The last time I spoke with Shovels & Rope duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst was about three years ago before their show at the Brooklyn Arts Center in downtown Wilmington. A lot has changed since. Most notably, the couple now have a baby girl named Louisiana they affectionately call “Louie.” They’ve also released two records since 2014’s “Swimmin’ Time,” a cover album (“Busted Jukebox Vol. 1”) in November 2015 and “Little Seeds” in October 2016. They’ll return to ILM this Saturday, June 10, to play Greenfield Lake Amphitheater.
Trent and Hearst have been together since 2008 (married since 2009), yet “Little Seeds” contains the most cowriting they’ve done compared to past work. Despite some of the album’s heavy storylines and undertones, the couple’s Americana-folksy vocals, harmonies and general kick-ass approach to rock and soul make it a really fun record to listen to.
Trent and Hearst’s records inherently carry a unique sense of being “all over the place” because they don’t adhere to a specific sound or genre. Perhaps “Little Seeds” has a touch more rowdy rock (“I Know,” “Botched Execution”) wherein they experiment with bigger, heavier sounds. There are also more sobering tunes with a lighter instrumental touch, such as “St. Anne’s Parade” and “Mourning Song.”
“We’re always trying to learn and stretch ourselves,” Trent says. “Do something that we haven’t done before.”
The title “Little Seeds” represents lot’s of personal uncharted territory with the cycle of life: birth (Louie) and mortality (death of a friend and Trent’s dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s).
“I think [‘Little Seeds’] is mostly about brand new beginnings,” Trent muses, “and the hope and the fear that goes along with that.”
“Invisible Man” is about Trent’s father’s battle with Alzheimer’s, being lost in oneself as “the past and future fade to black.” Yet, their punkish dueling vocals paired with raucous drums and electric guitar bring a bit of levity to heartbreaking realities of his decline.“Invisible Man” is the quintessential resolution to either laugh or cry at one of life’s cruelties.
“It’s kind of like those scenes in movies where somebody’s just really going through some heavy shit and all of sudden they’ll just dance it out,” Hearst explains. “Then somebody walks in and they abruptly try to play it cool.”
“Like ‘Footloose,’” Trent quips.
“Exactly,” Hearst agrees. “It’s really heavy stuff but you have to have some level of a sense of humor, otherwise you just crumble. . . . It also kind of speaks to the general shittiness of getting older.”
“I Know” is general commentary about the music industry and how to stay “relevant in the game,” which often creates a need to fit into some neat category or genre, à la the lines: “I know exactly what you think you are.”
“Artists do their own thing and then everybody tries to tell them who they are and then it gets confusing and people get caught up in that,” Trent explains. “But it’s also universal in entertainment business.”
Trent and Hearst tie in broader relevance with their “I Know” video, too, which opens up with a hardworking farmer looking to end his day to get ready for a drag competition. While the video is also a celebration of the LGBTQIA community in a beautiful and fun way, it also explores the idea of artists competing against each other for whatever prize there is to be had—and sometimes the competition gets nasty, as we see near the end.
“Show business can be a lot of makeup and glamour and glitzy strutting around and at the core of it are fragile artists,” Hearst continues. “People who are trying to reconcile their creative/outward self, and sometimes there’s only room for one hot mamma at the top!”
With the addition of a baby, now almost 2 years old and travels with Trent and Hearst, everything was essentially uncharted territory for “Little Seeds.” Things like recording—of which they did at their home studio as every album before—had to be timed with naps and feedings.
“It’s fun looking back but in the moment there was so much unknown that we would have been well in our right to be scared,” Hearst tells. “But we were so busy from having to get things done we just put our heads down and did it.”
The mom and dad spend their days with their daughter before hitting each stopover on tour. Thoughts and debates about what to wear on stage have been replaced with ensuring Louie gets her nap and nutritious food, and fitting in play or storytime.
“There are just more fun important things to do [with her] now,” Hearst says.
“It’s perspective,” Trent adds. “We have to make it so that we put on a good show but we also have to try to sleep. . . . You have to entertain a child and make sure you care for her while in different strange places everyday and routine is a little more of a challenge, but we also get to spend so much time with her and that it’s really special.”
“Some things are easier and some things are harder,” Hearst adds. “[Parenthood] has made us emotionally more sensitive in a really sweet way, but every couple who has ever had a baby ever has to have been challenged in their relationship [and] it’s developed us. It’s a new kind of teamwork. I hope that transfers into more sensitive art and being more sensitive to the world will (hopefully) make us even better storytellers.”
Trent and Hearst are now working on their “Busted Jukebox Vol. 2” record, another collection of covers with various other artists. They’re also writing new songs whenever they can while they continue their summer tour.
Shovels & Rope
Sat., June 10
Doors at 6 p.m.; Show at 7 p.m.
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheatre Dr.