Gentle Men: After an 8-year gap, the Gentle Guest drops new LP

Eric Christenson, photos by Lee Butterworth

GUEST WHO’S BACK. Eight years ago, The Gentle Guest recorded an album called Unholy Mess, which was scrapped and edited – now, it’s finally being released.
GUEST WHO’S BACK. Eight years ago, The Gentle Guest recorded an album called Unholy Mess, which was scrapped and edited – now, it’s finally being released.

It’s been a long and dry eight years since The Gentle Guest dropped their classic LP Cast Off Your Human Form. That 2010 record by the self-described “whiskey-fueled blasphemy machine” was a pristine collection of rollicking, fiery country tunes that found ringleader Eric Rykal yelping fast-paced stories about death and dystopia.

That big energy matched The Gentle Guest’s fiercely impassioned live show, which would at times find up to 14 people on stage singing their hearts out, blazing horns, strumming spirited chords, pounding whiskey, and having an undeniable blast. As Rykal puts it: “Mostly we’re just there to scream until we can’t scream anymore.”

“Anyone who has seen a Gentle Guest show knows we tend to take things over the top, which oftentimes means drinking an astonishing amount of whiskey. Trying to translate that mess of an experience to a remotely listenable album was quite the challenge.” – Eric Rykal, on the tribulations of recording Unholy Mess half a decade ago

But recording a followup record – their third – proved to be rather tumultuous. Eight years ago, The Gentle Guest holed up at a friend’s cabin to record as much of the new album all at once – live. After the weekend at the cabin, things seemed good. But after listening back, it wasn’t right.

“Anyone who has seen a Gentle Guest show knows we tend to take things over the top, which oftentimes means drinking an astonishing amount of whiskey,” Rykal said. “Trying to translate that mess of an experience to a remotely listenable album was quite the challenge.”

So, crestfallen, the band scrapped the recordings, took a few years off, and tried again with much more satisfying results. And that’s about when real life caught up. While a lot of the band’s members had growing families, shifting jobs, and new focuses, Rykal too was making moves professionally – first as the head brewer of The Brewing Projekt and now as the co-owner of his own brewery in Altoona called Modicum. Live shows happened sporadically, but sometimes few and far between, and still the songs rested quietly in the ether.

But now in 2018, The Gentle Guest is ready to finally let these songs free in the form of a quick-moving, red-hot record called Unholy Mess. These nine songs are vintage Gentle Guest: a furious, ecstatic flurry of country songs that capture a distinct punk rock energy in its macabre storytelling and instrumental theatrics.

“All of the songs, for me at least, exist in a fictional world. The characters and events live and unfold there. The concepts are based in reality, but it makes them easier to digest when they’re told in this very theatrical way,” Rykal said. “Subjects like death and existential crises are easier to stomach and we can have a little fun with them.”

The band is celebrating the cathartic release of Unholy Mess with a show at The Mousetrap on Nov. 10 with openers Pit Wagon and Savannah Smith – an encouraging sign for fans of their on stage antics. But the jury’s still out on concrete plans for the future of The Gentle Guest. More shows? Ideally. More songs? Maybe. For Rykal and his band of misfits, they’re just happy to play any chance they get, and they’re not stressing out about it. “The goal of this band from day one was to have fun,” Rykal said. “Luckily, the folks who come to our shows seem to enjoy themselves almost as much as we do.”

And no doubt getting Unholy Mess out into the world feels like a breath of fresh air and a weight off the shoulders. And for Rykal and the band, maybe that’s good enough.

“It’s kind of like having house guests for an extended period of time,” Rykal said. “Now they’re finally gone and I can relax.”

You can stream Unholy Mess already at thegentleguest.bandcamp.com, and catch The Gentle Guest at their release show on Nov. 10 at The Mousetrap with Pit Wagon and Savannah Smith.

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