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Band: Shovels & Rope, Early James
Date: Saturday, Feb. 22 with doors at 8 p.m.
Venue: Soul Kitchen, 219 Dauphin St., soulkitchenmobile.com
Tickets: $22.50 to $99 available through the venue’s website, at Mellow Mushroom or by calling 866-777-8932
One of the hardest-working bands in the music industry is returning to Mobile. Last summer, Shovels & Rope lended support on the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Wheels of Soul Tour. Now, married couple Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst will give their local fans an unforgettable headlining set filled with a variety of musical styles built upon a folk foundation.
With their DIY attitude, Trent and Hearst have collected a dedicated following across the nation. In addition to a heavy touring schedule, Shovels & Rope released a new full-length, “By Blood,” as well as its first concert film, “Shovels & Rope: The Movie.”
With the limited amount of free time they had left, Trent and Hearst also curated the High Water Festival in Charleston, S.C. When Lagniappe’s Steve Centanni caught up with them, the duo had just returned from Europe for another run of U.S. dates.
Steve Centanni: 2020 has just started, and you two have already made a run through Europe. How would you compare your European audiences to your American audience?
Cary Ann Hearst: Well, they’re smaller, because we’re not nearly as popular over there. We’ve been building it slow. We started a family and kind of didn’t get over there very much. In ways, they’re different. They’re passionate music fans. They’re a lot like our fans in the States, but they have different accents.
Michael Trent: We can’t understand the heckling over there [laughs].
Centanni: You’ve been touring over there in support of your latest album, “By Blood,” which is just a further testament to Shovels & Rope’s open-minded attitude toward music. When it comes to selecting or composing songs for an album, what’s your strategy? Do you set out to try and mix it up, as far as the sound goes?
Trent: I think that we’re always subconsciously doing that. Since the beginning, I feel like we’ve never really tried to do just one thing. When we came around to getting ready for “By Blood,” we wanted to make a big sounding record and expand the sound and make it cinematic and fill it with a bunch of drama. We might’ve shied away from this type of thing in the past, just because we’re a two-man band. When you play the songs live, it’s a daunting task to recreate the sound.
Hearst: As far as the writing process that proceeds that recording process, a lot of people will write in the studio. Most of the time, we show up at the studio with a bank of structures that we have. It’s really when Michael is in the studio that the sound tends to get honed in. The raw material shows up to work on day one.
Centanni: The album’s opener, “I’m Coming Out,” is a stand-out with its synth indie pop sound. To me, it’s a wild card, especially when you continue with the rest of the album. How did this song come to life?
Hearst: We were pregnant, and I was thinking literally from the perspective of an unborn baby. It serves as an anthem for anybody who’s coming to terms with their changing selves, whether it’s the literal connotation of coming out of the closet, but not just with sexuality. It could be turning out for a candidate that you want to change the political spectrum. For me, it’s showing up to battle with my own body to deliver a kid or showing up as a newborn baby into a world where you have to fight for your life. No matter what world you’re born into, that individual becomes responsible for itself in the world.
Centanni: In addition to the new album, you also released “Shovels & Rope: The Movie.”
Trent: We’ve been planning for a while to do a concert film. We hooked up with a buddy of ours, and he shot a show that we did at The Orange Peel [in Asheville, N.C.]. We did two nights and shot both nights. We were planning on putting it out as a run-of-the-mill concert film.
He came to us with this idea of turning the whole thing on its head and making an actual movie out of it. It started making sense once we started seeing some of the rough cuts of what he had done with the live footage. It looked like little vignettes. It didn’t look like what you pop in when you buy a DVD of a live show. He was doing these interesting things, and he had this off-the-wall idea, and we went along with it.
Hearst: We hate watching ourselves in anything. It was a way to take the pressure out of making a documentary and poke fun at the format and poke fun at us, but we did put on a pretty f*cking great show at The Orange Peel. For me, I loathe to see myself on screen. All the jokes and the funny stuff allowed me to enjoy the performance part of it without feeling self-conscious. So, it’s self-serving.
Centanni: In addition to the album and the film, the High Water Festival is yet another project from you two. What’s it like selecting the bands for this event?
Trent: We have a running list, and we’re always meeting new bands. It’s always fun to discover new music and see what people are up to. It’s fun. You go see who’s doing what. The scheduling is tricky, because you have to catch somebody out on the road or coming through or near Charleston. Charleston is not a major market. A lot of people haven’t really heard of it. I think that we’ve had a pretty bomb lineup the past few years. This year, we’re really excited about it.
Centanni: With so much going on, when will you two get back in the studio?
Hearst: Well, the good thing is that we’re not working real hard right now. We’ll have some time at the end of the tour and a little time after High Water. We’re not home for long periods of time. Because the studio is in the backyard, whenever we are home, we resume business hours. Michael will get in there and tinker around with new recordings. Then, we’ll leave them and come back with fresh ears. It’s easy for me to say, because I’m not doing the recording part.
It seems like to come and go from a project with fresh ears and not a hard deadline, we can put out a record, because we’ll have some space for ourselves. I’m not really sure when we’ll hole up in there again. I’ll look forward to it though. God knows that we love to travel, but it would be nice to get into a quiet creative space and not a moving one.
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