Interviews

SpiritWorld Mastermind Stu Folsom on Horror, Westerns, and the Vegas Hardcore Scene

Photo: Jennifer Olsen

Unleashed to this filthy world earlier this month, Pagan Rhythms is the latest release by SpiritWorld, the brainchild of Sin City-based musician Stu Folsom. With lyrics that marry Horror and Western elements like an old pulp novel, and a musical bed of harsh metallic hardcore, the record is a complete mindfuck in the best way possible.

Imagine a combination of the movie Bone Tomahawk and Ringworm's early discography and you would be getting close to what I'm talking about.

I chatted with Stu via email about the new record, his unique lyrical point of view, and the Las Vegas hardcore scene as it stands today.

The last time No Echo checked in with you was in 2018. To say that the stylistic direction of the band has shifted since then would be a big understatement! Tell me about that. Was the change a gradual thing, because it certainly feels like you made a clear choice to change gears with the material on Pagan Rhythms?

Yeah, it was intentional. After we put out the demo and played a few shows I really got inspired again to do something serious. After a lot of thought, I shaped what the future of SpiritWorld will become and built up a plan to make it happen. I am really into roots music, hardcore punk, and metal. Those records and communities have had a tremendous impact on my life, and I still seek out and devour new bands and go to a ton of shows when I’m not quarantining.

When I thought about the kind of songs I wanted to write, I knew I wanted to explore heavy, riff-based songs as well as continue dialing in this cool alt-country/cowpunk record that is in my head. I know that writing different genres of music and releasing it as one band has the potential to turn people off who aren’t ready to hear a twangy record and then a blast beat on the next release but I believe that inspired records with good songs will find a home.

It’s about the love and trying to make a classic record. If you make good records people are a lot more willing to embrace your weird and come along for the ride.

I’m not afraid to put myself out there and let the songs I write speak for themselves. I’m cool if it takes a while for people to catch up and understand the scope of what I am trying to create.

You’ve said that you’ve been influenced by the writings of Cormac McCarthy, and you’ve included a collection of Western/horror short stories with the vinyl pressing of the new album. I must admit that outside of movies like Bone Tomahawk and Ravenous, I’m not well-versed on that kind of fiction space.

A great example on the new record is the song "Armageddon Honkytonk & Saloon.” What is it about the merging of horror and Westerns that appeals to you the most?

I love to write. I have always been too chicken shit to commit and really try and share anything longer than the lyrics to a three-minute song, or a piece for a zine. A big part of focusing my energy into this band is challenging myself to do more creative writing and visual art. The Horror and Western genres are two of my favorites. I have been obsessed with films and novels since I was little and think there is something so cool about outlaws and bronc riders and the occult. Bandidos, werewolves and demonic possession. I love it. There are some cool stories to be told.

How much of your life spills over into the lyrics on this new record? Maybe that’s never the intent with SpiritWorld?

The storytelling on this record is pulled from fiction that I write. Pagan Rhythms lives in the same world as the short stories that will be coming out. I’m sure there are certain things that are informed from real events and relationships, but this is a concept record, and I really focused on themes of salvation, despair, and faith.

A lot of this record is about channeling things like creativity, anger, and negativity into something different interesting. There is something very rewarding about sitting down with my guitar and shutting off the world. Some days I go into my studio and come back out ten hours later with a new song and go lay out by my pool in a daze and listen back to it and get stoked as a motherfucker.

What was it about Sam Pura (Self Defense Family) that you knew would be a perfect collaborator on the production/mixing side of Pagan Rhythms? In terms of the sound of the album, I think it blows away the past SpiritWorld stuff.

Sam has recorded all of SpiritWorld’s material and is the most talented producer/engineer in the world. Sam is my musical soul brother and one of the only people I have ever met that shares my passion for music. The difference you are hearing, has everything to do with Sam and I putting our expertise, time and love into a record. When we recorded the first time with SpiriWorld (the demo, split 7” and Viper Blood were all done in the same session), I did not have a fully formed vision. We hit record and captured something raw and magical that Matt Schrum and I created.

Pagan Rhythms is an entirely different approach. I knew exactly what this record was going to be before I wrote a single riff. I wrote every song and demoed them at my house. I cut them apart and critically edited everything all the way down to the samples, until I had a fully formed record.

Once I was confident that I had captured what was in my head, Sam and I went thru again with a fine-tooth comb and took those songs and focused on elevating them. Sam and I both believe that the content is the only thing that matters, and ultimately great songs and great records are the only real goal. The songs must come first and the choices you make must reflect that.

Another big part of this record was a choice to decide what a song needed, and then make that happen. I was very fortunate to have some amazing friends and players help me bring this vision to life. I can’t thank Matt Schrum, Thomas Pridgen, Adam Elliot, Randy Moore enough for putting up with me and Sam and contributing to this. I love you guys.

Photo: Jennifer Tenorio

Speaking of collaborations, you worked with Chase Mason (Gatecreeper, Spirit Adrift) on a new SpiritWorld t-shirt where proceeds will be donated to the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. 

Hardcore punk has always been way more socially aware than most musical scenes. While I do not intend on using SpiritWorld to try and tackle political issues, I do recognize that I have a platform and can help bring a little attention to things that are important to me. My great grandmother was Cherokee and the Missing and Murdered Indigienous Women epidemic is something that I feel strongly can use all of the exposure it can get.

There has been a disturbingly slow change in policy to protect Native Women in North America and Alaska and reform the jurisdiction issues and political red tape that could help deter and prevent these tragedies. For example; most federal agencies and state authorities have no jurisdiction on Native land and reservations, likewise tribal police and do not have jurisdiction outside of the Reservations. This creates a horrible void in protective services and the ability to solve and prosecute missing persons cases.

Every year thousands of women from Native land vanish without a trace. Because they are not afforded the same rights as everyone else, only a few hundred of these missing women end up in missing persons databases, where they can be properly investigated, documented and cross referenced.

For more info check out www.csvanw.org.

We’ve certainly covered bands from there on the site, but what are your thoughts on the Las Vegas hardcore/punk scene? I’m not as up on that community as I probably should be. Are there any newer bands we need to check out from there?

Fuck yeah there is! Las Vegas has some killer bands right now you should check out. World Tension, Be Like Max, The Rhyolite Sound, Oversight, Dredge, The Delta Bombers, God’s America, and SpiritWorld’s bass player Justin’s main band, Wristmeetrazor, just finished tracking their new record.

Blackpath Booking has been grinding, bringing so many great bands to town, coming out of pocket to cover guarantees and I am super proud of the amazing shows they have been putting on. I can’t until live music is back. My old pal Bobby Franks' label, Running In Place, is also cool as shit. Check them out!

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Pagan Rhythms is available now on Bandcamp.

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Tagged: spiritworld

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