Latest album: Red Hands Black Deeds (Mascot)Website: www.shamansharvest.com/
Shaman’s Harvest hail from Missouri in the United States and now with their sixth studio album Red Hands Black Deeds just released, they’ve proved themselves to be have grown both lyrically and musically. Spurred on by what they feel is a necessary response to the state of politics in America, their new material has depth and clarity to it but is also balanced out with the odd bit of self-deprecating humour despite the darker overall themes. Active since the mid-nineties, the band has survived health hurdles and the usual array of changes to still be intact and delivering a powering live show of hard rock influenced by the blues and roots music of their origin. Loud Online spoke to vocalist Nathan Hunt about the latest release and how things are going in the world of Shaman’s Harvest.
The latest album has plenty of variety. You must be pretty proud of album number six.
Oh it is totally fucked, I’ll tell you what. Ha-ha. There is a lot of different stuff in there and we are all stoked about it. Everybody had something to say on it and it is much more collaborative on this record as opposed to our last record [Smokin’ Hearts & Broken Guns] which for anybody that has them both, will be able to hear.
You’re clearly able to approach the darker aspects of the album with a dash of humour based on the last song on the album [‘Scavengers’] which has a very amusing hidden track.
Ha, yeah man, I mean the whole record is so heavy and feels very weighty. We just had to take a piss at ourselves, I guess and really ruin the mood for anybody who listened to the record right through.
Given the political climate in the States being what it is currently, is the lyrical approach of the album something to be expected?
Yeah, I think that we all write music relevant to our surroundings so I felt it would have been a selfish record to make it about a break up with my girlfriend or a ‘woe is me’ record or here is a whole record about strippers. I just doesn’t feel right in these times and sometimes you just have to write about what I think everybody is feeling right now.
Have you gotten to a point in your career where you’re not worried if a song in itself doesn’t necessarily represent the band’s sound overall? Point being, a song emerges irrespective of style or genre.
Yeah from a song to song basis. Each song is going to dictate how it needs to be. I don’t think they we as a band are worried about a song fitting our mold but then I don’t know that we have a mold to fit. I guess it is important to kind of bend the genre a little bit. Here in the States, there really is no definitive genre for rock’n’roll. All of us have got different tastes so if you’re going to make a collaborative record we probably all need to be represented.
Production wise the album has a lot of dynamics happening with ranges of intensity. Is that something pre-planned by the band’s songs or something that your producer, Keith Armstrong brought out?
Keith was great in the sense that if we were looking to take a different path with a song, he had a plan to make those sounds or ideas happen. As far as the dynamic or the arc of the record, that is with Shaman’s Harvest there.
Do you also look the mastering and song arrangements for listeners taking in the full album?
Oh man, I agonised about it and after I’d turned off from mastering, I sat there trying to convince myself that I didn’t make any mistakes here and there. Eventually we were at a point of saying, ‘please just hurry up and master it so I cannot change it,’ because I bet you I changed the song order probably twelve times. Finally I just gave up and went with the original song order that I had decided on. If you’re the kind of person that wants to listen to the record from start to finish, then it is important that your mood shifts and that is makes sense as it shifts. It is different for everyone but it works for me so I just hope that it works for a few other people.
Is that something you would have considered in your earlier days? Or back then was it a case of, ‘hey, look what we can do’?
What you just said, it was a case of, ‘hey, look what we can do!’ but we were just happy to make a record or even the fact that we could record a song. In the early days that was like watching a magician do a show. The older we get it is kind of like people that are wine connoisseurs who can taste the difference as it hits your mouth, as you swallow and breath out. I mean, me, I just like to get drunk but with those guys who can taste the full thing; I think our tastes have changed the same way musically as far as making a record goes.
Can you and your bandmates hear a noticeable change in your voice?
Oh sure, definitely. There is a lot more struggle now than when there used to be, when I was younger. Especially with all of the stuff I had to do in 2014, it was a lot more difficult but I think there was something that got added by accident over the last few years. We did 270 tour dates last year and the year before that was somewhere around that so you know, you get that vocal fatigue that just sort of naturally comes in. You just hope that there is something worth having – I think what happens is I’ll say, ‘that was terrible but it sounds honest so let’s keep it’ and I think that is what happens now whereas before it was the search for perfection but maybe I cannot do perfection.
You’ve mentioned 2014 and maybe you’ve got something in common with Bruce Dickinson in that you’ve both had to deal with a form of cancer potentially impacting on your voice. How did you cope with it?
The difference between me and Bruce Dickinson is that he’s fucking Bruce Dickinson (laughs). He is already amazing. After my cancer treatments, I started seeing a vocal coach which I had never done before. I was always just playing in these blues juke joints and just screaming into a microphone. It was fine and whenever I got tired I would just scream harder and it worked. But then it didn’t work so much anymore, you know and then my normal tricks changed and I had to learn different ways to sing around problems. So being coached was a whole new thing for me and also, just kind of being a whole lot healthier. Maybe don’t finish that fifth of Jack, maybe just have a sip. Before, I never even thought about that kind of stuff. When I was growing up, rock’n’roll was about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll but now it is kind of like, ‘let’s go to the organic vegan store, get some cardio and have an iced tea at the end of the night’.
Since you’re regularly touring, how do you look after your voice to maintain it for each show?
Touring is so different to studio work and we’re smack dab in the middle of a tour right now so as opposed to having as much time as you need to do a song, when you’re doing an hour a night every night for at least five nights a week, then is becomes more about survival and holding back sometimes and then knowing when to throw the full growl in, or whatever, as a vocalist. Maybe sinking a beer instead of a bourbon helps too.
For those not familiar with the sound of the band, would you agree there is a bit of QOTSA, Kyuss and Soundgarden in there?
I am sure it is in there as we are all fans of that but there is also some Merle Haggard in there, some AC/DC and probably a lot of Howlin’ Wolf in there too. So, yeah, I would say there is a good dose of every genre that we grew up on. There is quite a bit of Motown that ended up on this last record, as we get older, that taste rears its head more and more.
Missouri would be a hotbed of various musical influences compared to somewhere like Los Angeles.
Yeah, I mean, it is right in the middle of everything and it is really not that far from the Delta or the blues scene. Plus we are right near to Chicago which has the whole Muddy Waters vibe and St. Louis is one of the hottest blues towns. When we were growing up or cutting our teeth, we were playing the blues juke joints for the first five or six years because that was the only circuit that would have us. It is funny because you can starve to death playing rock’n’roll in this country but if you play the blues, you’ll always have food at your table, I can guarantee you that.
In that light, how did your band get involved in the music themes of wrestling side of things?
Ha, man, I don’t even really rightly know. There is a guy that writes themes for all of the wrestling guys and he had heard a song that we did from a couple of records ago called ‘Dragonfly’. I guess that he just liked the sound of it and so he had said, ‘I’ve got some songs that I think this band would fit’, so he sent us something with him humming into a cell phone with a Casio keyboard. This was his demo but the guy has got like a ten million dollar studio and yet he sends us a cell phone recording saying, ‘alright, let’s head into the studio and make this’, but none of us knew what the hell to do with this mess. So we sent it back to him and he was like, ‘oh perfect, that’s my vision’ and we’re like, ‘okay, man’ (laughs) then next thing you know he’s sent us another one. I think we’ve done maybe four themes with their WrestleMania promos and they were gracious enough to put ‘Dragonfly’ into one of their movies and I think we did another credit roll song on another movie they did. To tell you the truth, I have no idea how any of this stuff works. They are just like, ‘hey man, do this’ and I’m just like, ‘cool’ or ‘hell, no’ and luckily we made the right choice. I forgot how much I liked wrestling. The last thing I’d watched with it was from 1988. So now this has happened, I’ve started watching everybody.
Any chance of a tour to Australia?
Yeah man, I mean, this year is booked out but I’ve been talking to our label owner a lot about it lately because that was something that was way down the road but I think that has changed. So, we might get down there in early 2018, so maybe February or March is kind of the goal.
Finally, is there a vinyl release for this latest album?
Oh yeah, that was in the early negotiation stages. I am kind of an audiophile, man and am addicted to vinyl so it is pretty cool. It is red, all coloured vinyl, 180 grams and mastered in Germany which is where some of the best vinyl is mastered. Yes sir, there will be vinyl.