Union Transfer


Shovels & Rope

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Shovels & Rope

Shakey Graves

Fri, September 13, 2013

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 8:30 pm

Union Transfer

Philadelphia, PA

$15.00 - $18.00

This event is all ages

Shovels & Rope
Shovels & Rope
Little Seeds, the electrifying New West Records bow by Shovels and Rope, finds the award-winning South Carolina duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst exploring fresh dimensions in their sound with a brace of bold, candid, highly personal new songs.

The 12-song collection, produced by Trent at the couple’s home studio in Charleston, succeeds 2014’s Swimmin’ Time and 2012’s O’ Be Joyful; the latter title garnered the twosome Americana Music Awards for Song of the Year (for “Birmingham”) and Emerging Artist of the Year. Last year’s Busted Jukebox, Volume 1 was a collaborative collection of covers featuring such top talents as the Milk Carton Kids, Lucius, JD McPherson and Butch Walker.

On the new release, Trent and Hearst as ever play all the instruments and penned the material, which range from stomping rockers to delicate acoustic-based numbers. Many of Little Seeds’ finely crafted and reflective new songs – completed in the late summer of 2015 -- are drawn from tumultuous events experienced by the couple over the course of the last two years.

“There were two major changes that happened at the same time,” Hearst says. “We found out we were pregnant, and at the same time Michael’s parents had been living with us, because his father is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Those two things, having the baby and facing the reality that our parents were aging, made this weird, awesome circle of humanity that really just took us out. I guess we were in the crosshairs of human existence.” Trent continues, “We started putting this record together right after the baby was born. Every spare moment I had I was in the studio doing my best to work around the cries, and Cary would have to sneak up and do her parts when the baby was asleep. It’s a funny thing trying to make a rock n roll record with a sleeping baby in the house.”

Hearst adds, “As we were finishing the record and making the final decisions about what to include in it, our good friend Eric was killed here in town. We ended up dedicating the record to his memory. The beginning of ‘This Ride’ is actually Eric’s mother telling the true story of how he had been born in the back of a police car. With her blessing, we added that to frame ‘This Ride.’”

“Invisible Man” and “Mourning Song,” were directly inspired by the debilitating illness faced by Trent’s father. Hearst says of the former song, “The disease is preventing him from being able to mentally wrap his mind around it. I wanted to speak for him. I wanted to express what it would be like for a man like him, a capable, funny dude. I wanted to put that in an up-tempo pop song, because it’s always interesting for dark material to be presented that way.”

Of “Mourning Song,” Trent says, “I was envisioning what it was going to be like for my mother after he wasn’t around anymore. It’s weird, maybe, to write a song about the death of your father who hasn’t died yet. It seemed like something he would do – write a tune to comfort my mother after he’s gone.

The hushed, moving spoken word “BWYR”, a song of unity at a time when some try to divide, is torn from an event close to home: the mass shootings at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015.

“The night we heard about it, we were in Denver and approaching the end of ‘touring while pregnant’, which was pretty intense,” Trent says. “We flew to Chicago, our show was cancelled – it was rained out – and we were stuck in the hotel, and that’s where it was written. We were talking to our friends and texting, and we wanted to be home so bad, to be with our people. These mass shootings seemed to be happening every weekend, and the thought of bringing a child into the world was overwhelming and scary.”

“Buffalo Nickel” takes on the most personal of all subjects: Trent and Hearst’s relationship as a married couple who also collaborate creatively. Only as the song developed did they begin to understand its topic. “We were trying to figure out what the story was about,” Trent says, “and the more we wrote on it, we said, ‘Are we talking about us here? Are we airing some things here?’” Without a beat, Hearst adds with a laugh, “And we were.”

Little Seeds also contains songs that deploy Shovels and Rope’s widely admired talents as storytellers: the thrashing “I Know,” a wryly observed description of intra- band backbiting, and “Botched Execution,” a darkly funny tale of a convict on the run in the manner of Southern gothic writer Flannery O’Connor. Inspired by a concise history written by Hearst’s father, “Missionary Ridge” looks back at the decisive 1863 Civil War battle.

The album also tips a hat to the group’s Americana forebears. “The Last Hawk” pays homage to Garth Hudson, the master keyboardist of the Band, who Hearst calls “a quiet genius, this weird, wonderful creature who can do anything with music.” Trent recalls, “There was an article in Rolling Stone that was one of the first things you’d ever seen where it was just Garth, explaining things from his take. We read it on an airplane, and I looked over at Cary, and she was crying – it really moved her.”

Both Trent and Hearst acknowledge that making Little Seeds took the band into previously unexplored and even unimagined creative terrain.

“It was cathartic,” says Trent. “There were some songs we had trouble getting through because it was too emotional for us. That’s not really how we had approached songwriting in the past -- we got really into writing character-based songs on Swimmin’ Time. For Little Seeds, this is what was going on, and it was all consuming, physically and emotionally, and I feel like we couldn’t help but to be very raw and honest.”

Hearst says, “At a certain point in your relationship, professional or personal, you think it’s maybe run its course – ‘We can’t possibly write more together than we have in the past. We can’t possibly live closer than we have in the past. We can’t possibly understand each other more.’ But in the last couple of years, that has happened. We have become even more intimate as writing partners, and in life, collaboratively. It showed me that there were new depths to conquer in our creative life and our personal life and our family life. It’s all deeper and wider than I could ever have imagined it. Which is great.”
Shakey Graves
Shakey Graves
Back in December 2017, Shakey Graves proclaimed on his Twitter page, “Next album. New sound. Sell your suspenders.” The tweet was tongue-in-cheek, but Alejandro Rose-Garcia, the Austin native who’s been plying his trade as Shakey Graves since 2007, was making a dead-serious point about his latest album, Can’t Wake Up (Dualtone, out May 4). This ambitious, audacious work heralds an artistic metamorphosis for the 30-year-old veteran, whose risk-taking in painting outside the lines has been rewarded tenfold. “This record is the most I’ve ever intentionally worked on a project, musically speaking, in terms of the scope of it and how much thought went into it,” he says. “It’s a dense album; there’s a lot of information going on.”

That is not a hyperbolic boast. From one moment to the next, Can’t Wake Up veers from the inevitable to the revelatory, its thirteen songs teeming with jarring musical and thematic collisions and thrillingly seamless intersections, gnarly psychological hornswoggles and ecstatic resolutions. Central to the prevailing sense of disorientation are the lead vocals, none of which is purely solo. Instead, each lead performance is shadowed by a queasy harmony or slightly out-of-sync unison part, giving the sense—especially on headphones—that these voices are emanating from inside the listener’s head.

Newfound inspirations the Beatles and Harry Nilsson (“I could only deny the inevitable for so long,” he says of his belated immersion in the sacred texts) cohered around Rose-Garcia’s longtime touchstones, including Elliott Smith, Beck circa One Foot in the Grave, Broken Social Scene, Built to Spill and other indie bands of the 1990s and early oughts.

“I’ve never worked like this before, but I went into the record with the idea of having a thesis statement of what I wanted to get across,” Rose-Garcia explains. “And the place that I got at was that I wanted it to be vaguely Wizard of Oz-themed, and I wanted it to be hectic and a little uncomfortable, like what I refer to as the Big Five Disney cartoons: Pinocchio, Fantasia, Snow White, Dumbo and Bambi. All those movies are terrifying—some of the most stressful movies I’ve ever seen. So I started with this Wizard of Oz thing—’Tin Man’ that has obvious allusions to that—and the idea of black-and-white to color.”

The creative process was paralleled by the conception and execution of the striking, hallucinatory cover art. “I built an elaborate miniature diorama in my house and used plexiglass plates, paint and train set buildings to create a forced-perspective illusion and photographed it,” Rose-Garcia explains. “The goal was to have the cover and the process to mirror the album in a way, and I am thrilled with how it turned out.”

Can’t Wake up is Alejandro/Shakey’s second official studio-album project—more official, in any case, than the several mostly solo odds-and-ends collections he’s been putting out through Bandcamp since his very first release, Roll the Bones, in 2011. It was his previous Dualtone album, 2014’s And the War Came, and centerpiece song “Dearly Departed” that lifted Shakey from hard-core cultdom to the elevated status of bona fide career artist.

Up to now, he’s been categorized as an Americana singer/songwriter, thanks to his traditionally rooted songs, fluent acoustic-guitar picking, Texas roots and the aforementioned cowboy hat. Indeed, Shakey was named Best Emerging Artist award at the 2015 Americana Music Awards. But that tag will undoubtedly be dismissed as restrictive and irrelevant once this righteously radical new album gets digested by critics and discerning listeners. Because Can’t Wake Up is an extreme example of what happens when a kid from an artistic family is encouraged to use his imagination from early childhood onward.

“Not that I hadn’t made stuff that I really wanted to, but with this record, I just wanted to go back to building stuff,” Rose-Garcia points out, referencing a lifetime of doing just that. “So the creative process of building this record started out with me in a bathrobe in my house just doing what comes naturally, and then finding pieces of what I want to write about everywhere.”

The figurative term “musical journey” is overused these days, but Can’t Wake Up is largely the result of a series of literal musical pilgrimages that took Rose-Garcia and his collaborators—drummer Christopher Boosahda, guitarist Patrick O’Connor, bass player Jonathan Shaw and honorary bandmember Rayland Baxter—to several far-flung locales. “We went to Levon Helm’s barn/studio in Woodstock, Kevin Costner’s ranch on the Roaring Fork River outside of Aspen, the Belmont Hotel in Dallas, and one final trip to Echolab Studios in Denton. In each of these expeditions, we would ship our gear in, live on-site for 10 days and let the backdrop and local characters really bleed into the experience. The patchwork quilt of it all really feels like the last few years of my life leading up to the birth of this record. This was a new process for me, and a game-changing one.”

A ton of personal experience went into the material, stretching all the way back to the five years straight out of high school Rose-Garcia spent in L.A., taking a shot at starting an acting career and taking emotional lumps as his childhood fantasy of Hollywood was replaced by the bitter reality of rejection and monotony. “Dining Alone,” in which the album hits emotional rock-bottom, ruefully recounts that experience. “Same old shoes on the same old feet/One-track mind, one-way street,” he sings, the juxtaposition of soaring melodiousness and near-despair echoing Harry Nilsson at his most existentially isolated. “Nothing’s going to change for the same old me/Eat, sleep, do it again.”

“Big Bad Wolf,” likewise, comes off like a slice of autobiography, with its references to the “silver screen” and football (he eventually landed a recurring role in the TV series Friday Night Lights, but only after returning to Texas). The title suggests both his preoccupation with animated fairy tales and his unquenchable hunger to create. A similar sense of striving permeates “Kids These Days,” as Rose-Garcia sings, “Everybody tries…to be somebody/somebody’s wet dream prom king,” amid overdriven power chords. “Mansion Door,” by contrast, shimmers with hopefulness, lifted by rippling guitars, Beatlesque psychedelic vocal flourishes, Jiminy Cricket-like whistling and images of “My one and only lonely star” twinkling in the heavens.

At the same time, “Mansion Door” establishes the overarching theme of Can’t Wake Up, which is further played out in songs like “Counting Sheep,” “Foot of Your Bed” (which can be heard as an ardent love ballad or the creepy reverie of a stalker) and “Tin Man,” stoking this song cycle to the sweat-soaked turbulence of a fever dream.

According to Rose-Garcia, the album also functions as a private dialogue with certain listeners. “I get a lot of really intense, very sweet fan mail from people who have either kept themselves from committing suicide by listening to my music or have lost one of their loved ones to suicide, but my tunes were a bright spot for them,” he says. “I got one from a girl not too long ago at a concert who said, ‘My boyfriend finally succumbed to depression, but for a while there, your music was something we’d gather around that would make him feel sane.’ So to a certain degree, this is a ‘Don’t kill yourself’ record. I really wanted to get deep inside that kind of gloomy, hectic craziness—the dream analogy of not being able to wake up or not knowing who you are. Or, in ‘Dining Alone,’ being mired in monotony. And a lot of the ‘you’ on the record isn’t a girl or a boy; it’s the person listening to the record. I’m singing into the ear of somebody who might need it. If heard some of these songs when I really needed them, I feel like they would hit the nail on the head.”

Not every song is suffused in seriousness. “We wrote ‘Aibohphobia’ in the mountains as a group,” Rose-Garcia recalls. “We were trying to work on more serious material, but we had all had a little bit of LSD and started writing that song. Most of the lyric is a palindrome, including ‘Aibohphobia,’ which is actually a joke term for the irrational fear of palindromes. Even the last sentence of the song is one long palindrome. We got the hugest kick out of playing that song for each other.”

He sees the distinctions as well as the parallels between the two artistic endeavors he’s pursued. “Music, to a degree, values individuals being themselves, in that good music tends to be rooted in honesty as opposed to a disguise,” he notes. “It can be storytelling, but it’s usually pretty direct. Whereas acting is about being unrecognizable as yourself. So in a sense, the two modes are opposite. But on the other hand, I use an alias when I make music, because I like the storytelling aspect of having an alias or a band name—it just adds another shade of paint.”

Rose-Garcia has been encouraged to go for it by Dualtone, which has given him a standing offer to release any album he feels warrants a wider release. “They’ve been really wonderful in a lot of ways,” he marvels, “but especially in the sense of trusting me and being very supportive of my putting out DIY stuff in between. Because that’s what this record is—a bigger version of DIY. That’s why I make stuff; I would do it if no one was watching me. The inherent pleasure I get out of creating anything isn’t for other people’s ears any more so than my own.”

In a sense, the album is a microcosm of Rose-Garcia obsessively artistic existence and its ever-expanding horizons. “The beautiful lesson of all this is having to trust yourself, to be willing to start something that you don’t know the outcome of,” he reflects. “Or to lean toward something just because it feels right, even though it may not be what you originally put down on paper. Those are the kind of stories in this record. They’re not so much about specific people, or even myself per se. They’re different shades of every person’s life.”

—Bud Scoppa
January 2018
Venue Information:
Union Transfer
1026 Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19123