Late last year, Gary McClure, a Scottish-born, Missouri-based multi-instrumentalist, self-released a mysterious album under the name American Wrestlers. Featuring raw indie-pop nuggets, coated in a crumbling lo-fi aesthetic, the album quickly became a music blog favourite, and was swiftly picked up by Fat Possum Records, who reissued it this April, to positive reviews and a now-growing cult fanbase.
Although its architect was initially a mystery, it soon emerged that the man behind American Wrestlers was Gary McClure, the former bass guitarist of cult British shoegazers, Working for a Nuclear Free City. McClure had recently relocated from the UK to Missouri, to marry his wife (and now-bandmate), Bridgette Imperial, and set about recording American Wrestlers on a faulty 8-track tape recorder at their new home.
As the band's audience steadily grows, McClure now finds himself in the position of balancing American Wrestlers with his warehouse job. A fleshed-out touring line-up for the project is now in place, and they've spent the Summer playing alongside the likes of Alvvays, Viet Kong and Chastity Belt. Earlier this month, we sent over a few questions to McClure to find out a little more about American Wrestler's live line-up, and to find out what's next for one of 2015's quieter success stories.
Hi Gary! Since the album's Fat Possum release, there seems to be a real growing interest in American Wrestlers. Are you pleased with the response to the album, and has your year's plans changed as a result of this increased exposure?
GM: A ton of people are picking up on the album every day and, as the word spreads, my contentment seems to correlate with it's expansion. It means that I'll be working faster than usual to get another record out, and that I can spend more time under stage lights, rather than lifting heavy stuff so that some plump professional's spouse can get the s-class instead of the regular.
American Wrestlers was recorded entirely by yourself, but you've recently fleshed out the project for its live shows. Besides yourself, who else is in the American Wrestlers live band?
GM: Bridgette Imperial plays keys and second guitar, Ian Reitz plays bass, and Josh Van Hoorebeke plays the drums. They are all exceptional musicians.
How did you get to know the other members in the band?
GM: Josh through social media, Ian through an advertisement, and Bridgette through marriage.
You recently played some shows with Alvvays, Viet Kong and Chastity Belt. How was the tour overall, and what were your own personal highlights?
GM: Touring is forever an intense, amazing and bewildering experience. I could live it. [The shows at] Union Transfer with Alvvays, and [at The] Empty Bottle with Chastity Belt were the best.
Did you get to know the bands, and were you familiar with their work beforehand?
GM: I had heard the names, but not the music until I saw them live. Chastity Belt and Alvvays are very cool and very nice people. They have great songs and musicianship, without feeling the need to explore their own rectums.
Going back to the album. How long did it take to write and record?
GM: It was about six months, all in all. The songs were written and recorded in track list order, but were all written before any were recorded, if that makes sense? It started with me fingering a four note piano riff, and ended with me wedging and holding wires together, as I mixed down from a disintegrating 8-track.
What are your personal favourite tracks on the album?
GM: I never listen to it, and I haven't heard the songs in a while. It's hard to choose, because enjoying your own music is a bit like tickling yourself. It can never work the same way as listening to [what] someone else does.
The song "This Ain't" was left off the album's physical release. Is there a reason why it isn't included, and are there other tracks still lying in the American Wrestlers vaults?
GM: It wouldn't physically fit on the vinyl. Not enough time. I actually think It's one of the strongest songs, and maybe could have replaced another. There are no other recordings from that period, but I have a whole bunch of new things in my head.
To your fans, there appears to be three acts to your career. The first as a member of Working for a Nuclear Free City, the second as a solo artist, and the third being your current work under American Wrestlers. What would you say are the main differences between each of these 'eras', and what have you learned from each, in terms of your own relationship to music, songwriting and recording?
GM: [Working for a Nuclear Free City keyboardist and producer] Phil Kay is the biggest difference. I have worked with him on everything but American Wrestlers. He's the most talented bastard I ever met. You should check out his electronica album as King of the Mountains, called Zoetrope. He makes insanely good soundtrack music now as well as writing new songs. I learned so much about recording from him, and about having the right attitude to creative work. Not to get too precious, and just to do it, and do it as much as you can, then forget it about and concentrate on the next thing. We made a shitload of great songs as Working for a Nuclear Free City. The Nukes were too good for radio.
What's next for American Wrestlers? Do you plan on recording a follow-up in the near future? If so, do you think it will be recorded in a similar vein to this first album?
GM: I like to write most of it first, just me and a guitar, then try different methods of recording. Ideas for production also form in my head as I, little by little, week by week, put the songs together.
You've noted in the past that Red House Painters' first self-titled album is possibly your favourite album of all time. As a fellow fan, I was wondering what your favourite Mark Kozelek songs are, and if you're a fan of his more recent, lyrically direct material?
GM: I think he's never missed the mark. I've yet to hear a song I don't like from across all of his work. Not many people alive have written so many great songs. He would probably be disappointed with my gravitating to his earlier batch of songs, most artists are, and I would probably feel the same. My defence is that I love everything. It just happens to be that RHP 1 was the first that I heard, and the one which is still permanently surrounded by the perfumes of adolescent nostalgia. So It has a little extra edge.
Finally, with American Wrestlers appearing on several 'Best of 2015..So Far' lists, what are your own favourite albums of 2015 so far?
GM: Nothing is really doing it for me. Probably because I've not heard enough 2015 stuff yet. I love "Being Beige" and "One and All" [from The Smashing Pumpkins' 2014 album, Monuments for an Elegy], and I just heard "No Other Heart" by Mac DeMarco, and thought it was a really great song. Mostly I've been listening to The Replacements.
American Wrestlers is out now on Fat Possum Records. Gary and the band have the following shows coming up:
July 25th - Wicker Park Festival, Chicago, IL
September 12th + 13th - Loufest, Saint Louis, MO