Goth-Country Metallers WAYFARER Drop Pummeling New Single "False Constellation" and Announce Fifth Album 'AMERICAN GOTHIC'
Wayfarer have attracted much praise and attention from metal fans since the release of their 2014 debut LP Children of the Iron Age, with their unique blend of gothic black metal infused with Americana, culminating in their best work to date in the shape of 2020's A Romance with Violence. Today, fans are treated to the closing track from their forthcoming album to whet the appetites, the melancholic beauty of 'False Constellation'.
The twangy acoustic riffs are paired with the double-barrelled vocal approach from Shane McCarthy and Jamie Hansen, the haunting clean singing complemented perfectly by the harshness of the screams. Church bells combine with jaunty tremolo and Vaudevillian keys to amount to a piece of music that'll make you feel like you're stepping back in time to the Wild West of the late 1800s.
If you're unfamiliar with Wayfarer, now is the time to start paying attention. After honing their craft for the last 12 years, American Gothic is arguably the band's greatest effort yet, accentuated by the work of stalwart producer Arthur Rizk (Kreator, Power Trip among others). Thematically an introspective look at the history and complexities of their nation, the album is an important one, and a brave telling of the parallels of the issues and dangers of the past and the present. The band comment -
"What we have now is a world full of oil drillers, and railroad barons. Cattle thieves and company men. This is the new American Gothic."
As the band gear up for the Fall release, Knotfest's Jon Garcia sat down with the band's Shane McCarthy for the album's first interview for a lengthy conversation on Wayfarer's world and the album's coming together and concept. (This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity)
American Gothic is billed as “a funeral for the American dream,” which fits perfectly with the world that Wayfarer has created. Even the final line on A Romance with Violence is “Where is the dream?” Was that planned? Was it a happy accident? Did you inspire yourself? How did that line inform what this album was going to be about?
Yeah, it definitely was planned. Or at least, like you said, something we realized had happened that we wanted to expand on or continue from. Obviously this record is fully meant to stand on its own, it’s not like there’s any conceptual connection
The last album, as the title of it would illustrate, is about almost the interpretation of the West as a place and an idea, how it’s romanticized and built to be this really kind of attractive and enthralling sort of legend. So that album kind of explores that and deconstructs it as it goes. So yeah, it is intentional that it ends with the realization that it all is a dream and it is a bit of a fantasy. So therefore, this album moving forward, that’s the starting point. Knowing that there’s nothing left to romanticize. It’s just looking at the idea of this nation, this place as a whole and trying to grapple with what it means, what there is left when you realize that it’s maybe not something to view in such a rose-colored light and how to deal with that. That’s kind of the funeral aspect to it. The dream is dead, and this is what is left.
To call A Romance With Violence a concept album wouldn’t quite be right, but there is an overarching theme to it obviously. Especially through the lyrics where characters pop up again, like the Crimson Rider or the Iron Horse. This kind of comes up in American Gothic as well. Do you see Wayfarer as an anthology band? Where each song is a story about a world that you’re contained in, even if there’s no concrete linear story through the album.
That’s an interesting way of putting it. It does apply in some ways for sure. In terms of the concept album thing, yeah we’ve never made one in the traditional sense of like, "Oh, this is a story and this is the progression of it through all these songs as chapters or whatever". It’s definitely much looser than that, but we definitely always approach things from the big picture standpoint, where everything on a record is tying into a central theme.
As you’re saying from the anthology perspective, it is kinda like all the different pieces - all the different songs will focus on different aspects of it. I would say that was more directly true with Romance. They were definitely more like vignettes of that 'great picture show' or whatever of the American West, whereas American Gothic is a little bit more broad
You were mentioning there being almost like characters that would occur on the last album. That happens less this time, but there are little nods to things like that, a kind of continuation of it. Like the first song, 'The Thousand Tombs of Western Promise', there’s even an allusion to the Iron Horse and how this plays into things. The whole concept there was the Iron Horse – being the railroad – was kind of like the harbinger of westward expansion and what brought the American idea across the whole… what would eventually become the country.
There’s also a focus on the Dust Bowl of the 1930s on this record. That seems very front and center during the middle of the album. Why focus on that specific event?
That’s a great point, and like I said at the beginning, this is the first interview
It’s such an interesting event in history at a very formative time. The country was transitioning from having settlements and places trying to become states – more of your little Wild West, spring-up boom towns and all that – to being more centralized into one government. And your larger corporations exerting themselves and taking control as much as they could. The Dust Bowl happens right in the peak of all this, shortly after The Great Depression and before World War II when it was really like a 'united' States nation. So yeah, we just used that as a lens of some kind of reckoning,
And obviously the Dust Bowl is the one front and center, but there are many parallels to present day. This is something the band has always done well, taking pieces of the old West and showing how little things have changed.
'The Thousand Tombs of Western Promise' starts with all these barons gathering up all the land and hoarding wealth without leaving any for the people just trying to come and live their lives. I feel like that resonates a lot today. What do you think that says about our story as a nation? Certainly that’s a main question the album asks.
Yeah, I mean I think that’s kind of the case and point of the whole thing. We don’t profess to have any kind of grand answers to these questions, but it’s more that that almost is the lesson. No matter how civilized and advanced we think we get, we're kinda doomed to make the same mistakes and give in to the same parts of human nature. It’s not to say we would give up on any aspects of trying to improve ourselves or improve as a society, but it’s definitely a grimmer look at things, that there are so many parallels all the time. Even from events thousands of years ago, to hundreds of years ago and definitely things in more contemporary American history, this explores where there’s a mask of being past these things and being so learned from these things, but a lot of the problems persist.
One of the songs that actually is directly revolving around a historical event – more so than we’ve ever done before – is the second track, 'The Cattle Thief'. It’s all centered around the Johnson County War in Wyoming right around the turn of the 20th century. I think that’s a really fascinating event in American history because it basically comes down to a class warfare issue of domination by a certain kind of corporate party – or in this case, a large company and political party, an alliance between the two – and then people trying to get by. Especially a lot of immigrants who had recently settled in what was still a young part of the country at that time. And I think while there may be less things to point to in terms of actual open warfare waged with the signing off of the government in the streets, there are a lot of parallels you can draw to things that have happened. Especially from the last few years here that kind of reflect similar struggles of people either impoverished, freshly immigrated or just in general trying to scrape by in a world that’s getting more expensive and more difficult. It’s a lot to reckon with. That’s something you can look at, and this is why studying history is important. It’s not only interesting, but it’s also kind of like a guideline for things you might see happen in your life too, you know? Because it’s how people are and the trappings they fall into.
'The Cattle Thief' also brings in that supernatural element to this record, which also makes it stand out. What else is interesting is the idea that gold supersedes all else, regardless of if you’re a baron or just someone trying to make a living. As you mentioned, immigrants, the poor, working class people, were all making their way out West to try and make money in a way they couldn’t before. Yet, you also have cattle companies promising gold for murder, basically. It all revolves around money. I think like anything else with this album, there are so many layers to dig through.
You mentioned studying history - I’m curious how much research you all do for the record versus how much is already there through your own interests, hobbies or whatever else you engage with in your personal time?
This record, on my end anyway, was actually more direct research toward certain things. Like I said, '
All of us in this band have some degree of invested interest in history, American and otherwise. I mean, two of the other guys, Issac
But yeah, the last record was more about the interpretation of the West, so more of the studying was watching films and reading stories and legends and looking at artwork and things like that. Whereas this time it’s a little bit more based in actual history.
That being said, we’ve always had a huge influence of film on the band. There was kind of a research period here, too. The last time it was more about watching the Italian Westerns and things that were really interpreting and extrapolating on what they saw and what they liked about the American West as an idea, whereas this time it was a really pointed attempt to watch a lot of American made Westerns to kind of get the feeling of what the country wants to say about itself, or ask about itself.
A lot of these movies on the surface would appear to be “rah-rah-rah” pro-America, pro- the lifestyle, pro- the hero or white savior narrative. But a lot of them – especially when you get to the late '60s and early '70s and the New Hollywood era – a lot of them are pretty deconstructive and are raising some pretty serious questions.
So yeah, there was a lot of watching Sam Peckinpah films. Things like McCabe & Mrs. Miller was a big influence on this record. It’s an early 70s Western about a couple different entrepreneurs trying to make their way in a budding Northwest, and then a large company interest trying to buy them out and where that leads. I appreciate takes like that because it’s more human, you know? They don’t have this Clint Eastwood-like ability to just solve any problem and kill everyone and get away with it. It’s more just like these are just people stuck in this and they try and make a stand for themselves and it doesn’t necessarily work.
There was some legitimate historical research that fed directly into American Gothic, as well as other cultural research that was focused on certain areas that more directly relate to 'The American Idea', whatever that is.
There’s no grand conclusions other than maybe there’s a large, looming, kinda “we’re fucked” atmosphere to it. But beyond that it’s just kind of what can you do given the cards you’re dealt? Everything you may have to reckon with, both that has been left here by the people before you in the country and whatever’s in front of you.
This is a perfect segue into False Constellation, the album closer. It basically wraps up the entire album, and you mentioned this grim, bleak feeling in the music. Honestly, this is actually a terrifying song, which is what I feel like black metal is about - this scary, overarching type of dread. To me, this song says that not only is 'The American Dream' dead, it’s been dead for way longer than we ever even realized. In fact, it’s never even worked in the first place.
What was the creation of the song like and how did you put it together to be this cap on the record to really sum everything up?
This song was written pretty late into the album writing process because it was one of those ‘we’ll know the last song when it happens’. And I think once we started to tap into this it was actually kind of by stripping things down and being like "let’s write something that is similar in nature".
It’s only a couple of riffs through the song and we actually ended up recording this one in a lot of different ways than some of the other metal tracks just in terms of kind of stripping it down. The metal vocals are more traditionally black metal than the rest of the album, whereas the rest of the vocals… I think it’s the first time we’ve ever done clean singing on heavy parts of the heavy track.
But yeah, I think we wanted to do something that would come across like a statement for the record. So musically, it boils down the elements more to their core. It’s based off some more traditional black metal stylings in terms of the kind of atmospheric drumbeat. Not in terms of modern atmospheric black metal, but reaching back to early Norwegian black metal. The really repetitive dive into this feeling kind of simple pulsing beat. But then we wanted to make sure to have the riffing directly reflect the feeling of the album, and it has a lot of slide guitar built in and almost kind of like the hammer-on, pull-off sort of almost like swamp blues sort of twinge to it. Musically from the start it was definitely like a mission statement in that way. This is going to be stripped down black metal but it’s going to be 100 percent American guitar styling.
Lyrically, it’s definitely a little bit more vague but definitely sums up a lot of the feelings of the album. Kind of like you were saying, not only that the dream is dead but that it was never there to begin with and it always was just a dream. You’re sitting there foreshadowing your own death with a shadow over your own grave, grappling with what part you’ve played in this whole failure or nightmare, and because of that, that’s going to be our first single, because of this statement aspect of it. If we chose one of the other tracks, it would seem more, ‘oh yeah, this maybe sounds a bit different and brings in some new elements, but it sounds like the band I know'. We wanted to come out with something
There are those slide guitars on the first track, as well. When it comes in, drenched with distortion and reverb… I’m not sure I’ve heard anything like that before. It was very cool to hear something you’ve heard a million times in such a different way. I also feel that a lot of people that maybe don’t listen to country are going to be introduced to the instrument in a way they never have before.
I’m curious on your Americana and country influence. I know it’s not hitting you over the head with this record but it’s definitely there. What type of inspirations did you take for this?
Yeah, that’s something that’s definitely been a big part of the band for a while and it’s definitely present over the last couple of albums. But again, on this album we were kind of more specific and intentional with it. Everything musically on that side of things we wanted to come directly from truly traditional American forms of music, like country and certain types of folk. On the last album there might have been hints at something, like an Ennio Morricone score or something, and this time it was purely focused on this perspective on purpose. So we really wanted to dive into those elements.
But one of the biggest, most important things always, always for the band – and definitely on this record even further so – is like you said, not hitting you over the head with it. We never want to use anything like that as a gimmick, like ‘Oh, it’s metal but it does this! Isn't that crazy?' It has to be fully, seamlessly integrated into everything, to where during the metal riffs there’s just as much influence from those things as there are during the cleaner parts where it may come across more obviously. But really if you break down what’s being played on the heavy parts, it’s the same sort of stuff.
A lot of it is derived specifically from 'The Denver Sound' stuff like 16 Horsepower. Any of the Munly Bands: Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots, The Lupercalians or Slim Cessna's Auto Club. We take a lot of direct influence from that, especially being from where we are. Also certain kinds of country Americana, folk artists like Townes Van Zandt or Kris Kristofferson or certain artists here and there.
That’s a huge part of the mission of the band, is to create something that always lives in the same mindset, whether it’s doing the heavy part or not, and that’s hopefully what makes it unique. Like, the slide guitar is something that’s fully integrated. I think there’s slide guitar on more songs than not on the record, but sometimes it may not be super right up front because it’s not just trying to show off an element. It’s woven into everything that’s going on.
So yeah, that’s something we do think about a lot and thankfully we’ve been working with this long enough to where we don’t have to think about it so much. That’s just kind of how we play now, and we’re just trying to flesh that out to its furthest ebb, you know?
You all worked with Arthur Rizk on this album. What was it like working with him and how did it shape the record in a way that maybe hasn’t been there in the past?
It was awesome. I think we had to work with somebody like him to realize everything we were trying to do to its fullest potential. We had a lot of big aspirations. At this point, this is our fifth album. We know what the sound is, we know who we are. We’re not trying to fuck around, you know? We’re trying to really make it as much of a thing as possible.
We had a conversation a while back. Issac knew him some through Blood Incantation stuff, and he had played at Fire in the Mountains last year that we played at. We talked to him some there. Cool guy. But we were kind of talking amongst ourselves, where it’s like "Okay, we want to find something to take a big step with the sound of the album", because we were really chasing after something specific that we want to come across in the biggest possible way. "Who should we go with?" At first, we’re kicking around names and it just came to the discussion that we could chase down somebody who has made a name for themselves on the stuff that we really loved metal wise. But who is that person now? Who’s the person who’s pushing the boundaries of production and engineering and all these things now that’s at the top of their game, instead of the guy who made records 10 years ago that made us want to make records. Because, you know, things change. There’s a lot of talented people out there but sometimes people get to a certain point of success where they’re not as invested anymore because they don’t have so much to prove.
I think Arthur, to us, is the guy who’s really making shit happen today. Who’s on the cutting edge, and not in any kind of technical way. There’s just some kind of element about the way he does things. He finds what it is bands are looking for and really brings it to life, and it turned out that couldn’t have been more true.
He’s such a cool, easy going guy. We had a good time with a lot of fucking around in his studio and just bullshitting about certain things. I appreciate the atmosphere of it. He plays guitar in bands. He gets it. He’s one of us. He’s just a chill dude who likes making records and is not egotistical about the things he could be egotistical about, all that he’s accomplished recently.
When it comes down to doing stuff, he’s the real deal. This is the first time we’ve really solicited for producer advice beyond just mixing the record and recording it. There were things that we went to him and were like, "What would you do at this part?", or "This is what we’re going for, how do you think we should approach this?" I appreciate that he’s not the type to try to insert himself all the time into these conversations, but any time that we came to him there was a lot of things that came out of that.
It was a true collaboration and I can’t say enough about how much it elevated the record. Can’t say enough good things. He’s definitely a one of a kind dude. At this point, with the record being done, I can’t imagine what it would be if we had done it elsewhere.
What do you want people to take away from American Gothic when they listen to it?
You know, the beauty of music is that it’s so open to interpretation of the listener. Where we have these big ideas behind why we create it and what we’re trying to illustrate with it, it means different things to different people.
I hope people accept the invitation into the world we’ve built and explore it, but they take out of it whatever they need to and whatever it will mean to them. I think that’s what music is for. In terms of our end of things, we built something very intentionally and I hope that comes across.
Like I said, I hope people take our hand and go along with us into the world that we’re building with this, or at least that we’re exploring with it, and whatever they take from that is their own. But obviously, I hope they dig it!
Wayfarer's American Gothic releases on Friday 27th October through Profound Lore Records (USA) and Century Media Records (EU).
Catch Wayfarer on tour with Baroness:
Nov. 9 - Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot
Nov. 11 - Denver, CO @ Summit Music Hall
Nov. 12 - Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room
Cover photo c/o, and music video created by, Frank Guerra