Interview: Shovels & Rope Explore ‘New Corners’ on ‘Little Seeds’
With Friday's (Oct. 7) release of Little Seeds, Shovels & Rope debut their fourth album -- and perhaps their most personal one yet. Touching on everything from Alzheimer's and racial discord to the loss of a close friend and the birth of their daughter, the husband-and-wife duo don't shy away from exploring tough topics on their new record, and the result is a beautifully universal project that sounds just like Shovels & Rope ... yet just like something brand new.
Leading up to the release of Little Seeds, The Boot spoke with S&R's Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent about their new record, new tour and that adorable new baby they've got (almost) running around the tour bus. Recorded and produced at their home just months after Hearst gave birth to Louisiana Jean on Sept. 9, 2015, Little Seeds was born while a new baby grew inside the very same house.
"Some of these songs were definitely written while we were pregnant with Louie ... and a lot of these songs were written on tour before we even knew we were pregnant," says Hearst. Trent adds, "Recording happened after she was born -- like right after!"
As Hearst was taking care of a nursing newborn, she gives much of the credit to her husband, who handled pretty much everything else around their house -- including the birth of their new album.
"On one hand, it was a little daunting of a task to have such a major recording project at an important time in our career happening at the same time as the most important thing in our life, which is a new child," Hearst admits; however, she also says that while the task was a daunting one, it worked out great for more than a few reasons.
"It was probably the perfect time [to record]," she adds, "because, while Michael had plenty to do during the day taking care of the two of us, there was plenty of time when he was just kind of alone and was able to turn that energy into a beautiful record."
And a beautiful record it is. With Little Seeds, the unique Shovels & Rope chemistry that fans have come to love makes itself known with big drums, dirty guitars, raw vocals and quirky humor. But this album is also one on which Hearst and Trent explore different side of their music as well, making something new without it being wholly unrecognizable.
"I wouldn't say it's a progression; it's not like a road where you are getting better, necessarily, as you go," says Trent, explaining his take on the band's growth since their 2008 eponymous debut album. "It just kind of feels like a large parking lot that you can kind of explore, and I think that we've dug into some certain corners that we haven't explored before ... I just feel like we feel free to change and explore and stretch our legs and get really loud or get really quiet."
Her husband's analogy makes Hearst laugh, but she agrees that it rings true. It's actually those new, "really quiet" songs that she likes to play the most, especially because fans are "listening and giving them a shot," even when hearing them for the first time.
"I think that we've always just kind of gone off our instincts and not really worried too much about expectations," continues Trent. "It feels nice to have the type of fanbase that we have -- that seem like they're up for it. They're open-minded, and they're just excited to see what we do instead of being like, 'This doesn't sound like "Birmingham"!'"
[Our music isn't] like a road where you are getting better, necessarily, as you go. It just kind of feels like a large parking lot that you can kind of explore.[/pullquotes]
While there certainly are a few musical surprises on Little Seeds, perhaps the most significant evolution comes in the form of the record's subject matter. While Trent says that the actual process of making the record wasn't too different (because they record all of their music at home), it was the personal nature of the songs that felt new.
"We were writing and recording a song about my father, who was downstairs at the time while we were doing it!" Trent recalls. "We were just going through a lot of real-life stuff during this process."
Hearst clarifies that, while she and Trent always tend to write from an emotional standpoint, this time was different because their friends and family were involved as well.
"When we write songs, it really serves as a cathartic outlet for our feelings. I think that's kind of how we write all the time, even when we're making up a story about somebody else. We just sort of function that way," she says. "[But] when it was time to put the songs together and put them in order and decide what was going to go on the record, there was a little bit of -- I wouldn't say hesitation, but definitely contemplation about what was good for us and what was good for the record, and whether that was good for the other parties that were involved."
Again, Hearst credits her husband for creating an album that they could be proud of as a band and as members of their community. Trent met with everyone they wrote about on the album to discuss what they were comfortable with and how to present it best. Thankfully, everyone was on board -- even the mother of the couple's close friend Eric Brantley, who was killed on April 20 in their hometown.
"Michael makes a lot of field recordings, and some of those make it onto our records. In this case, [it was] a field recording Michael took at the memorial of a good friend of ours, and his mother telling this amazing story of how he came into the world at a particularly grievous time," Hearts explains. "She was really gracious to allow us to share that."
The song in which they include a clip of Brantley's mother's speech is the final track on the album, entitled "This Ride." Hearst says it's become particularly special to the duo, evolving from its original meaning to encompass that and so much more.
"It was already a song about the craziness of what it's like to have a new baby and watch your aging parents and all the changes that brings," she notes. "Then, after our friend died, the song served us in a different way -- it became even more powerful to us personally.
"It's not like we go around referencing our own music when we need to feel a feeling about something," she adds with a laugh. "But for some reason, this song, it was like a mantra for us. And the recording of his mother talking about his birth had that sweetness, and it was a way to memorialize him on the record."
Life and death and birth and all these things happen to everybody. And even though it’s the most powerful stuff you’ll ever experience, those are [also] the most natural and the most common experiences of humanity.[/pullquotes]
But if it's the intensely personal experiences that Hearst and Trent sing about on Little Seeds, it's the universal and relatable nature of those experiences that will bring listeners back to this record for years to come. It's not just their own journeys that are reflected in their music, it's journeys we're all on.
"Life and death and birth and all these things happen to everybody," Hearst reflects. "And even though it's the most powerful stuff you'll ever experience, those are [also] the most natural and the most common experiences of humanity. So we didn't really have to think twice about sharing that part of ourselves."
Trent adds that one of the best parts about touring and sharing music live with fans all over the country is being able to relate with people on the "human level," and singing about shared experiences to remind listeners that they're not alone in their emotions, but intimately connected to the world and the people in it.
"I mean, one side of it is going out and playing shows, and people come to have fun and blow off some steam," Trent says. "Another thing is to feel like you are feeling the same thing as someone else, or like somebody else can relate to what you're going through just as human beings on the earth."
Shovels & Rope recently kicked off a tour that will take them to seven countries through February. And while the duo is most excited to play songs off their latest record, they're also expecting to explore a few new gems that might just end up on their next Busted Jukebox covers album. But the thing they're most looking forward to?
"You know, we travel so much, the thing that we look forward to is just periods of quiet when we spend time with our families, especially the old ones, and just kind of sit around and just be together," says Hearst, adding that their their one-year-old will also make the holidays extra special this year. "Little ones and grandparents -- that's the name of the party for us right now.
"It's been the most amazing year of our lives," she adds, "and we're really looking forward to all the little things that are coming up. Our baby's about to learn to walk!"
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