Storytelling with Shovels & Rope

Shovels & Rope is the Charleston, S.C.-based indie-folk duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, partners in music and marriage. Debuting at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Aug. 30, the duo has been touring heavily since the release of Little Seeds in 2016 and keeping busy raising their daughter, nearly 3 years old. The band’s new covers album, Busted Jukebox, Vol. 2, which Trent produced, ranges from Willie Nelson to The Clash. Andrea Valluzzo spoke with them about their upcoming show.

Andrea Valluzzo: How did you two meet and when?

Michael Trent: We met through music around 2003-2004. We were in separate bands, opening for another band who was popular in Charleston at the time. We just became friends, we were in the same music community together.

AV: Is it hard to be a couple in the music business?

Cary Ann Hearst: We are human beings so — to quote from the film The Trolls — ‘It’s not all cupcakes and rainbows’ but our whole family is together all the time so it’s pretty amazing.

AV: What will your show here be like?

MT: We put on really good shows in Connecticut, some of our best work. We play something from all of our records. We are working on a new one so there will be some new songs.

AV: Explain the band name.

MT: Our first record we wrote before we were a band, all the songs were murder ballads so it was very thematic and the songs written one after another like one big long story. It was really dark so we called that record Shovels and Rope because of all the hangings and burying. And then we just sort sort of adopted it as a band name. Shovels and Rope kind of sounded like two people and a utilitarian metaphor for two useful tools.

AV: Where do you find inspiration for your storytelling?

MT:  It really comes from anywhere, sometimes it’s a crazy story from the news. Definitely we are not a band that needs to be tortured to come up with songs. We generally are happy people, we try to experience life and appreciate it and acknowledge things that are going on.

CAH: I have a habit of being able to find the things I hate about myself the most and writing about how I wish they would change. The world is an insane place so if you can’t find inspiration looking at the beauty or the terror of the world.

AV: What drives your musical process?

MT: It’s different every time. Lately, I will have all the lyrics down on paper before the melody, I try to work out the story but that’s not how it always is. Sometimes it’s a chord progression or a melody or some nonsense you hum into your phone.

CAH: The lady who wrote Eat Pray Love [Elizabeth Gilbert] was talking about the creative process and what she said struck home with me. This poet told her she could see the physical poem coming across the field at her and if she didn’t get ready with pen and paper, it would go on to another poet. That’s what it’s like for me. It comes out of nowhere as if it was given to me by someone else and then Michael and I get in a room together and flush it out as a team.