The Imaginaries’ Debut Album Grounds Itself in Real Life Reflection

When Shane Henry and Maggie McClure of The Imaginaries explain that they chose their band’s very name thanks to the spontaneity, unpredictability, and limitlessness of a dream, it might be easy to presume the creativity of the Oklahoma roots rock duo is primarily driven by whimsical ideas—especially after hearing and seeing the wild west-inspired music video and short film hybrid of their debut single, “Revival.” Yet, the premise of relying on fanciful foundations would only account for part of what sparks the pair’s songwriting energy. “We definitely draw inspiration from our real life experiences,” McClure affirms. “That’s where we really get a lot of our [song] ideas and we try to express what we’re going through and what we think other people can relate to, in an interesting way.”

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This isn’t entirely shocking; as a band that’s built on top of an already established union between Henry and McClure as husband and wife, the duo have an abundance of real world experiences both as individuals and as an espoused couple, to draw on for their narrative inspiration. “We had stockpiled a lot, about 30 songs, in the pile for this [self-titled debut] record,” Henry explains. 

The duo’s creative reserves ran so deep that in the time leading up to The Imaginaries release, the central task became more about deciding what music made the final cut. “We were shaving [all the songs] down to the top 10 tunes. That’s a lot there’s a lot of work there but, we were putting our best foot forward on this, you know, first release,” says Henry.

The mere fact that progress toward releasing this first album faced no less than three major and unforeseen personal setbacks for both Henry and McClure, separately and as a unit, is an even more significant indicator of exactly how much real time spans across the The Imaginaries and just how much true life is packed into the band’s very bones. 

“In 2018, we started making lists of what songs we felt worked the best with the project, and with an overall story and an overall sound. And so, some of the songs were written a long time ago,” McClure says. “Like, ‘You Remind Me,’ I wrote, probably in 2014.”

Though the conversation had moved to logistical details of dates and years, almost like magic, Henry seamlessly slid into where McClure’s train of thought came to a pause, completing her unfinished point and emphasizing their synchronicity. “Some of the other tunes like ‘Enough of You’ and ‘Geronimo’ and ‘One Life,’ were written right before we were recording. ‘One Life’ is probably the very last song we wrote before we recorded,” Henry says, before McClure jumps back in. “I would say a lot of life occurred [during that time].” 

That said, this is where The Imaginaries’ finesse with allocating their use of image-laden metaphors and writing from a place of first person truth comes in handy. Whether clearly displayed in titles like “Walking on a Wire” or, through lyrics like I will fan the flames and I won’t let them die, the careful balance of fantasy and true-to-life experience makes The Imaginaries’ music more emotionally accessible to listeners’ imaginations, without losing the performative character that comes through the band’s personal perspectives. The key for McClure and Henry was deciding what non-fictional aspects of a song would adapt well to a fantastical framework.

“I think, whatever comes naturally is usually the way to go. I think struggle has been a big part of who we are, and where we are as a band. It plays a big part in where we’re at, and where we’re at with this album,” McClure says. 

“And I think that all of these songs were written and put on this album in a very natural way. And so every song is meant to be there and in the place that it is, in a natural fashion,” she adds. “We always go with our gut and if something feels like it’s right and needs to be said or, in this way or that way, we just go with it. Certain songs have lent themselves to being Imaginaries’ song[s].” 

When pressed for more specifics about what that translates to for listeners processing outside of the duo’s internal thoughts, both become quite animated talking about what stokes the fires of their creativity. “If [an idea] is in that same adventure vibe, [as] how a lot of our songs are [on The Imaginaries,] that’s usually a good indicator [of a new song for the band.]” This cornerstone of the creative drive the two share explains a lot of why The Imaginaries broke on the scene with such vivid audio-visual works as the way they chose to make their first impression.

“We’re very visual when we’re writing,” McClure elaborates. “We’re already thinking about what [a song] might look like if it were a movie. Hence why our music videos have ended up so grandiose, like [with “Revival” and “Walking on a Wire.”] But when we’re writing these songs, we’re definitely visualizing a story in our minds and that also helps us decide what metaphors we choose for which songs as well.”

Interestingly, even after all the nuanced decisions shaping The Imaginaries’ musical narratives are decided, the band faces still another layer of duality: striving to make music that resonates outside of its community of Norman, Oklahoma while retaining and nurturing the feelings of tightly knit homeyness and the adventurous aesthetic of the local environment—the latter pair of which are themselves competing qualities. 

“We [have been] excited to be able to showcase the locations our state has to offer [through The Imaginaries music videos.] It’s been a blessing, especially during the pandemic, to be able to create such videos safely in our home state.” McClure says. 

“We have a lot of more areas that we haven’t tapped into or filmed in our state and we plan to film more videos soon,” she adds. “We are definitely open to going elsewhere to work but have found a director here [in Oklahoma] that we really love to work with, and every location that we’ve needed, we can find here, which has been a huge blessing.”

The sheer impression of far off places and times long past is undeniable, whether seen in the vast barren landscape of Oklahoma’s Little Sahara Desert, or heard in the vintage radio channeling vocals on the lively track, “Enough of You.” The former, tapped as the primary location to one of the album’s music videos, is probably the boldest display of the unexpected for those listeners connecting with The Imaginaries far away the landscapes of Oklahoma. “You probably wouldn’t think that [“Walking on a Wire”] was filmed in Oklahoma because most people wouldn’t expect there to be a desert in Oklahoma,” says McClure. 

Incidentally, the duo initially had their sights set on a place with equal grandeur, actually somewhat far from their home state, presumably to try and match the big sound of their melodies. While the confinement of the pandemic was a curveball of sorts, that change actually paved the way for The Imaginaries to showcase how they could evoke the air of a wondrous journey from close to home. “We were considering [filming] “Walking on a Wire” in the Santa Fe area but, once we started figuring out [logistics of] getting crew and, you know, getting us out there…well, COVID,” Henry explains.

As much as this long-awaited debut is entirely worth celebrating from all sides—lyrically, melodically, narratively, conceptually —it’s difficult not to wonder what the future holds for this motivated musical couple. Such impatience isn’t a sign of quick boredom so much as it’s a reflection of a satisfying adventure series, which according to Henry, may very well be turning its attention even more toward the storied past. “One thing that really intrigues us both is history, and so we’ve been writing a lot more story songs recently,” Henry says. Though, as with this debut, influence from the Imaginaries’ real lives won’t lag too far behind.

“There’s a place about six miles from where I grew up, it’s called Buzzard’s Roost, and I used to go there when I was a kid,” Henry adds. “Recently, my grandfather passed away in August [2020] and it just got me thinking about a lot of memories. Growing up, he would take me my cousin there to go metal detecting because it’s a site where Jesse James apparently hid some gold. And so [Maggie and I] decided to write a story song about that.”

The closure of an emotionally diverse musical arc like The Imaginaries’ debut album, leaves an immediate feeling of exhilaration for all the possibilities of where things can lead next. And in always coming back to their band name when they compose, Shane Henry and Maggie McClure leave themselves an open world of choice for what stories they will show and tell next, limited only by the scope of their shared lives and imaginations.

“We’re always looking for [ideas],” Henry says. “Inspiration is always out there. You just have to kind of keep your eyes open and it usually finds its way in, if you’re looking for it.”

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