Scottish humor is famous for being dry, self-deprecating, and delivered in a heavy accent that's barely decipherable to the outside world.
Gary McClure — the nephew of Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame and guiding light of American Wrestlers — has the first two bases covered, and, to a lesser degree, the third. The Scottish native's accent was slightly tempered after moving to Manchester, where he and Phil Kay recorded three noisy pop albums as Working for a Nuclear Free City.
The accent receded a bit more when McClure relocated to St. Louis a few years ago to marry his American girlfriend and future bandmate Bridget Imperial.
With a batch of new songs already under his belt, he found a Tascam four-track, adopted the name American Wrestlers, and recorded a largely solo debut album under the same name.
For the follow-up Goodbye Terrible Youth, his American Wrestlers project has expanded into a full-fledged band, with a more upbeat sound that's being described as "fuzzed out and unfussy" (The Line of Best Fit), "shoegazey power pop" (The Guardian UK), and a blend of "pop sparkle and melodic indie charm in a way that recalls New Zealand's legendary Chills" (Uncut).
Released back in November, the album is being enthusiastically promoted by its label Fat Possum, which is also home to artists like The Black Keys and Andrew Bird. But McClure is still working day jobs — mostly loading and unloading trucks — which he periodically quits to go out on short tours.
Meanwhile, several interviewers, myself included, have made it a point to ask about those days jobs. Why would that be?
"Why are people obsessed with that?" he wonders. "I think maybe I'm the only musician who has one. I have this theory that most record labels want to sign kids from Brooklyn, and it's not because they're cool and cutting-edge. It's just because their parents are rich, so they can afford to tour."
While those words may sound a bit curmudgeonly in print, McClure delivers them with a bemused affability as pronounced as his accent.
"It wasn't how I imagined it would be when I was a kid," he admits, "to get an email from the press company saying I was in Rolling Stone while I was standing in the back of a truck loading milk crates, you know? It's very unromantic."
McClure's songwriting, on the other hand, is romantic, albeit with a capital "R." While there may be no odes to love and loss, his lyrics have more in common with English Romantic poets than with more solopsistic American indie acts. After all, William Blake incorporated revolutionary sentiments in his work during a time when Europe was no less turbulent than America is today.
"I can always look to my son / To be stoned by policemen / Stunned by their souls / I still can't believe you died," he sings over the distorted guitars and catchy keyboard line on opening track "Vote Thatcher." It's a line that can get stuck in your head for days, even though you're not sure whose death he's singing about. McClure says he isn't, either.
"It starts off as like just mumbling different phonetics, and then they'll become words," he says of his songwriting process. "And then you have a line like that — 'I still can't believe you died' — and you work backward to try to find something that fits. It's really more a song about my obsession with legacy and what you leave behind when you die. And what does it really matter if anyone really knows about it? What does it matter about your legacy, if you're going to be dead, you know?"
Ask McClure whose artistic legacy most changed his life — in a good way — and he's quick to cite Nirvana's Nevermind, which inspired him to begin making his own music.
As for music that impacted his life in a bad way, he's stumped: "I wonder if anyone's ever had a record that just bummed them out so much that it devastated them. I don't know."
So could that be McClure's legacy?
"Yeah," he deadpans, "that's totally what I'm trying to do."