Michael Trent, a bad boy from Denver, Colorado, and Cary Ann Hearst, a country girl born in Mississippi but raised in Nashville, not only share their lives together as husband and wife in their home on Johns Island, SC, they tour as a duo for their Americana outfit Shovels & Rope. And they’re honing a heaping dose of badassery along the way, as they manage to perfect John Wayne Wild West vibe, currently hailed on their third album “Swimmin’ Time.”
Recorded at their home, which they lovingly dub “Home Studio Number 3,” they borrowed some equipment from Electric Lady Studios out of New York and shared a mic to churn out their soulful mashup of rock ‘n’ roll, folk, punk, and alternative country music. They will play a show at Ziggy’s by the Sea on Thursday, September 18.
“Our calendar right now looks like we are about to really take our asses to work,” Hearst says with a laugh. “Don’t get me wrong, the shows are fucking awesome! Traveling and being in different cities everyday looks amazing on paper, but you don’t ever have the time to see anything. It isn’t like you are free all day to go explore museums while eating weed cookies.”
What they do engage in and endure ends up in song. They derive their music from the intricate stories that leak into their day-to-day lives. It’s evidenced on “Swimmin’ Time,” which rides along a deep narrative arc that brings out a variety of emotion-packed tales.
“The conflicts in Michael’s songs are emotionally complex and complicated,” Hearst explains. “They all have this way of taking you to some really dark places but in a really colorful way.”
“Thresher” and “After the Storm” feel eerily gritty. “Thresher” tells the story of a sunken 1963 submarine, while “After the Storm” brings to life a survival story:
“Like the widest river/like the brightest morn/There is hope where you can’t see it/There is a light after the storm/But won’t you help me to get thru it/I’ve been flailing like a child/My mistakes they are so many/For my loving heart is wild.”
The duo balances their deeper tunes with silly jaunts, as heard in “Fish Assassin.” It’s a loving tribute to Hearst’s father down in Alabama:
“It’s quiet on the water this morning/ain’t nobody on the water but me/the sun is coming on but it won’t be long/ but there is a little more wake coming up this creek.”
Since releasing “Swimmin’ Time,” the two have made appearances on shows like “Conan” and ‘The Late Show With David Letterman.” Plus, they are garnering raves in heavy-hitting publications like The New York Times, and are getting airplay on a multitude of stations nationwide, including NPR.
They got a taste of success in 2012 when their second LP, “O’ Be Joyful,” ranked on the Billboard 200 at Number 123. But winning Song of the Year at the 2013 Americana Music Honors and Awards for “Birmingham” sent them flying high. It wasn’t until recently they upgraded from living in a van to a tour bus while on the road.
“We go to bed in the tour bus and wake up every morning right next to the dumpster where we belong,” Hearst says, cracking up. “It makes us laugh every time and helps us keep our heads right and maintain that balance.”
The musicians met in Charleston, South Carolina, where Hearst attended the College of Charleston. She started a country band Borrowed Angels, while Trent was in indie-rock outfit The Films, (“Being Bored,” “Don’t Dance Rattlesnake” and “Oh, Scorpio”). In 2002 they met while sharing the bill for Jump Little Children. A year later, Trent moved South from New York and the two worked on their solo careers. After Trent’s band broke up, he released a self-titled, solo album in 2007, which was met with positive reviews.
Likewise, Hearst—who had played music since adolescence and performed her first concert at age 14—released a solo record, “Dust and Bones” in 2006 and in 2011, “Lions and Lambs.” She received a taste of fame from the album when her song, “Hells Bells,” was used in the HBO vampire-drama “True Blood.”
It wasn’t until 2008 the two banded together after they began dating. “Right when we met we could immediately sing together,” Hearst recalls. “The songwriting started to come later.”
As they began collaborating, Trent’s indie-rock roots perfectly complemented Hearst’s country stylings. “I think the fact we were both pursuing songwriting careers is a big reason for what we have become,” Hearst explains. “Our deal was to do everything naturally, and play everything that we could get away with.”
In 2008 they released the album “Shovels & Rope” which led to them taking on the moniker officially as a band. “O’ Be Joyful” followed suit, and on it was the release of their autobiographical tale, “Birmingham.” In the music video, two children represent Trent and Hearst, as they drive along back roads, and hold hands in an old Chevy pickup before performing the song live at a bar. It was a drive between Nashville and Birmingham in 2009 when Trent and Hearst officially decided to become one as a band. The video alludes to the kismet nature of their partnership—something in the making since they were children.
Shovels & Rope is known to be an explosion of entertainment onstage. They swap instruments mid-performance and harmonize with a classic twang reminiscent of Patsy Cline and Conway Twitty. Time, money and hardcore endurance is always necessary to handle the road—and a little love goes a long way, too. Don’t miss it all as this duo takes to the stage at Ziggy’s this week.
Shovels & Rope
Thursday, September 18th
Ziggy’s by the Sea, 208 Market St.