Musicians Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, better known as the alternative folk duo Shovels & Rope, are used to juggling various roles in both their personal and professional lives.
For starters, they're at once bandmates and a married couple.
And whereas some duos recruit additional backup musicians when translating their recordings to the live setting on tour, Trent and Hearst remain a two-piece onstage without watering down their increasingly heavy, guitar-driven sound.
"We're rolling as a two-piece pretty much indefinitely," Hearst says, "but what we've come up with are clever ways to play multiple instruments at once."
"A lot of people who haven't seen us before don't know we switch around a lot onstage," Trent says. "We've got guitar, some drums, a piano, mandolin, and everything, and we're just constantly rotating instruments throughout the evening."
"Our arms and legs are all moving at the same time," Hearst adds. "There's not too much dancing around. One thing that we don't get to do is a lot of showboating and cool moves and stuff, 'cause we are literally physically engaged at maximum capacity, but that, I guess, is a performance in and of itself."
They've got the kinks worked out onstage, but their multitasking expertise was put to the ultimate test when they became first-time parents in the midst of plans to record their latest album, Little Seeds.
Another band might have delayed recording plans or scrapped the project altogether, but the dilemma presented an interesting challenge for Shovels & Rope.
"Our studio is in our house, and we make all our records in our own studio," Trent explains. "So it was really a scheduling nightmare. We had to work really hard to get the logistics down, because if you have a sleeping baby in the same house, you can't really sneak upstairs and wail on the drums."
Trent and Hearst relied on the kindness of neighbors and baby nap breaks between feedings and diaper changes to record the tracks.
"It was difficult," Trent says. "We have neighbors who would come over and hold the baby for a couple of hours while I could get Cary upstairs to lay down some of her parts. I was up there constantly because the baby didn't want to be around me anyway. When they first come into the world, it's just mom. So I used my helpless energy just to stay up in the studio and focus on our record until it was time for me to have a baby task."
Recording Little Seeds during what Hearst calls "the most vulnerable, humbling moment of our lives" led the duo to write more explicitly personal lyrics than on previous albums, but the signature fictional narrative songs that Shovels & Rope fans have come to know and love remain a vivid part of the duo's recorded output and live set.
"We have always written like that. That's sort of our favorite way to write songs," says Trent, walking through the writing process for their song "Botched Execution."
"You hear the [phrase] 'botched execution' come over the news, and it'll be like, 'Man, that's kind of a jarring phrase. What if we tried to write a song about that?'"
After researching the statistics and logistics of botched executions, the pair thought the song would be a serious take on a serious problem, but once the creative process began, the song took on a fantastical, absurdist plot.
"A couple of lines came out and it was just like, 'This is going to just be like a ridiculous comic book.' It took a turn, and we just sort of went with it," Trent says. "I always think that those kinds of songs are fun and funny and scratch a weird, Tarantino creative itch. Some of our heroes are writers like Nick Cave and Tom Waits, and Southern Gothic authors like Flannery O'Connor. They come up with these sort of beautiful, twisted characters that we don't quite know what's up with them."
Shovels & Rope
7 p.m. Wednesday, April 5, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; 954-564-1074; cultureroom.net. Tickets cost $20 via cultureroom.net.
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