SpiritWorld are a metal band out of Las Vegas who look to the untamed frontier of the American West for widescreen cinematic inspiration and brutal stories to pin their jams to.
The brainchild of Stu Folsom, SpiritWorld's ‘death western’ sound is an intriguing pop-cultural alloy – one part Ulzana’s Raid, two parts Integrity-style hardcore punk metal – informed by Slayer, Pantera and unsparing legends from the American frontier.
The music is just one part of it. Folsom wrote and self-published a collection of horror western stories, Godlessness, to accompany the band’s 2020 debut album, Pagan Rhythms. Having sold out with the original vinyl pressing, Godlessness is to be reprinted next year through Rare Bird Lit, with Folsom working on a novel to finish the story.
“Leaning into the fiction side of the project really helped to create a bigger vision and add depth to the record,” says Folsom. “That allows for someone to be able to revisit the material and pull new things out of it that they probably missed the first time around as I put out more of the film and fiction pieces.”
As for the music, Folsom just felt it was natural to combine these inspirations, whereafter it was a question of finding the riffs and the story outlines and then filling out both.
“I was writing some horror western stories while I had started playing some heavy riffs on guitar,” he says. “The idea to merge the two became a challenge and a perfect way to do something that hasn't been done a thousand times already that ties my love for western culture, horror, fiction, and heavy metal together.”
Also, as Folsom explains here, getting sober and the enduring appeal and possibilities of the Fender Telecaster helped him put this all together…
How would you describe your sound to a new listener?
“Like you stumbled onto the set of a Korean torture porn and some latex lovin’ cyberpunk pulled out your fingernails one by one, then shoved the most brutal thrash/death/hardcore songs down your throat until you gagged, puke tears streamed down your face and you choked to death on the riff vomit.”
Which of your songs best represents you and why?
“I think it is important to separate the art from the artist. I do not personally aim to be represented by the stories or albums I create. I prefer to have the freedom to explore anything that inspires me in whatever medium that most excites me at the moment.
“There are things written in the first person that may be pulled from memory collages of experiences that I have lived that allow me to inject those details and textures to create a sense of authenticity, but this work is ultimately an escape and a safe place to let my imagination drive the car for a while.”
“Musically, I think Unholy Passages is a great example of the songwriting style I tried to nail on Pagan Rhythms. It has enough killer riffs to anchor three songs, but is arranged at such a high level that it is unrelenting in its aggression and heaviness without dragging or feeling disjointed.”
What inspired the creative process for the album?
“Sobriety. A Fender Telecaster. The challenge of learning how to use Reaper and a bunch of plugins to create a fully formed demo of the album with no outside influence. Having a safe place to sit and explore my love of heavy music, and pushing myself to write an album that blends all the things I love about 90s thrash and death metal without all of the boring, repetitive song structures that I tend to skip 90 per cent of the time.”
What is your favorite musical experience/memory with this band so far?
“I love making stuff. I’ve got to spend thousands of hours writing songs, recording them, drawing, writing, taking photos, designing merch, etc. It is a blessing to have somewhere cool to put all this energy and then to have the chance to share my art with others is special. It has been a true bright spot in my life the last few years while the world has been so gloomy and strange.”
Is there a particular album that had a big impact on you growing up and how?
“So many. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Chris Ledoux’s Rodeo And Living Free. My mom had a signed copy she got from him at the NFR, and I think at some point I must have had a cassette dubbed off it.
“I hadn’t listened to it in probably 20 years until I bought an original pressing (Chris self-released his first 20+ albums and they are hard to find now in good shape) during the lockdown. I still remembered almost every word of the songs. I think I have always consumed and connected to albums in an almost obsessive way.”
If you could steal the production off one album/track, which would you take and why?
“That’s a tough one. I’m gonna say Ramones End Of The Century today! [Laughs] Spector’s arrangement and instrumentation choices are incredible. Adding the wall of sound to the Ramones stripped-down, balls to the walls rock and roll seems ludicrous… but the organ, the horns, the additional drum/percussion layers, and the samples for the intro and outro on Do You Remember Rock And Roll Radio make me want to roll the windows down and scream at the top of my lungs every time I hear it!”
Do you have any go-to gear for songwriting and demoing ideas and why is it important to you?
“My Telecaster ‘Viper Blood’, [Toontrack] Superior Drummer 3, and Reaper. That’s all I need to disappear and let the world drip away into nothingness. Sometimes I can pick up that guitar and special things just start happening. It’s magical and rewarding in a way that few things I have found in life can be.”
What instrument or piece of gear would you like to get next and why?
“I would like to start tracking vocals at home for heavy music. It is so difficult to capture the best screaming takes you can perform when you are put on the spot for hours on end in a studio. I tend to have a couple of sessions where everything sounds great sandwiched between sessions where my voice hasn't warmed up or is completely shot.
“I think I want to duplicate my boy Sam Pura’s vocal chain... use the same mic, preamp etc so that I can sit at home and work on capturing vocal performances in-between visits to the world-famous Panda Studios and not color the vocal tracks with a different sonic footprint that will cause issues.”
Where would you like to take your sound next?
“I just finished writing and wrapping up the tracking of our new record. After a couple of years focusing on writing groovy, thrashy metal I am excited to work on some more SpiritWorld cowpunk material. I have a stockpile of great songs that I want to get in a room and work up with the band. I have this sound in my head of a twangy, catchy punk band cookin’ up big, catchy choruses I feel like I need to capture.”
- Pagan Rhythms is out now via Century Media.