Nineteen years and six albums. You couldn’t say Shaman’s Harvest have rushed to reach the point they’re at today. The Missouri-based band, who mix taut, muscular riffs, Stonesy blues licks and southern swagger into a satisfying whole, formed at high school in the late 90s and have taken a circuitous route that has included a decade releasing albums independently, multiple line-up changes and a health scare that almost completely upended the group.
That scare involved frontman Nathan Hunt, who was diagnosed with throat cancer back in 2013. “I’ve been in remission for three years now,” he says. “It’s one of those things where you’re constantly thinking about it, so I try to live a little healthier these days. I used to live the life of a clichéd rock’n’roller – lots of drugs, alcohol, eating like shit on tour. Once I was well, I was like: ‘Maybe I need to take this thing seriously.’”
That brush with mortality behind them, the band have upped their game with Red Hands Black Deeds, their sixth and most varied album to date. In common with many other bands, it sees them touch on current hot-topic issues such as immigration (Broken Ones) and the Syrian war (The Devil In Our Wake).
“We’re not trying to preach about a particular way to live or anything,” the singer points out, “but we’re at a point where, especially with the current political climate we have in the States, it feels selfish to only talk about a shitty break-up or whatever.”
The new album also marks the first time the band have eschewed all digital technology and recorded fully analogue.
“We’ve always been a soulful band; growing up we played a lot of juke joints. But in order for it to be genuine, it can’t just be playing a blues lick, it’s got to be in every aspect – the vocals, the percussion, the guitar tones… You’ve got to be able to leave some mistakes in there – it makes for a warmer, more soulful sound.
“It feels like there are a few of us doing this now,” Hunt continues. “Jack White, of course; people like Rival Sons too. I feel people are appreciating a little bit more honesty in their records. It feels like the future – if that doesn’t sound too crazy.”
And it’s this Midwestern honesty that perhaps has been the key to Shaman’s Harvest’s longevity.
“We’re a very blue-collar band,” says Hunt. “We all started as construction workers, so working twelve-hour days, six days a week has given us the work ethic it takes to last in this business.
“Maybe we haven’t had giant-rocket success, but the slow wind has helped us. We don’t hire people to sort our shit out. When stuff goes bad on the road, we know how to mechanically or electronically fix it. If the bus breaks down, we’re the ones with the wrenches.”
Red Hands Black Deeds is out on July 28 via Mascot
For fans of…
“In our early days we’d listen to the Allman Brothers’ Live At Fillmore East front to back,” says Nathan Hunt. “We learned from those dudes how to sonically tell a story. Each song has a proper arc. Even if they were just sitting on a riff for two minutes straight, it still has an electrifying surge. That album has really served us the best as songwriters.”