Houston Music

The Ties That Bind: Shovels and Rope Go Deep with New Album and Houston Connections

Shovels and Rope return to Houston's House of Blues.
Shovels and Rope return to Houston's House of Blues. Photo By Curtis Millard
This year may only be four months in but it has already been a big one for Shovels and Rope. The husband and wife duo welcomed their second child, premiered Shovels and Rope: The Movie, curated their third High Water Festival in their hometown of Charleston, and just put out a new record, By Blood. After wrapping up their eventful weekend, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst are enjoying a few days at home before hitting the road, kids in tow, and starting their tour in Houston at the House of Blues.

The band has many Houston connections and is looking forward to coming back, "We’re excited! We have a lot of history with Hayes Carll and Houston, Texas." says Trent.  Adding, "I was born in Houston, all my siblings were born in Houston, and my Mom and dad met in Houston." 

The couple just came off the wave of their High Water Festival where they handpick the bands to play.  The bands they chose to play reflect their diverse styles and interests. “It’s such a cool opportunity to be able to curate it and pick all the bands we want to see, all the bands we wish would come to our town and get together with friends, old friends, new friends, and to watch people become friends backstage. It is really special and in our hometown.” says Hearst.

They also get to make room on the bill for artists who supported them from early on including Houston’s own Carll. Trent describes the opportunity to pay it back, “Hayes was basically the first guy to ever take us out on the road so it was nice to be able to do something back for him and have him out here. It was really special for us.”

She continues, “It’s funny because we hear people say ‘Thank you for bringing it to Charleston.’ but there’s so many people that make it happen. Our job is the coolest job, but we are not the ones making it sound good or look beautiful. So many amazing people make the festival happen.”

Trent adds, “It was great! I think that everybody had a great time, the weather held out, and all the bands seemed to be enjoying themselves. Being artists that play festivals, that’s really important to us, that the bands have a good time. It feels like a win.” says Trent.

When asked how their festival has evolved in the past three years Trent says bluntly, “It hasn’t changed a whole lot. We don’t want it to grow, we don’t want it to be any bigger than it is. I feel like that’s not the type of festival that we want to do.” He adds, “We just want it to be a well run thing. This year we didn’t have any plastic, zero plastic this year, which is a cool change.”

In a time where diversity is often a hot button topic Hearst says simply, “It’s funny, we got a lot of attention for how inclusive our festival was and it just so happens our musical taste are really inclusive so it wasn’t hard to have an inclusive festival.”

Shovels and Rope are sweethearts of the Americana scene but a quick peek at their social media provides evidence that the two give and receive love across all genres of music. “We’ve traveled with so many different kinds of bands. Americana definitely has an audience, but if you look at our Instagram you’d know we have relationships all these cool bands from all walks of life which we’ve encountered.” says Hearst.

When asked about the current, more widespread appeal of Americana music Hearst agrees, “Americana definitely been having a nice little moment. It’s nice to have a space in the musical ether to sell records. It seems
like they know what to call it now.”

Their new album By Blood was recorded at home, like their previous albums, but this time in their new backyard studio. The artists describe By Blood, “The word we’ve been using is cinematic, not so much theatrical, but a

"Americana definitely been having a nice little moment. It’s nice to have a space in the musical ether to sell records."

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cinematic sweeping sound, but there’s a little theatrics in there.”

By Blood weaves themes of the bonds of family, love, forgiveness and hard work; all ideals embodied by the band itself. Trent explains the inspiration behind the title track, “I think it hones in on the feeling in our initial set out when we started to have children.” He continues, “Everything revolves around our family at this point and that song is really written to our daughter when she was new and things were complicated. There’s no space and there’s no space from one another, which is really hard but also really great.”

When asked about the power in family and music Hearst explains, “For us it’s a state of existence. It’s funny because when Michael and I started this band we really thought our family/marriage life was very much separate from our musical life. Now, for better or worse, it is all one thing because we live with our children on the road while we are making music and writing music.” She continues, “Even our touring; everyone on our tour bus has to operate like immediate family because it’s such an intimate experience traveling with children.”

By Blood also features the poignant “C’mon Utah” inspired by the border wall and further propelled by the separation of families crossing the border. It tells the story of a magical horse which posses the power to reunite families and has inspired a children’s book the group is currently working on with their friend and artist Julio Cotto. “We are smack in the middle of that project and we are really excited about it.” says Trent.

He describes how the current administration’s border policies pushed them to further explore the song and says, “It was a little bit of a springboard to do that book and give it a wider reach. To give that song a little bit more attention and to open up that conversation.”

Trent reflects on how fortunate the family is to be able to experience so much together, "A lot of parents don't get a chance to spend enough time with their kids. They have to go work jobs and then pay crazy amounts of money for child care and then they get a little bit of time with their kids and we really feel lucky to have zero space from our kids."

Most couples don’t spend nearly as much time and energy together as these two do and their partnership is obviously working out well for them and fans. Trent describes their success at home and onstage, “There are hard days, and it kind of works that when one of us having a really hard day, the other one having a pretty strong day. I think that’s it’s own little ecosystem, I think one of us senses that.” He continues, “Even on stage, at shows, if somebody is starting to have a hard time, the other one gets stronger and it goes back and forth.”

Hearst adds, “Its like if there’s a boat with a hole in the bottom you take turns putting your thumb in the hole until you get where you’re going.”

Shovels and Rope will be performing with Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls, April 23 at the House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, doors at 7 p.m. $30.
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.
Contact: Gladys Fuentes