Mike McClure seeks ‘Providence’ on new Great Divide album
“I try to find hope.”
Mike McClure chats on the phone from his home in Seymour, Texas, and prepares to celebrate the release of a new record with The big share, a band he founded in Stillwater, Okla., in 1992, and a band that broke up a decade later. It seems surreal to McClure that he’ll be doing press for a new Great Divide album in 2022.
“It’s time travel, man,” McClure says, “but it’s really cool to see how it all comes together. We’ve been doing shows since 2012, sporadically, and we’ve put in a couple new songs together, but we haven’t walked in and made a cohesive record from start to finish in the same room in 20 years. That’s really cool.
McClure catches up for a second.
“I say ‘really cool’ way too much.”
In his defense, what he and his bandmates — original members bassist Kelley Green, guitarist Scotte Lester and drummer JJ Lester, and newcomer Bryce Conway on keyboards — are doing is really cool. The new album, Providencereleased on October 28, and it simultaneously captures the historic magic of the band while forging a new path into the future.
“I feel lucky, through all of these changes over the years, we found our way back to getting on stage and performing together,” McClure said. “Something about it makes it powerful. I can feel it every day. It’s a spiritual thing.”
Jason Boland once said that all Red Dirt music should be divided into two eras: pre and post Great Divide. “Their impact on the alt-country scene cannot be overstated,” he remarked. “They were continually blazing through the convention halls and throwing bottle after bottle at the traditional monolith.” That was certainly true when they released their first two albums independently and remained so even when they signed with Atlantic Records and released their first major label, Revolutionsin 1999.
“Man, I’m baffled even talking about our history,” McClure humbly says when he hears praise like what Boland said, or when he hears how american aquariumit is BJ Barham I called him the “Best Oklahoma Songwriter”.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to do, I wanted to have a guitar and write songs and play them and touch people and move them and make them want to learn those songs and sing those songs. Be influential a bunch bands that were younger than us and then look at what they do and who they influence, it’s this beautiful continuous thread.”
“Following Willie, influenced by him, it was this seed that was planted,” he says. “So to think that I’ve influenced other people after me…the beat goes on. That’s the beautiful part of music that we can forget when we’re busy — when we work too much and live too little.”
McClure and The Great Divide’s influence continued as they released three more albums in the first three years of the 2000s. Unfortunately, it looked like they might be working too much and living too little; in 2003, the band decided to call it quits.
“Too much brotherly love will do it to you…just ask Abel“, says McClure without the slightest hint of sarcasm. “I know that we were all drinking way too much, and there were other contributing factors of that nature. It was just the classic story – we argued all the time, about management, about what’s next, about who’s doing what. It wasn’t us against the world, it was us against each other. When you’re young and drunk, you take a lot of things for granted. I know we did. That’s part of the reason everything went south.”
While a band’s demise may signal the end of their influence, it couldn’t have been further from the truth for McClure and his legacy with The Great Divide.
“The band blazed a trail out of Stillwater that artists still follow to this day,” John Crutchmer wrote in his book, Red earth. “Several generations have passed without realizing the importance of the four-piece set.”
For McClure, there is immense hope in this truth.
Back in studio
Even though The Great Divide finally reunited in 2012, the idea of creating a new studio album was never on their radar. The influence that their music from the 90s and early 2000s continued to carry sounded pretty good to them – and it was undoubtedly good enough for the fans who still packed venues to see them perform live.
But eventually the group did head back into the studio, and McClure gives all the credit to one guy and one guy only: keyboardist and the band’s only non-original member, Bryce Conway.
“We met him in the early ’90s when we played at this club called JC Cowboys in Weatherford, Okla.” McClure recalled. “He was the DJ there and he was a huge Great Divide fan. He played keyboards, and he was going to come and play a gig with us. He had a bus, and he was going to bring it, so we said, ‘Damn yeah.’ We would have taken an average keyboard player with a bus, but he turned out to be really good.”
Conway’s onstage presence with The Great Divide felt natural, and his offstage energy was contagious. McClure was still writing and recording his solo material, and no one seemed too interested in making a full Great Divide record, but Conway changed that.
“His energy really transformed us,” McClure says admiringly.
The keyboardist was relentless and ushered the band into the studio, which immediately sent McClure to work because once the studio was booked, he had a deadline.
“I sat down and started putting together songs that I already had that I thought might be suitable,” he says. “I narrowed that down to about 10 and then spent my time trying to write songs that were better than those 10. It was cathartic for me as a writer.”
Also cathartic was the fact that this was McClure’s first time writing a Great Divide record with the clarity of sobriety and the joy of his newfound relationship with partner Chrislyn Lawrence.
The opening track on Providence“Wrong Is Overrated,” captures McClure’s fresh perspective unafraid to confront the past.
“It talks about how I made a big mess when life got complicated when we were younger,” he says. “It’s really me acknowledging my part of the original demise of Great Divide. Everyone’s doing the same thing. There’s been a lot of growth and I think that carries over to the lyrics of these new songs on the record. . It’s a snapshot of where the Great Divider is now.”
Keep the faith
There is a lot of personal introspection on Providence, whether it’s the humble tone of “Wrong Is Overrated,” the conviction of “Good Side,” or the battle with the divine on “Heaven Is High.” This kind of soul-searching is nothing new for The Great Divide or McClure, who to date have released nine solo albums, all of which continue to carry the influential legacy of his voice and words.
But on the hopeful “Set It All Down,” McClure shines like never before, thanks in large part to his lifelong journey with, for lack of a better word, Faith.
“I think faith played a really big part in The Great Divide…It’s hard to explain God, let me see if I can,” McClure says, laughing to himself. “To me, faith, God, whatever it is, is about slowing down and going into the wilderness and being alone to hear the voice of your own heart and your own conviction. My faith, personally , that’s how it is. I believe that God works through you and somehow you, me, we are part of God.”
McClure begins to question himself and isn’t even sure he wants to venture down that path in the conversation.
“Faith is a tricky one for me, man. There’s a line in this song, [“Set It All Down”]It’s an old proverb:Go on and call on God / But stay away from the rocks“I stole this from whoever invented it a long, long time ago. But I like it. I like this idea. Don’t just put things on a God outside of you; live , through your works.”
As McClure continues to pontificate, the name of the new album takes on more and more meaning. The idea of ”providence” is something deeply spiritual that points a person – or perhaps a group – towards peace, security and hope.
“For me, it’s this full circle. A return. A spiritual cycle. Birth, death, resurrection. And providence.”
Ultimately, however, McClure is just happy that people even care what he thinks or what he sings.
“There’s been so much growth with us, man,” he says. “I’m so proud of that. I’m 51 and I still play music with the guys I started playing with in 1992. It’s pretty special. And even more than that, seeing all those years on people’s faces when we play them these songs…”
“I’ll say it again. It’s really cool.”