Monday, 25 November 2013

My Interview with Shovels and Rope

You were in the UK earlier in the year. What did you learn then that you are going to build on during this trip?
The most important thing we learned is to Look Left. We haven't been able to get out and about too much but we have become quite familiar with the Islington area. We've had beers at Filthy McNasties and tried to catch shows at the Lexington, but it's been sold out both times. Also, the curry in London is pretty amazing.

Are there any UK artists that inform what you do musically?
Besides loving Beatles and the Kinks, Elvis Costello has actually been a major influence on us, both musically and as a career study. He does what ever he wants.

We all build an idea (from interviews, records, word of mouth) of what someone will be like. How did Jack White, the reality, compare to what you had imagined of him?

He was charming, efficient, sensitive, gracious and generous. We tried not to have any expectations bc that's a dangerous row to hoe. He embraced us both with a sincere hug and we went straight to work. That's our style anyway.

You have toured with the Felice Brothers, Justin Townes Earle and supported the Dave Matthews Band. What did you learn From each of them, and do you prefer to perform alongside artists where there is an obvious link in terms of sound? 

Dave Matthews: always carry a spare bike tire.
Justin Townes Earle: you can find weed literally anywhere.
Felice brothers: you can be the best songwriter in the world and people will try and shit on your art, so you can not concern yourself with critics. 

We don't have to share an obvious link with the bands we play. For us it's more about playing with people who inspire us and we have been extremely lucky to get to tour with Felice Bro.s, JT Earle, Lucero, Dawes, Butch Walker and especially Hayes Carll ( our Texan mentor in music/business/family life).  

You have said that this whole thing was a bit of an accident. Do you ever imagine what you may be doing if you hadn’t paired up? 

We don't speculate about it much bc we would both be in the action one way or another. You can't stop a dog from pissing on a tree. We're so happy to be out here together. We don't take it for granted, as tour life tends to be lonesome, even in a group.

If you are having a writing/working day, do you have an agreement that you don’t bring any marriage arguments or issues with you during that period of time? Is it possible to separate your work life from your normal life? 

In a sense there is no separation, because it's all our life and it can't be compartmentalized easily.  we don't say for example "you didn't take the trash out AND that chorus is shit. " 

Artists often write lyrics about relationships, family, personal experience. Does this ever prove to be awkward when you are in a band with your partner? 

We have yet to write passive-aggressively about each other in songs. On that note, there's a really intense song called "it hurts me" by Julie Miller. Buddy Miller (Julie's husband) and Jim Lauderdale perform it regularly and Buddy always predicates it, saying "I hope it's not about me" . It's probably about him, at least sometimes.

In terms of performing live you have said you are always teetering on the edge of disaster. Have you had any moments that have gone beyond teetering while on stage? How fast do you recover from such mishaps?

Yes. There was a particularly disastrous moment at Voodoo fest in Nola where we destroyed, in a bad way, Bruce Springsteens Jonny 99. It was a public humiliation that lasted 20 seconds and then it was over and behind us. Failure is humbling. Luckily, it's also humanizing and no one kicked us out of New Orleans for having a shitty moment in a show. 
We have to put failures and victories immediately behind us and move forward. We exist in the moment, always. 

You ranked up over 200 shows in 2012 - What sort of toll did that take on you?

That's a complicated answer... Mentally drained, physically compromised, diet found wanton of nutrition, sleep unregulated, isolated from family, lost in space and time AND YET... Adventure of a life time. Our music, which we made for ourselves, has been sent out into the world and People are making it their own and using it in their own way, relating to it in a way we didn't consider when we created it. It has a life of its own in that way... We are family... Michael, Cary Ann, Townes the dog, And our amazing crew Joel and Kevin (and Blakeyman in Europe of course) and move around like a tribe of gypsies, getting it done. It can be romantic and mundane both.... Such is life. 
Also, We're currently driving 120 mph on the autobahn in Germany. It's awesome.

As your audience has grown does it make you less likely to experiment and try new genres, knowing that you have lots of fans to satisfy? 
Our fans don't need us pandering to their likes. They like what they like. We like what we like. Sometimes we like the same thing.  We feel zero pressure about our creative process, and from business standpoint, there is no giant label pointing a gun at our career saying " the radio wants this that or the other..." and since we haven't sold millions of records we can operate well with even a modicum of commercial success.  We don't need a bunch of fancy shit to make us happy.

How have you adapted to having more people being involved in your band decisions? Are you okay with relinquishing control? 

No one tells us what to do.

You say that your new work is generally informed by what instruments are around at the time. Do you learn new instruments quickly? What has been the trickiest to master?  

There's a saying some of our farmer friends use:  "Jack of all trades, master of none".  We subscribe to that notion when learning new instruments.  It's good to know a little bit about a lot.  We've taken up accordion and that's really satisfying. It's enchanting to take up a new instrument... It's like child's play. We're lucky not to be expected to be virtuosos. 

Michael, you produced O’ Be Joyful. Were you accepting of Cary Ann’s comments if she had a differing opinion about any of your production decisions? 

Of course.  We're a 2 man team all the way.

You have recorded in your van, in motels, in your backyard. Do you think you would ever be able to produce an album you were happy with in one high tech and slick recording studio? 

Probably..  I just don't really care to make records that way.  A lot of the best creative decisions come from being forced to work with what's around you.

How do find that balance between not being too polished and not being overly low fi?

We don't. We just is. 

What is your opinion on the current state of the music industry. If you had the power, what would you change?

We have no opinion about it. We have good people around us and we will keep the shitheads away from us for the duration. Seems like a good time to be a working class musician, seems like a tough time to try and be a pop star. You have to tour. In the words of Britney Spears, "you gotta work bitch".

Recently played on your iPod?

Felice bros, Jroddy Walston, Blittzen Trapper, Those Darlins, Deertick, Preservation Hall Jazz band (that's just the last 100miles!)

Stage you'd most like to play?

We played the Ryman in nashville.

Guilty pleasure?

Friday night lights and other really wholesome television programs.

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