Shovels and Rope
added: 30 Nov 2013
interviewed by: Paul Chapinal
Shovels and Rope are a Cary Ann Hurst and Michael Trent, a duo who ostensibly play American folk though listening to their debut album O’Be Joyful, one can hear blues, Country and gospel. Music-news caught with them for few words during their recent European tour.
Could you just give us a little background about yourselves, the solo albums and how the band formed?
We were musicians in separate bands. Our bands were all friends with each other, we all worked together in the bar scene in Charleston and eventually worked together writing and recording songs. The solo albums preceded the band, and were made in transition from our full band recording as we were figuring out what to do, professionally. We play music from those records, rearranged for Shovels and Rope.
The Charleston dance is pretty well known, its birthplace Charleston SC probably not so well, at least in the UK, was/is the town a great influence on your music?
The town is not so much an influence on the music, but the easy going and charming aesthetic of the area is conducive to creativity for sure. The town is disproportionally filled with artists, writers, and musicians of a superior calibre, especially the jazz and songwriter scene. It's especially populated with beautiful loud mouth women who rock out, so the boys and girls play music together all the time. The city itself has a beauty on par with that of old Europe, as y'all settled it and built European buildings and narrow streets. It's very romantic and we are proud to call it home.
The link up with Jack White, how did that come about?
Who knows! Luck! Kismet? Deeply interconnected musical network that traverses the American artist scene. We think our name must have come around his ears three times, and the third time was the charm. Our friend Cory is in his touring "vultures" band and he said he saw White looking at our YouTube videos approvingly. Pokey Lafarge was his steady opener on that tour, couldn't fill a coupla dates, so we got the gigs. After the shows we were invited to record a seven inch record at Third Man.
The album O’ Be Joyful was well received critically and did fairly well commercially, did you have any expectations either way?
We had reasonable expectations. We wanted to make a go of it but never set out t be some giant success commercially. We are very much a DIY band with a working class work ethic. As a matter of fact, as soon as we let go of our expectations from others and focused on what we could control and produce, the universe opened up with an abundance of opportunity. We just had to cease the moment.
I’ve read that you’re uncomfortable describing your music but I’d like to tease out a little more about your influences and how you developed your sound, which does have people scrabbling about for a category to put you in?
We don't like describing our music to journalists because it seems like, if it's your job to write about music, you should be able to listen and deconstruct it and decide what it makes you feel or what it sounds like in your ears. To us, it just sounds like the noise we make. Journalist "Hey dog! Describe your barking to me. Why do you bark like that? " Dog " raaauuff! "
The influence question is fair enough because we LOVE music! We love so many sounds and they all make us want to play, like children, at music. Right now we are loving Blittzen Trapper, Tom Waits, old Bruce Springsteen and Felice Brothers records, but the source of our love of music is divine and infinite.
Many will sympathise with the comments of the compere on Kemba’s got the Cabbage Moth Blues, is there more of a story there?
Well, I could write 100 pages on that 2 minute song, but I will just say it centres around my beautiful friend Kemba who came to Charleston for a friends wedding. She is a dancer and a singer, a farmer and vintage clothing seller and collector who is perfectly dressed for any occasion. We were discussing farm life in a whisky bar. Cabbage moths had eaten her crop and foxes had eaten our chickens. Suddenly, we saw on the news that Nashville, TN had flooded. I worried that my mother was alright. We were helpless so we just got a good drunk on about it.
You seem to be constantly touring, do you write and then road test new material on the audience as you go along? And when you get to the studio is the recording process usually quite quick?
We write when the spirit moves us. When we travel, we keep the new stuff to the sound check and save the songs to play till they are ripe and ready. We are always quick in the studio, because we use spontaneity as a tool.
Any thoughts on the current upsurge in interest in grassroots and folk music in the US, and the UK?
It's always been there. For some reason people are desirous of it more now. Maybe because the world is replete with plastic and technology.
What are your plans for 2014?
Wanna see God laugh? Tell him your plans.
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