EXCLUSIVE: American Wrestlers front man is ready for LouFest

Kendall Carroll | Music Editor

Just a man and his Tascam 8-track recorder.

That is the simplistic success story behind the creation of American Wrestlers, one of the newest bands performing at LouFest this weekend.

Gary McClure, the instigator of this ambitious project that began almost two years ago, took some time to answer a few questions about his unique sound.

After McClure moved to St. Louis from Manchester, England in 2014, he set to work on his pet project, citing songwriters Mac DeMarco and Mark Kozelek (of Sun Kil Moon) as inspirations. But McClure also took cues from the classics, saying “a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of the old stuff” is also in his music library.

“I wrote and recorded all the album on a Tascam 8-track recorder and with the stuff I found in the house. Like I’d use a drum machine app from my phone and then hit a snare drum over the top of that. My wife has an electronic piano and a bunch of guitars and so we cut it all that way. It was supposed to be just demos but [Fat Possum Records] said well, why don’t we just put out with this?”

Only nine songs, American Wrestlers’ self-titled debut album is an interesting conglomeration of what McClure describes as “middle of the road, lo-fi, indie rock.” In other words, perfect music to relax to during your midday LouFest timeslot. And if the dreamy guitar and soothing vocals don’t lure people to his stage, have no fear. When asked how he draws an audience, McClure thought aloud: “What attracts students? How about during the performance we throw money into the crowd…and free booze as well?” It seems with several festival shows under their belt already, American Wrestlers have their audience figured out.

In an odd inverse of the norm, McClure’s band came together after the music had already been recorded. Once it became clear the home project was going to be made public, a band needed to be assembled to replicate the album in real time.

“My wife Bridget plays keys and second guitar, and Ian Reitz—he’s an amazing bass player—and Josh Van—he’s a great drummer. I found Ian via Craigslist and Josh sent me a message saying he really liked the record and he had a Facebook profile picture of him playing drums. So I asked him to come work with us.”

What began as a hodgepodge of talent has melded into a cohesive group, with McClure approving that “We sound really great live—even better live than it does on the record.”

There was an air of mystery surrounding how the Scottish-born Manchester resident came to name the group. McClure preluded the story with a quick insight into the christening process: “If you’ve ever tried to name a band, it’s the worst, most degrading process you can imagine. You feel like a kid trying to name his gang in a tree house. Nothing is cool; everything has been taken—it’s just hard.”

But McClure finally disclosed that back in England “a kid at school, when the teacher asked everyone what they wanted to be, said he wanted to be an American wrestler. And I thought that was funny because well, one: he is English, and two: that’s moronic. And that kind of stuck with me, and I thought it wouldn’t be a bad name for a band…Afterwards it even dawned on me that it could be a metaphor for pop music, how it’s sort of fake, the way American wrestlers are. It’s not real: it’s all just for show, and there’s no depth to it.” There was a deep laugh before he concluded with “People think I’m cynical… but I guess I am.”

But don’t let the sarcasm fool you: McClure is a passionate musician. Starting his musical debut from scratch, building a band and now performing on the LouFest stage this Sunday is quite a progression for only a year.

McClure insists, “It’s amazing how much the audience actually makes the show. I mean I’ve had gigs where we haven’t even rehearsed and the audience has been amazing—the more people there are, the better the show is, the better we do.” So go out to see McClure’s American Wrestlers take the stage with their distinctive sound—they’ve come a long way from the eight-track recorder.

American Wrestlers perform on the Shade Stage at 1:45 pm on Sunday, Sept. 13 and will be signing autographs after the show at 2:50 p.m.

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