Shovels & Rope: In Marriage And Music, A 'Psychic' Bond Relationships are complicated, and as Cary Ann Hearst says of her marriage and musical partner Michael Trent, "It's a strange thing to be held accountable as part of the musical act."

Shovels & Rope: In Marriage And Music, A 'Psychic' Bond

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When you listen to musicians Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, you immediately get this warm feeling. They are partners in every way.

So you - the two of you are married and also in a band together?

MICHAEL TRENT: Oh yeah, red flags right away.


GREENE: Why do you say that?

TRENT: Go ahead, Cary.

CARY ANN HEARST: It is true - we are married and we're in a band together. We get a lot of questions about it. I guess it can be a little bit fascinating to some people. But to us it's not fascinating at all. It's just the way that we live. We don't know anything else because ever since we ever got together, we just travel around and play music.


SHOVELS AND ROPE: (Singing) I said I thought it would be colder. You put your head upon my shoulder.

GREENE: Everything they do seems to send a message about relationships. They tried musical careers apart, but realized they were stronger together.

TRENT: We were husband and wife before we were in this band.

HEARST: That's true.

TRENT: We played music together just to kind of pay the rent while we played in our dream bands on the side that we were going to go somewhere.

HEARST: That's right.

TRENT: And they didn't.

GREENE: Was there a moment when you decided you know what, we should just do this music thing together?

HEARST: Yes. There was a very clear moment when that happened. And it wasn't that we ever intended to be in a band together obviously. And then it occurred to us if we really put all of our energy into this one thing, we could be together, we could make this our family business. And ever since we just said yes to that opportunity, it just seems like the clouds parted and wonderful adventures have been coming our way.


SHOVELS AND ROPE: (Singing) But won't you help me to get through it, I've been flailing like a child. My mistakes they are so many for my loving heart is wild.

GREENE: Their chemistry works. The duo calls themselves "Shovels And Rope." In 2012, their first album, which they produced at home in Charleston, South Carolina, was a hit with critics. It cemented their reputation as rising stars on the Americana scene. Now they are back with a new album, homemade as well, it's called "Swimmin' Time."


SHOVELS AND ROPE: (Singing) I got wasted and I sat around the fire all day, seeing if I could find someone to make love to.

GREENE: Onstage, Cary Ann and Michael play all the instruments - they switch off on guitars and drums and keyboard and harmonica, all the while singing together in perfect harmony.

HEARST: To reduce the music down to what two people can accomplish and giving yourself that kind of narrow spectrum to work with, that's kind of what our cooperation is a study in - minimalism is making a grand noise.


SHOVELS AND ROPE: (Singing) I'm going down a long road, maybe it's the wrong road. Either way I got to find my way back home again.

GREENE: For a while, this couple shared quite a small space - they converted the 15-seat van Michael toured in with his old band into a mobile home for two. They took out the seats and they built a little loft in the back.

TRENT: We had the gear underneath and then we put a mattress on the top. And that was our house. That was our bedroom.

HEARST: That's right. We even made a living room in the front, where we took out a bench seat, we put in a nice, round rug and made some curtains out of some brown burlap and we hung it up with a shower curtain rod and some zip-ties - and it was very homey in there.

GREENE: OK, and there were nights in Walmart parking lots.

HEARST: Plenty of them.

TRENT: Many.


SHOVELS AND ROPE: (Singing) I got to find a better coping mechanism. I'm fallin' apart, disintegrating in the cism.

GREENE: Well, from a songwriting point-of-view, you know, it's so striking because you have these incredibly warm feelings of, you know, the two of you and the chemistry you have. But some of your lyrics, especially on this new album, are really, really dark.

TRENT: Like which ones?


GREENE: Well, let me bring up one of the songs because I'd love to hear you talk about one specifically. This is "Evil."


SHOVELS AND ROPE: But every now and then I get evil. I'm ashamed in the shadow of the steeple. I'm a lunatic, look at those keyholes. I hit my kids but I don't mean to.

GREENE: I hit my kids but I don't mean to - that seems pretty dark to me.


TRENT: Yeah, it's about two characters who are misunderstood. The man is a widower and he's out putting shoes on his horse. And he gets kicked in the head and then he starts acting out in ways that he can't understand. It's kind of a sweet story if you look at it from the big picture because the neighbor girl who's also disliked and misunderstood befriends him and starts bringing stuff over to his house and they need each other.

HEARST: But their relationship is against kind of what is socially acceptable and there's the confrontation where the young lady tries to explain the relationship.


SHOVELS AND ROPE: (Singing) Oh yeah, the shed was a loneliness. He and I was two of a kind. He and I was two of a, was two of a kind.

HEARST: It is a heavy idea. But like Michael said, there's this - a tenderness at the bottom of it.

GREENE: And does that somehow tell us about the relationship we see between the two of you? That it's more complicated than we realize, but tender in the end?

HEARST: I think that you can make that comparison. Our relationship is really private on and we're very protective of it. We've probably spoken to you about it in more detail and with more candor than we do frequently.

TRENT: We're not out there peddling our marriage at the merch booth...


TRENT: ...Or anything.

HEARST: You can have one just like ours.

TRENT: Check it out.

HEARST: But there's a perception of who we are and I hope that it's close to reality because I think people think that we are very sweet. But between us, there is almost a psychic understanding that I don't think anyone can really truly understand. And maybe that's part of what makes the chemistry between us palpable to people.


SHOVELS AND ROPE: (Singing) Was it something that I said that turned your laughter into lead. Did I pin too much of me on you.

GREENE: Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, it's been a real pleasure getting to know you. Thank you so much.

HEARST: It's really, truly our pleasure and thank you so much.

TRENT: We appreciate it. Thank you.

GREENE: The band is "Shovels And Rope." Their album "Swimmin' Time" is out today. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.


SHOVELS AND ROPE: (Singing) That's all there was to say, the wind just blew my worries away, guess I'll pin my loneliness on you. Funny how I'm in my darkest place.

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