Red Hands Black Deeds, the sixth release from Missouri’s Shaman’s Harvest, is a testament to the band’s passion for exploring new creative territory and expanding musical boundaries. The darker, more textured feel to this album is in part due to producer, Keith Armstrong, whose eclectic range of vintage analog equipment has contributed a rich, organic element to the band’s brand of visceral hard rock. With songs tackling subjects such as race issues, depression, civil unrest, and war, the album is infused with what singer Nathan Hunt describes as a ‘push and pull tension – a juxtaposition of good and bad.’ Currently on tour in the U.S with Nickelback, the band is set to hit Europe and the U.K. in early 2018, with an Australian visit on the cards later in the year. We recently had a chance to chat with Hunt about the creative process behind the new album and the evolution of the band’s sound.
SR: Congratulations on your new album, Red Hands Black Deeds. What does it feel like to be officially introducing this sixth album to the world?
NH: Um, I feel old (laughs). No, it feels amazing. It was a collaborative effort from all sides and it feels pretty great.
SR: Do you feel apprehensive prior to an album release, or are you pretty cool about it all by this stage?
NH: Oh no, I wish that I could say I’m super-cool about it, but I rethink it a million times. A thousand times a day, I think, ‘Man, I wish we’d done this with this song, or changed this up.’ It takes 90 days between when you get done with a record to whenever you release it. (Laughs). So, it’s 90 days of pure agony.
SR: Keith Armstrong produced this album. How did you came to work with him and what prompted your decision to go for a more organic, analog sound?
NH: Well, we’d been wanting to go that way for a couple of records, but we were never in the financial position to do so ’cause it is considerably more expensive. But we just kind of put our foot down a little bit with the label and they were cool with that. They backed us the whole way, which is a testimony to them as well. Most labels would tell you to go screw yourself. And then Keith had produced and remixed a couple of songs of ours for the radio after they were done, and we’d all liked what he’d done. The label said, ‘Who do you have in mind?’ It was just a guy I’d talked to just briefly. It’d just come up in conversation and he’d said, ‘You should work with him on the next record. That’d be a cool idea.’ And usually, that’s just part of the conversation. But luckily enough, I happened to reach out to him and I said, ‘Hey man, what do you think about this? This is the direction we want to go in.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s totally what I want to start doing, anyway—I’m your dude. Here’s what I’ve got and here’s how I think we can do it.’ And he kind of convinced us, as we kind of convinced him at the same time. It was a little bit happenstance, but I’m glad that we did it.
SR: The first single, The Come Up, is about your experience with depression. Do you ever feel exposed when you share personal things like that?
NH: It’s such an internal process making songs, anyway. I never really feel exposed until they’re done. It’s still mine until it’s yours, you know what I mean? But I think that’s the point of that song. I think it’s something people need to talk about more, as opposed to leaving themselves to deal with it on their own. So, I guess it kind of works in that way.
SR: You were diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014, which must’ve been terrifying. What impact did that experience have on you creatively?
NH: Well, you know, it was good and bad from a creative standpoint. I don’t think that anybody…well, that’s not true…but I sure as hell don’t write well when I’m happy (laughs), when everything’s going great. I write better from a stance of pain, I guess. So, it was tough because I kind of had to relearn how to sing after treatment. I mean, I didn’t really anticipate surviving through it, but I did. At that point, I was like, ‘Well shit, I don’t want to quit singing, so now I’ve got to figure out how to keep on doing what I like to do.’ So, there were some new lessons there—new lessons about how to treat myself, I guess, and be a little bit kinder to myself and live a little bit better. But I figured out that my voice had aged better. I don’t know if that’s a good way to put it, but it sits different than it used to; it’s dirtier, definitely, but I kind of like it. So maybe from a technical standpoint, I guess it did me some blessings.
SR: You’re a descendant of North Carolina’s Lumbee tribe and The Broken Ones was inspired by their struggle to be recognised by your government. A Longer View and The Devil in Our Wake are two other tracks that deal with political themes and you started writing this album at the time of the presidential election. What’s it like living in Trump’s America?
NH: (Laughs) Well, I’m a terrible voice box for people who are disenfranchised by Trump. But I mean really, at this point, I think people who take my stance on it, anybody who has any common sense, is embarrassed at this point. I mean, really, every time the guy opens his mouth or sends out a tweet, I’m embarrassed. At first, we were all like, ‘You know what? Okay, we lost. Let’s just put our best foot forward and hope the best for our country.’ And every time he opens his mouth, I think we’re all just embarrassed by it. I’m just not a very political person; but at the same time, if it gets me riled up, then, man, he’s really doing something wrong.
SR: Red Hands Black Deeds is darker, thematically, than your previous releases. You’ve described it as being filled with ‘very compelling tension’. In the creative sense, is tension something that interests you, generally?
NH: I think contrast is one of the most basic, beautiful ideas there is in any art form. It’s the easiest way to showcase any kind of arc, whether it’s a visual arc or what we do, making music. I think conflict and contrast are so important to have. And even though tension and anxiety are not great emotions to have while you’re listening to something, the fact that it does draw any kind of emotion at all, I think, is the most important part of the whole thing. I guess I enjoy listening to music like that. Maybe it’s from my grunge days in the nineties (laughs). That spark still fires in me, that passion’s still in me when I listen to something like that. So yeah, maybe I do like making that kind of music.
SR: You’ve been quoted as saying that the sound on this release combines a ‘Midwest vibe’ with ‘organic L.A.’ How do those places influence you and where do you feel most at home?
NH: I think I was misquoted—it’s totally the other way around. The Midwest is very blue collar. Like, we all worked in construction to pay the bills until recently—for the last few years, and doing this as well. I mean, you know, you work 12-hour days and you do it 6 days a week and that’s just part of your life. You don’t complain about it, it’s great. It’s a good way to provide for your family. I don’t know—I guess that blue collar vibe just comes through a little bit. And I guess the L.A. part of it is just that polish, maybe. Maybe that’s what it is. We’ve got dirty old nails all the time, but I’ll tell you, it’s like suddenly going in for a pedicure. And that’s not pretty—I tried it. I tried it last week. I got my first pedicure last week. I ain’t never going back.
SR: Speaking of nails, can you tell us about the goat toes?
NH: (Laughs) So, those are actual goat hooves. I don’t know who owned them. It’s actually a Latin percussion instrument that I did not know existed until this record. We found them laying in the bottom of a bin in the studio. Nobody had used them in years and years. It makes an interesting sound and we were able to utilise it on six songs. We tried to use a lot of world instruments. You can’t help but feel that it’s organic when you have those kinds of things in it, you know? It’s literally a microphone inside some part of an animal (laughs) or just a hunk of wood that’s been sitting out the back in the yard or whatever. We’d figure out how to make noises with it.
SR: You’ve got six albums under your belts now. How have you evolved over the years as a band?
NH: I think we’ve gotten more comfortable in not trying to make it into a genre, you know what I mean? We’re more comfortable in our skin and in saying, ‘Listen, we’re okay with not making the same song 12 times in a row. We’re okay with bending the genres a little bit.’ And it’s not all that important for us to make a radio hit. We hope that there’s one on there, but it doesn’t drive us for every song like it used to. I think being comfortable is when you start making your best stuff—when you stop having to apologise. It’s like: ‘Listen man, if you want to go and put a lap steel on a traditional rock and roll song, then do it. If you want to put some goat toes on a heavy metal song, then do it—it’s fine’. I was playing a horn, one of them Jewish horns. I feel terrible, but I don’t know the circumstances of why this is a Jewish horn or where it came from, but it’s very difficult to play. I think it’s just a horn from a goat’s head, and you have to blow in it just right. We used that on a motown song! I think it’s the freedom to say, ‘Hey man, what kind of noise do you think we can make out of that thing?’ and just being able to play. And that’s what making music’s supposed to be—being able to experiment. And it helps to not have a label that’s like, ‘Hey man, I want to hear a demo by the end of the day.’ We didn’t even play our label any demos the entire time. They heard it when it was mastered; that was the first time they heard it. It was awesome that they gave us that freedom as well.
SR: You’ve been touring with Nickelback this year. What’s that experience been like so far?
NH: Oh, let me tell you—this Nickelback show? Good lord, man. They have got the most incredible production, so we’ve learned quite a bit from that. It’s like watching Def Leppard or something play every night—it’s crazy. It’s also been the easiest tour experience that we’ve ever been involved in. They’re literally—and I’m not just saying this—they’re some of the best people I’ve ever toured with. I mean, I’ve toured with a lot of different bands that have a quarter of their quote, unquote, ‘star power’, I guess, but they also had a quarter of their class. They’ve been nothing but class and very generous to little old Shaman’s Harvest that nobody cares about.
SR: What’s next for Shaman’s Harvest after the 2017 tour schedule?
NH: We have to leave the States. So, the plan is that in February, we’re going to hit the U.K., we’re going to hit Europe, and after that we’re planning on trying to put together an Australian tour. And who cares what we’re doing after that?
SR: Do you have a message you’d like to send out to your Aussie fans who will be very excited about the new album?
NH: Yeah, the first time you listen to it, just listen to it from the front all the way to the back. You know, enjoy the arc a little bit.
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