The problem with concert films, Shovels & Rope’s Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst said, is that they can sometimes come off as a little flat.
Trent said, “You can be in the room at a show and it can feel like the most visceral, intense thing because of the volume and you’re in it and it’s 3-D, but when you’re watching it on TV, it just doesn’t do the same thing.”
So, when director Curtis Wayne Millard suggested that the concert movie he was making for Shovels and Rope might be more, the couple went along with it.
“We said ‘Yeah, we were down,’” Trent said.
The husband and wife band, which headlines Sunday night’s “Mountain Stage” at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, has a record out this year, “By Blood,” and the film, “Shovels & Rope the Movie,” which they’re selling as a download to stream.
Trent said, “There are no physical copies. As a business, it’s easier not to cart around a big stack of DVDs. As far as environmental things, we’re not putting out any plastic things — besides, the kids are all streaming.”
The film includes the performance footage, as well as little vignettes with characters that all create a narrative experience that is less of a concert film and more like a movie.
Hearst said when they first saw the completed version, she thought it was “precious.”
“It was cool and cute and funny,” she said. “It didn’t take itself too seriously, but it was made by someone who wasn’t afraid to indulge their creative instincts.”
Hearst said the film had interesting characters to help propel the story along.
“We didn’t have to watch ourselves be a--holes,” she said.
It was a different experience for Shovels & Rope, but also an expansion into releasing material online, which makes sense to them for business and for the environment.
Like some other performers, Trent and Hearst are trying to do a little less damage to the planet while still making a living. It can seem insurmountable, but little steps add up, they believe.
“We’re not perfect, but our approach is buying less plastic in our house,” Hearst said. “In our commercial endeavors, like Highwater, our big music festival, there’s a footprint and we’re always moving toward reducing plastic, recycling and compost initiatives for leftover food.”
She laughed and added, “In my wildest fantasies, one day the whole festival will be run on sunshine.”
For touring, they’ve eliminated water bottles on the bus.
“On tour, that was like two cases of water every single day that was coming on the bus,” she said.
“Everybody is using a canteen now and we use silverware, not plastic, no paper plates,” Trent said. “We’re trying.”
They’re just being conscientious, responsible artists and parents. The couple has two small children who travel with them.
“Our daughter just turned four,” Trent said. “We had our son in January and he’s already a hardened road dog.”
Balancing a family with a music career takes work and Shovels & Rope believes in forward momentum. They scarcely seem to break. In between regular studio releases, like “By Blood,” the band’s first record of original material since 2016 “Little Seeds,” they also put out Busted Jukebox records, which are albums of cover songs featuring guest artists performing with them.
“We work on those on the road,” Hearst said. “And then every couple of years, we have a pile of songs built up. We take some time off from the road and record because that’s how Mama and Daddy keep the lights on.”