The folk-rock duo Shovels & Rope might be the hardest-working band touring today.
Married since 2009, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst have traveled in a van for the past six years, hitting clubs and theaters night after night with no backing band, just their voices and the half-dozen instruments they play.
“The fun is in the struggle,” Trent said.
The two trade instruments and harmonize every song. One will play drums and the keyboard while the other strums guitar.
“We definitely sound like a three- or four-person rock band, but we’re two bodies with limbs flying everywhere,” Trent said.
Shovels & Rope returns to Baton Rouge on Thursday, Sept. 28, to play the Varsity Theatre. The duo has always found an audience along the Interstate 10 corridor, Hearst said.
“Louisiana is one of my favorite musical regions,” she said.
They even named their daughter after the state. Louisiana Jean just celebrated her second birthday while on tour with her folks.
Touring behind their latest album, 2016’s “Little Seeds,” proves to be more of a challenge — not just because there’s a baby on the van. While many songs in their catalog rely on Trent and Hearst’s harmonies and guitar work, this collection of songs stands out thanks to a few raucous, rocking tunes.
The song “Botched Execution” pairs the rapid-fire telling of a death-row inmate’s escape with a rollicking rockabilly rhythm section. “In a Motel 6, thank God nobody left the light on,” they sing at a breakneck pace. “Dressed myself in women’s clothing and a wig I had tried on. Tried to cleanse myself of all the alibis I had relied on.”
Attempting it during their live shows is “exhausting,” Hearst said.
“That song is physically the most challenging,” she said. “When we pull it off, I feel like we deserve a trophy for it. That one is crazy.”
Shovels & Rope began with a self-titled release in 2008. Trent and Hearst had separate solo careers before and after that album, but they focused on their collaboration in 2012 with “O’ Be Joyful” and have toured consistently since.
Early on, the group developed a strong fanbase. Their marriage actually helped. As a couple, they were able to spend months in the van, traveling on a small budget. Home was wherever the van was parked.
“We also caught a lot of lucky breaks,” Trent said. “We got to open for a lot of great bands, one after another.”
Hearst and Trent create albums from a recording studio at their South Carolina home. As they craft songs, they consider how they can be re-created live. Past albums were a bit more low-key, traditional folk. The live shows, however, rocked a little more, Trent said. They attempted to capture that sound with “Little Seeds.”
“We were trying to shake our own tails and capture what we were doing live,” he said.
Adding a child to the mix didn’t change their music, Hearst and Trent said. But they did have to move their recording studio to a building outside the house so Louisiana Jean wouldn’t be disturbed.
“We’re the same people, but everything revolves around keeping the baby alive and happy,” Hearst said. “There is definitely a balance.”
An Evening with Shovels & Rope
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28
WHERE: Varsity Theatre, 3353 Highland Road, Baton Rouge