It has been a long road for Shaman's Harvest filled with moments of triumph alongside challenges that few bands have the strength to overcome. Through it all, the quartet looks optimistically towards a future with a record that exhibits their strongest, most meaningful recordings to date. Long-time brothers in arms, they are stronger than ever with enduring souls that never cease to persevere. Singer Nathan Hunt overcame a bout with cancer while the band created Smokin' Hearts & Broken Guns, so perhaps fate is now unequivocally on their side.
The story begins years ago in the Midwestern town of Jefferson City, Missouri. Bassist Matt Fisher and singer Nathan Hunt began a collaboration with guitarist Josh Hamler that has remained the foundation and core of Shaman's Harvest. Fisher reflects, "Drake and I have been through a tremendous amount of high's and low's together in our years. We have somehow managed to keep this music marriage together. Playing music has squashed our differences, and it is our synergy. I believe we share a soul in it. From the moment I meet him in his mother's basement in August, 1996 I've held the conviction he is a rare talent you might find once in your life." Rhythm guitarist Josh Hamler echoes these sentiments sharing, "Nate has the gift of voice. A voice that almost any vocalist would dream of having. He brings a very artistic approach to song writing making even the simplest songs very unique, original, and very much that Shaman's Harvest sound."
Musically, the years together have created an intuitive symbiosis amongst the trio, which truly only comes with comfort and familiarity. Hunt offers, "Josh and Matt I've known just as long as I've known anybody. We can play something new together and not have to think, and we know where it's going. Those boys capture the essence of the soul in the rhythm section. Its effortless playing with the both of um."
They are all grew up together, sharing dreams, and becoming men in the heartland of the U.S.A. Hunt shares, "Living in Missouri is awesome. I grew up moving around quite a bit, but knew Missouri as home. There's a beauty in the grit of us Midwesterners. We work hard, make babies, drink too damn much, and we're not afraid to rebuild and start over when we get God-smacked. We have an art community all our own, inspired by wind in the wheat fields, and summer morning haze off the rivers and streams. If shit is broke we either fix it ourselves, or put it up on blocks for yard art. There's enough musicians in the city jungles of New York and Los Angeles and they don't need four more of us. Here we have artistic elbow room."
After moments of significant heights, there were moments where it seemed as though the band was going to break wide open. Their early years saw the release three albums which capture the band defining their sound: Last Call for Goose Creek (1999), Synergy (2002) and March of the Bastards (2006). It was the arrival of Shine in 2009 though that presented optimism that their time had arrived. The single "Dragonfly" hit #16 on Billboard's Active Rock chart and #9 at Heritage Rock, selling a significant number of singles, and tens of thousands of albums. It was featured on the soundtrack of the major motion picture Legendary, and with momentum in early 2010 Shaman's Harvest recorded "Broken Dreams" for the WWE as the theme song for wrestler Drew McIntyre. They continued that relationship delivering "End of Days" as the entrance track for Wade Barrett and The Corre, alongside "Anger" which ended up in the feature film No One Lives. There was no doubt the band was on the verge.
With Shine, lead guitarist Ryan Tomlinson made his first appearance on the band's recordings. He grew up in Jefferson City, reared by a father who was an active Blues guitarist. He recalls, "Shaman's Harvest was the 'big band' in our town. I remember attending a CD release show at the Blue Note when I was 15, and was blown away by their sound. I dreamed about one day playing that stage, or even just opening for them." He continues, "Our music scene in Jeff City is small, so I'd become friends with every member. Nate told me he liked what I did, and I reminded him a lot of him. He offered to help me record a demo, and during those sessions they were beginning to track the Shine record. Nate asked me to record some slide guitar and talkbox on it, and as far as I was concerned that was the big leagues."
Within the year, founding lead guitarist and younger brother of Nathan, Adam Hunt left the band to focus on his family and new baby girl. When it came time to release Shine, Fisher, Hamler and Hunt asked Tomlinson to sit in at their CD release party at The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri. It wasn't long before the band was on the road, being flown to New York City to play for major record labels, appearing in front of huge crowds on tour, and enjoying a hit at radio. Tomlinson turned 21 during that period, and was officially the fourth member of Shaman's Harvest. Guitarist Hamler fondly reflects, "Ryan is the yen to my yang. He's an old soul. He continues in his dad's (Dale "Soup Kitchen" Sapp, RIP) footsteps. He's entertaining to watch perform and a beast in the studio with his Gibson Les Paul. When asked about his tone there's only one comparison... BBQ Sauce!"
There truly is a brotherhood amongst these four musicians. Hunt offers, "My band mates are my brothers in the truest sense. Like blood family in the way you embrace one minute and the next your rolling in the yard kickin' up blood and dust. But so help the person who slanders or lays hands on one of us. The best kind of family. Ryan is a fella who always has a smile on his face and would give you anything he could if you need help. He has the perfect background of playing blues joints with his dad since he was a young teenager, which adds a perfect honesty to our blend of rock." Fisher's perspective offers, "He'll always be the "kid" to me, even though he's been with us for five years now. Ryan came into this band, and helped us out when we were in a pinch. At that time he had never really played out of our own town, so he had a lot to live up to and pulled it off. Now he has evolved into becoming a main writer and has filled the permanent lead guitar player position in this band. He's a part of the brotherhood. He's a monster on stage and in the studio. And, most importantly, he keeps Nate, Josh and I young, while being one of the nicest guys you will ever meet."
As they approached the next album and began recording, singer Hunt was diagnosed with throat cancer. As opposed to scrapping their plans to march forward, the band stayed the course recording Smokin' Hearts & Broken Guns. Hunt remembers, "While recording I was struggling vocally, and got a lump in my throat biopsied that came up malignant. It was a rare, aggressive lymph cancer that was making a home in my throat. Bummer. I got the news on my way to the studio, and it took about five seconds to realize I wasn't gonna deal with it mentally. I completely submerged myself in this record, committed to not missing a day working on this. I didn't know if it was gonna be my last record or what. So it was treatment, then studio, then some days back for more treatment. The different treatments do funny things to you vocally, and I had a lot of help from my vocal coach ,Juliet Jackson, who taught me how to manipulate my voice to hold up to the sessions. Everyone deals with cancer differently. There was a period I felt alone and a couple tracks speak to that directly and other times I felt overwhelming love for my mates and people who were there for me. The bottom line is I was lucky enough to be recording a record during it and it's all there. That's the best therapy in The World. Once I became cancer free it was like a reset button was hit and I was like o.k. now let's do something with this record."
The album is pure in the way it breathes feel and emotions that are diverse track to track. They are cinematic, and offer audio beds for flashback memories or present experiences that are our lives. Hunt states, "Whether they're driving down the highway, at work, or doin' the nasty, these songs should be the soundtrack. I think people will accept the diversity from song to song whether it's a riff rock vibe like 'Here It Comes' or it's a darker, emotional anthem such as 'Ten Million Voices' without categorizing Shaman's."
As the repertoire came together for Smokin' Hearts & Broken Guns it became clear that the band was delivering an album without a typecast template for the rock market. The simple AC/DC reminiscent groove of "Dangerous" rests comfortably side by side with the stomp clap bombastic Southern feel of "Blood In The Water." With "Here It Comes" the band offers what Hunt describes as a, "Sleazy jam with sexy harmonies, and full steam ahead riffs about a fella in love with a Hooker, the poor bastard." The track "Country As Fuck" is a blistering blues song that the singer offers features, "Silly Midwest lyrics that basically say if you ain't country as fuck, then fuck you." At the end of the day though it is "In The End" that the band looks upon across the board as their favorite composition on the record. It was the first track Hunt sang while enduring the cancer treatments, and it reaffirmed his belief that he could execute the vision. He reveals, "It was such an emotional release for me, and I really think it comes across to the listener." And for the future, they collectively want nothing more than to thrive another day, making every solitary appearance on stage bring those in their presence to another place, far away from their normal routines for that brief euphoric peace through escape.