Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent are Shovels & Rope. As solo artists, they came together in 2008 for their collaborative album Shovels & Rope, and have followed it up with this year's much celebrated O' Be Joyful. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Michael and Cary Ann about the evolution of Shovels & Rope and their own solo work.
How and when did you meet and come together to collaborate as a duo?
Michael Trent: We made the first record in 2008 just for a change of pace from what we were doing musically at the time. There was no plan to do anything with it except make it and put it out into the world. There wasn't even a band name (we titled the record Shovels & Rope and released it under our names Cary Ann Hearst & Michael Trent).
Michael: We wrote a lot of these songs off of each other. We'd discuss the overall story and the characters and who would do what next. It kind of ended up being one long story, or maybe more like a mini series. So most of these songs were written to answer the "what happens next" of the previous one.
Michael: We recorded most of this one in a house near Folly Beach, SC about 15 minutes from where we live. Low key, just us and some friends.
How did writing and recording that album influence each of your following solo projects?
Michael: It probably opened up the world of DIY recording a little more. I learned a lot from that process about my own personal taste and preference and how I like to make records.
Cary Ann Hearst: I learned that I'm pretty lousy in the recording studio and am thrilled to have a partner who not only enjoys the process, but is also a quick study at it.
Cary Ann: It was just something to do together. We didn't crank up tour until after both of us had boxes full of solo records we had made sitting in the house with no way to sell them. This tour, the one that started over two years ago is still the same tour!
Well, I guess the official 2nd bout started back in September when we started working O' Be Joyful. Until then, it was the hat-trick that we were peddling. O' Be Joyful was planned for sure. We needed a record that reflected where we were two years later after traveling around and playing so much.
Can you describe your songwriting processes (both lyrically and musically) this time around? What were you looking to repeat, change up, etc. from the first record?
Michael:It's different every time. One of us will either write one or part of one. Sometimes we write them together. We probably co wrote a little more for this record than we have in the passed. We don't have a real system for writing. Maybe we should get one, get a book or something. I hope we are not missing out on something.
Cary Ann: I have been a little writer's-block lately, but it could be that all i wanna do is cook and sleep since we got home. Seriously, though. Each song comes in its own way, and we wish there was a button we could press that triggered really good songs.
Michael: Windshield time! Seriously, we've barely been home the last 2 years. So a lot of the songs were probably inspired by our travels and some of the people and places we've been introduced to along the way.
Was there a song(s) that set the course for the new record?
Michael:Out of the gate "Birmingham" and "Keeper" felt really good.
Was there an overall vision for the record, or was it more of a song-by-song accumulation?
Michael: No thematics here. Our first record was that way. It had a lot of songs written off of each other and a lot of the same characters showing up in multiple songs. 'O Be Joyful is just a family of tunes that felt appropriate side by side on an album.
What would you say connects O' Be Joyful, as well as distinguishes it from the first Shovels & Rope record? How do these compliment each other?
Michael: I think it's a natural growth. Nobody wants to make the same record twice. The only thing that really connects the two is that it's our voices and our songs. It sounds like the best thing we could think of at the time, as does the first record.
Cary Ann: Each one of our records is an auditory version of a photograph, and serves to capture whatever is happening during that time. We haven't been strategizing to "shoot one photo based on the last one". Really, one doesn't have any connection to the other until you line them up for comparison. We strive to bring out the best in each other musically. After you spend so much time together, you learn the inner workings of the other's mind and learn to operate like one creature. A two headed spider. When all eight of our arms and legs are working on the same level, it feels powerful.
What's coming up next for you in 2013?
Michael and Cary Ann: If there is a 2013, that is. Ha ha. Kidding. A cruise, more touring, and lots of festivals. The Moving Picture Boys Shovels & Rope documentary will probably emerge.
What have you been listening to?
Michael and Cary Ann: We have been listening to lots of books… Lots of John Steinbeck and Life of Pi. In heavy rotation in the RV are Denver's self titled album (a band from Oregon). Also, we are still playing American Goldwing by Blitzen Trapper. John Prine is also a frequent life saver. Oh, and Professor Longhair too. We are trying to learn piano!
Chris Mateer is a freelance music writer living in Portland, OR. He is the founder and writer of the Uprooted Music Revue and has been contributing regularly to No Depression. In addition to music writing, Chris teaches visual art and plays the mandolin, banjo, and drums.
As a player and music writer, Chris is always excited to share and learn more. He believes a community thrives on participation and enthusiasm, and he's thrilled to contribute.
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