It’s been a long two years for Shovels & Rope’s Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent. Two years of hard touring—they average 200 dates a year—long drives in the van, and weeks at a time away from friends and family. Finally, that hard work is starting to pay off, with fans cropping up from Charlotte to Seattle. Paste caught the husband and wife duo for a chat on Halloween, when they were taking a day off from their grueling tour schedule, to hear about their adventures on the road and what’s next for the band.
Paste: Y’all had your first West Coast tour this year. Do you find audiences outside of the South receive your music differently?
Hearst: We were quite surprised when we got to the West Coast. KEXP was spinning our record before we even got there. We were greeted by 1,000 people at an outdoor festival who were there to see us. I thought they had mistaken us for someone else! The audience was a mix of displaced Southerners who were living in Seattle and music aficionados from around the Northwest. We didn’t think anyone was going to be there, and then there was this huge crowd. That was an incredible feeling. There’s already a place there where our music could fit in and our audience would like it.
The hardest one was in New York City. I thought they weren’t going to like us because we aren’t that fashionable, and it seems like it helps to have your look styled. We were called “fake country music,” and I was surprised because I am from Nashville and am a country musician. Nothing fake about it.
Paste: Michael, is it true your drum kit is from a junkyard?
Trent: [laughs] Yes. We received it from our buddy Jack, who we used to play with in our separate projects. He found that kick drum in a garbage heap. Before we played drums, we would put a mic on the ground and stomp, then we used a box and stomped on it. Right before we left to go on tour, Jack showed up with this kick drum that he found in the garbage. We tried it out and sort of learned how to play drums onstage.
Hearst: It was supposed to be a temp drum while we figure out if we want to use it. All the sound guys started remarking, “Are you kidding me with that kick drum?” But then they told us it was one of the best ones they’d ever heard. So we knew we couldn’t get rid of it. Until it’s unplayable, we’re gonna keep it. The kick drum that we’re using now is the last remnant of the garbage can drum set. The rest were donated to us by musician friends, because not that long ago, we didn’t have two pennies to scratch together.
Paste: You told Garden and Gun that at the time you met Michael, you were listening to a lot of Nirvana and old country, trying to figure out how to blend the two. Do you feel like you’ve come close with Shovels & Rope?
Hearst: Michael has a really wide range of musical tastes. He comes from a rock and roll background, and I come from much more of a rootsy place. There was a time where, for me, I was obsessing over rock and roll. MC5 and cock rock, big punky ‘70s things and wanting to be that way, but at the end of the day, wanting to be a folk singer. This band may be the closest I have ever come to finding a place where those two things mix.
Paste: What about you, Michael? What do you feel like you’ve gleaned from working with Cary Ann?
Trent: I was always, when we got together and started playing music together, I was really getting into country music. I didn’t come up in that scene. I always played in rock bands. But I was getting really interested in country music, the darker stuff and character-based songwriting. My take on that sounded like someone who played rock and roll trying to figure that out. Her background was real country music, and she was trying to learn how to play rock and roll. She was trying to learn Cramps songs.
Hearst: I was studying rock and roll!
Trent: As far as changing my approach, I am always trying to learn and get better. I’m not going to write only folk songs from here on out. As far as the live show, I don’t think I have ever been as satisfied as I am now with that aspect of it. It’s so freeing to be in a two-person band. Everything can be so off-the-cuff. We have a large back catalog of songs that we can pick and choose from.
Paste: Talk a little bit about that. You were playing music independent from each other for quite some time [with Trent as a member of The Films, and both of you playing solo]. What made you decide to commit so fully to Shovels & Rope?
Hearst: It was such an efficient way for us to travel. We are relatively newlywed. It didn’t seem like a good idea for us to tour as hard as it would require and be apart all the time. We sound good together and like to do this. At the expense of our ego projects, abandoning that and putting all of our efforts together seemed like the better choice. We love playing music together, otherwise we wouldn’t really waste our time. But it was a bit of a challenge to marry our bands, putting aside 10 years of work and our brand. But we’re happier for it.
Trent: We have mutual respect for each other as artists and were fans of each other’s work before we started playing together.
Paste: I see you don’t have a show booked for today, [Halloween]. How are you going to celebrate? Do you have costumes planned?
Hearst: We thought about trying to do this entire interview as zombies! [imitates answering a question in slow zombie-speak] But we didn’t think that would be very useful to you or to us. We’re going to enjoy drinking red wine and eating spaghetti noodles and watching people meander the streets in their costumes.