Charleston’s Shovels & Rope duo, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, have spent the last decade or so on a steady climb, becoming one of the state’s most nationally popular bands and garnering critical acclaim for their blend of rootsy, acoustic folk and stripped-down rock. Moving from independent artists to part of the New West records roster with their 2016 album “Little Seeds,” Shovels & Rope seemed poised to break even bigger with their next album.
They took advantage of that opportunity by making “By Blood,” the most abrasive-sounding, full-tilt rock album of their career.
Don’t misunderstand; this isn’t a Foo Fighters album we’re talking about here. There are many moments on “By Blood” that show off the things that people have come to love about Shovels & Rope; their ragged-but-right vocal harmonies are still intact, and some of the songs on the album still use the guitar-and-drums heartbeat that the married duo have always had as their nucleus.
But “By Blood” is also awash in untamed electric guitars, distorted vocals, and all sorts of unexpected production touches, from keyboards to horns to occasional bursts of jagged feedback. It’s easily their most visceral, kaleidoscopic album, and at least some of the inspiration for it came from the two collections of cover songs they’ve put out in between original albums, “Busted Jukebox” volumes 1 and 2.
“We used those ‘Busted Jukebox’ records to try to commune with some of our friends and fellow musicians, but also as a recording exercise to experiment and try out new things,” Trent says. “There was no pressure, so I feel like we used those records to learn, and you can definitely hear the evolution and the ideas for ‘By Blood’ starting to form.”
Hearst succinctly sums up where those two covers albums took them.
“Our new record is a super-cinematic rock-and-roll-y kind of version of us,” she says.
Trent says one of the reasons that Shovels & Rope have basically been able to make the music that they want to make is that they’ve surrounded themselves with a team and joined a record label that allow them to do just that. But the fact that all of their albums have been recorded in their own home studio has helped a lot, too.
“I’ve been in situations where you go into the studio and you’re on the clock,” he says. “And when it’s over, you get what you get. There’s just not enough time to actually get what you WANT. We’re lucky enough to be in a situation where no one bothers us or tells us how to make our records. It’s also nice to be at home, and we take advantage of that. We can take as much time as we want to, and we don’t have to pay anybody to do it.”
Hearst adds that, when you can simply walk into your recording studio without leaving your home, you don’t have to put yourself in a different mindset.
“Our creative process isn’t something we have to gear up for,” she says. “There’s no feeling of, ‘OK, we’re going to write the record now,’ or ‘We’re going in to record the album now.’ We’re HOME. So when it’s time to pop into the studio, do a jam, and see where we’re standing on stuff, we don’t have to break it down afterwards. Whatever it is we’re working on is still standing at the ready.”
Shovels & Rope are part of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s summer “Wheels of Soul” tour this year, and they’ll be opening up the show at CCNB Heritage Park Amphitheatre on Saturday. Hearst says she and Trent have been enjoying taking the songs from “By Blood” and delivering them in their typical onstage setup, which generally features Hearst on drums and vocals and Trent on guitar and vocals, though they both can play multiple instruments.
“I’ve never been more excited to play songs off of one of our records,” she says. “It’s always been fun, but it’s REALLY fun to be in the band right now.”
What: The Tedeschi Trucks Band: Wheels of Soul 2019, w/ Blackberry Smoke and Shovels & Rope
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, July 6
Where: CCNB Amphitheatre at Heritage Park, 861 S.E. Main St., Simpsonville
Info: 864-296-6601, https://ccnbamphitheatre.com/