Last week, Gary McClure – a.k.a. American Wrestlers – released his fantastic, eponymous new album (iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, Fat Possum). It’s an album that sounds deeply personal, whether the songs are an introspective look at his own life or telling the stories of people around him.
In the lead up to his new album, McClure did several interviews, as his identity was finally revealed only a few weeks ago. Since early in the year when the first single from the album, “I Can Do No Wrong”, was released, all that was known about American Wrestlers was that some guy from the UK had moved to Midwest US, specifically Missouri, to be with the one he loved. It’s a story made for the movies with a happy ending – McClure and his true love Bridgette are now married. However, not all has gone according to plan for McClure, as he’s still working another job to make ends meet while he pursues his other love – music.
In an outstanding interview with Caitlin White of Stereogum, McClure spoke much about his past musical forays, moving to the US, what his pursuit to make music a career means to him and the sacrifices it requires, and some of the musical influences of his past. Instead of covering old ground, McClure and I touch on a number of related but different issues, focusing on the “six stages” of Gary McClure, which includes one yet to come.
Note: I mistakenly ask McClure about playing in cover bands, but he was a good sport and went along with it.
The Formative Years
As a young lad growing up in the UK, did you always want to be a musician or did you dream of doing something else, like scoring the game-winning goal in the Champions League final?
Yeah. Mum was always wondering why I was into sports and staying after school in the locker room with the boys.
At what age did you pick up an instrument, and do you remember what songs/albums inspired you to become a musician?
I was 13. The first thing I remember trying to learn was something from Nirvana’s Bleach album. That first summer I got down the solo from “Alive” by Pearl Jam. My friends were cynical and jealous.
In an interview with Stereogum, you mentioned you were in a number of cover bands. Do you still break out your inner Billy Corgan/Chris Cornell/Kurt Cobain?
Haha. I don’t remember saying I was in a cover band. But I do break out a bit of those guys all the time.
How do you go from being inspired by some of the great alternative/grunge bands of all-time to creating ethereal post-rock with Working for a Nuclear Free City? How did it all come together?
My buddy Phil and I made some sonic experiments for our own entertainment. One night, we went to a local band event in Manchester and thought, “We can do better than that crap!” So, we sent the promoter some of that weird shit we’ve been making, and everything else followed.
You did have a bit of success with Nuclear Free City, but didn’t quite get over the hump. Looking back, why do you think that was?
The name wasn’t catchy enough, we didn’t have cool hair, and we were too good for radio.
When you decided to go solo and record Wreaths, why head in a different direction, one that almost seems like dream-folk and away from the lush instrumentation of Nuclear Free City?
You never decide these things. You just fall into them. It was supposed to be part of the third Nukes record. Phil made some great electronica tracks, but we decided it sounded better as two albums. His stuff is in all good record shops as King of the Mountains.
You said in the same Stereogum interview that you were disappointed on the lack of reception Wreaths received. How did this experience affect you as a musician and an individual? Did it make you reassess everything?
Nah. Success wouldn’t have changed much. There’s nothing the music world can offer me or anyone else that we don’t already have.
You shared a great story on the origins of American Wrestlers, but were there other names you considered? And why reincarnate yourself as American Wrestlers and not something associated with your roots?
There’s nothing more degrading or a more fruitless waste of time as thinking up band names. The choice is based on the aesthetics of the words rather than anything meaningful.
From Nuclear City to Wreaths, what are some lessons you learned and how did they help you in writing “American Wrestlers”?
Phil taught me everything I know: Don’t get too precious. No reverb on bad vocals. There’s no such thing as too much compression. Tambourines are everything.
On your terrific album, it feels seems like a rebirth, that you’ve come “full circle”. Specifically, “There’s No One Crying for Me Either” and “Left” appear to be the most personal songs – the former about new beginnings and no regrets while the latter is, as you say, “sentimental” and one of reflection. Have you come full circle musically and personally?
To me those two songs are more about other people than they are personal. They’re both songs about human failures to connect in an open, real and faithfully exposed way because of being unable to let go of the feeling of being special, which is something produced by the ego.
As such, I feel like this record is more of a logical next step rather than a dramatic return or renaissance.
Looking into the future after the persona of American Wrestlers dissipates, what do you see yourself doing? Possibly returning to performing as Gary McClure?
Haha. That’s so depressing I don’t know what to do with it.
When it’s all said and done, how would you like Gary McClure to be remembered?
Three and a half stars out of five!
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