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American Gothic: A Conversation With Shane McCarthy of Wayfarer

The Denver outlaws continue blazing their own unique, dusty trail.

Words by Rohan (@ManVsPlaylist):

With the release of their bold new album, American Gothic, Wayfarer frontman, guitarist, vocalist, and founder Shane McCarthy sat down with us and talked us through the band’s evolution, the touchpoints of the new album, and a whole lot more.


Shane - thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. I want to start off just chatting a bit about the origin of the band and how things all started. So for the sake of some context for our discussion, can you walk me through what the goal at the outset was, both stylistically, musically and thematically with Wayfarer?

Shane: Yeah, I think it's definitely evolved. Back when we started, we were just trying to be like the bands we liked, so I think if you go back and listen to the first one, you can hear a little bit more directly what we were listening to. We were pretty young, I think, starting it then. Myself and the old guitar player were in our teens when we first started kicking riffs around. I think by the end of that first cycle, getting the full band together and forming more of our own style just started to happen. From the outset, we just wanted to make something that was definitely in a different way. We were still trying to make something indicative of where we come from, like the first lot of concepts about the Rocky Mountains and things like that. It just kind of evolved over time because we were simultaneously into all that Denver sound like Wovenhand and stuff. I think it kind of subconsciously started happening and then once we realized that it was, we're like, "Well, we might as well just do it on purpose." Starting with "World’s Blood" (2018) is when we started actually including those elements more purposefully from the start.

wayfarer interview, wayfarer american gothic, western black metal.
"World's Blood" Cover Photograph by Edward S. Curtis (1908)

I guess the theme of the American West, if you will, is that something that was just an interest of yours outside of music? And is that something that grew beyond just based on your geography?

Absolutely, I think it always has been because there was the music that I already mentioned, like, the bands from here and then there was also just a kind of immersion in it. We're all from this region and myself, like, my granddad used to have a ranch out on the Western Slope that I would spend a week or two at every summer when we were young. He had horses and guns and all he watched was John Wayne movies, so I think it was an early kind of exposure to that sort of thing that planted whatever seeds. I was also always into the Italian Westerns and kind of the pop culture, or not necessarily pop culture, but the cultural aspect of it, like different novels and movies based around that. When we felt it happening with the band, with that kind of Denver sound crossover, then thematically it was just like, "Here's a whole world that we can explore in the same way that Scandinavian bands do, with their own history and folklore and blah, blah, blah." It makes sense for us to do it from the perspective of the west.

wayfarer interview, wayfarer american gothic, western black metal.
Tintype Portrait by Nicola Huffstickler

Yeah, I drew that parallel too, but with a specific American leaning. You get the tagline black metal, but your sound is so much more expansive than just that. I think the parallels to that Nordic black metal approach and their references to culture and history, I think you've definitely taken cues from that, right?

Yeah, absolutely, because we've always been into all of that music. We were influenced by Enslaved and Immortal and all these bands, but for us, it would just be disingenuous to be like, "Oh, we're going to do this fucking Nordic Viking legend band from Denver." It just kind of seemed to all add up where we were already, combining these musical stylings of things we liked and seeing a path of how well it worked. There is a certain darkness to that end of country in Americana and then where it's just like, "Oh, I love this subject matter and I would love to explore it thematically, too." It just grew from there and we've been going deeper and deeper ever since.

Let’s turn the attention to the new record, which I've been able to listen to for about the last week, and I'm really enjoying it. Is there any specific historical touch points on the new album that you've taken inspiration from?

Definitely. I think the timeline moved forward a little bit on this album. The last one (“A Romance With Violence”, 2020) was centered more around the late 19th century. That album was about the interpretation and the mythologizing of it, and this one picks up where that one ends which lyrically. At the end of "Romance", there's like this “Where is the dream?” kind of question, and so with this album, we're kind of billing as the funeral for the American dream because it starts from the top as the dream is dead, it probably never existed and what is left, right? The world of the album is a little bit set more into the 20th century. Early 20th century with Western expansion has basically been completed. The US runs coast to coast. These colonies or settlements are turning into states and the bigger money interests are starting to take hold like the railroads and the oil industry and kind of industrial agriculture and that's kind of like your villains, your overarching kind of specters in this album. It's like those powers that be and also their own reckonings.

wayfarer interview, wayfarer american gothic, western black metal.
"Temporary and Permanent Bridges and Citadel rock, Green River, Wyoming” by Andrew Joseph Russell (1868)

“Reaper on the Oil Fields” is a song about the oil barons and how they just turn and burn people's lives for profit. It's all hinting towards some karmic return through some kind of force of nature that's lurking or whatever.

Then the second track, “Cattle Thief”, is the first time we've actually written a song directly about one historical event, which is about the Johnson County War at the end of the 19th century in Wyoming — basically like a full-blown class warfare situation between the wealthy and those in power, the cattle barons, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, and all these immigrant farmers who are also trying to raise cattle and make a living. There's one that's accused of stealing cattle and is eventually hung. Her and her cohort or lover are hung publicly for a couple of days and then it instigates this whole conflict where the poor of the town tried to rise up against the Stock Growers Association and they ended up hiring a band of like 50 mercenaries, basically to come and kill them. They had ties with the government that in some ways allowed them to do this. It's a pretty insane time in history. So, yeah, that was a long answer to your question!

Awesome. I wanted to ask about some of the other the tracks that appear elsewhere on earlier records, as I think it's really relevant to that track that you just described. I get a sense that there's a lot of historical events that your lyrical themes are centered around that really have present day relevance still today. I'm thinking about tracks like “A Nation of Immigrants” or “Masquerade of the Gunslingers”, where you can really point to topical issues today that are reflected in the themes on those tracks. I wonder if you are in any way trying to reflect on or point towards today's issues through this historical lens?

Kind of. We definitely don't have anything that's bluntly trying to be like, "Oh, this is actually a metaphor for this thing going on today." I think part of the reason it's so fascinating to dive into this stuff is because there are so many parallels. If anything is true about history, it's that it is doomed to repeat itself, especially human history. Learning about all these kind of specific moments through the young but jam-packed history of the United States, it's impossible not to see the parallels! I think that's what makes it interesting. I think in exploring those themes, hopefully if people are listening closely or reading the lyrics or whatever, it presents that parallel to be found, but we never want to be a manifesto band and we're also not like a narrative retelling of events band. We want to paint a picture and a feeling and leave room for the interpretation of the listener of what they get from it. I do think it's impossible not to draw parallels through a lot of this stuff to today's world just because no matter how advanced we think we get, the same root problems are ever present.

Yeah, I think it says a lot about us at the strides we've taken, but the journey that we've still got to go, right? Whether some of these problems are still so core in everything that's going on in today's present world. On some of your previous records, there's been the Americana kind of flavor, some of the softer touches. In the new one, I'm getting a sense that that's a little bit more present, in the forefront, or it has a greater prominence. I just wonder, is that something that happened organically? Is that something that was a concerted effort in "American Gothic"?

I think a bit of both. Our main goal with the band in terms of the Western elements is that everything comes from the same place, so it's not a switching between like, "Oh, now here's this country part thrown in" because that's crazy. It's like we want the metal parts to be just as influenced by those parts and vice versa. We want the quieter, more full parts to still be coming from the same place that the metal riffs are. I think we maybe have dialed that in more, where it's just all one thing at all times at this point. On the last record, it was somewhat about the interpretation of the West from elsewhere, and so there is a little bit of influence of say - your Italian film score, Ennio Morricone and that sort of stuff.

On this album, we very intentionally removed all of that and it's funny because this is so much minutiae that of course only us caring this much about it and being this deep of nerds would even notice or give a fuck. It's funny, as I'm seeing this album billed now and some people are like, “Oh, it's the spaghetti western band!”

wayfarer interview, wayfarer american gothic, western black metal.
Photograph by Frank Guerra

You could have maybe said that about the last album, but there's actually no traces whatsoever on this album because since it's such a concept album about the United States, we wanted everything in that side to come from American folk music, Americana, country, all that sort of stuff! So, we definitely drew more directly and even a little bit of swamp blues. You have to be careful including blues because it's really easy to turn into a sludge band or a fucking butt rock band, but there's so many ways the blues, just like any other genre. It's so versatile that you can pull things out of it that are dark and fit in this world. So, yeah, we definitely focus more on those kind of old American elements to be directly present. The album starts with a really grungy, light part because we wanted to pull you into the world right away of that sort of feeling.

Yeah, I mean, the call out is pretty direct. It's “American” in the fucking title of the album!! Like, you can't really miss that, right?

Yeah, we're not mincing words, for sure.

Right on. The first thing we hear on the new record is a really interesting, dark acoustic sound. What is that instrument that has the really heavy acoustic slide?

It's a steel resonator guitar, so it's a full steel body guitar. It's a pretty cheap guitar, but I like the sound of it. I like that when you play the slide on it like that, it's like slightly out of tune. That was just a messing around at home sort of thing with a slide and just playing something and I'm like, "Oh, that sounds like, really sinister."

It's really dark.

Yeah, it just seemed like that had to be the thing to start it off.

So speaking more to some of the sounds on the album then, let's just talk about the production and the engineering. You're working with Arthur Rizk on this one. This will be the first time in a couple albums where you’ve made a change, having worked with the man Colin Marston on your previous stuff. What predicated that change?

We wanted something different out of this album in general, from ourselves and otherwise. Colin is an amazing producer and amazing musician but I think we were looking to make this album stand out in our discography for ourselves. I think we're just at the point in our career where we really feel like we know who we are, we know what we're trying to do, what we're trying to say, and in making a new record, which we can only do every few years now, we want to make sure it's the full statement. We were thinking, "Okay, who out there could we go to? Could we go to an older, kind of established name that did a lot of the records we grew up with?" Then, it kind of just came down to who is at their best now and who is doing their best work right now. In a lot of ways, that points to Arthur. There's a lot of great producers out there, Colin included, but there's just something about Arthur. He just brings out, I don't know, he brings out what the band is to its fullest, it seems like, because he's a good musician, so he understands that aspect of it.

He's not one of those producer engineers that has a “sound” that gets layered over your album, but he makes things sound really good and we were looking to make it sound a little bit bigger and more clear and more pro without sacrificing the kind of organic parts of it that I think are really important. We didn't know him that well. We'd met him a couple of times and he seemed into it, so we just decided to go up there and do it! It wouldn't have been the same record without him. He provided a lot of producer input. He just did an excellent job, like making the band the best it could be. Having done it now, it wouldn't have been the same if we did anything else.

Yeah, that's awesome. I was scratching my head. To my mind, he doesn't have a ton of, I guess call it black metal credits to his name. Is that fair to say?

He's done so much different stuff, it's hard to keep track of. I'm still finding things that it's like, "Oh, Arthur did this thing!" He's worked on everything from his own bands, heavy metal stuff, Eternal Champion and Sumerlands to more hardcore and crossover stuff like Power Trip. He's also done Code Orange and Ghostemane and all this other shit, but he's done some pretty underground death metal and a bit of black metal stuff as well. I think you even mentioned this earlier - we don't think of ourselves as a black metal band directly. We're under the umbrella of black metal. We draw a lot of influence from it. It's the closest big genre we fit into. We're definitely much more a black metal band than a death metal band or whatever, but we don't approach it being like, "Oh, how do we make this black metal thing?" We just want it to sound heavy and good. The riffs will do what the riffs need to get it across.

1000%. I'm almost hesitant in lumping you in to the black metal thing, right? Because it's the easiest kind of tag to give. It's definitely evident in your guitar playing that you're not just trying to hammer out as fast as tremolo riffs as you can. You are not just screeching there. It's a real pronounced effort to have an Americana flavor to it, which I think is just really interesting. Whereas if you took off some of the distortion, you took off some of the chug by itself, it would sound really interesting. The fact that you're laying it over the top of just these heavier drum sounds and deep bass that's moving around over the top of those riffs - it makes it its own entity, its own thing, which is really cool!

No, we're not concerned with checking any black metal boxes. I think the genre tags are useful for communication, right? If somebody hadn't heard Wayfarer, you could describe us as sort of a black metal band that infuses this American and country sort of stuff, and that might give them a vague picture of what it is. I'm not resistant to ever being called black metal in that way, but it's one of those things where it's like, yeah, people ask us, "Oh, is this more black metal?" It is what it is to you. If it's not black metal enough for you, I'm sorry. If it is, then great, but yeah, we want to write the riffs that are the most authentic to us and they might be more or less closer to a definition of black metal. It doesn't matter to us.

Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I'm not sure if it's something that's either attributed to the mix or if it's from just the origin source itself, but one thing that really stood out to my ear on listening to the new record was just the strength and the range of your vocals. Is that something that you are really focused on during these recordings?

It's 100% something I was focused on, for sure. I assume you're talking about the different vocal styles that are on it and more of the clean singing stuff. We've been slowly including more of those elements because I think a lot of us like music and like metal that incorporates multiple fields. We all grew up on Opeth and on bands that take that sort of thing seriously as well, like Enslaved. I've always loved it and messed around with singing, but it's something that took a long time to have the confidence to go all the way on, and it really tapped in right at the end of this record.

Basically, we wrote ourselves up to a corner of like, "Okay, we're going to write all these parts that are going to have singing on them." What it is, I don't know, but I'm going to figure it out! We actually tracked everything else, all the instruments, all the harsh vocals altogether at Arthur’s studio in Philly. Then, we went to Europe for a month doing Roadburn and doing some other shows. We came back after and I had about a week and then went back to the studio, just myself, and that's where we did all those parts. All that stuff was written at the tail end of the album and worked on separately because I had to figure out how to do this! I'm really glad I did because it was the most nerve wracking thing I've experienced, probably being in this band since everyone played so well. Everyone brought so much to the record that I was like, if I go in here and this sucks, or is subpar, it's going to tank the album! It was the pressure that was needed to just spend all day, every day trying to figure it out. Arthur was what got me across the finish line. That was his most producerly time, during that session. He had a lot of great advice.

So, this is the third album you’ve done with Profound Lore. I know that myself, as a fan of the label, there are a lot of attributes that I can speak positively about what it means from a fan's perspective, but from an artist perspective, what have been some of the things that having worked with them is in a positive light, that's something that you appreciate?

Chris Bruni is fucking awesome. He takes better care of his bands than, as far as I can tell, anybody out there. The internet is what it is, and I think there's certain perceptions out there about people sometimes that are just not fully informed, but Chris will take a chance on any band that he just thinks is good, even if it's not an easy sell, like, "Oh, this is a part of the death metal resurgence. I'm going to sign this." He signs a bunch of crazy stuff from people of all walks of life, and he lets the artist be the artist. The deals are fair, they're transparent, and he has never once been like, "You guys should do a little more of this or a little less of this." He wants the bands to be their best. He lets us have full control over the music and the presentation and the art and all that stuff, and he's very accommodating to make it all happen. I can't say enough good things about working with him on the label and I think it's undervalued how well he treats artists and what he's willing to do out there.

I think he has signed a lot of more female driven and just people from all over different walks of life than a lot of labels have over the years before other labels were doing things like that. I think it's because he's a fan of music and that's all he cares about. I can't say enough good things about our experience on the label. We're moving forward to Century Media from here. This album will actually be released by Century Media everywhere but North America. It was in working through the deal with Century that it was us kind of insisting that we do this last one with Chris still because like I said, as an artist, it just means a lot to really feel like the label has your back and always has. I love the stuff he puts out, too. I think he's got an interesting palate of taste and there's a lot of good stuff that comes out on the label.

We were talking a little bit about tours, and I know you've had some history in booking through the Fire in the Mountains festival and what you do there. I'm just curious, when you try and put a tour package, when you look to tour, say, on this album's run, are you deeply involved in putting that package of bands together? What do you look for when you try to do that?

It depends. Oftentimes, yes, we try to just reach out to people either that we've met through networks or bands that we like and put something together. The further we kind of go into this world and the band is growing a bit, we try to get out there and support some bigger bands. You get that call when it comes, like we're doing the shows with Baroness. That's what that came from. We're trying to get over and tour in Europe as well, so it depends. When we make our own tour, then, yes, we typically try to curate the lineup a specific way, but then there are other times that we are looking to see what's out there and get invited to be a part of a package that we didn't put together. If we get the call and it sounds like a cool opportunity and something that would make sense with the band, then yeah, we'll take it. It kind of depends on the situation.

wayfarer interview, wayfarer american gothic, western black metal.
Back Cover Artwork by Aaron Horkey

I didn't know that you were on that Baroness package! I know that there's a lot of multiple different bands in each different city, so I just paid attention to what's happening here, but what a great pairing, man. Their new album just fucking kills!

It's so good, we were super stoked and honored to get the call there because honestly, that's the type of thing that we would love to do! A band that doesn't necessarily scream being similar to us, but I think those often make the best tours, right? Let’s say there's an area inside the Venn diagram that they are connected. There's through lines that if you like one, you may like the other, but they sound completely different. I think that makes for a better tour package when things all sound different.

I can't be the first one to suggest this, and I'm not sure if this has ever been discussed within kind of the family network that you've got there, but is there ANY chance that this tour package could come together where you would have Wayfarer, Dreadnought, Stormkeep, and Blood Incantation on one bill?!?!

Haha! I’m not sure I have heard that one! I doubt it because that's three Isaacs (Faulk, drummer) in one bill and he's not going to want to do that!! But some combination of those bands, maybe? It's hard for them to do the one person playing multiple sets things. We've done it for like a Fire in the Mountains or something, but for a whole tour, that's definitely putting a strain on that person. We did our first tour with Dreadnought way back when and we've talked about reuniting that old run for old time’s sake.

Okay, last question for you - I've been a fan from a distance of the whole Denver scene for a long time and would just love to know from your own perspective, what is it about that city that is just the linchpin to so much interesting extreme music?? In any minutely sliced sub-genre you look at - it's just been such an incredible location that's produced so much over the last few years! I'm curious if you have any perspective or take on why that is the case.

I have no idea! Ha! I've grown up around here my whole life and the Denver metal scene circa like 2006 was pretty different for sure. There was not much going on here. We would get skipped over by a lot of tours. We had like Cephalic Carnage and that was it! So for me growing up, I don't know. It's just funny now. A lot of people that come in to the brewery (Trve), for example, they're like, "Oh, the Denver metal scene, we had to come and check it out." I just still remember when there was jack shit going on! There's like a garage that might host a band and have 30 people show up and then a couple whatever grindcore bands from town would do something. But yeah, definitely within the last ten years or so, you now have Primitive Man and Blood Incantation, Dreadnought, Khemmis, all these bands getting out and doing stuff. It's one of those scenes that's not like the Gothenburg scene where all the bands are playing a lot of death metal, or like, "this is a thing that was born here and it's happening here."

All the bands are very different, right!? That's what I like about it because that would get really fucking boring if everyone was playing the same stuff, but the only thing I could maybe say is just that it's a very pretty open arms, welcoming sort of community. I'd heard things about other places being like, "Oh, here if you're in another band like you're the enemy and everyone's beefing with each other and trying to fuck over each other's lineups and steal gear and all this craziness." Here, it's like people generally want to see each other succeed. I think that's definitely what got things here now that a lot of bands are bigger and stuff. It's just like there comes a certain point where you kind of have to drop out of the more local scene. Not that you like, condemn it or something, but just that you get to a point where when you have X tours a year and these bigger opportunities, and when you're in three or four bands, then you can't just be playing shows around town. I think there's been a bit of a shift because it feels like a lot of these bands, to a point, ourselves included, have kind of graduated from being as involved in Denver.

Everyone is still very connected because all these bands share members. It's like there's only so many people that are making all this happen. It's generally a friendly community where all the bands get along and have helped each other out a lot. That's the only thing I could say: it's been a nurturing environment for the most part in that way.


American Gothic is available now via Profound Lore / Century Media (Order).

wayfarer interview, wayfarer american gothic, profound lore records, aaron horkey.
Cover Artwork (Lettering) by Aaron Horkey


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