Q&A With Gary McClure Of American Wrestlers
While St. Louis’s music scene ends its year of incredible records, American Wrestlers are also closing out 2016 in a big way. Originally the solo project of Scotland native Gary McClure, who grew up in Manchester, England, he co-formed nu gaze band Working For A Nuclear Free City with his best mate, Philip Kay (who would design the new record’s cover art). McClure then released “Wreaths,” a solo record, in 2013.
McClure’s journey to St. Louis is an affair of the heart. He left Britain after meeting his future wife (and the band’s keyboardist) Bridgette Imperial in England, where she was studying music therapy. Once settled in to his new town, he took a factory job but found time to make bedroom music using his wife’s Tascam recorder. This resulted in the highly acclaimed self-titled debut.
The debut was a lo-fi offering that surveyed a little bit of everything he loved about music. Despite being a very low-key DIY effort, it put McClure on the map of hipsters, critics and Fat Possum Records. Moving beyond a solo project, he added his wife Bridgette, bassist Ian Reitz and drummer Josh Van Hooresbeke to the mix, forming the band’s current outfit.
“Goodbye Terrible Youth” is a hybrid of UK indie sounds and a restrained version of American pop. From the opening volley, “Vote Thatcher,” to the Smiths-era splendor of “Give Up” and the hazy swirl of “Blind Kids,” the result is focused and sophisticated. Yet there is still plenty of dirge beneath the elegant melodies and synthesis of sounds, similar to Teenage Fanclub, Aztec Camera (founded by McClure’s uncle Roddy Frame) and a handful of Sub Pop bands. While currently on tour, the band has done our city proud by crushing the indie music charts, grabbing the attention of tastemakers, DJ’s and record-store clerks.
Read our Q&A with Gary McClure about American Wrestlers’ success, St. Louis’s music scene and making his new album.
Are you surprised by the overwhelming response that “Goodbye Terrible Youth” is getting?
There are two contradictory thoughts that occur. One is the ego that most people live with that accepts success as something that was to be expected, while the human being in us is totally stunned by the realization that some confused abstraction you somehow willed into being has been recognized and understood in some inexplicable manner by a whole bunch of strangers.
The album covers a lot of terrain musically. How did the songs come about?
I sat in front of the TV with a guitar, and I strummed and hummed nonsense until something felt right. It swam around in my head for a few days and little by little my brain arranged it into something.
How does the music climate in St. Louis compare to the one you experienced in Scotland and Manchester?
America feels a little more welcoming than the UK does. Maybe people are interested in my music because I’m an alien here. Maybe it’s because I learned songwriting from listening to American musicians, so I’m producing something that is more appealing to audiences here. I don’t know.
Manchester always felt very competitive, and in my previous band, Working For A Nuclear Free City, we came up against an industry which was 99% people without talent who liked to feel important. It was really just one made of smoke and mirrors designed to help them feel like they were interesting for taking drugs.
While the previous American Wrestlers album is an example of creative bedroom recording, the new album is more a bit more polished. Can you discuss the difference in making the two albums?
I had better microphones and a laptop for this one. It was made pretty-sounding by Clay Jones (who has worked with Modest Mouse and Buddy Guy) in Mississippi, who is great at mixing records.
Did the experience of moving to St. Louis from the UK affect you as an artist?
I felt liberated from previous hang-ups, which I didn’t know that I had.
What made you decide to expand American Wrestlers to a full band?
Purely to enable us to take the first record on the road.
How does the band fit in amid the current resurgence of both power-pop and shoegaze music?
I never felt much like I was making either of those types of music. Shoegaze feels like it has a resurgence every four months. I write with more concern for chords and melody, regardless of style. I guess the band fits awkwardly between standard alternative rock and hip indie. I often catch myself deliberately taking steps to destroy the cool aspects of the music. If it begins to enter a territory resembling something that’s sonically hip currently, I’m compelled to add something else which that be deemed tragically uncool and lame.
From festival gigs like LouFest to the current tour, it seems like American Wrestlers are moving on to a bigger stage. Are you ready for the change?
Yes, very much so. Paradoxically, everything seems to get easier the bigger the stages get.
As an artist who has spent a lot of time in the trenches making music, what advice can you give to local musicians?
Don’t think about what people want to hear. Don’t think about what’s hip. Don’t worry about trying to be original. It will happen naturally as you make something good. Make what you want, and make it every day. Everything else is bullshit.