“We’re a middle-aged band in the middle of their career and put out a pretty good record that’s not just putting along,” says Cary Ann Hearst, one-half of Charleston-based husband-wife Americana duo Shovels & Rope. Last month the band released Manticore, their latest LP, which focuses on the intimacy of the relationship between Hearst and partner (in almost every sense of the word) Michael Trent, as a band, a married couple, and parents. Rolling Stone Country says of the album, “The Americana power couple of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst imagine divorce and dissect fame on their most personal record yet.”
Like so many artists who have released albums recently, Shovels & Rope tell me that they took a little more time with Manticore, but they also tell me that the circumstances of the pandemic helped to take the edge off of the process in a lot of ways. “We had more time definitely this time around. We were at home and the studio’s at our house, so there was no pressure. I don’t feel like we ever really feel pressure when working on a record, but for this one there was so much going on in the world, that the record definitely didn’t feel like the most important thing…” says Michael, before Cary adds, “To keep from going crazy, we made the record, but it’s like, none of this actually matters, because we’re living in such crazy times…
2022 also marks the 10th anniversary of O’ Be Joyful, the first official (as far as billing is concerned) Shovels & Rope record. During a recent phone chat with the couple, I ask about the biggest differences between Shovels & Rope then and Shovels & Rope now, and Michael tells me, “Everything was an experiment back then. It wasn’t serious, it was just something to do as we got our other projects together, but then this took off…” But he goes on to tell me that the differences can also be heard in the sound of the band: “We can’t play our instruments now a little less badly than we could not play them back then [laughing].” He also tells me that the practical matters of their day-to-day life find their way into the group’s dynamic: “We’ve been married for 13 years now and have two kids.”
Late last year Shovels & Rope embarked on the Bare Bones Tour, a stripped down, acoustic tour of venues far more intimate than the band had played in recent years. They tell me that the setting and setup also inspired the duo to explore certain portions of their back catalogue that they hadn’t in a while. “We definitely like to dig some things out from time to time. We just did the Bare Bones Tour, which was just a guitar and piano, and we pulled out a lot of songs we hadn’t played in a while,” says Michael, while Cary adds, “’Ohio’ was a big one. We never really had it down, but it was very requested, so we had the chance to turn it into a piano jam.”
At the time of our chat last week, Shovels & Rope had just kicked off the current electric, not-stripped-down, tour behind Manticore, although Cary tells me that it didn’t get off to the best start: “We had the most insane first day of tour. All the things that could go wrong to keep us from getting our bus and getting onstage, did.” However, they tell me that the show itself, in Charlotte, went off without a hitch. The tour will find the band back in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection on Tuesday, April 12th, at the newly opened Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia.
Cary and Michael tell me that although they’re really enjoying their new show, it’s certainly an adjustment from their acoustic run. “We’re not used to being loud anymore,” says Cary, while Michael adds, “It was our first rock show in a while.” However, as different as it may be, Cary tells me that they are incorporating a lot of things that they learned, or refreshed themselves on, on their last jaunt: “It’s a Rock N’ Roll show, but it’s dynamic because we learned a lot about what we can do with a piano and guitar recently, on the Bare Bones Tour. It’s lively.” They also tell me that fans should expect to hear a lot from Manticore, and Cary even tells me that the new album provides her favorite portion of the evening: “I really like ‘Domino.’ I really like the record, but I get excited about that every night, and not just because it means the show’s over, but because I really like that song.”
Shovels & Rope’s current headlining tour goes through mid-April, before a handful of festival dates and dates supporting The Avett Brothers and Turnpike Troubadours (respectively) and heading to Europe for a number of shows throughout June. And while Cary tells me that touring is currently on the forefront of the band’s mind, she reveals that they do have additional plans for the Fall: “It’s just gonna be touring-heavy. Whenever we put out a record, then we’re touring the record while things about new songs, and then, once we get back in the Fall, we’ll get a babysitter and sit down with a piece of paper and be like, ‘Is this a good song? Is that a good song?’”
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