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Roots Rock Duo Shovels & Rope Keeps It Fun

Family bands often struggle with the fuzzy boundaries separating their domestic and professional lives.

Shovels & Rope — Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, a husband-and-wife duo from Charleston, S.C. — spent nearly a decade of nonstop touring and producing records. Then wham: their daughter, Louisiana Jean, now almost 2, came along.

Before long, Shovels & Rope will be on everyone's radar. The roots-rock duo, who performs at Infinity Hall in Hartford on Oct. 14, released "Little Seeds," its latest self-produced album, on Dualtone in 2016. Stompers like "Botched Execution" leave you breathless — them, too, mostly likely. Throughout the collection, Trent and Hearst weave voices into complicated tapestries, switch off on a range of stringed and bashed instruments, and prove that soulful, homespun music will never run out of uses, if the creativity stays fresh and the energy remains high.

Trent and Hearst spoke about balancing the personal and professional and keeping it all fun.

Q: One thing I love about "Little Seeds" is the way you use your voices in different ways: harmony, imitation, call and response, different ways of stacking. It must be fun to have that variable to play around with while you're writing and arranging.

Hearst: That's definitely the case. My voice is a stronger instrument, and I'm not that accomplished at other things. So when Michael finds ways to record it, using it as different instruments, I enjoy that aspect of our music as well. I also feel like, during the recording process, those are the days I have the most fun in the studio.

Trent: It's fun to experiment with the different ways you can use your voices. You can make a whole soundscape, a bed of music with just voices, which I've always been a fan of people who do that, Elliott Smith, the Beatles. That ethos fits well with our band because there isn't a lot of instrumentation. Everything's pretty minimal, but we're not afraid to stack up a bunch of voices on a recording.

Q: You have freedom in the studio but some part of you must be thinking, "How can we pull this off live?"

Hearst: We accepted a long time ago that we would have to give ourselves as much freedom as we wanted to record in the studio, as long as we committed that the live shows were as exciting as the recordings. It didn't have to be true to the recording. It could be its own process. That's one thing that we always had fun with — doing the live shows — because we make new arrangements for things all the time. It keeps it fun for us. On tour, there are big recordings that we've stripped down to bare-bones versions. They're still exciting, but they're definitely different. We look at them as two different sides of the expression, the recording situation and the live show situation.

Trent: I like that. When I go see a band, and I've heard their record, I would like to see something different, a different kind of presentation. Don't change everything, but you don't want to go and just hear the record.

Q: Have you always produced your own records?

Hearst: Michael has, yes.

Trent: It's not that we wouldn't ever [have another producer] do it. We've done it before, in other bands, and have had OK experiences and great experiences. But we like doing it like this, and I don't think we would seek out anyone else unless we were out of ideas and we needed an idea jolt. Right now, we still feel full of fresh and creative ideas and always working in the studio, whether it's on other people's records or side deals or whatever. It's part of the fun for us, to have a studio at our house.

Q: Every time you want to record, you just go and do it.

Hearst: That was the plan at one time, and then we went ahead and got pregnant. That's the whole thing about "Little Seeds." We wrote that record, got that record together during the course of the pregnancy and touring, and then executed the record, because we had this down time — "down time," because we had a brand new baby in the house. We made the record right after we had the baby. Timing was everything.

Trent: We've made a building behind our house that we're going to move our studio to, an actual different location. We don't have to share a wall. We're going to have a little more control over that part of our lives. Our whole thing is interweaved, and we have to just time-manage the best we can.

Q: Is there a point at which you felt you no longer belonged exclusively to Charleston?

Hearst: I still feel like a Tennessean. I've lived in Charleston for 20 years. Michael certainly doesn't identify as a South Carolinian, but we certainly love our home and particularly cherish our community. It's such a great place to go home to. That's why we haven't left and gone someplace else. We have a lot of fans in Charleston, and they knew us when Michael was a dishwasher at Fast and French and I was a waitress at Jestine's. [Hearst appeared on an episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" in 2007.] They almost know me too well. They love us, but they're not precious about us. Nobody powders our ass because we're in Shovels & Rope. People have real problems.

Trent: We'll get the occasional free appetizer.

Hearst: It was like that when we were working in bars. We never went hungry in Charleston. But being bigger than where you came from: that sounds a little like believing your own press or something. We've been going from town to town, whether it's Toledo, Ohio or Hartford, for the last eight years, with only now just taking our first break for a vacation. Part of us does belong to the road. We're everywhere and nowhere, all the time. But Charleston is definitely our home. It's where we're rooted. People [don't care] about what band we're in. That's what makes it magical.

SHOVELS & ROPE performs at Infinity Hall in Hartford on Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39 to $50. infinityhall.com

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