Country Next: Essex County

Essex County; Photo by Taylor Kelly
Essex County; Photo by Taylor Kelly
Essex County; Photo by Taylor Kelly
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Essex County.

It’s not every day that a band from the United Kingdom takes the country music world by storm, but the brothers of Essex County, made up of Nate, Mark and Kieran Bass, are on a path to do just that. The talented British country trio, named after their hometown, have already put forth 20-years of hard work, having begun their musical journey in their adolescent years.

After landing a record deal as teenagers, and touring through Europe, Essex County, made their way across the pond and into the States, where they situated themselves within Nashville’s world-class songwriting community. Today, the brothers have many songs recorded and plenty of experience working alongside well-known producers and esteemed songwriters like Victoria Shaw, Jeffery Steele, Desmond Child, and Kent Blazy.

Essex County recently released its debut EP aptly titled, So Good. The five-song project, which showcases the group’s rich and dynamic family harmonies, not only covers themes of hope and love but also makes room for raising a glass.

The EP’s title track, “So Good,” produced by Ron Fair (Vanessa Carlton, The Black Eyed Peas), and co-written by Ron Beaver, Jon McLaughlin, and the late Andrew Dorff, has already racked up nearly 1 million streams via digital streaming services. But, Essex County hasn’t stopped there. They’ve since continued to connect with listeners through follow up singles, “For You,” “11:11,” and “Cheers to You,” written with Fair, Stefanie Ridel, and Steve Diamond.

Country Now recently caught up with Essex County to talk all about their musical history, brotherly bond, and debut EP.

Read on to learn more about Essex County.

As brothers, when did your career in music begin?

It started with our middle brother, Mark. When he was 11-years-old, he won guitarist of the year at Wembley Stadium in a competition through Guitarist magazine. Eric Clapton, [Queen’s] Brian May, and guitarist Steve Vai were the judges. Mark had basically picked up the guitar, and in about eight weeks, he was playing like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, so he was like a child prodigy. He won the show. Then Kieren and I ended up picking up other instruments. I [Nate] picked up the drums, and Kieren played bass. And, we all dived straight into all this complicated music. We ended up getting a [record] deal, and we went on tours and made a lot of music. So, really, we’ve been in the music industry for most of our lives. As the years progressed, we had day jobs, but we were always playing music on the weekends, and doing a lot of writing with our mum, Diane. She writes a lot of songs, and we’d write a lot of material with her, but it never got used until we got to Nashville in 2015. In Nashville, we played for John McBride at Blackbird Studio. He introduced us to Dann Huff, and our journey began from there. We ended up making an EP and getting integrated into the whole songwriting community. We’ve written songs with so many people, and everyone has been so embracing in this town! It’s nothing like what we’ve ever experienced anywhere before.

What drew you to the country music genre?

That was our parents! When we were young, we wanted to play music faster and that sort of thing, but our mum and dad would play a lot of records in the car and at home. They always loved country music. So country music was always drilled into us from childhood. We listened to everybody from Hal Ketchum to George Strait to Dolly Parton. Then, as we got older, it was Restless Heart and Diamond Rio. We always loved the lyrical stories in country music, and that’s what mum liked as a songwriter as well. She liked listening to how these songs have a lot of meaning in them. So that’s always been ingrained into [our minds].

You moved to Nashville from the U.K. in 2015. Was it a culture shock for any of you when you first arrived in Music City?

It was at first. It, sort of, became a holiday here at first to see the nightlife, and to see how bands play downtown because they don’t do that much where we live. So it was a culture shock. But, because it’s music, we all got used to it, and we loved it. It suits us down to the ground, so we thought that it would be good for us, and our music to be here with our harmony and everything because we had gotten so much encouragement from everybody. It all just made sense.

Can you tell me about the differences between being a country act in the U.K. versus here in the U.S.?

In the U.K., everything seems to be driven by talent shows. It really is, too, because, getting into the live performances, I’d say, in the past 10 years, with license fees and stuff, live music venues were struggling. So that kind of prohibited a lot of bands from playing live. The only option was to go on talent shows, and that’s what people do. But when we came here, everyone was playing instruments. We had struggled to find a drummer and a keyboard player back home in the U.K. But here in the U.S., it was like you could almost get involved with anyone you met, and you could play music together. That’s how we put our recent band together. Within a week, we created our band. That wouldn’t happen back home in the U.K. Recently, though, country music has taken off big-time in the U.K. They sell out from seat-to-seat. We got to watch Brad Paisley at The O2 Arena in October. It was jam-packed. It was crazy!

Congratulations on your new EP, and debut country single,  “So Good!” How does it feel to see that kind of success in a time when everybody is quarantining?

We didn’t think that was going to work. When the whole world stopped, we were absolutely gutted because of our 20-year journey to get here. We had done a lot of music videos, and we created so much content that we were ready to show the world. Then everything stopped, and we were like, ‘Wow, what do we do now?’ So, we did live streams every day on our pages. We did that for three months. We also played “So Good,” without thinking that song would go that far in quarantine. “So Good” was co-written by Andrew Dorff, who was a good friend of ours. He passed away a couple of years ago. So, it meant a lot to us to release this song in his memory. To us, this song tells his story, and a lot of other people’s stories too. It has also reflected on things that we’ve gone through too. So it was cool to see it go up in streaming numbers.

You dropped a track every Friday leading up to your EP release. One of those tracks is “For You.” Can you tell us about that song?

That’s actually a wedding song. It’s one of those songs that we heard, and we were like, ‘We’ve got to make a music video and get this recorded quickly.’ We were instantly attached to the song. We hope a lot of people engage in it and see a reflection of themselves in it because ‘For You’ is for everyone. Also, the video was really cool to shoot. We went into a wedding store, and we got some friends to act out the whole wedding scene and everything. We also got to wear these cool jackets that we have to give back, sadly! 

How about “Cheers to You.” What was the inspiration behind that song?

This is, kind of, a funny story. We were producing our songs with Ron Fair, who is a big record producer. He created Christina Aguilera, the Pussycat Dolls, and so on. He came to Nashville, and he has been making unique, country music with his spin on it. He left a voicemail one day, and he said, ‘I want to do a song. I have no idea what it’s about, but all I want it to be is doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo.’ And that was the voicemail! I [Nate] went, ‘What the hell is he talking about? How do we make a song that is like rap, almost? I can’t rap! I can’t do any of this!’ It’s not rap, obviously, but the lyrics are so fast, and heavily phrased. So, we swing into the studio, and Steve Diamond, was a co-writer on it, and Ron Fair and Stefanie Ridel were also co-writers on there. And we just sat there for an entire day, got our music together, and made up a lot of guitar riffs. Then we came up with the concept of figuring out the saying, ‘Here’s to you, cheers to you.’ It’s a universal language. Everyone raises their drinks and says ‘cheers’ to one another. So, we just wrote the song as a good, old fashioned party song.

Do you all have a personal favorite track on the EP?

We’ve played all these songs live with the band. I would say, ‘Cheers to You’ is fun. It’s one of those songs that when you’re playing it, you know its fun, but also it takes a lot of brainpower to keep the lyrics moving. From an enjoyment point of view, we can perform both ‘11:11’ and ‘For you’ while listening to them. So they have their category. So ‘Cheers to You’ is a massive party tune, ‘For You’ is a wedding song, ’11:11’ is a very positive message, and ‘So Good’ is this deep, heartache of reminiscing. So I think with all four songs, we, kind of, cover everything.

Is there a strategy behind how you all choose outside songs for each project?

I guess it starts with us three first. The song has to resonate with all three of us because otherwise, it would be hard for us to get into it, you know? If we like something, we’ll show it to our team, and then, hopefully, they’ll like it. So everyone has a role to play. And we all help to decide what is the best strategy for the song. It’s been great so far. It’s been really, really cool. It’s just how we imagined it would be to work with a great team of people that hear what you hear and make that come to life.

As brothers, do you ever disagree on which songs to release?

As brothers, our tastes are quite similar. If we hear a good melody and a good story, then there isn’t much of a, say, a punch-up (laughs). We always see the same picture and the same goal. We rarely come to a thing where we’re like, ‘Oh no! I don’t want to do that song at all.’ We’ve never had that conversation. So it works. And, I don’t think we would’ve gotten through this 20-year career if we fought every day, it just wouldn’t work.

What have you been doing to keep busy in quarantine, and what can fans expect from you next?

Well, we did get to play recently, at The Listening Room Café for Songwriters Under The Covers with Victoria Shaw. Victoria [Shaw] invited us to come on and be a guest with Keb Mo, and Jim Photoglo. It was a half-capacity crowd. To stay busy, we also, we all live together, and we spend our time going for a lot of walks. And, now that the gym has started back up again, we’re trying to go down there. We’ve gone to the downtown YMCA, we’ve already been twice so far, and we feel like beginners again because we’ll lift and come home and be like, ‘Wow, that hurts!’ We haven’t been able to rehearse in Sound Image for the past four weeks, but we hope that we can get something going this July.

Fans can keep up with Essex County on Instagram.

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