[Interview] Shovels & Rope

Life is an expanding family affair for this duo


Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have made some significant additions to the Shovels & Rope family during the past 18 months.

Daughter Louisiana Jean arrived in September 2015. Then the Charleston, South Carolina-based duo have added more sights and sound to their reliably rowdy live shows where fans routinely ask themselves, “How can two people make that much music?”

“We haven’t added any more appendages – yet. But we are playing more instruments,” laughs Trent.

These pleasant developments coincided with two darker events that inspired three songs from “Little Seeds,” their album that was spotted on many best of 2016 lists. First, Trent’s parents moved into their son’s home as his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Then a close friend of the couple, Eric Brantley, was killed in Charleston.

In other words, real life smacked Hearst and Trent.

“You can’t help be affected by things that happen, especially instances like those,” Trent says. “But I think what it has done is make us more compassionate.”

Hearst agrees, and points out, “Those situations (good and bad) are something that every person has to deal with. We might be a little luckier because we have more resources available.”

Many of those resources are in the couple’s adopted city. The Mississippi-born Hearst grew up in Nashville and Trent is from Colorado, but the South Carolina coast is home when they aren’t traveling the world. One of the reasons is the vibrant music scene they love to tout.

“It is very diverse. I think a lot about being back there,” says Hearst. “You have this young talent group because the (College of Charleston) has a really great jazz program, really a great music program. And there is an abundance of small clubs, more like bars and restaurants, so there’s gigs for everybody.

“There’s also a burgeoning indie rock scene, like this band Susto that leans kind of Americana, more like Uncle Tupelo. And there are songwriters who will probably never tour nationally, but approach songwriting the way we do. Bill Carson, for example, writes some of the finest songs I’ve ever heard.”

That’s high praise from the writers who have built a big tent for a wide array of fans. They burst into consciousness with 2012’s “O’ Be Joyful,” which earned them Emerging Artist and Song of the Year (“Birmingham”) awards from Americana Music Association. But their DIY work ethic and performance style (they share guitars, mandolins, drums, keyboards, harmonicas and whatever else is available) has struck a chord with rock fans as well.

Everything starts with the songs, though, whether it’s a rave-up like “Invisible Man” or the quiet elegance of “Mourning Song,” two very different salutes to Trent’s father.

Trent was talking about life on the road when he said, “We bring more stuff now to make a show happen, but there’s a satisfaction when you get all the moving parts to work together,” but he could have been describing the new life of Shovels & Rope as well.

Of course, that stuff includes more compassion these days.

Originally published in 2017.


For more than a decade, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have been making what has been described as “punk-influenced roots” music on stage in a DIY manor: Two people singing together while playing multiple instruments.

Off stage, however, the couple has a large support system to help manage a growing enterprise that includes a new brother to 3-year-old Louisiana Jean; “By Blood,” their fifth album (plus two collaborations of cover tunes, “Busted Jukebox Volumes 1 and 2”); curating the annual High Water Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; an upcoming children’s book based on the song “C’mon Utah” from “Blood”; a film, “Shovels & Rope: The Movie”; and a slot on the “Wheels of Soul” tour with the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Blackberry Smoke.

“You took the words out of my mouth,” says Hearst when asked about the number of people required to keep the wheels turning. “We are so lucky to have a team around us that helps with everything we do. Michael’s mother and father had moved in with us a few years back (when the elder Trent was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s), and his father has since passed away, but his mother helps us in so many ways. We truly couldn’t do what we do if it wasn’t for the people around us.”

The dichotomy on Wheels of Soul is striking on stage with Hearst and Trent dwarfed by the double-digit number of players with Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. But the similarities outweigh the differences.

“(They’re) much more famous than we are, but it’s cool to see how they go about their business,” Hearst says. “Their kids are teenagers now…ours don’t hang out with them yet (laughs), but we’ve learned about doing things the right way. Their entire operation is very family-oriented and there’s much to learn from that.”

Touring musicians with young kids are thankful for tips wherever they originate, especially from their contemporaries who face the same problems.

“We have a group chat going on,” says Trent. “Things like how to bathe your baby in a dive bar, etc. etc.”

In addition to sharing child-rearing tips, Hearst and Trent are keen on musical collaboration as well. The “Jukebox” projects grew out of pre- and post-show hangs with like-minded folk like Brandi Carlile, Hayes Carll, John Moreland and Lera Lynn among others.

“We have secret plans for ‘Busted Jukebox 3.’ The cool thing about being on the road all the time is you meet people in a moment,” Hearst says of teaming with their tour mates. “You might not see them again for two years, but you’ve been to summer camp for a day, so you have something to talk about.

“You make a note musically like, ‘You know what song is dear to my heart?’ Maybe we’ll ask these people if they’re down to sit in with us. Yeah, absolutely, this lends itself to that. It wouldn’t be bad to sing with Susan on something (laughs).”

Success has help turn dive bars into theaters and amphitheaters for Shovels & Rope since their self-titled debut record in 2008. But Hearst and Trent have stayed on message as the megaphone has become louder: Family is important, integrity is important, truth is important.

That’s the story of “C’mon Utah,” a tale about a magical horse that carries a man back to his family after he had been separated from them by a border wall. The song was written and played in concert before the current crisis became a flashpoint.

“We say our piece and make our point known through our music,” Trent says about dealing with the shut-up-and-sing brigade on social media. “But I’m not going to pick a bunch of Twitter fights with people. It’s dark, it’s a dark hole. We’re not trying to enrage anybody, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.”

Hearst and Trent are musicians and songwriters, not preachers, but sometimes silence isn’t an option. Their fans are better for that.

Michael Trent and Carrie Ann Hearst play “C’mon Utah.”



Each week, Bob Hust and Bill Thompson feature the best songs – old and new – from artists they have loved for many years and others they have just discovered. The best songs transport people to a time and place. That’s the foundation of BS&B.

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