“Check your ego at the dressing room.” The Charleston folk/rock/Americana duo talks their new album, the hometown music festival they are curating, their concert film, and their upcoming children’s book—plus their own children, and what’s entailed with taking ‘em on the road with Mom and Dad. Currently on tour “forever,” you can check tour dates here.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
It’s a busy time to be a member of Shovels & Rope.
The wife/husband duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have just premiered their live concert movie, “Shovels & Rope: The Movie.” They’re also just weeks away from hosting their third annual High Water Festival in nearby North Charleston, SC – a music fest they helped create, curate and play in. Meanwhile, their new LP, By Blood, comes out this month. Oh, and the parents of two toddlers are also working on a children’s book based on the song “C’mon, Utah!” off their new record.
So, yeah, it’s a busy time to be a member of Shovels & Rope.
Trent and Hearst are about to hit the road on a series of tour that will have them crossing the country for the better part of the spring and summer. The two took time recently to talk about all of those projects and the realty of being rock star parents.
Blurt: There’s a lot to talk about here, but let’s start off with the movie. How did this come about?
Trent: We were going to put out a live thing; we filmed two nights at The Orange Peel in Ashville (NC), and we were just going to put it out as a live concert, and the guy who filmed it, he’s a super creative guy. And we were talking about how those films can be boring even if they sound really great. It’s not the same as going to a concert, being immersed in it with other people around you; a lot of times these things can come off as a little flat. So, he decided to make it into a movie and weave some narratives in between the song, get actors and come up with a story. So, that’s what we did.
Blurt: And it just premiered in front of an audience, right?
Hearts: It did. The Charleston Film Festival took place a few weeks ago and our little art house theater here showed it one night. So, some 400-odd people saw it on a big screen. We’ll be distributing it through our website.
Blurt: That must be pretty odd. I know you play in front of hundreds of people every night, but to be sitting in the audience and looking at yourselves up on a theater screen…
Hearst: We skipped it. That’s the kind of thing we can’t handle.
Trent: We thought it might be a little much. And we were working on it up until the night before. Our manager did all the sound design and Curtis Millard, the director, they were over at our studio until 6 in the morning of the day we had to bring the file over to the theater. I think it went well. This is our hometown and we have a lot of friends and family here, so it was definitely an easy place to show it.
Hearst: The harsh judgment is yet to come.
Blurt: You also have the third Highwater festival coming up. You two play plenty of festivals. How did that idea to host you own festival come about? It seems like a lot of work.
Hearst: It’s funny you said that. When they first came to us, we said, “Um, that sounds like a lot of work.” The cool thing is that we partner with our management and the production company that brought you Bonnaroo and some shows. Working with them and having our manager coordinate the heavy lifting, Michael and I, our job is to help curate the talent, pick out the bands we like and the overall vibe and culture of the festival. We wanted to create a festival that would bring national touring acts to Charleston, which is considered more of a secondary or tertiary market. We thought we could serve the area by bringing in national acts, and you can bring your kids and have a good time.
Trent: And there’s not all of these bands on different stages playing at the same time competing with each other.
Blurt: I’m assuming it’s got to be pretty fun sitting down and thinking about who you want to invite to play.
Trent: It is! There are a lot of festivals that I feel have very similar line-ups and they all work together and ours is just one festival that has its own line-up. It’s very cool to be allowed to do that. We have this running list of bands that we love, or that we know, or have run in to that we want to get down here. That list is about a mile long and keeps growing.
Blurt: On the new record, I wanted to ask about the title track, “By Blood.” Can you talk a little but about the meaning behind that song?
Trent: That was a song about our daughter and it’s from my perspective. As a parent, it gets complicated, you try and bond with your family and your newborn, and as a dad, it’s just not time for you yet. They need mom and they want mom, but you try and share the weight and everybody’s tired.
Hearst: I’m listening to you and thinking of how sweet it is. There’s a certain amount of rejection I think daddies experience when they’re trying to establish an emotional rapport with their new children.
Trent: It’s interesting, we started this thing a few years ago and we weren’t too sure how far it would go or where it would go and now it’s what we do as a family all together. We live half our life on the road and it’s very, for us, a family thing.
Blurt: Also, off the new record, the song “C’mon Utah!” is being turned into a children’s book, right?
Trent: It is. That’s actually a song that we made this surrealistic story about a magic horse that was reuniting families that have been split up by this wall. It was written way before anything got crazy in the news. This horse is a simple metaphor for hope when everyone feels lost and doesn’t know what to do. This horse appears and knows the way. I think this was actually the first song that was written for this record. After the fact, we had one of our friends – he’s a painter and good friend from way back. He used to work at a restaurant with Cary Ann. We got him on board to make a little graphic novel out of it.
Blurt: When is that coming out?
Hearst: that’s still very much a work in progress. We’re working on the illustrations now. People are going to want to know what the song is about, and a lot of families listen to our music together so we thought maybe an illustrated copy of the lyrics would be a great way to start a conversation with their kids. I figure by summer or fall, when we do our big headlining run later in the year, it should be knocking around by then.
Blurt: Is it tough nowadays not to let politics and what’s going on in the news dominate the songs you write?
Hearst: I would say, it doesn’t necessarily dominate, but it is impossible to ignore it. As parents and as creatives I feel there is a bit of a moral role not to ignore it. We never censor ourselves or what’s in our heart and we always try and let that come across in our songwriting. We don’t want to stand in the way of our inner voice. When we perform our concerts, we have a big mix of people and we’re not preachy. Whether you agree with our politics or not, you’re probably at the show to relax. But with everything that’s going on in the world, it’s impossible to ignore it. In the song “Hammer” and the song “Utah,” they can’t help but come through.
Trent: We like to put these things out and with all of the sensitivities there, we don’t want to pander to anybody, but it’s like being with your family – not everybody agrees on everything and you all still love each other and try to inhabit this space together.
Blurt: You recorded this in a home studio, right?
Trent: We did. We’ve always recorded everything at home. I think with Little Seeds, we had just had our daughter and it was a mess. It was “how can we possibly do this?” She didn’t like to sleep and when she did sleep, we were “how can we possibly go and record drums and guitar. We didn’t think this through.” We learned a lot and ended up building something in our back yard, so that now we have the work zone and our house, and we can leave the toys and a lot of that craziness of homelife over there and get some things done.
Blurt: With two kids now, have you figured out that exact right blend yet of working and family time?
Hearst: Oh yeah. I think we used to look down on that a little bit when we were young punks, on office hours. Now I completely get it.
Trent: I do think, and maybe it’s an age thing also, there’s not really that “oh, a song just came to me at this moment and I have to stop everything to work on it.” I do think there’s a lot to be said for just showing up to the page. If you put in those hours, you’re going to come up with something.
Blurt: Have you figured out how to tour yet with two kids?
Hearst: We’ve never had two out on the road yet, but basically, we’re on a bus now and everybody on the bus loves the kids and you have a great nanny. Michael and I got our rock and roll out years ago before becoming parents on tour. But even then, it takes some adjusting. When the show is over, it doesn’t matter if it was the best show ever and everyone wants to hang out until 3 a.m. high fiving you, you’re next day is going to start out at 7 am and your child is not going to give a shit how great your show was and who all was there to say you were great. That child wants to play with you, wants breakfast and to talk about cartoons with you. Go ahead and check your ego at the dressing room.