Shovels & Rope are happy to be breaking some new ground on their fifth studio album By Blood, whose tracks “Mississippi Nuthin'” and “Carry Me Home” are premiering exclusively below.
The South Carolina husband-wife duo made the 10-track set, out April 12 via Dualtone, in their Charleston home studio. But for starters, they went in a bit more prepared than on its predecessors. “We were able to make this record between tour stops, so we had the chance to work out the music on tour a little bit and get it into the studio after it had some exercise,” Cary Ann Hearst tells Billboard. “A lot of times in the past we’d written songs and got them on a record before they ever got workshopped in a live setting, so it really helped to get them in shape.” There was also a bit more adventure during the sessions, as Michael Trent added more bass to the mix, along with mellotron and 12-string guitar and even dropped amplifiers on the floor to get a different crashing sound than cymbals.
“We’re only the two of us, and we try to make things sound interesting and are always looking for inspiration and a different way to do things,” Trent says. “So we tried a lot of different things this time, which was fun.”
The songs, meanwhile, return to what Hearst calls a more “outward” perspective after the introspection of 2016’s Little Seeds. “Mississippi Nuthin'” is a case in point, the tale of two old friends — one a high school Big Man on Campus, the other a “wimpy nerd” — whose life fortunes reverse as they get older, much to the dismay of the former. “Those kind of people, if they’re not successful or doing exactly what they want to do, they kind of hang on to what they were in high school for the rest of their lives,” Trent says. “That’s where they peaked, so they don’t ever want to give it up.”
“Carry Me Home,” meanwhile, is more about Hearst and Trent and the co-dependent relationship of a married couple in a band together.”It’s like the good kind and bad kind,” Hearst says. “The good kind because you can count on the other person. Somebody’s always scraping somebody off the bottom of the shoe of life in this house. But the bad side is you feel like you can’t function without the other one — if that’s really bad. It’s tricky.”
The pattern will continue, of course, as By Blood comes out and Shovels & Rope hit the road again, starting with the third annual High Water Festival April 13. The duo is also the subject of a new film, Shovels & Rope: The Movie, which combines concert footage and narrative elements and premieres March 15 at the 10th Annual Charleston Film Festival.
“These are fun things,” Hearst says. “With any business there’s the art that precedes the business and then it’s ‘What kind of fun things can we do that will make it interesting, that people will actually enjoy happening but aren’t waste of space things, and how can we do them in a fun way that are creatively satisfying?’ It’s not a record sales-based paradigm anymore — it’s touring and things people can see you do that don’t come free with their Spotify subscription.”