Spending an evening with Shovels & Rope

Charleston, South Carolina duo Shovels & Rope is switching things up a bit. Husband and wife Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst always give it their all at their folk/rock/blues/Americana shows. The pace is fast and furious as they rip through a set curated from their four studio albums and two cover records.

But this time, under the umbrella of “An evening with…”, they want to explore (just a few) quieter moments from their catalog as well.

Tracks from their latest release, December’s Busted Jukebox, Vol. 2, will of course be included. The album reimagines songs by Faith No More, Sigur Ros, Chuck Berry, Willie Nelson, and more — with friends like Rhett Miller and Brandi Carlile coming along for the ride.

But if there’s one thing predictable about a Shovels & Rope show, it’s that it’s never predictable.

PACIFIC recently caught up with the pair by phone while they were in Austin, Texas.

PACIFIC: So it’s "An evening with…" this time.

Cary Ann Hearst: Yeah, the “An evening with” thing is kind of a misnomer. I think it kind of indicates that we’re mellowing our set or playing acoustic. It’s exactly the same amount of volume, rock and roll, and ferocity  — just also with moments of quietude where we can talk to the audience as well. “An evening with” gives this idea that it’s going to be chill, and we’re not going to be chill at all (laughs).

Michael Trent: We are going to be playing a lot of songs that we really don’t get a chance to play in venues where it’s not conducive to quiet down, though. And we like to play with the set list a lot and tell stories about the songs. There’s no opener, so we can set the entire tone for the night without anything else going on. It’s creatively freeing.

We also rearrange a lot of the songs. If we’ve been playing a song for a couple of years with a heavy organ sound, electric guitar, and drums, we might switch it up to piano, mandolin, and a tambourine — it’s just a different presentation.

Cary Ann: And we do have new material. We have all these new songs that we’re figuring out. It’s always a good opportunity for us to do our homework in front of an audience (laughs).

And talk to them about it…

Michael: It’s nice to be able to share some of these stories and not feel like we’re going to lose the audience because we’re not getting to the rock fast enough. And it’s a good chance to interact a bit, you know, take a question…

Cary Ann: I would like to take a question! (laughs)

Do you think your audiences have pre-determined expectations coming into a Shovels & Rope show?

Michael: I think that what we’re realizing is that we made some dynamic records. There are some tender moments and there are some heavier moments. Hopefully, if people are at the shows, they know that about our material and what to expect. And I think that as we grow, we’re also learning about our audience.

Carry Ann: We’ve never had a big radio hit. There’s never been one song that defined who we are. And I think that’s actually a positive side effect of not having that success. There isn’t something set. But it’s like cooking. You just need to know when to add a little sugar or a little salt, and before you know it, you’ll have something simmering.

On your studio albums you’re constructing a collection. On the two volumes of Busted Jukebox, you’re essentially deconstructing. Is the process at all similar?

Michael: Well, with the Busted Jukebox stuff, there’s less pressure because the songs already existed. I feel like it’s easier to deconstruct and reinterpret. It’s all for the sake of fun and experimentation. These songs can be personal to us, but at the same time, we didn’t write them. We’re just fans of them.

Does one process ever inform the other?

Carry Ann: I think so. The Busted Jukebox records are almost like art therapy projects. We experiment. We play with new sounds. It jogs and loosens up ideas that you might direct toward the next thing. Sounds that excite Michael, sounds and techniques that he finds, they’re all part of the summer rock and roll art camp of the Jukebox records, and they all go towards the next work. It’s good practice.

Michael: It just puts more tools in your toolbox.

Has curating volumes of cover records changed the way you listen to music?

Michael: I think the ideas are always floating around. But I don’t know. It’s fun. And it’s something that everyone does before they’re weighed down with their own thing. Where you’re first starting, you’re always playing someone else’s songs.

What’s next for you guys? Do you work on the road or just focus on the shows?

Carry Ann: I guess it’s “catch it when you can” these days.

Michael: We’re always working new material into the set. But number one, I think it’s important that when people are coming out and paying to see shows, that we’re not just self-serving — that we’re playing the songs that people want to hear. And we do allow ourselves to play some new material. I think people like that. But we just try our best to stay creative on the road and give a different, and honest, show each night.

Carry Ann: Being an artist and being an entertainer are two completely different jobs. We have our time to make art and nobody gets to tell us what to do. But, really, our job on any given night is to entertain people who worked their ass off to earn the hard money to come and spend two hours with us. It’s important to us that they have a good time. This is a relationship. I’m relating to you and you’re relating to me. And hopefully, we can make each other satisfied.    

An evening with Shovels & Rope

When: 8 p.m. February 20

Where: Belly Up, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach

Cost: Sold out

Online: bellyup.com

Copyright © 2018, Pacific San Diego