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An Interview With Shane McCarthy of Wayfarer

In his rave review of World’s Blood, the brilliant new album from Colorado’s Wayfarer, our writer Chris coined the term ‘Wild West black metal,’ which he’s continued to occasionally use as a genre tag ever since. I won’t exactly be heartbroken if the term doesn’t catch on as the go-to descriptor for their heavily Americana-influenced take on black metal (no offense, Chris), but it’s difficult to argue that it isn’t apt. If the Appalachia-infused Panopticon make black metal for campfires, then World’s Blood is black metal for ghost towns – desolate and haunted by the sins of our historical past.

Fresh off their appearance at the inaugural Fire in the Mountains Fest, a two-day Rocky Mountain outdoor festival, held in the Grand Tetons outside Jackson, Wyoming, I had the chance to talk in-depth with Wayfarer guitarist Shane McCarthy about the new album. Give it a listen below if you haven’t–or better yet, grab a copy here from Profound Lore–and check out our conversation.

Indy Metal Vault: Hey – so for starters, thank you so much for the interview. World’s Blood is one of the strongest black metal albums I’ve heard thus far this year, and I’m grateful to have a chance to talk about it a bit. So just to refresh my memory the other day, I sat down and listened to all three of your full-lengths straight through, and the progression from Children of the Iron Age to Old Souls to the new album has been pretty remarkable. The core elements of the Wayfarer sound have been there since the beginning, but there’s still been noticeable growth in terms of your songwriting from one album to the next. There have been a couple of major changes in the Wayfarer camp since your last album though, most significantly the departure of guitarist Tanner Rezabek. He’d been with the band if not since the beginning, then at least since your 2012 demo. How much of an effect (if any) did that have on the way you approached World’s Blood?

Shane McCarthy: Thank you for having us.

Bands always grow over time, or at least they aim to, and we have certainly pushed forward a lot since our early days as a band. We still come from the same place in the most basic sense, but it has evolved and refined quite a bit to a much more pointed place. As bands grow, though, it has to be recognized that the game changes a bit, and as you start to go further things do become more demanding, and as the band becomes more and more prevalent and more active it requires the band members to center their lives around it more and more. Some people aren’t able to make that happen within their lives, and it’s entirely understandable as it’s far from a stable way of life. That was the case with Tanner, who is our dear friend, a fantastic musician and founding member of the band. He parted after the second album on amicable terms and gave us his best wishes for the continued growth of the band.

Thankfully, we had a unique case of having someone who was a natural replacement waiting in the wings, as Joey Truscelli (our new guitar player) had been around from day one (before actually, he used to teach me guitar before I was even a teenager) – he had recorded our 2012 demo and added bass to it, had filled in on bass guitar on a couple tours that James was not able to make, and had generally always been a contributing force to the band. Having him join and bring his incredible breadth of musicality to the band has helped us accelerate even further.

With that instance, and circumstances in general, we went at World’s Bloodwith a more united focus than we had ever had on any previous records, and from day one of the album writing process we were all on the same page in a way that we had never been. It made things fall into place in a strong and natural way.

IMV: On the whole, World’s Blood strikes me as having a much more pronounced Americana influence than your previous two albums, and not just because closing track “A Nation of Immigrants” is the first fully acoustic song—not counting the short instrumental “Stormcall” on Children of the Iron Age, which seems more like an interlude to me—in your discography. There are melodies all throughout the album, even in the heavier passages, which sound like they’re explicitly drawing on the American folk tradition. Was that something you were aiming to do on this album, or did the songs just kind of evolve in that direction?

SM: It’s definitely an influence we’ve always had, growing up in the Western US where there is a strong presence of this music and especially throughout its history. Denver itself has a strong and unique tradition of a kind of darker brand of Americana. The “Denver Sound” bands like 16 Horsepower /Wovenhand, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club etc. have always been a point of inspiration, and I’d say this album was the first to embrace that fully. It happened naturally, as we all felt more of a pull in that direction, and once we started going for it a bit more it fit very nicely into the sound we were building.

IMV: Lyrically, you’ve always drawn inspiration from the American West, particularly the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains. I haven’t had a chance to see the lyrics for World’s Blood yet, but based on the song titles it seems like you’ve headed even further in that direction on this album. Aside from hailing from Colorado, what drew you to these sorts of themes for your lyrics? Is there anything conceptual about World’s Blood?

SM: This album is entirely about the West, yes. There is such a strong, beautiful, and haunting history here that in spending our whole lives here has definitely had an effect on us as people. I personally have always had a great interest in the Western Frontier, its landscape, its people and their culture. This album particularly kind of revolves around our place here, as people born on a land that was violently taken from an existing culture, and the fact that that blood is still on our hands and the land is forever haunted by it. From there, it’s up to the interpretation of the listener.

IMV: From a compositional standpoint, Wayfarer’s music has always been fairly complex. What’s your songwriting process like? Is it mostly one person coming up with the riffs? Do you jam songs out in the rehearsal room? A bit of both?

SM: It’s changed over the years, and I feel it’s in the best place now. It used to be more of songs being composed largely by one person and then the band putting together the rest of the pieces, but as we play with each other more and more we’ve developed a good understanding and chemistry and it’s become very collaborative. Usually a skeleton of an idea will be brought in, and the rest is hashed out by playing together in the rehearsal room and seeing where the song goes naturally. We pride ourselves on being a live-energy type of band, and bringing that element into the writing process makes it far more authentic. That is why we chose to record the album live with Colin, to capture that feeling on the record.

IMV: After recording your first two albums in Colorado with Shane Howard and Dave Otero, you worked on World’s Blood with Colin Marston at The Thousand Caves in New York. How did that come about? Wayfarer isn’t the sort of band Marston usually works with (though he has done several Panopticon records) – what was that process like?

SM: We have all been fans of Colin’s work both as a musician and producer, and with this record we were attracted to the process and mindset he has toward his records, which is a very natural, live-based approach. He has worked with a huge variety of bands, but is very good at facilitating the bands being themselves and pulling out the best from that.

It was the easiest and most natural process we’ve ever had. I think we benefitted from being in another city to do the album as well. We all stayed together in the studio for the entire process so everyone was very immersed in the record the whole time. There was some insane blizzard in New York at the time, but it didn’t really matter as we were just holed up in the studio, working on the record day in and out. I like to think that those sorts of things translate to a stronger album, when that kind of energy is behind the performances.

IMV: Marston’s trademark excellent production aside, World’s Bloodsounds phenomenal. I’m always curious about setups and how musicians dial in their sound, so what did your rigs look like for recording? How close are they to what you use on the road?

SM: There were some differences, but a similar set up overall. We used 5150s mostly for the heavy stuff, and Joey uses a 6505 live so it’s basically the same amp. I use a Mesa Dual Rectifier myself, but was familiar enough with Peaveys to dial in a fitting tone. We used a 70s Fender Twin Reverb for all the twang and lightly dirty stuff, which I use live and is a pretty integral part to the sound. It was close to what we use and we were able to play confidently through it.

IMV: You use a fairly well known Edward S. Curtis photo called “The Scout in Winter” on the cover of World’s Blood, which strikes me as an interesting choice. He’s arguably the definitive source when it comes to his photographs of and ethnographic work on the North American indigenous peoples, but cotemporary opinions about Curtis are split – some, like Pulitzer Prize-winning Kiowa novelist/essayist/poet N. Scott Momaday, have praised his body of work, while some modern ethnographers have criticized him for staging some of his photos and reinforcing the ‘noble savage’ archetype at a time when many Native peoples were trying to adapt. How did you end up choosing that image for the cover? It’s also considerably darker than Curtis’s original photo – is there any significance to that?

SM: Curtis is certainly a bit of a polarizing figure, and while I would guess he sits somewhere in the middle of those assessments, and he does seem to bring a touch of theater to the photographs that I certainly see why some view as distasteful, I would say he was certainly the most prevalent photographer of so many tribes that were being assimilated, marginalized, or even erased at the time, so his body of work is one of the best documentations we have as far as putting faces to names.

Our choice of the cover was largely aesthetic based. Isaac (our drummer) found the photo in a book of Curtis’s work, and we were drawn to its foreboding kind of nature. The album revolves around the “Ghosts of the West,” and this mysterious draped figure from Montana in 1908 was a very striking image that gave us that feeling. Thus why it is darker on the cover, to give it the more dreamlike and dark feel of the album.

IMV: After releasing your first two full-lengths with Prosthetic, World’s Blood is coming out on Profound Lore. What prompted you to make the switch? Honestly, your sound seems like a much better fit for ProLo anyway.

SM: Profound Lore has been an absolute pleasure to work with, and we feel at home on the label. We have always admired the integrity that Chris brings to his label and the way he handles all of his releases. He has been completely supportive of everything we want to do, and did a beautiful job with World’s Blood. It’s a great relationship, and we feel like we belong there.

IMV: You’re going to be on the road for most of June, first with Primitive Man/Fórn and then Krallice. Those dates are almost exclusively in the western half of the US. Is there any chance of Wayfarer heading east of the Mississippi River for any gigs this year?

SM: By the time of writing this, we had completed those runs you mentioned and they were incredible. We had great tour partners and were excited to finally bring these songs to the stage as intended. We ended up doing a couple one-off shows on the Eastern side, but would certainly like to do a full scale East Coast / Midwest run given the right opportunity. With our obligations to other bands, it doesn’t look like it will come about this year, but next year we certainly will.

IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you want to add?  

SM: I enjoyed speaking with you, and appreciate some thoughtful questions beyond the norm. Nothing else to add for now, but there will be more from us.

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