In 2020, on January 31st, Nathan Gray (Boysetsfire, I Am Heresy, The Casting Out) will release his new album Working Title. Chrissy talked to him about his most versatile album and was blown away by his inspiring mindset.
„if something is mentionable then it becomes manageable.“
AFL: I had the pleasure to see you performing with Boysetsfire some days ago and everyone noticed that you guys never were in a better shape, especially you. You seem to be so much stronger and confident – physically and mentally. What is giving you the strength to continue working on that – day by day?
I think it’s just a better outlook all together. It honestly all began with writing Feral Hymns. It was a coming out of that dark times that I’ve gone through with a lot of depression and some sort of spitting up. The turning point was writing Feral Hymns and specifically writing the song Echoes and giving a voice to things that happened that I haven’t gotten in touch with yet.
That was really the start of it and from that point it was like a rock rolling downhill, you know? It just gets more and more positive. And I just see it even through the music. Everything gets more positive. I just feel better in general. And I think when you create new habits, positive habits, they continue on their own.
AFL: Let’s talk about your upcoming album: When you first announced that it is going to be titled Working Title, I thought it would be a nice pun, a joke. Why did you chose this title?
For that reason exactly! Hahaha! Because a lot of people were like: „Okay, what’s it really called?“
I tried to be a little light and bring sort of an annoying knob to certain things. But when I first wrote the song „Working Title“ which funnily enough was literally the first song I wrote for this album, I came up with the chorus of that song first and that „I’m a working title that’s for sure“ kept going on in my head.
And as I was singing it to myself it certainly made me laugh. Because it’s literally like a working title song speaking to the artist. To not give up on it. And I already knew that naming that song and that naming the album Working Title would sure throw the people off a little bit. And they would be like „But what’s it really called?“ It’s part of the whole fun of it. 😀
AFL: It’s about not taking things too serious?
Right! There is for sure serious moments in life but I think you also need to come down to earth a little bit and have a little fun with what you do. Especially if you love what you do. So I think taking on that more positive perspective on things really helps to also bring in a little bit of fun and lightheartedness.
AFL: While Feral Hymns was dealing with a lot of sadness and anger, and because of that was pretty dark and gloomy, your new songs sound settled down, yet pretty happy and optimistic. It’s impressive to listen to you going through all that pain and despair with music. Which stage are you on with Working Title?
I think I’m in that stage I hope to be in for the rest of my life!
AFL: This sounds great!
Yeah! I made sure that with Working Title, despite the fact that the whole album has a very positive feel to it, that there were still songs like „Mercy“, that there were still songs like „Refrain“ that had that sadness to them, because that’s life. On the whole, it’s having a positive outlook but then also admitting to the pain. I think also a part having a positive outlook is that: Hey look! Things fail sometimes. Things still are bleak at times. But after all having that positive outlook and knowing that everytime you fall, you’re going to get back up again. That’s very important.
AFL: On Working Title you’re using the metaphor of music a lot. Like the line ”Wait for the refrain” (Refrain) or „in my brain to a melody that’s no longer in key“ (Down). Which role plays the music in your life?
Everything! I think in terms of music. I feel in terms of music. It’s just always been my go-to. In everything. I would mostly rather do music than anything. It’s my outlet. It’s my art.
When I use those metaphors it’s because these are the only ones I know and it helps to express myself.
AFL: Your first single release „Working title“ is accompanied by the awesome Chuck Ragan. How did it come? And why him?
It came around because Oise from Endhits and me pretty much at the same time were like „You know who would be good in that song?“. It was like a common thing and Oise said: „Get in touch with Chuck and ask him if he wants to do it. I was like „okay“, so I texted Chuck if he would be interested in doing it and in pure Chuck fashion he called me, because: Something I always appreciate at Chuck is: You can only give in a couple of text before he’ll call you. He would not let you have a text conversation. It’s just cool.
So we talked for a little while and he was interested in doing it. It was funny because first I was gonna send him sort of what I wanted the harmonies to be. But then I was like „yeah! I’m not gonna tell Chuck. So I just sent him the song without any harmonies or anything and said „Hey look! Do what ever you want.“ And that’s what he did. He did some amazing parts for the chorus and the bridge and really lifted the song. I think these parts where made for him.
AFL: That’s right. It’s merging very well to your voice. I had problems to hear him singing, because you sound so similar. It just fits.
Yes I think it goes very well together. I was very happy with the outcome.
AFL: From Pop to Alternative Rock to Piano Ballads – Working title is your most versatile album. How was the writing process? I mean, it seemed like you came back from your last solo tour and immediately started working on Working Title.
I did. 🙂
AFL: Did you have a plan or did it just evolve bit by bit?
It was a little bit of both. I definitely had a plan. And the plan was to make it a full band album but at the same time keep dynamics in it. What I really focused on was to make this a cohesive album with a whole band but at the same time create a variety to where it’s not just hearing one song for the whole album. But you don’t want it too crazy to where it’s just like „Why are these songs are on the same album?“.
I really wanted to make the album Working Title sound like the whole life – with ups and downs. If you looked at your life, you have all these crazy things happening within it, but it still makes sense to your life. So that was really the driving force behind that album.
AFL: It seems like you didn’t just make this album for you but for the people who could need a role model and some uplifting thoughts. What do you wanna tell people who are suffering right now?
One of the things that really helped me that I would like to pass on is: Over here in Europe not many people are familiar with Mr. Fred Rogers who I grew up with as a child. But a lot of his lessons really stuck with me and helped me especially once I started going through these dark moments. Because as a children’s TV host he dealt with a lot of very dark issues. When other children’s TV shows were sort of thrilly and just making loud noises, Mr. Rogers was a really calming place where he would speak on issues of war or divorce – things that kids were going through that were real. It was sort of dark but he would bring this peace to them.
And one of the things that really stuck with me was the idea, that if something is mentionable then it becomes manageable. That actually blew me away when I started thinking about that.
When we hide things they become unmanageable. When we don’t talk about depression, when we don’t talk about the ugly and dark side of things, then we lose control over changing it. So I think it’s of the upmost important that people are ready to speak. And I don’t think it can be forced in any way. But when people speak out there pain, they’re be given a place to do so. And it’s important that they have someone they can trust, someone they can speak to.
Because as I said, if it’s mentionable then it’s manageable. And that’s what I based this whole album on. And as you said: This album isn’t just for me it’s an album I wanna give to everyone else who’s been through this and want’s to come out at the side like I have.
„I feel like there is a time to stand alone in the light and show courage (…) And then once you become comfortable in that, you can move on to other things.“
AFL: At your first solo tour it was only you performing. I remember how you confessed to be afraid as fuck, but you mustered your courage and opened up so much that we all had tears in our eyes. Didn’t you feel well with that? Or why did you change to performing with a band again?
I did it because it was time to move forward. I feel like there is a time to stand alone in the light and show courage and to be like: „Look, this is not a comfortable place for me, but I’m going to do it anyway.“ And then, once you become comfortable in that, you can move on to other things. If I would’ve come out just as a band, you know, from the get-go, it wouldn’t have been honest. But now I can move forward in this new sound honestly, as supposed to just doing it to cover up.
AFL: So Nathan Gray is more than just you actually. It’s also the band. Tell me something about the band that is backing you.
The band that is backing me is ever changing but it is always comprised of my friends. I will be utilizing friends of mine who are very talented and close to me, when they’re able to do it.
When I’ve tried to do other bands in the past, when I lock down a band, it becomes very difficult, because not everyone has the same schedule like I do. And I like to move as the speed of light and not everyone can keep up with that.
So along the way I’ll be using some folks I’ll hold on to, some folks will only be able to do one tour or another tour, but I wanna give people that opportunity to do that. It may even be that I have a different band I have in the US than I do in Europe, you know?
But whoever I bring with me, will be very important to me. Of course I’ll be bringing Ben Christo along. He’s a beautiful human being. The first time I brought Ben with me on the road I knew that we will be playing together for a long time.
I give you an insight how I pick band members: It will be Ben, and it will be Philipp Kaiser and Friederich Matuschczyk from Norbert Buchmacher backing me. And whether it’s the US or here: My first conversation that I have with anyone that is going to play music with me is that I tell them they have a responsibility to my audience. I have built a relationship to my fans to a point where I don’t really like to call them fans but more friends. And I do not want to bring anyone on the road who is going to hurt that relationship. So it is very important to me that I bring people who have the same vision as I do. Because I do not want to bring someone on the road who is going to break the trust that I’ve built. And then I look into what talent is behind it. But first and foremost it’s all attitude.
It’s almost like when you’re looking at your kids, when your daughter or son is starting to hang out with or they want to date someone. You think: „Are they right for them?“ So it’s the same protective way towards my audience. I have to make sure that they’re right for you guys.
AFL: Until now you chose well.
Good! I’m glad to hear that.
AFL: You’re one of the most political artists I know, who doesn’t hesitate to open his mouth and claim love and equality. Also most of the Boysetsfire songs are political. Is there a particular reason why your solo work isn’t?
Because it actually IS in an approximate way.
I have come to the believe that politics begin with the people. And that is because politics are made out of people. And if people are broken, if they’re hurt, if they’re angry, if they’re sad, they create politics which are broken and angry and sad.
So to just doubt against a certain political system or something in that way is sort of backwards. We have to begin with changing the hearts and minds of human beings who build politics. If we can encourage people to be more compassionate and to be more empathetic, to be more caring, they will then expect their politicians to be the same and the politicians themselves will create laws and rules and things that mirror that.
AFL: So love is political. And helping people to look forward is also an attempt helping them to make the right choices politically?
Right! Without a doubt!
AFL: I know you don’t believe in god but in miracles, so if you could make one wish for Christmas: What would that be?
Phew! That’s hard. Wishes have consequences, haha!
I appreciate being on the road and everything but at this point I’m just looking forward to being home for it.
You know I have many wishes and many desires for this season and any other season. And that’s why I do what I do. And that’s why I play the music I do and say the things I do. But it is to help myself and help others to manage our emotions better. And I think that’s really what I wish I’m doing.
AFL: These are two wishes, but okay. 😉 I know it’s hard to select.
Yes, it’s hard to turn it into a wish, because at the end of the day things can feel like: You wish on a thing but you don’t really think it’s going to happen.
AFL: Yes, that’s right!
Nathan, thank you so much for your time and openness. We’re really excited to see you next year with your band. Have a good time until then!