Beignets with a Side of Sass

Charleston City Paper | September 30, 2006
Pancakes, a fried egg with hot sauce, salt and pepper, and a side of bacon — Cary Ann Hearst has an appetite that belies her petite frame. Then again, everything about this girl is big: big voice, big laugh, big personality, and big, huge talent.

At Marie Laveau’s, Cary Ann and drummer Evan Bivins discuss the launch of the Cary Ann Hearst Band’s debut, quasi-self-titled album, CAH (a.k.a. Dust & Bones). Cary Ann devours her breakfast with abandon, and the lanky Bivins nibbles politely on borrowed beignets and pancakes.

If Cary Ann is a steam train locomotive, Bivins provides the tracks. Formerly of Jump, Little Children, Bivins possesses the kind of centered composure that is the perfect foil for Cary Ann’s “wild child” persona.

The creative chemistry between the two is undeniable. Conversation — which drifts from the trials and tribulations of landing a record deal, plans for a summer tour, and the inspiration and influences that went into the creation of CAH — is peppered with spontaneous harmonies and half-formed sentences the pair would finish for each other.

The duo first began making music together in Charleston in the Borrowed Angels, which also included Danny Cassady and Jonathan Gray (ex-Jump). This new incarnation is the result of a collaboration with Ash Hopkins, who plays bass and guitar, and a motley crew of performers stretching from here to Nashville. Sadler Vaden of Leslie can be heard pitching in on rawk guitars and harps, and Josh Kaler of Slowrunner on pedal steel. Ward Williams, another Jump, Little Children alumnus, can be found on the cello. Nashville natives Dustin Welch (from the Scotch Greens) and Cory Yonts (who performs with Bobby Bare Jr.) play resonating guitars, banjo, and pianos, respectively.

Hearst describes the album’s sound as having “an organic and heart-worn sound with a sharp edge.” This sound is reflective of her love of punk, swamp-blues, ethereal gospel, and primitive rock ’n’ roll. Both Bivins and Hearst are quick to point out that this is not a country record.

“Cary is not country, she’s not gospel, she’s not soul, but all of that stuff is in there,” says Bivins. “We just tried to make a real record, which is something I personally don’t feel like I hear that much anymore … a record that is genuine and interesting without being eclectic. It’s top-to-bottom, it has a really great emotional spectrum. I’m about as proud of it as anything I’ve ever done.

I think the key to it was just being truthful to who Cary is and the songs she writes, where she comes from, and then it just takes care of itself,” he adds. “When we started making this record, I fully expected to make a country record, especially after Borrowed Angels, but we didn’t. We made a record that is a country, gospel, soul-inspired rock record.”

Cary Ann agrees, but she is also not ready to call herself a rocker. “About a year ago, I decided I wanted to discover the rock ’n’ roll inside of me. Ever since then, I have been listening to all that stuff — Black Sabbath, Iggy and the Stooges. I don’t play that because it would sound stupid. It isn’t my style, and it’s not what I can do. It would sound fake, but I do love it! I feel like I have gotten to know the performer part of myself very well. I sound like Lucinda Williams, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash sometimes, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, and The Band in the early ’70s. I wish I was a guitar shredder, but that’s not me.”

How does she reconcile her desire to rock and her country sound?

“The most rock ’n’ roll, punk-rock thing to do is to say, ‘Fuck you! You don’t like my country song? I’m going to punch you in the face! Sorry you’re too good to listen to somebody cryin’ in their beer. We’ll just go to another bar, cause this is what I am doing right now!’”

To drive the point home, Bivins warns, “Cary really will punch you in the face.”

While there’s no doubt that this woman is a force to be reckoned with, she isn’t just a brawl-starting bad-ass. The woman’s got soul. “Organic and heart-worn with a sharp edge” could describe Miss Cary Ann herself just as well as it describes her album. It’s for this very reason that CAH is so compelling. One listen and you know that her heart, soul, blood, and tears are in the music.

“Dust and Bones,” the first track on the record, offers a prime example. Stripped down to the barest, it has foot-stomping rhythm layered with throaty vocals and bayou Sunday harmonies, put together to tell a tale of sweaty Southern sin and redemption.

“It is the most true to what I had envisioned for myself and it is the most raw, and the most punk rock recording on the record,” Cary Ann says of the track. “It was the most true that we got and it’s the best song on the album.”

As the powdered sugar settles on the empty plates of Sunday brunch, Bivins and Hearst reflect on the album they’ve created and the hopes they have for their summer promotional blitzkrieg.

“You can’t say if, you have to say when,” Hearst says. “You manifest things in your life by speaking of them like they are already happening. You can’t be a sissy about these things. You have to kick it! You have to do it!”

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Founded in 1997, the locally owned and operated City Paper is Charleston's only weekly alternative newspaper and the second-largest publication in the metro Charleston area. Reaching a strong mix of active, affluent locals and tourists, the City Paper has thrived...
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