St. Louis is an oft-overlooked dot on the country’s artistic landscape. Baseball, Budweiser, and the Gateway Arch don’t exactly add up to a world class cultural destination (although there’s always the ‘90s hip-hop group St. Lunatics.)
Yet, Gary McClure, a Scottish ex-pat and the creative visionary behind the lo-fi noise-pop band American Wrestlers, has made quite the home in this unassuming Midwestern city.
“It was a bit of a shock at first, because this is about as far away as you can get from English-ness, or Scottish-ness,” McClure says. “But it’s been great. I met the guys who do the radio here, and the music press, and introduced myself to the local bands, and everyone has been so supportive.”
McClure moved to St. Louis in January 2014, following his girlfriend (now wife), a Missouri native whom he met in England while she was studying abroad. McClure, who found a small level of success with his previous band, the shoegaze group Working for a Nuclear Free City, said the St. Louis scene offered a welcome change — a “quantum leap” from his past life and a chance to start anew.
With low expectations and a handful of cheap musical tools, McClure started his life in St. Louis by embarking on a modest recording project. He didn’t really expect anyone to hear his music, but on a whim, he sent some tracks to a few blogs, and after those publications posted his songs, he received a record deal from venerable indie label Fat Possum.
That resulted in his 2015 self-titled debut album, a fractured tangle of distorted pop sonnets that mixesthe profane and the beautiful in a manner recalling the work of fellow Scottish bands Teenage Fanclub and Jesus and the Mary Chain. McClure’s oblique, surreal lyrics and penchant for finding pop hooks in the unlikeliest of places made his album an unexpected success, receiving praise from national publications like Stereogum and Consequence of Sound.
On his second album, Goodbye Terrible Youth, released in 2016,, McClure took the foundation of his debut album and added a sense of immediacy to it. Songs like “Vote Thatcher” and “Terrible Youth” are urgent, vibrant pop nuggets, with McClure ditching the laconic atmosphere of his earlier work for a more visceral approach.
And although the album’s title may suggest some sort of reckoning with a miserable childhood, McClure said he had an ideal family life, and the songs on Goodbye Terrible Youth are written from a collective, not personal perspective.
“I think I’m getting more and more universal with age,” McClure says. “That’s scary at first, because you have to be confident in writing songs that are very simple. But I think we need that kind of universal sentiment right now. So many people don’t know what the fuck is going on, and this kind of music can provide them with solace — a feeling of just escaping and saying ‘Fuck all that.’ ”
McClure has been spreading that sentiment during his band’s first major tour of the country, which includes a stop at Bottom of the Hill on January 21. After some early lineup changes, American Wrestlers have settled on an established lineup of drummer Josh Van Hoorebeke, bassist Ian Reitz, and guitarist/keyboard player Bridgette Imperial, McClure’s wife and Midwestern muse.
McClure’s goal is to make American Wrestlers a consistent project, operating out of the unlikely confines of St. Louis. He hopes to produce a new album in 2017 and tour extensively behind that release, as he prefers the road to some of the banalities that come with life in his adopted city. When not recording music, McClure has had to take on a number of menial jobs, and though he enjoys St. Louis, he hasn’t exactly embraced the Midwest’s famous yeoman’s work ethic.
“I just don’t think I’m very good at working,” McClure says. “It totally depresses me. I’d much prefer to make music and share it with people.”
American Wrestlers play at Bottom of the Hill on Saturday, January 21. Tickets for the show are available here.