It’s safe to say Shovels and Rope’s latest, “Little Seeds,” is unlike their previous albums. For the October release, South Carolina duo, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, found themselves writing in the full glare of life’s sadness and beauty, dealing with the birth of their daughter, the death of a friend and the slow loss of aging parents. So, among the barroom boogie, country rock, and finely tuned balladry, there are some very personal tales.
“This one is a little bit different for us,” admits Trent, speaking with Hearst from Detroit, just after sound check. “We’re usually into more character based writing. This time around we had a lot of personal stories to tell. We didn’t plan on it; it was just there and that’s how it turned out.”
The couple created the album over the last two years — a time that included pregnancy and birth: “Last August and September we went into power writing mode to finish, and literally the baby came the next day,” says Hearst. The husband-and-wife duo were also caring for Michael’s parents and coming to terms with his father’s Alzheimer’s disease (captured in the song “Invisible Man”). The death of a close friend, Eric, then inspired the poignant “This Ride." Birth and death: and they were caught in the middle and it was unavoidable.
“It was occupying a lot of our emotional space,” says Trent. “These songs came out of all that. We pondered whether we wanted to make such a personal record though, and we talked to family and friends to see how they felt about it.”
Writing and recording the album, which features the pair playing all of the instruments, is one thing, though. Standing on stage night after night on tour and playing the songs is another.
“That’s still an experience we’re new to. We’re a week into this tour for the record,” explains Hearst. “We’re working super personal songs out that people don’t really know in front of a rock and roll crowd. It’s challenging.”
That might be particularly true of “Invisible Man” and “Mourning Song,” the latter written from Michael’s imagined mother’s perspective as a widow.
“Because 'Invisible Man' is so physically fast and upbeat the feat is getting through playing that song physically,” says Hearst. “That’s what we concentrate on.” Indeed, much of the record is upbeat rather than mournful. But when the toe-tappings done, there’s plenty to think about.
“We haven’t played 'Mourning Song' live yet,” adds Trent. “It was difficult to record it without our hearts breaking. I’ve never felt like that before. Usually we make a record and then go and perform it. This was always going to be different.”
If you go:
Oct. 14 at 7 p.m.
House of Blues
15 Lansdowne St., Boston
Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
1026 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia
Oct. 17 at 8 p.m.
The Music Hall of Williamsburg
66 N 6th St., Brooklyn