Shovels & Rope: Inside the Relationship of Americana’s Darling Duo
Cary Ann Hearst is sitting on a couch in the lounge area of the Hutton Hotel bar in Nashville in two pigtail braids, misting her throat with the contents of a little white bottle that, at one point, had apparently been inside one of Jason Isbell’s mucous membranes.
“I’m keepin’ it greased,” says the female half of Shovels & Rope, her twangy rasp even more fuzzed-out due to an impending case of laryngitis — though she still says the word “greased” like she’s dishing out biscuits at a meat-and-three. Last night’s midnight gig at local record store Grimey’s has left her voice a little ragged, so she’s been religiously spraying Entertainer’s Secret toward the bull’s-eye of her tonsils. Hearst’s friend and Isbell’s guitarist, Sadler Vaden, pillaged the Southeastern singer’s stash of the aloe-based elixir. “I think you’re supposed to shoot it up your nose, too, and I am sure this has been in Jason’s nose. And I don’t care!” Hearst says.
“Slime that throat!” eggs on her husband and bandmate Michael Trent, seated next to her in a velour chair with his feet up, wearing all black and periodically chewing on a toothpick. It’s not surprising, really, that Hearst has lost her voice — she’d admit to being the talker in the duo, prone to stories and flamboyant metaphors. At one point, she likens their music to a Tootsie Pop (tasty candy live show outside, chewy songwriting in the middle); in another, a sailboat.
“You’re the rudder, keeping us on track,” she would say to Trent, looking him straight in the eye before cracking into laugher. “And I’m the sail because I’m full of hot air.”
It’s a thick, humid day the afternoon before their third album, Swimmin’ Time, is released, and Hearst and Trent, in his-and-hers flip-flops and t-shirts, don’t exactly present themselves as the glamorous rock stars and actors that often inhabit the Hutton’s luxurious penthouse (Gwyneth Paltrow stayed here when she filmed Country Strong). And, for the record, they’re actually crashing at a much cheaper option across the street while they do some interviews and play the Grand Ole Opry for the first time. The bottle of Entertainer’s Secret, packaged to look like it’s wearing a tiny tuxedo, is about the most formal of anyone here. Because Shovels & Rope are anything but formal.
“We love what we do, but when we’re not out playing music we’d rather be mowing the grass,” says Trent. The couple recently purchased a ride-on lawnmower for the expansive yard at their home in Johns Island, South Carolina, where they live with their dog, Townes, and recorded and produced Swimmin’ Time in what they call “Home Studio Number 3.” With little but the two of them and some borrowed equipment from Electric Lady Studios, they sang lip-to-lip around a microphone.
But even with their general down-home existence, it’s hard to deny that Shovels & Rope have been growing at a lightning-fast pace — playing The Late Show With David Letterman, winning Song of the Year at the 2013 Americana Music Honors & Awards, landing their second LP, O’ Be Joyful, on the Billboard 200 (at Number 123). Their success has even forced them to trade their dear RV for a proper touring coach. So far, it’s been good — their dog likes the space, the beds are comfortable and there’s room enough for a nice panini machine to make sense of all those on-the-road cold cuts. But that’s where it ends.
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