photo by: Curtis Millard
Inside The By Blood World of Duo, Shovels & Rope
If you look at the cover art to Shovels & Rope new record By Blood, you immediately notice some strong words jumping off the canvas. MISS YOU, ALWAYS THERE, REAR VIEW MIRROR, SEPARATE for example. It’s the lyrics to the soothing, yet profound title track of the record surrounding the red imprint of “By Blood” which very well could be written in… blood.
Welcome to 2019 Shovels & Rope. It’s a time in the bands almost 11-year history where they find themselves just concluding an extensive summer tour that appropriately wrapped up amongst their friends last night in their hometown of Charleston, SC.
Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, the shovel and the rope, the rope and the shovel, respectively, have taken the reigns on their rock/folk-duo approach, navigating the fields from Mississippi to Utah with their hammers (and children) in-tow. There’s a solid trust between Trent and Hearst creating an unspoken confidence that when one sings “I won’t fail you when I walk out on the wire” the other knows it’s true.
Towards the end of their Wheels of Soul tour with Tedeschi Trucks, and on the heels of announcing their new film Shovels & Rope: The Movie and headlining fall tour, I had the chance to sit and speak with Trent and Hearst about everything that allows the couple to practice what they preach when they sing together “spread my wings and fly ‘em around” on the records opening track “I’m Comin’ Out.” From reflecting upon the organic nature in which the group started, to paying respect to the place where it all began (Charleston, SC) to now laughing about cat makeup, Shovels & Rope are sharing something from their “Good Old(and new) Days” where there is no space, there is no time, but we are here, and you are mine.
It’s an exciting time for Shovels & Rope, By Blood came out this spring, you’ve had the Wheels of Soul tour this summer, a new film and just announced a fall headlining tour, how are you?
Michael Trent: We are good, we’re a little tired. We travel with kids and have a new baby out on the bus with us so we’re getting the hang of it.
Cary Ann Heart: I just walked off the bus wiping cat makeup off my face. Our daughter painted my face to look like a cat. But’s awesome, we are having a great time. It’s like this weird Rock n’ Roll Leave it to Beaver thing.
MT: We’re really excited about this record and playing the new songs. We haven’t done a headlining tour yet on this record, so we can’t wait for the fall run of shows. We did a three-week tour with Frank Turner and then the Wheels of Soul – which was a longer tour being out six weeks. Our workload was light on this though, we’d be on at 7pm, play for 45 minutes and then be in our pajamas.
When you think about your respective background, you come from prolific musical cities with Denver and Nashville, but Shovels & Rope has made their home Charleston, South Carolina – which is a magnificent place. How has Charleston continued to inspire you?
CAH: Its funny, different reasons brought us to Charleston – I went to college there and Michael came many years later due to the proximity of many other markets. It was three and four drives as opposed to Denver where the next city is a twelve-hour drive. As we’ve toured, we’ve had the opportunity and thought about moving somewhere else. But coming home to Charleston – it’s such a beautiful place. The people are the greatest – from neighbors to strangers to our particular community. It’s always been about the people and the flavor of the city that keeps us coming back. We live in a more rural spot, so we get a taste of the country life, but then in 30 minutes can be in one of the biggest coastal tourist destinations.
MT: Yeah, we just love our friends in Charleston so much.
By Blood is a very powerful and moving collection of art. Your perspectives are so unique because you can lock into one perspective or you can interpret the song from a male or female point of view – especially when you are both singing together. “The Wire” or the title track is a good example.
MT: That’s interesting. We write a lot of character-based songs where we make decisions based around how we think this person would react. Like “Mississippi Nothin’” is a total character song. I don’t think its an intentional thing when we are both singing to come at it from two different places, but you can certainly read into what the multiple perspectives might be.
CAH: It happens organically. We often start writing separately and then come together. We have song on the record called “Hammer” – it’s an observation about the current climate of the world. The character in the song is railing against a lot of the issues. He finds himself working on the wall even though he doesn’t want to be working on the wall. It’s an interesting topic here because in this song, this guy has two different perspectives. In one part he is saying, “Nobody does anything, but everybody cares.” And then in the other part he says, “Boss, how high do you want me to build this wall?” Answering to the man under this thought of how hard do I have to work to make life work for myself?
One simple lyric in particular really jumped out from the ong “Carry Me Home” – “the thunder does the talking but the lightning does the work.” It speaks to what you were saying a bit, it’s obvious, but at the same time hits you between the eyes right when you need it.
CAH: “Carry He Home” is one of the few places on this record where we examined what touring life has done to us and how it has served us. Michael always says, when one of us is having the hardest show of our lives, the other one is having a really great show. It’s not like one person is in a bubble having the time of their life while the other person’s world is burning down, it’s more of an awareness that your partner is wavering and not having a great time. You then buckle down and do your best to hold the other person up through whatever is happening and get through it.
MT: It’s our inter-dependence. We lean on each other a lot, we have to. There’s two of us on stage and there’s two of us at the end of the day. Now that we have kids, there is a lot of divide and conquer.
How many instruments do you play amongst the two of you?
MT: In this band we have the piano, mandolin, guitar, drums, bass, a few keyboards and an occasional harmonica. There are a lot of different arrangements between the two of us. Our focus has never been to be really good at given instruments, it’s more of how we can construct nice scenery around the song.
photo by: Todd Cooper
Shovels & Rope started in the most natural way possible and now you’ve turned the corner on 10 years. When you think about that, how does all you’ve accomplished in that time make you feel?
MT: It’s hard to have a reflective moment because things are always moving. We are beyond grateful because we never expected any success. We just did what made sense and tried to stay out of the red. I had just come from a bad record experience and Carrie was spinning her wheels. Coming together was easy almost to the point where we felt like we were getting away with something. Good things happen when you don’t try too hard. I’m so excited to have my dream job and get to travel around with my family. We get to make stuff that we love.
Coming full circle, what does this moment, this By Blood chapter for Shovels & Rope mean to you?
CAH: There’s no linear trajectory, it’s trying to figure out where we are within the circle. We are secure in ourselves and secure in our vision. We are living a reasonable and what I hope is a righteous existence – putting out as much good as possible. Everybody is one bad day away from falling apart. You don’t want to take anything for granted. With our life on the road, there’s a lot of up and down and you don’t always know where things are going. That’s not necessarily bad, change can be a good thing. Wherever we are, that’s how we are right now.
MT: Musically, it’s exciting. We are still taking chances and fans are allowing us to do that. By Blood has been well-received and at the same time we realize people that like a previous version of us may not like the current version of us, but you have to follow your own thing because that’s what gets people to like you in the first place.