Shovels & Rope — Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent — have a ton going on this year, besides curating their High Water Festival. For starters, the husband-and-wife duo also welcomed their second child to the world and, last month, premiered live concert film (with a touching twist) Shovels & Rope: The Movie at the Charleston Film Festival. On Fri. April 12, ShoRo drops new LP By Blood (Dualtone), the band’s follow-up to 2016’s Little Seeds, and a little later on, Cary Ann and Michael will debut as authors when they release an illustrated children’s book based on By Blood track “C’mon Utah!”
Busy as these guys are, they still graciously slowed down a sec to talk about all this, Record Store Day (which is Sat. April 13), and more. Here’s what they had to say:
On High Water Festival
City Paper: I think I speak for all of your admirers and Charleston music lovers when I say thank you for bringing us High Water for the third year. What I always notice is how you seem to surround yourselves with genuine human beings with something to say, who also happen to be incredibly talented.
Shovels & Rope: Thank you! That’s really affirming feedback. We feel good to have helped bring High Water to Charleston, and every year is a to-see list of our favorite bands, so it’s a treat for us.
CP: What have you learned from growing this festival from what could have been a pipe dream to a successful full-scale extravaganza?
S&R: We learned that we cannot do it alone. Our promoter, production company, and management are the super heroes who bring this festival to fruition. It’s very cool that High Water has been so well-received, and we think that speaks to its medium and size. We never want to change locations, so the fest physically won’t ever get bigger than it is now. That was intentional. It’s fun to get to help put the music puzzle together: Here’s our super long list, who’s available, how much budget do we have for each stage …
CP: Anything in particular you’re stoked about for this year’s HWF?
S&R: Feeling superstitious about having good weather, so we are looking forward to sunshine and clear skies. Everything else is in place for a great time. The lineup is killer and we are so excited to have both Leon Bridges and Head and the Heart in town. The fest always feels very personal to us. We go way back with many of this year’s performers. We have worked with many of them personally and/or, as fans, followed their careers, blasting their records in the van as we propelled ourselves towards our own rock ‘n’ roll efforts. Having the chance to see all this music that you love and the people you care about under the beautiful trees by the riverside in a place you love … it’s worth looking forward to.
On Shovels & Rope’s new children’s book
CP: I hear there’s a ShoRo children’s book en route to the shelves — what made you want to translate the song “C’mon Utah!” to that format?
S&R: The song “C’mon Utah!” tells the legend of a magical horse that appears to help reunite families that were separated by a border wall. The song was written before actual family separations at the border were in the news, and suddenly the magical realism of a horse with superpower GPS who never gets tired of running seemed like something the world actually needed. We had the idea to have the lyrics illustrated by Julio Cotto, who lived in Charleston for years before moving to NYC. He’s an incredibly versatile artist and a proud Puerto Rican who could bring his Latinx-from-the-South experience to the work. We are gonna bring the story of Utah the Magic Horse to life and put it on paper so parents and children can read it and have a discussion about family and love and hope in the face of seriously adverse circumstance.
On Shovels & Rope:
CP: How did the idea of getting comedians involved come about and what’s your favorite part of that experience, making this thing?
S&R: All credit for the idea that became Shovels &Rope: The Movie is due to our crazy artist friend Curtis Wayne Millard… we had him film our two-night stand at the Orange Peel in 2017. The plan was to release a “Live From” performance, multi (small) camera shoot, some extras, blah blah blah. Curtis had the idea of weaving in a narrative, shooting it in Charleston with mostly local folks, and it could all happen while we were on tour. So we cut him loose with a shoestring budget and a loose deadline. Our manager, Paul Bannister, served as project manager and sound designer. If you are a local, it’s likely you will recognize almost everyone in the film and the locations.
On By Blood
CP: Last year when you guys submitted your Record Store Day record store story for our High Water cover, you gave us the lowdown on Shootenanny!, so it was fun to hear that reference reappear in “Carry Me Home.” What was the funnest part about making this record? How was it more challenging than ever?
S&R: We felt pretty confident going in to make this one. We were excited about the songs and were able to test drive some of them on tour and try some things out before recording it for posterity. We were able to work in a dedicated space where our gear stayed pretty much plugged in and at the ready. We had little chunks of time to work in between each stretch of touring, so we had fresh ears throughout the process.
CP: What kinds of things, events, people, types of music, etc. were you thinking of when conjuring up some of the By Blood magic?
S&R: By Blood is the most cinematic record we have ever made. It has sounds that are new for us, that shape and drive the emotion of the music in new ways. Especially the song “By Blood,” because it’s a song about fierce love and mortality. It takes place in the fall and the music sounds autumnal. It sounds like crisp, cool weather and changing leaves. “Twisted Sisters,” sonically, conjures the impeding havoc about to be wreaked by two ravaging tornadoes. The last chorus is a sonic version of the house-in-the-twister scene from Wizard of Oz (or Twister!), all floating on a chorus of horns, strings, and screams. “Hammer” is a work song where the singer finds himself put to work by the system in the fighting against the system, like a snake swallowing his own tail.
CP: In what ways does Charleston or other places make their way into the music this time around?
S&R: The narrator in the song “Mississippi Nuthin'” is hanging out in the Recovery Room watching his high school friend on the television. That’s probably the only literal Charleston reference. It takes place everywhere and nowhere — most of that material on this record happens in the heads of the narrators.
On solo works
CP: Side note: We’ve noticed Cary Ann pop up as “featured” in a few songs on Spotify. And you both have great solo work pre-ShoRo. Will any solo stuff come back, you think?
S&R: If we are ever forced to divide and conquer independent of one another, at this point it would be like separating conjoined twins. We are very co-dependent. When we do venture out separately, perhaps to cowrite elsewhere or to produce someone else’s work, it all comes back to the house anyway and translates as new insight into whatever it is we are doing together, which is a good thing. We are good at being two separate artists that operate as one unit. We rereleased our solo records as a package deal, called Predecessors, and included a bunch of home recordings from that period of time when we were living and working together on separate work. Only the needs of our children could dictate that we work separately again. Let’s see how homeschool on the bus goes …
On Record Store Day
CP: High Water Festival falls on Record Store Day (RSD), so it’s doubtful you’ll be swinging by Monster Music — But if you were able to grab a new LP or two on RSD, what would you get, besides, obviously, your own record?
S&R: We wouldn’t even try to go get anything good on RSD because our good friend Jonathan Carman from Majic Dust would have already gotten there when they opened and literally cleaned out the place of all the goods before we had our first cup of coffee! All joking aside, we would be standing in line for many of these releases! We want John and Lilly Hiatt’s record You Must Go! / All Kinds of People, Goodie Mob’s Still Standing, Queen’s picture disc for Bohemian Rapsody, and Where the Action is! Los Angeles Nuggets Highlights — and thats just for starters. We would tear up this list, honestly. So much good stuff.
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