Thank the heavens above for Scotland native Gary McClure, who is now a relatively well-known musical act out of St. Louis, Missouri. Not only does he lend his immense talents to his music project American Wrestlers – whose sophomore album Goodbye Terrible Youth is out this week – but he’s also got an incredibly dry and hilarious sense of humor, which made speaking with him all the more enjoyable. And that’s the good news. We sat down with Gary a little while back to discuss the new album, his process, and Super Mario Land. In honor of the album release this Friday, November 4th, check out what he had to say!
What’s the first song or record that you remember listening to?
I didn’t really like music until I was about 11 years old. I was playing hooky and I was playing video games. I just decided to put a record on. My brother liked music, he started out with hip hop and got into a lot of other stuff. I picked up a record with these three funny looking guys on the back. They had long hair and were kind of shabbily dressed. I thought they looked funny, like hippies or something. I was so naive at this point. So I put this record on and it was Nirvana. It was just in the background for 5 or 6 tracks. And then track 7 came on, a song called “Territorial Pissings” and I had never really heard punk rock before besides The Clash and stuff on the radio.
My first thought was, “Wow, you can actually do that on a record.” I remember the moment vividly, I was so profoundly touched by it. This whole world just opened up and it was like there was something waiting inside of me for someone to flip a switch to wake it up and say hello. That opened up all of music to me, I became obsessed and was totally in love with music. I didn’t even care to be around friends or to do anything. That’s when I really, really wanted a guitar. My uncle was a guitarist and I kept bugging him until he gave me one, but I have played it ever since.
If you could rehash the American Wrestlers origin story, that would be amazing.
I was in a band in Manchester called Working for a Nuclear Free City. So we had this terrible, long name which might be why we weren’t so successful but we made these records and I just played guitar. That kind of fell apart, and I wrote a solo record. That didn’t do very well either. So I kind of gave up on the idea of people hearing my music ever again. By this time, I’d met my wife Bridgette and we were living in St. Louis while all my musical equipment was back in St. Louis. But I got the itch to write again and I couldn’t afford a proper laptop, so I found this 8-track recorder cassette at a thrift shop and I got that. I thought it would be fun to write with something like that.
At the time, we were listening to a lot of 70’s and 80’s rock, driving around Missouri a lot. It totally worked for the cassette thing. One day, I decided to put it on Bandcamp with new information about myself. I wrote to a whole bunch of local music blogs – I figured that if it was local, they’d be really excited that someone close by was making music – pretending I was from each of these places, though. I told blogs in Boston I was from Boston, Seattle from Seattle, and so on. I sent out so many emails. Two weeks later, nine really good record labels had emailed me. One was Fat Possum, and they told me they wanted to put it out as it was. I felt like some of them were too long, but thought, “Well, if that’s what you want to do!” And that’s how it happened.
Your album release is just around the corner. How are you feeling, knowing it’s so close?
I think this is my eighth record or something, so I’m used to it so far, this level of interest. You never know, you can never be sure. It could go either way. I’m speaking to you about it, so that’s a good thing.
Do you have any fun stories from recording the album?
I wish I did. I wish there was something really funny. It’s really just me, struggling, not really knowing what I’m doing and then having a moment like, “Well, that’s it. I’m not doing music anymore. This is the worst thing I’ve ever done.” But I think it’s what I’ll do for the rest of my life.
I wish I had some insane, drug-fueled story where something amazing happened. Those days are long gone. I remember those too well. Just constantly mental. I can’t do that anymore. There’s a better way to do it.
We got some of the background for your song “Give Up”, but how do you imagine people listening to it?
I don’t know what people would do. I don’t really get a good mental picture. I get a crazy vibe when I hear my music on the radio like, “Hey. I did that. That thing.” I don’t really enjoy it or anything, it’s just a weird sense. Are people listening to it? Because people might not be listening to it. But that’s the weird thing about the internet, because you can now see how many times a song has been played. It feels like you’re playing a video game and you get a high score, but the next day you try to get a higher score. All it is is a number going up. The fulfillment in seeing a number going up isn’t really a great one.
I always sound cynical in interviews, but I’m not. I love it.
The song “Amazing Grace” is really great. Do you have a story behind what inspired it?
That track is the one I wasn’t sure of when we were discussing the record. It’s surprising that some people actually connected with it and with the sentiment of the song. That one kind of happened really quick. I had a guitar and nabbed the melody, then the chorus happened really fast and the verses were very easy because of the chorus. It has a lot to do with the whole feeling around the election, and about choosing the downside rather than the upside. Giving up and saying, “Fuck it!” rather than trying to fix it, and the whole idea that “That’s just the way that humanity is. Might as well live with it rather than fix it!” It’s about – in a loving way – trying to connect with each other and having faith that humans can be good.
It’s a burden of the soul and how do you cure that? You can ignore it by getting drunk. People don’t like to be happy, they prefer to be interesting rather than happy. If that means their life is a piece of shit, then they’re OK with it.
Do you have a favorite track off of the album?
I find it’s really hard to enjoy my own stuff. It’s like trying to tickle yourself. It’s hard for it to emotionally effect me. In that regard, I record it and I give it to the label and ask them to choose it. I don’t listen to it too much, but it’s not something that interests me too much. I don’t tell people I’m a musician because I don’t know that it’s that interesting.
So you’re the most humble musician we know, because you’re incredible.
I’m just cynical after, what? Record 8? It’s like, here we go again. When I was growing up, I had this lofty idea that I could do this – you know, when I was a teenager and had a guitar – and I could be better than all of the crap bands. I always dreamt I would have an album review in Rolling Stone Magazine. And I was right because I did have one, but I didn’t realize I was going to be reading that review in the back of the truck I was loading. It was cool, but back to work.
That was surprising actually. I know that I write good stuff, I’m not in denial, but I detach myself a bit.
In honor of the name American Wrestlers, if you could arm wrestle anyone, who would you choose to arm wrestle?
No! Meredith, NO! You’ve got to get rid of these questions. You don’t need to ask me these things. I haven’t arm wrestled in a long time. I mean, if I choose someone I would probably want to beat them, I would want to win. Maybe one of my heroes, because I know it wouldn’t be a good “meeting the hero” moment. It would completely screw it up and I kind of like that fact. Someone like Dave Grohl would pretty pretty great, wouldn’t it? He’d get really into it he’s excited about everything.
You’ve got some dates coming up this fall and winter.
Thirty-five U.S. dates, and there will be a European tour. There are going to be so many. The last U.S. date is actually in Kansas, and I’ll be dying to get to my bed. I’m looking forward to it. This means I can be irresponsible because I don’t have to work!
What’s your favorite part about touring?
Just playing the shows. After a show finishes, you just want to go and do it again. It’s such a great feeling. This band and these new songs… it’s the best sounding I’ve ever been with a band live. It’s really good.
Look at you being positive!
Yeah! It’s a great album, we’re a great band, we sound great. The tour is going to be great. It’s all great. Great and amazing, awesome, what do the kids say these days? Do they say “rad”? There has to be something, but they wouldn’t tell us because they don’t want us to be in on it. Little bastards. We can talk about dank memes. I can post some dank memes on my Instagram. And pictures of Dan Aykroyd.
Is there a part of touring that you don’t like?
Yeah. Just sitting in a car or van for hours at a time. You kind of lose it every day. It’s hard to sleep and stuff too. You get tired, very tired and that’s the part that isn’t very fun. That’s why you just get drunk all the time. There’s a big crash, but this is what happens. The guys are good so there’ll be fun and games and it’ll be good. I might take a Gameboy this time around. The big, thick, old school one.
What was your favorite Gameboy game growing up?
I like Super Mario Land. And Tetris was the best.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Come see us. Wherever you are, we’re playing. We’ll come see you at your house and stuff. But yeah, it’s a really good record. It’s the best record you’ll hear all year. In fact, write that. “This is the best record you’ll ever hear.”