The phrase itself might be a bit of a trite cliche but when it comes to Stu Folsom and SpiritWorld it definitely holds true: expect the unexpected. The band, which started in 2017 in a slightly different form, is the brainchild of Folsom, a veteran of the Las Vegas punk scene and general Renaissance man. The first album from the outfit, Pagan Rhythms (which you can pick up a Decibel Exclusive Ritual Human Sacrifice Bone vinyl of here), debuted in 2020 to rave reviews, which earned the band a spot opening for heavyweights Municipal Waste and Obituary, not to mention fellow up-and-comers Gatecreeper and Enforced on the Decibel Magazine Tour earlier this year.
The band’s seemingly overnight success is actually the product of years of hard work from Folsom, who fronted the punk band Folsom in the ’00s and the earlier version of SpiritWorld that was more focused on alt-country several years before the new version of the band took shape. Pagan Rhythms is both the creative high water mark (so far!) of a life spent around music of all kinds as well as the beginning of what is sure to be a varied and exciting run that should keep listeners and fans on their toes. We recently talked with Folsom about SpiritWorld, the excellent Pagan Rhythms, and what fans can expect next from the perpetually unpredictable frontman.
First off, tell me about your journey to this version of SpiritWorld. I know you fronted a punk band for a time and then a different iteration of SpiritWorld so how did this version come into being?
I made a pre-pro studio in my house and decided to make records. I started writing some really heavy stuff and after doing a lot of thinking about what to do with it, I decided to pivot and turn SpiritWorld into the singular outlet for the music I will create moving forward. While switching genres is not the norm with bands in the death metal and punk scenes, I just thought the idea of managing multiple projects with different logos, members and merch was too bloated and honestly something that I did not have much interest in. I looked at a lot of artists that work in film or different artistic mediums for inspiration. If you look at types of music as genre pictures from the POV of a film director, you can easily see what I am doing. Why not make a death metal meets thrashy hardcore record and then make a street punk meets The Replacements record next? It is no different than a director/writer jumping from horror to crime to sci-fi during the course of their career. I am not a fan of putting things in boxes or asking permission. I believe in making the thing that inspires you most, right then and there and if it resonates with others in the same way that it is moving you, all the rules and cliches will bend to your will and the path will reveal itself.
You guys have a killer and incredibly unique style that you’ve described as death western. It’s a hell of a mix of thrash, classic death, and hardcore. How did you come up with your sound?
I am a huge fan of the heavy metal I got turned onto when I was young. I had older brothers going out to see bands like Danzig, Machine Head, Biohazard, and Slayer when I was little. So, from the jump, I was listening to a lot of the classic Roadrunner stuff from the 90s that was really heavy and as my own tastes matured I got really into death metal and hardcore. Like most folks, having been involved in the American music underground for most of my life now, I always listen to new bands and very rarely connect with the style. Things like the 2010s metalcore and deathcore never really got their hooks into me, I just kept going back and diving further down the rabbit hole of thrash, death metal and hardcore punk, so I wanted to make a band that takes my favorite ingredients of those styles and cook up some hard shit that I would listen to on repeat.
I’m assuming there are a ton of different musical influences that have guided your tastes but who are some of your big ones and how did you get into extreme music in general?
I grew up in a house full of punks and metalheads so I didn’t really know I was listening to extreme or underground music until I started meeting other punks in junior high school and then music became more of a social thing for me. Whereas before I just listened to Reign in Blood and Master of Puppets and then Johnny Horton tapes that I had, with no real understanding that thrash and honkytonk are a strange pairing. They were just my favorite jams. As far as influences for Pagan Rhythms….. Sepultura, Slayer, Dismember, Six Feet Under, Obituary, Integrity, Ringworm, Sick of it All, Prong, Life of Agony, Madball, All Out War, Entombed, Behemoth, and on and on and on.
What is your writing process like for both the music and the lyrics?
I just grab a guitar and riff. Everything with the metal I write is riff-based and determined to be usable if I can find a good drum beat for it. Find a keeper and then build on it. The lyrics are added at the end.
You pretty effortlessly combine horror and Western together in your lyrics. It’s a cool combination that I feel like is more of a natural fit than people would initially think, although I feel like I’ve seen more of it over the last few years since splatter Western novels have kinda taken off in horror fiction more recently and movies like Bone Tomahawk have become cult classics almost overnight. What about the two genres draws you to them individually and as a pairing and what are some of your bigger horror and Western influences?
I am just a big fan of both genres and when trying to come up with something that I would find inspiring to dump a bunch of time and energy into world-building, I decided to try to carve out something unique that pulls from my love of horror and western fiction and film. I really like Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, and Louis L’amour books and a lot of the old Satanic panic films of the 60s and 70s. Most of them suck but I have been fascinated with the witches and zombies and the occult since I was little. More so than say the monster films or sci-fi stuff of that era.
Pagan Rhythms absolutely rules. It’s a hell of a confident debut and cool DIY story with you initially self-releasing it and then it getting its initial physical release through Safe Inside Records. What was the recording process like for that and how did it feel to get it out there to listeners? I imagine the overwhelmingly positive response had to be very gratifying.
My best friend Sam Pura owns a studio in Northern California called Panda studios. I saved up money and sent him the demos and without any plan of how to release them, we just went all in to try and make something special that we would love and listen to. I didn’t put any thought into putting it out for consumption until we were finishing up and I had a moment where I knew that we made something really cool and I needed to do right by the songs and get them out properly. The response has been really flattering and inspiring. I was set on making up three albums and then maybe being in the position to be looked at as a relevant band with a little cult following that would get to play out and do some cool stuff. All of this has moved very quickly and I realized that the goals I had were already being hit and needed to be recalibrated to a much larger scale.
With you being the driving force behind the studio album, was it difficult to put together a touring band and get them up to speed?
No. It is really easy to convince your friends to play music with you when you have cool songs and even cooler shows to play. Our third show playing metal was at a packed Obituary show…all of us understand what a unique situation that is and are committed to making sure that we live up to and surpass any expectations people have of us as a live band. It also helps that everyone involved is really talented and I love hearing how they play my songs. I am pretty picky so I am confident that if I am digging how it sounds in our practice room, it is going to translate over well in a big nice room.
Speaking of touring, how did the Decibel Tour come about and what was it like to tour with all those guys? The lineup was a total dream for a fan so I can’t even imagine what it was like to get to play on that one. Any fun stories about being on the road with some real legends and some other exciting up and coming bands?
Nick Storch heard Pagan Rhythms and hit me up to let me know he thought we made a great record. After we got to know each other and I shared my vision for SpiritWorld he jumped on board to book us. He is an A+ dude. In a world full of lames, it’s folks like Storch that make you realize how easy it can and probably should be to be an artist. Having a legitimate heavyweight booking agent pick up your band in its formative stage is an incredible stroke of luck or proof of the power of manifesting a new reality. As I said, it inspires and lights a fire under my ass to present something live that proves him right and makes people at the shows who have never heard of us take notice. As far as stories from the tour, it’s hard to pick stuff out to share. It was a blur of awesome shows and meeting some really great folks that have turned their passion for music, really extreme, no bullshit music from their hearts, into their livelihoods. Truly inspiring to see and be a part of. Big shout out to Albert and the team at Decibel for hearing something in Pagan Rhythms and taking a chance on us, even though no one had seen us play live yet. And thank you to Obituary, Municipal Waste, Gatecreeper, Enforced and their crews for having us and being awesome.
Tell me about how the videos for “The Bringer of Light” and “Comancheria” came about. They’re such cool videos that really feel incredibly cinematic. What was the process like for making that? Plus, they feel like a John Ford or Sam Peckinpah movie from hell, which is a great fit for your music.
I made Comancheria with my homies Kyle Hulett and Benjamin Lieber. The world was in lockdown so it was impossible to try and film anything with human beings in the same room, so we came up with a great little plan to use the toys I had from the original Pagan Rhythms release in a stop-motion film. We made that on such a tiny budget and it turned out really cool. I love the colors that Ben used. The Bringer of Light is a collab with one of my oldest and best friends Todd Hailstone. We connected over punk rock, fantasy books and pro wrestling in high school and have been friends ever since. He has worked in film and TV forever so again, it was just meant to be, like working with Sam Pura. Really talented people, who put the vision and the opportunity to make something special with friends ahead of the financial part of the business is rare and yields such a higher quality product. For the budget that we had, we could have never made a video like that. So respect to my man Todd for believing in my songs and helping me bring them to life and build out another piece of this weird little world in my head.
You recently signed to Century Media, who have one of the deepest stables of extreme metal bands out there. What does their support mean to you and the future of the band?
Century Media is cool. Bands on that label really impacted me when I was young and obsessed with heavy music, albums by Merauder, for instance, shaped my guitar playing 100%. In a lot of ways it helps to have a label still, they have distribution through Sony and the Orchard and it helps to legitimize your project and get people to take a look at you. I have had complete control to do what I want and the folks at CM like Mike Gitter, Sonia and Nik have been a pleasure to deal with. I can’t wait to get the new record out!
Lastly, what’s next for SpiritWorld? What are your plans for the next few years of the band?
Finishing up another metal record at the end of the month and then going to the UK/Europe in August. As far as the next few years, I am going to finish up a horror western novel, record a punk rock full length and go play as many rad shows as possible. The main goal of SpiritWorld is to hold myself accountable for making art consistently and putting it out. If I had my way, I would put out a full length every year like the old-school country artists. I love making up songs and making records and have been on fire with writing lately.