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Shovels & Rope: Love in harmony

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent take their romance on the road

September 19, 2013|By Andy Downing | RedEye special contributor

While Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent—the husband-wife duo behind Shovels & Rope—had no qualms about committing to a life with each another, they never intended those vows to spill over into their music.

“We started recording together for fun, and because it was something different to do,” said Trent, who was playing with his group the Films when he first met solo performer Hearst. “We never really saw ourselves as being in a band together.”

Happily this is no longer the case, judging by the success of the Charleston, S.C., pair’s sophomore album, “O’ Be Joyful,” a homespun mix of foot-stomping folk-rock and hushed roots balladry. Reached in the midst of a tour that brings the band to the Metro for a show Sept. 26, Hearst, 34, and Trent, 35, spoke about their big 2013, the song they (maybe?) shared a first dance to as husband and wife and the secret identity they uncovered while binge-watching “Friday Night Lights.”

Between playing Lollapalooza and appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman” this has been a big year for you guys. What’s the most surreal thing you’ve experienced?

Cary Ann Hearst: I guess just the fact that it’s working out. We spent 2 [to] 3 years scraping along waiting for the bottom to fall out of this thing, or for it to reach a tipping point where we felt we were a functional concern. Otherwise, this is our daily reality. It’s what we do for a living, so there’s nothing surreal about it. That’s good, though. It should feel like our job and like it’s business as usual. We can’t be in awe of ourselves all day long. We have to show up and go to work.

What was the turning point where you started to think, maybe the bottom won’t drop? Maybe this thing can sustain itself?

Hearst: [Laughs.] Oh, the bottom can always drop out, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.

Did either of you have any concerns starting a band with someone you were in a relationship with?

Hearst: I didn’t think much about it at the time. We were grown-ass people when we got married, and we had a plan and we knew what we were getting into and what the challenges would be. But we’re a team. We make music as a team and live our lives as a team. I would argue it’s no easier or harder than a couple that works a 9-to-5 and rarely sees each other.

What song did you share a first dance to at your wedding?

Hearst: The Zombies?

Michael Trent: I don’t really remember. I do remember it being played on somebody’s iPhone and we got a text message in the middle of it that went [makes a chirping sound] and ruined the moment.

Hearst: We just wanted to get married and get on with it. [Weddings are] a dog-and-pony show. It was fun, but it was for the family. I actually couldn’t tell you much about the wedding because I was pretty hammered.

Do you feel a part of this throwback-folk movement with the Lumineers, Mumford & Sons and the like?

Hearst: We would argue we’re less country than those bands and more rock ‘n’ roll. But that’s the great thing about music: anyone can see us any way they want. We definitely share that folk thread, and we love those bands as well. But one thing we’ve always tried to project is “Look how loud we can get,” then “Look how quiet we can get.” It’s like, “Look at everything we can do with this limited set of tools.”

One thing that really grabs me about your music is the vocal harmonies the two of you create together.

Trent: I feel that’s a natural thing we’ve always been able to do. It took us a minute to figure out how we were going to go about writing songs together...so there was a lot of experimenting in that regard. But we’ve always been able to sing harmony.

Shakey Graves (a.k.a. “Friday Night Lights” actor Alejandro Rose-Garcia) is opening for you on this tour. Do you ever call him “The Swede” just to mess with him?

Hearst: Oh my God [laughs]!

Trent: That’s funny you mention that, because we had a month off after our tour and we did some binge TV watching…

Hearst: Because that’s what married people do!

Trent: We ended up watching the first season of “Friday Night Lights” on our break, and then we started this tour with Shakey. After the third show we started watching episode one of the second season [where Rose-Garcia makes his first appearance] ... and we looked at each other like, “Is that…? No! It couldn’t be!”

Hearst: We got on IMDB to make sure, then started tweeting secret messages to him like, “You are so busted!” For the rest of the tour he was like, “Please don’t watch it. Please don’t watch it.” But we were like, “Oh, we’re watching!”

Andy Downing is a RedEye special contributor

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