‘My Universe’ is the second album on it’s way from The Shires, the biggest country act out of the UK. Having seen them grow a lot over the past couple of years we got the chance to have a phone interview with Ben recently to find out a little bit about the new album, what was in store for the tour and who he would want with him if he was stranded on a desert island! Find out what he had to say below:
Amy: Good morning! So you have the new album available now for pre-sale and you played a gig last week in London as a preview show for the album, which was great by the way, tell us a little bit about the album and do you feel a sense of pressure with this having come off the back of ‘Brave’, a gold certified album!?
Ben: Yeh, well obviously ‘My Universe’… Yeh the pressure is a weird one because it is always internal. With ‘Brave’ we had no idea what to expect and, for me, even selling 30,000 records or 40,000 was just unbelievable! Then the amount… I think we are at 150,000 now. I still can’t believe it if I’m honest! The pressure definitely changes, the only thing I feel like now is it doesn’t feel like it’s all or nothing! The difference was with ‘Brave’, you know if it didn’t sell I literally would have been back in the phone shop two months later! So it doesn’t feel as bad at that but in reality it is in some ways and I think that the main thing is, I’ve been thinking about it the past couple of days, Chrissie as well. We couldn’t be more proud of the album. We couldn’t have done anything more. We pulled everything into the songwriting process, the recording process and the live shows as well… But at the end of the day it’s not a science. You can do everything right and people might just not like it! [laughs] And that’s fine because we really do feel like we couldn’t have done anymore! If only 5 people buy the album, you know, we did it right. You can put that pressure on yourself but at the end of the day… What will be, will be! As long as you have done your best, what more can you do I guess?
Amy: How about the title of the album? How did you come to settling on that?
Ben: Well that song, it’s interesting! That song came right at the last minute and it was similar in a way to ‘Friday Night’ and ‘State Lines’. We were out in Nashville writing 3 weeks solid and also I had been writing when Brave was being released and recorded, I was still writing. So a year and a half worth of songs there and then our manager Steve said there is this guy I want you to write with called Martin Brammer when you get back from Nashville and I pulled my only diva fit o the whole year! I just went ‘Steve! I’m not a machine I can’t just keep writing and writing and writing! I’ve written 30-40 songs and I’m not writing anymore!! I’m not doing it!!’. He just said ‘Ben, I really thing you should do it, you never know, just do it.’ So I had this session with Martin and 2 days I had with him and the first day I wrote a song that was ok and we finished that off the second day. Then we had about 4 hours left and I played this little riff on the piano originally and then we wrote this song ‘My Universe’ in literally about 2 and a half – 3 hours. I did it on a little dicta-phone, bit of guitar… took it back and I didn’t even think much of it. I got home and thought ‘yeh, that’s alright’. Played it to Steve, played it to Chrissie and they were like ‘that’s pretty good’. Then we sang it the next day in Chrissie’s kitchen and it just became this song. It was just like ‘wow!’ this is absolutely massive. It became the album title and for us it just means whatever your universe is as a person. That can be something as small as your family or something as big as even the Country music scene in the UK. It’s about what your universe is to you. It is interesting how, that song, if i had carried on with my diva fit that song probably never would have happened and we’d have a different title!
Amy: That’s interesting! It’s strange the way things work out and it just shows how subjective music can be. It all depends on your surroundings, your mood. It can change the whole feel of a song!
Ben: Exactly, we’ve been going through that with the album right now. I mean the album is done. But the last few weeks have just been mixes and mixes like you say I’ll listen one day in the car and I’ll be like ‘this is the best album, I’m so proud!’ Then the next day maybe I’m hung over, or just tired, or River [Ben’s baby son] has kept me up all night and I just go; I hate this! I hate everything I’ve ever done! You know, it’s so subjective, you’re completely right.
Amy: So did you stick with the same producers for this album? Did you work with the same team or did you mix that up a bit?
Ben: Yeh, we kept the same producers. For loads of reasons… I mean we were so happy with ‘Brave’ but one big thing for us is that we wanted to move the sound on bit in the album and make a bit more pop orientated. So we listened to people like Sam Hunt and Carrie Underwood and what they were doing with sound now, a bit more production and the way Nashville was going in general. Our producers, the Swedish guys, they get that because that’s the world they come from; they come from this pop world. So it just made sense and also, what’s so great for us, is that everyone with along the way we have become really good friends with so it was kind of an excuse to hang out with friends for a month! It’s the same band, the bass player was different, apart from that is the same band. Same studio.. It was weird because we recorded at Sound Stage in Nashville and it literally felt like I was walking through a memory. It was the weirdest thing! I think what was great this time was, me personally and I think Chrissie felt the same, is that we got to see it for what it was.The first time we went we were under pressure, it was new, being in Nashville was crazy and we were so wrapped up in the moment. This time we got there and it was amazing to be in Nashville and it was just an incredible studio with the best musicians in the world and for us the best producers we could have and for us we just wanted to sing the songs and recorded the songs the best we could so it was a lot easier this time and I think definitely a better experience for us.
Amy: I see how that could make it a lot easier being more relaxed into it! I guess being year since ‘Brave’ its enough time, when you are working together constantly, to really settle in to it all. I really felt like that showed at your preview gig too. You both looked more relaxed and comfortable on stage that I think I have ever seen before!
Ben: Oh, thank you! It’s definitely easier when you look out into the crowds and you know pretty much everyone! We have done so many shows now and so many big shows as well with people like the Corrs and Country2Country. That that means a lot though because that’s one thing we work on. To just give the crowd the best show they can have and that part of that is being relaxed, like you say.
Amy: It’s hard because realistically being onstage is not a natural setting no matter how comfortable you feel.
Ben: No, it’s the most unnatural thing in the world to do. To stand up on a stage in front of 1 person or thousands of people it’s very unnatural.
Amy: You went out to Nashville to record the album. You wrote with quite a few different people, Kip Moore being one. What other names had an input on this album?
Ben: A guy called Jeff Cohen who was a huge writer. His list of hits is unbelievable. He is from New York, he is a great guy. With Jeff you are either writing a song or you are eating.. you are always eating with Jeff! [laughs] Which is great fun! Nina Nesbit as well who is a really good friend now. I mean she is very poppy with her sort of stuff as an artist but she has got a real Nashville sensibility about the way she writes, the way she focuses on the lyrics. She has 3 co-writes on the album which as amazing. Then we wrote with a guy called Brian White who comes from a Christian background and we wrote a song with him called ‘Save Me’ and there is something really magical about meeting someone like him who has such strong faith and it comes through in the song and you get something from someone like that which you just can’t get from anyone else. It is part of that journey, meeting new people. He, for example, blessed the food before we ate it at lunch and I think all those things just contribute to this and help to learn new ways of doing things with new people. That comes across in the album I think. Definitely in ‘Save Me’.
Amy: So off the back of the album, which is coming out October 7th. You are then back out on your tour until the end of the year. What do you have planned for the tour, a big production, more stripped back?
Ben: Pyrotechnics, fireworks!… Ha no, I’m just kidding! I think we just want to focus on the music still. It would be very easy to get caught up in ‘lets have these lights, this huge backdrop’… We might do some of that but the going about country is that it is all about the music. When we saw Kip Moore play at KoKo for example he had none of that; it was just him and his band. I think you need to just remember that. The fans, all they want to hear is the songs and to feel great. They aren’t there to watch a light show. Yeh, if you are headlining Glastonbury or headlining arena’s then fair enough but we just want to keep it real and focus on the music. We might have an extra band member just to build the sound a bit like we did at the album launch but we are going to just keep it about the songs.
Amy: Sounds great! I see how it can be easy to get carried away with certain aspects of it otherwise. So you toured with the Corrs earlier this year and you have also played a crazy amount of festivals over this summer. What has been the highlight for you guys in terms of the opportunities you have had over the past year?
Ben: I mean playing the O2 with the Corrs… It is the second biggest venue in the country I think the only one bigger than that is Wembley Stadium. Every time we get up on stage… It is just so fresh for us, the memory of playing to 20 people! Even when we toured with the Corrs in Germany in May. The crowd didn’t know who we were and a lot of them just sat and listened politely and clapped. That can be in some respects quite disheartening with 7000 people just listening politely when you want to see them up and dancing but even in that instance you are up there thinking ‘we are so lucky and so privileged to be in the position where people are listening to our music’! I feel like that all the time. With the album as well, you say 150,000 it is a very quantifiable number but actually what makes me most happy is that people are just listening to our songs. For years I was writing songs and no one was listening to them and I loved them and I thought they were great but just to have that opportunity every day… It is the best thing! The Corrs was probably… I mean… We have done so much! The Opry as well was amazing. We have just been so lucky! Graham Norton as well.. To be on the couch at the same time as Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway. I could be on the phone for an hour telling you all these moments!
Amy: It’s amazing. Things just seemed to blow up at such a rate with you guys in such a short period of time. Now for my last question! This one is just a bit of fun…! You are stranded on a desert island. If you could pick one country artists to be with you who would it be and why!?
Ben: You’d probably want someone with the loudest voice wouldn’t you so someone could hear you! [Laughs] I love Eric Paslay I just love his voice and I love the songs he writes. ‘If She Don’t Love You’…. If i was starving on a desert island and dying of thirst that song would keep me going for a few more days I think!! I think that’s a beautiful song and I think he is amazing so yeh probably Eric Paslay!
Amy: Nice! Well thank you for your time!