you know you don’t just pick a genre and stick to it so if you like a song just do it and there is really no deeper thing with it.”
Beyond the release of “Make It Easy”, I asked both of them what their plans are looking like for plans and potential shows through the summer. “I think like Nina said, what is great about this day and age is that you can do whatever you want and try things out. I was just in Nashville a couple of weeks ago and I think a big focus for me is going to be in Nashville itself, I love everything about there, I’m prepared to put the hard work in and actually in a lot of ways I have a lot more kind of stock out there where I really feel part of the community there. With the solo stuff, it’s get this release out, have fun with it and just see where it goes really. It is exciting that you can do that these days, it used to be look for the record deal then the big album release where now you can put songs out that you just love and I’m a firm believer that if you love it, then hopefully other people will love it too. Honestly, I’m just going with the flow at the moment.” (B) “I’m doing zero gigs this year. I’m literally working on lots of other projects for other artists at the moment which has been really fun, and I know I need to get on with my own stuff but I’m really enjoying writing, so I need to get something out and work on that. I’m not rushing back on the road, I just think that I’ve done so much touring over the past few years that I want to write until it’s the right time and I’ve got something new and exciting to come out.” (N)
The final question that I asked (and noted I probably should have asked this earlier) was to clarify if the two of them had actually performed on stage together before? “No, we haven’t. We did a sort of video content day with the lyric video and actually sung live in front of people for the first time. Like Nina said, it is amazing how you can do all of these collaborations and write songs with people that are often across Zoom as well so sometimes you can forget how magical it is being in a room with somebody else who you respect and love when you sing together in that moment. That was our onstage moment for now, but I hope we do, for sure.” (B) The new single “Make It Easy” from Ben Earle and Nina Nesbitt will be released on April 28th which is available for pre-save/pre-add/pre-order HERE. Nina’s latest album “Älskar” is out now (available HERE) and you can follow her socially on INSTAGRAMTIKTOKTWITTER & FACEBOOK whilst you can follow along with Ben on INSTAGRAM and TWITTER and also The Shires socials: INSTAGRAMTWITTER or FACEBOOK.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks