The year 2015 was a big one for the married duo Shovels & Rope, who play Knight Theater Tuesday.
Songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent were anticipating the birth of their first child, and Trent’s mother and father – the latter in decline due to Alzheimer’s – moved in with the couple.
That could have caused the most prolific of writers a creative blackout. But Hearst and Trent turned the sobriety of their situation into Shovels & Rope’s best album yet.
“In a way, we were communicating with each other about the things that were going on around us,” explains Trent, calling with Hearst from their home in Charleston Tuesday. “Having my parents living with us and watching my mother deal with my dad’s decline - there’s a lot to process. When we would get up in the room together and show each other what was in our notebooks, it was like we were getting some things off our chest and communicating about it.”
Hearst wrote a song imagining what Trent’s father would think about his current state, if he were lucid. Trent wrote one from the perspective of the caretaker – his mom. It’s a subject countless fans can relate to, but not one that makes it into songs often.
“Alzheimer’s effects so many people, if (a song) sparks any kind of conversation or if it can shed any light or positivity or humor or be any release to anybody, that’s all we can ask for,” Trent says.
“Little Seeds” not only addresses the cross-section of mortality where the couple found themselves. There’s a song inspired by the death of a friend and another written following the mass shooting in their hometown. While the subject matter is heavy and the lyrics are some of their most personal and poignant, “Little Seeds” still finds the pair ratcheting up the rock n’ roll aesthetic of its show.
“We think about the job of making an energetic rock n’ roll show when we’re putting an album together,” says Hearst, a fiery performer who, like Trent, alternates between instruments during the show. “These days we try to put together a show that’s 70 percent rock n’ roll and build it from there.”
Each record – and “Little Seeds” is their fifth – shows a folk group expanding its sound with powerful electric blues riffs and grit reminiscent of Jack White, punctuated by piano, horns and the couple’s harmonies. But with only two musicians onstage each night, it would be impossible to duplicate the records exactly.
“Physically we’re not going to copy whatever we have laid down on the record live. We can’t do it,” says Trent. “We’ll record it the way we think it should sound. Sometimes we’ll embellish and add some extra parts, but after we get the record the way we want it we look at the whole thing and say, ‘How are we going to pull this off?’ That’s almost just as fun.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (Feb21)
WHERE: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.