Editors' Notes “The last three albums that we'd done came out quite quickly,” says Crissie Rhodes, one half of the UK-based country-pop singing and songwriting duo The Shires. “This time, we just went back to our roots and said, ‘We’ll just write what we feel and how we want this album to sound.’” Her bandmate Ben Earle adds that the sentimental mood of many of the dozen tracks on their fourth LP Good Years was the unforeseen benefit of a more relaxed creative process: “Having that time at home with our families and loved ones and our friends, I think we just lived a bit more, had a bit more life experience.’” Rhodes and Earle deliver a couple of the new songs solo, but they’ve shaped most of the album—and their identity—around their vocal interplay, inspired by Little Big Town’s smouldering coed harmonies and Lady Antebellum’s dramatic duet-style ballads. “It seems like this is going to be the one where we get a chance to go for it in the US,” Earle says. Here he and Rhodes talk through each song on the album they hope is their breakthrough in the country their biggest influences call home.

Lightning Strikes
Crissie Rhodes: “We write most of the songs that are on our albums, but this was sent to us. We heard this song and straight away just thought we would love to perform this one. We can just imagine it coming to life when we were up on stage. Because we are male-female vocals, it is almost like a conversation between two people, really, because we have his version and her version. So that came out on that particular song.”
Ben Earle: “When I first played it, I didn't hear the word ‘will’. It says, ‘Standing outside, raining in the summer, will you remind me why we're not lovers?’ So the first time I heard it, I thought the song was ‘Seeing you reminds me why we are not lovers.’ After about five listens, Crissie said to me, ‘You know, it's "will you remind me".’ That one word changed the whole song for me. Enough time has passed to look back and go, ‘Why did we ever break up? We could or maybe should still be together.’ And I think we're of an age now, we've had a lot of life experience and we can relate to that. And I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling of the one that got away.”

On the Day I Die
BE: “That was one of the hooks I came up with in the shower, and I was like, ‘Oh god, I've got to find my phone as quick as possible to get that idea down.’ It's funny, because a lot of people who aren't used to listening to country, they only hear the first line of that song and they just assume it's going to be a sad song, and the intensity of being about quite a big subject—mortality. But it's an uplifting song, because it's saying, ‘I got to love you.’ That's the crux of it: My life has been worth it and been absolutely amazing because I got to love you. And I think that's a really strong, positive, uplifting message set against that quite big theme of the death.”
CR: “The demo was initially the two of us, so it was written with me singing the first verse and then Ben singing the next verse. Usually we always share songs, but on this one occasion, it didn't make as much sense when it sounded like a conversation. So it needed to be just one of us singing it instead.”

Good Years
CR: “We wrote this one with our good friend Canaan Smith, who supported us on our UK tour a couple years ago. He actually brought the piano idea to us when we were at his house and we were playing it on his grandma's old piano. It took us back to the late ’90s, early naughties, it had that sound to it. So when we produced the song, we had that in mind. But yeah, it was Canaan that pushed the idea of being good years and then having the Goodyear tires. So all the references happened to be about cars and being up on good years, as in the kind of tires but also that Nashville twist.”

No Secrets
BE: “You look at those couples that have been together for 40, 50, however many years. And people say, ‘What's the secret?’ And they say, ‘Well, it's hard work sometimes, but as long as you're honest with each other all the time, then there's nothing you can't get through.’ We live in this era now where there's a lot of gloss and a lot of putting on a brave face often and making your relationships out to be always great. The truth is that life is sometimes not easy, but in those moments when you're pushing through, that's when you find out who you really are as a person.”

About Last Night
CR: “We just loved this song and we could just hear this conversation between two people, that awkwardness of waking up in the morning thinking, ‘What happened?’ And you've got to talk about it and work out where you go from there kind of thing.”

New Year
BE: “‘New Year’ was written in my garden, and it's with a very young writer who I stumbled across at a college writing round, Kaity Rae. We wrote that on January 2, last year. I said, ‘How was your New Year’s?’ And she said, ‘I didn't have anyone to kiss.’ I've been with my wife for 10 years, but I can still very much remember those times when you have that one person you want to be with and you're not with them. My favourite part is the countdown; normally you almost see the confetti about to be released. But then there’s that melancholy. You picture wanting to be somewhere else or with someone else.”

Only Always
BE: “We're massive fans of pop music. I love that whole finger-snap thing. It's one of my favourite sounds, it kind of plays off of the very traditional country instruments. We had a guy called Ilya Toshinsky who's just an incredible mandolin and bouzouki player, and he just brings so much life to it. But the backdrop is a more poppy beat, and I love the way the vocals move with that descending piano and guitar thing. It's not very stationary like a lot of country melodies can be.”

Independence Day
CR: “It's a metaphor for American Independence Day. But actually, it's a conversation with a close friend of yours or a family member or someone that's going through a breakup. It's maybe the end of that relationship, but it's the start of finding yourself. I feel like it's a really uplifting song to make somebody see the other side of being out of a relationship and knowing that they can do it on their own for a little bit.”

Thank You Whiskey
CR: “Because we're four albums in now, we're allowed to sing some about whisky. I remember when Ben first discovered country music and heard whisky in the songs, he was a bit taken aback. But here we are with our own whisky song, which is quite funny. And I think the UK fans are going to absolutely love it, because we don't have much pop music that has any whisky references in.”
BE: “One of my favourite lyrics is from that song. In the bridge section there's the bit that says, ‘Thank you, whisky, for making losers winners.’ And it's a nod to [the bars] Winners and Losers in midtown in Nashville. Because when we first went to Nashville, people always were like, ‘You play Losers first and then you have some success and you play Winners.’ That was written with a guy called Kipp Williams and Peter Hammerton from Nashville. He had just got off the plane that day, and he had two little bottles of whisky with him. I think we were quite inspired by those little Jim Beams.”

People Like Us
BE: “I wrote that with Bob DiPiero and a guy called Jeff Garrison. I'm mixed race and half Jamaican. And there's definitely some reggae in my bones, deep down. I love Bob Marley. I woke up one morning and just had that idea. It’s very beachy, the way the guitar moves. But I love the fact that then you've got the traditional banjo sound with that. And I love that message of ‘I don't care what other people think about us. I'm just happy just the way we are together.’ Our ballads are more heartfelt generally and a bit more classic, whereas this one, I think it's taken a few people by surprise that don't expect us to come with a record like that.”

Better Place
CR: “We wrote that one up in Maine with Kara DioGuardi and our good friend Jeff Cohen. We wrote in her lake house. It was the most beautiful setting. We all sat down and talked about our relationships and what our other halves meant to us at that time. And ‘Better Place’ just came out of that.”

Crazy Days
BE: “The last song on the record, ‘Crazy Days’, is one of the first songs that came about for this album. I wrote that in my shed in my garden, just me at a piano. That's all about being away from home a lot. I've got quite a young family now—I've got a four-year-old and nearly a two-year-old. And it was like a conversation to my wife, just saying, ‘I know it's hard. We're away a lot. But these are the crazy days when you will look back and we'll think of these days and smile and laugh about them.’ That song set the tone for the rest of the record.”

SONG
Lightning Strikes
1
2:54
 
On the Day I Die
2
3:30
 
Good Years
3
2:49
 
No Secrets
4
3:20
 
About Last Night
5
3:36
 
New Year
6
3:47
 
Only Always
7
3:21
 
Independence Day
8
3:13
 
Thank You Whiskey
9
3:03
 
People Like Us
10
3:24
 
Better Place
11
3:11
 
Crazy Days
12
4:21