For all intents and purposes, things are going great for Gary McClure. Over the course of a 30-minute phone call, the Scottish songwriter who has just released his debut LP as American Wrestlers repeats how surprised he is with the amount of attention the album has received; with the positive responses it has earned.
“I emailed 200 journalists in July of last year about American Wrestlers and figured people wouldn’t actually read it,” McClure recalls. ”I thought that it would just end up in the spam folder. I was quite conniving, too. I would find local music blogs and tell them that I moved to their location, because I figured if they thought I was a local band, they’d give me press. You got to do whatever you can.”
But people did respond, and then labels eventually showed interest, with Fat Possum ultimately signing on to release the debut and its follow-up. McClure, who is a music industry veteran, having previously made music both in the Manchester band Working for a Nuclear Free City and under his own name, is skeptical of all of it and has no illusions about the realities of making music in 2015. His interviews for American Wrestlers are all scheduled for the evenings, so as to not interfere with his warehouse day job. And even though his album was just released, McClure is already itching to write and record a second LP for the project, striking while the attention is still fresh. McClure knows chances like this don’t come around too often.
“I don’t know if I would have been able to keep going if this record wouldn’t have caught on,” he admits, adding he was also wary of “just another record on the shelf.”
“This was the last record I ever expected anyone to pick up on. Some of it was so deliberately middle of the road. I was so sick of the music industry that I thought I’d just make something only I would like, and so I put ridiculous solos in it.
“When you get into the music industry, it is like watching a play with these beautiful sets, and then realizing that behind that it is being held up by cheap wood, and that it’s all really just crap, and everyone is kind of a dick. It’s really a disappointing thing.”
If this all sounds pessimistic, it shouldn’t. McClure is more realistic than anything, but comes off as a bit of a romantic when all things are considered. Besides slaving away at the American Wrestlers LP in his off-hours, there is the story of his relocation to America from the UK for love. He met his wife in his home country, but earned his green card when they got married on a visit to her, rather than him going back home. So now he’s a Scotsman in St. Louis, though his location doesn’t seem to be shining through in his songwriting.
American Wrestlers opens with “There’s No One Crying for Me Either,” and McClure’s influences are easy to spot, essentially a low-fi interpretation on the moment when shoegaze started to give way into Brit pop. McClure admits that this opening song might be the best one.
“That ‘90s thing, that was my thing,” McClure says. “It’s this weird thing when you are growing up, and there’s this thing that is your whole world, and you never think it’s going to happen, but something new comes in, and suddenly your thing isn’t cool anymore. So, there is this feeling like ‘shit, I didn’t even get a chance to be a part of my thing.’”
A big difference between American Wrestlers and the music he grew up wanting to perform is the production quality, which for McClure comes across very home-spun, but in a way that reads charming and not unprofessional. Still, studio polish is something that he appreciates.
“If you listen to, say, a Blur record like The Great Escape, the production on it is amazing,” he says. “I don’t think we hear that anymore, because no one can afford to do it. No one is gonna take four young guys and say ‘here is a studio, how much money do you want?’ And I think music suffers as a result of it.”
Still, McClure doesn’t anticipate having the budget for a big studio sound with his next American Wrestlers album, and even jokes “if I’m not dropped” when referring to his two-album deal with Fat Possum.
“In order to be successful, everything needs to be firing,” he says. “You have to have a great tour, and radio, and great press, and even then you still might not get it … But now, this is enough for me. I think if I wrote another album and got it out pretty quickly, people would pay attention.”
Perhaps best affording future attention is the single,“Kelly.” Written about Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who was beaten to death by police officers in Fullerton, California, in 2011, the song grapples with police brutality in a way that rings especially true considering what happened later in nearby Ferguson and is becoming a sad, regular occurrence in America. All that aside, the track is both catchy and subversively powerful, earning apt sonic comparisons to Phoenix, and primed to break through in some way.
But now that the release of the American Wrestlers LP has passed, McClure is focusing on writing and a first American Wrestlers tour. The latter half of that, though, is proving more difficult than anticipated, as St. Louis hasn’t proven more difficult than expected in yielding up members for a touring band.
“It’s been hardest to find a drummer,” he says, “St. Louis is full of Rush fans. It’s all 55-year-olds with three kids that are into Rush, or emo kids with spiky black hair and eye makeup, and they’ll list off a bunch of emo bands they are into, and also like Neil Peart. And then another would be into Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, and also like Rush. I’m on drummer number six right now.”