Positivity. Now there’s an element that doesn’t come up very often when conversing about some of the best heavy metal records in the world. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and for Spirit Adrift’s primary creative driver Nate Garrett, he’s changing that. His project’s first full-length record “Chained to Oblivion” is one that could fill your heart and mind with rays of light and push you toward trying to make yourself a little better. After all, Garrett had no choice in the matter. His life was at stake.
Garrett is very public about his battle with alcoholism and how it nearly claimed his life. Once he completed an aggressive rehabilitation treatment, he sought to put his past behind him and use Spirit Adrift as a vehicle for burning his demons and getting his life back on track. And things are working out for the best for Garrett. “Chained to Oblivion” is a fully immersive, emotional, and blood-rushing experience, 5 tracks and 47 minutes of melodic doom that, while it can crush you at times, also works to lift you up. And it’s the second piece of great music Garrett released under this banner in 2016, and his initial debut EP offering “Behind – Beyond” worked as the perfect doorway to the first full-length. Garrett took time from his schedule to answer our questions, and he spoke at length about the making of “Chained to Oblivion,” how it impacted his life, his life now that the music is out in the world, and what the future holds for him (including touring with his other band, crushing death metal unit Gatecreeper). We’re unabashed fans of Nate. His music has helped me out in ways I’ve never expressed, and it’s great to see him coming out on top. Being positive runs counter to so much metal that it’s practically kvlt. That’s truly taking power and reforming it with your hands.
MEAT MEAD METAL: We’re naming “Chained to Oblivion” one of our five favorite metal albums of 2016. This obviously hasn’t just been about music for you but also about transforming your life. How are things now at the tail end of the year?
NATE GARRETT: First of all, I want to say I’m a huge fan of your work. You and Jonathan Dick have been my favorite music writers/journalists/critics (or whatever term you prefer) for some time now. It’s a rare thing in this business to have integrity and passion, whether you’re a writer, musician, label employee, whatever. You’ve always made it about the music first and foremost, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that as a musician and a fan. I’m honored to be on your year-end list. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Totally only keeping this in because Nate asked. Haha.)
To answer your question, things are great. This past year I went on a few of my favorite tours I’ve ever done, hung out with a lot of great friends who I rarely get to see, released some music I’m really proud of, and got married to the best person I know. Right now, I’m just trying to stay as busy as I can to keep my mind off the holidays, as there are some painful associations there. On a day-to-day basis, I have good days and bad days like everyone else. Some days I wake up depressed for no reason, and it’s difficult to get motivated. I’m much better at getting out of that rut now. I don’t stay down for very long anymore. At the end of the day, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude no matter what. My life has become something that I couldn’t have dreamed of, even as recently as a couple of years ago.
MMM: This record, while it certainly has its dark moments, also feels uplifting. Not very cult, Nate. Joking aside, what do you hope listeners take away from the music?
NG: Put simply, I hope it makes people feel better than how they were feeling before they listened to it. Music did that for me in my most formative years, which led to me really getting into guitar. I’m thankful for that, and I want to pay that forward to the best of my abilities. Shit, music still does that for me. I listened to “Journey Blind” by Magic Circle yesterday and was so inspired. Music can change your whole perspective of a single day, or even your perspective regarding your entire life in the long term. I read Levon Helm’s autobiography recently, and he was talking about growing up in Arkansas and working in the fields. He said the one thing everybody had in common no matter their race, age, background, or social standing, was that they all looked forward to the feeling music gave them at the end of the day. I’m not religious in the conventional sense, but I can say that music is a spiritual, higher-power-type thing to me. It’s really important. It’s not some fun, ironic, ha-ha, retweet, witty type shit to me. That’s why I appreciate your writing so much. A lot of people these days treat everything like an inside joke, or some ironic thing. It’s almost like it’s not cool to actually care about or be invested in anything. You clearly care about what you write, and so do I. Music has the power to help people.
MMM: You’ve since assembled a full lineup for Spirit Adrift, but this record is all you. Tell everyone a little bit about the creation process and what it was like to own every section of this album.
NG: The creation process for both the EP and full-length was hectic. I’d even say it was brutal for the full-length. I would write and demo the riffs first, then things would come together naturally and sporadically after that. I would basically re-write and re-record demos all day every day until I was satisfied with the songs. I practiced drums relentlessly. I did that nonstop until I went into the studio. For both recordings, I had the studio time booked before I had the material written, and I think I actually function best under that type of pressure. Believe it or not, it’s almost kind of a neutral feeling knowing that I did all of it myself. It was more out of necessity than any desire to feel accomplished. I’m not, like, world-class at any of the instruments I play. I’m not a world-class singer either. I just had this music in my head, and I figured I would have an easier time playing exactly what I was hearing, rather than having to explain it to other people. I’m thrilled with how the album came out, and I am proud of it. But I’m not necessarily proud of playing every instrument, specifically. That was me just doing what needed to be done.
MMM: There was a really warm reception to this record among metal fans. It seems like the music really resonated with people. Did you expect to get that kind of reaction? What did it mean to you?
NG: I tried to not allow myself to think about how people would react. That said, I did expect a positive reaction. I knew if I did the best job I possibly could, it would affect some people. Once we got about halfway finished with vocals, I realized that I had done the best job I could have done in every phase of the record up to that point. I’m not saying it’s perfect, just that I did my absolute best. Hearing the final product, I was moved, so I knew it was a success in that respect, and beyond that I even approached it a little more logically. I did a sort of inventory, like, “Did I work as hard on the writing process as I possibly could have?” “Do I mean every word of this?” and that sort of thing. There wasn’t any major issue that bugged me. I’m truly thrilled that it resonates with people, and I appreciate all the support and feedback from everyone who digs it. But even if everybody in the world hated it, I would still be just as satisfied with it. Positive feedback can get your mind and intentions just as twisted as negative feedback, if you let it.
MMM: While your style definitely is in the melodic doom arena, it feels like there’s a lot more that goes into your creative process. You and I have talked about artists outside of metal before, such as Sturgill. Do any of those types of artists influence your work, and if so, how so?
NG: Old-school country and bluegrass is in my DNA. It doesn’t have so much of an acute, direct influence as it does a sort of constant, overarching presence. It’s part of who I am. I would say the biggest impact Sturgill has had is with the next record I’m working on, in the sense that his newest album was approached from such a radically different angle than the one before it. He’s inspired me to approach the next Spirit Adrift album from a totally different angle as well, rather than try and outdo what I already did on “Chained to Oblivion.”
As far as non-metal music in general is concerned, music that is not metal is far more important in every way than metal music. Don’t get me wrong, hard rock, metal, and its various offshoots, that’s my favorite type of music. But my opinion doesn’t mean shit, and neither does anyone else’s. The reality is, in the grand scheme of things, metal is but a fraction of a greater whole. Music is music. In a way it’s all one big thing, and all these genre classifications are yet another example of the human mind seeking patterns so it can feel comfortable, part of a tribe. Metal wouldn’t exist without the blues, which wouldn’t exist without hundreds of other “genres” of music before it. Any musician would be remiss to limit their influences to one tiny fraction of the universe of sound that’s out there. Metal and/or heavy music is one drop in an ocean. When I saw Dave Lombardo do a drum clinic, he said his number one piece of advice for musicians was to listen to and draw from every style of music you possibly could. He said the combination of his own upbringing with Cuban music and (Jeff) Hanneman’s love of punk is what made Slayer special, something more than just a Judas Priest cover band. So if there are any cvlt or darksided folks out there who don’t like what I’m saying, take it up with Dave Lombardo, because he said it first.
MMM: We alluded to this a little in the first question, but this record was a major bounce-back project for you after a very personal struggle. Does that make playing these songs more meaningful to you? Have any led you to reflection where you were and where you are now?
NG: We haven’t played live yet, though we recently booked our first show for 2017. The last few practices, however, I can say that I’ve finally allowed myself to really feel what I’m singing, and it’s intense. There’s not really any third-person stuff going on in these words. In a way, I’m glad that I’ll have to sing this stuff for as long as Spirit Adrift is around, because I think it’ll help keep me humble and grateful. I’ll sing something and it’s like re-opening a wound. It’s a very clear reminder of exactly how bad of fucking shape I was in. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to summon a vivid memory of what it felt like to be in that condition, but singing these songs helps bring it back. It’s good. I don’t want to forget how bad things were, because I never want to be tempted to go back down that path.
MMM: The dog inside the album. New Spirit Adrift mascot? The only correct answer is yes.
NG: That’s Lizzy (named after Thin Lizzy). My wife and I brought her into our family when she was just a couple months old. She’s our daughter, man. She’s even more than a mascot. She’s basically a member of the band and co-writer as far as I’m concerned. She’s the only other living being that is around for the entire writing process from start to finish. She’ll give me a look and I’ll know the riff I’m working on sucks. She’s a helpful editor. Spirit Adrift does have a mascot, though. The chick on the cover of the albums is Brenda. She’s like our version of Vic Rattlehead or Eddie. One thing I can tell you for sure is that she’s going to be way more along the lines of one of those guys on the next album cover. The dude doing the art is a straight-up legend, and his art is metal as fuck. Which is appropriate, considering how the songs on the next album are shaping up.
MMM: Talk about what’s next, not just for Spirit Adrift but also you. You mentioned there’s already new Spirit Adrift music on the horizon. And Gatecreeper tour? You’re going to be busy, no?
NG: Spirit Adrift has a really exciting release planned for next year. It’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and it’s finally working out. I can’t talk too much about that yet, but it’s not a full-length. As far as the next actual album goes, the basic song structures are all done. Today is Dec. 16, and at about 2 a.m. I finished lyrics for tracks one and two. I could record it tomorrow if I had to, but realistically it’ll probably get recorded about halfway through next year. A lot of that depends on Gatecreeper’s schedule. We’re doing FYA in Tampa in early January, some shows with Code Orange and Youth Code in late January, then that U.S. tour with Nails and Toxic Holocaust in March. Also a bunch of other stuff we can’t announce yet. In the midst of all this, I make a serious effort every day to appreciate things and be as positive as possible. My natural state is to be a selfish, deeply misanthropic and relentlessly negative person. So I’m always working on that. Anytime I feel too busy or overwhelmed, I think about what my life was like a couple years ago. For whatever reason, I was given a second chance, and now I’m making up for a lot of wasted time.
(Released Aug. 12, 2016)
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/SpiritAdrift/
To buy the album, go here: http://warcrimerecordings.bigcartel.com/
For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/WarCrimeRecordings/