An Interview with Spirit Adrift’s Nate Garrett

Back in October, I had the pleasure of hearing Spirit Adrift debut their newest (and highly praised) album, Curse of Conception, at a small bar in Tempe, Arizona. After arriving in town and hanging with Shane Ocell (Sorxe and Via Vengeance) at his tattoo and piercing shop, I headed over to the Yucca Tap Room to down a couple beers and watch Spirit Adrift run through opening track “Earthbound.” My first impression? This was going to be fucking good. After vocalist and guitarist, songwriter and mastermind Nate Garrett arranged the merch and order some fish tacos, he was kind enough to sit down for a chat on everything from doom in Arizona to his time in the Arkansas scene and his love and respect for Jimi Hendrix and Sanford Parker. With the help of my partner-in-crime, Grymm, I bring you a special night with one of this year’s most popular dudes in metal.

I’m an Arizona native, so I tend to gravitate toward Arizona bands. Because of this, I’m always interested to hear how a local band got started and the motivation behind the band. And being that you’re not originally from Arizona, I’m really intrigued by how this happened. How long have you been in Arizona?

In January, it will be seven years. January 10th, I think.

And you’re from Arkansas?

Yeah, I moved here from Arkansas. Before that, I was in Oklahoma. Before that, I was in Florida.

Where’re you originally from?

I was born in Florida but claim Arkansas. I went from pre-school through high school in two different towns in Oklahoma, but I had no interest in school. I didn’t really ever fit in and I don’t know that I cared to. I mean, I wore Eyehategod shirts to school and shit. Obviously, that’s like asking to not have friends. But when I got to Arkansas and met the people there that were playing music, that’s really when I found a home. So, that’s kinda why I claim Arkansas.

Why did you move away from Arkansas?

Ummmm… shit just kinda dried up. I’ve been playing in bands since I was 13 and touring since I was 18 or 19. I kinda exhausted all my options and was stuck in a feedback loop, playing in bands, getting fucked up (twenty-four hours a day), and working full-time. I was in damn-near every band in town and I was in a relationship that wasn’t great, at the time. Because we were both just… fucked up. And I came out here to go to recording school because I had a couple friends that did it. Reid Raley, who’s playing bass in The Obsessed now (and used to be in Rwake) came out here for that and it seemed like it worked out for him. He learned a lot and I’m always looking up to him. And a friend from high school, who recorded all my high school bands, did that same thing. He’s in LA, now, kicking ass, and I realized I needed a fucking serious change. And, I don’t know, I had just grown exhausted of the whole thing, so I came out here. Shane Ocell (Sorxe and Via Vengeance) was the only person I knew out here. I had met him several months earlier while I was out here for work. I sent him a Myspace message and never heard back. And he still feels bad about it to this day. But he’s like the nicest dude in the world, obviously. But, yeah, I didn’t really know anybody. But, now, I’m in my two favorite bands I’ve ever played in and I’m married to my favorite person I’ve ever met. So, it worked out.

So, what’s the doom scene like out here?

I don’t wanna disparage any scene or anything, but Arkansas was a special fucking place. I mean, it’s a good scene here, but in Arkansas… I worked at a bar for a while and every night you could see a fucking amazing bluegrass band or, you know, a badass doom band. I mean, the South is sludge headquarters. I’d drive to Little Rock all the time. Every fucking band worth their salt came and played in this place called Downtown Music Hall in Little Rock. So, coming from that, where it was so active, to here… you know, I miss Arkansas, man. It’s not like that anymore, but, for a minute, there were fucking thirty great bands in Fayetteville and Little Rock had Rwake and Pallbearer and Seahag and all these sick bands, all the time. Out here, there’re some good bands like Sorxe, who’s obviously in the doom realm—they’re badass. There’s a band called Grey Gallows—they’re fucking sick—Jeff, the other guitarist of Spirit Adrift, put out their new album on his record label. There’s Goya, obviously. Like, half of Spirit Adrift is in Goya. So, it’s good, man.

For me, when I think the Southwest desert (Phoenix, Tucson, etc.), I think doom. It’s probably because some of my darkest times occurred when I was living in Tucson and bands like Solitude Aeturnus, While Heaven Wept, and Godhunter really resonated with me during those dark times. When you think of the desert, when you think of Arizona, what do you think metal-wise?

Oh, man, I don’t know. It’s hard to say… [interrupted for a short spell by the bar’s bouncer, admiring Grier‘s soft beard and smooth skin, unable to comprehend that he was of legal age to drink] I’ve never really felt like I fit in anywhere. But, a lot of the best friends I’ve ever made are here. I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I guess my identity is still rooted in Arkansas.

What is “doom” to you?

I didn’t know it was called “doom” when I got into it. But, Black Sabbath is the band that completely changed everything for me. Not just musically—everything. I don’t know, man. There were two pivotal moments for me, growing up. One was getting drunk for the first time. I mean, obviously, some awful shit came out of that, but that was a time I will always remember. The first time I got drunk, fuck, I felt OK. For, maybe, the first time ever, you know. I heard Black Sabbath around the same time, actually, and that was an even bigger moment. I was like, “shit, this is my thing.” So, doom, to me, I don’t know, it’s just a style of music I really like.

Would you say it’s a lifestyle for you?

Yeah, maybe. At one point it was. I’m pretty boring now. I like the music… Music, really, is all-consuming in my life. No matter what I’m doing, there’s always something music related going on. Whether it’s just in my mind or whatever.

OK, this question comes from Grymm: Was there a newfound inspiration in the songwriting between Chained to Oblivion and Curse of Conception? They are clearly different sounding records.

Yeah, I had a couple different songs written. One of them I set out to make Pentagram/Trouble-like shit and the other one was also maybe Pentagram and Trouble-inspired, but their faster stuff. Like, you know, “Sign of the Wolf,” by Pentagram, and the faster stuff by Trouble. So, I had some of those songs demoed and I was driving Pallbearer on their tour with Baroness and I had this idea in the van, a fucking ridiculous idea. And I asked, “Man, should I do that?” And they all pretty much said, “Yeah.” Then we kinda talked about it for a little bit and they wanted to know how I was going to do it. I was honing this idea down into something feasible and I don’t want to explicitly say what the idea was but, yeah, I had a very specific thing I wanted to do with the new album. And within the confines of that very specific idea and very specific goal, I also wanted to make a Spirit Adrift album.

There were certain things I picked up on that I thought were the strengths of the songs that I had already written and the vibe of the band. So, I wanted that to remain but the idea I had kinda required me to work in a drastically different way than I did on the previous material. And I’m leaving that up for people to figure out. It was really specific. So, potentially, people can figure it out. I’ve been kinda skirting around it but nobody’s got it.

OK, here’s another Grymm question: Your voice has improved quite a bit since Chained to Oblivion. [Cool.] Did your time as Pallbearer’s roadie and fill-in vocalist give you the confidence to be a more-diverse vocalist?

I think playing live with Spirit Adrift gave me that confidence. We haven’t even played that much, but even just one show under our belt was, like, “alright, fuck yeah, I can do this.” Singing for Pallbearer definitely was a huge confidence booster. I hit the high note on “Foreigner” and, when I did that, Brett spun around and looked at me, grinning. And we were all kinda like, “what the fuck?” That was a big deal for me because that’s some hard shit to sing. It’s gnarly. Chase found a bootleg recording of the Pallbearer set from Kentucky—from that tour—when I sang one song for them. And he sent it to me and I downloaded it but didn’t want to listen to it. I didn’t think I did as well at that show as I did at Pittsburgh. So, I listened to it—this was three or four days ago—and I was floored. I did a lot better than I thought I did.

I know some of the comments on Angry Metal Guy, people are shitting on the vocals. And I noticed how people are saying, “He’s not, technically, a very good singer.” A) That’s wrong because I was in competitive choir and we fucking killed it. So, you’re actually wrong. B) I sound the way I do in Spirit Adrift very intentionally. It’s doom metal. The whole point of it is to be imperfect and be flawed and show your pain, show your emotions, and bury your soul. And my favorite singers are dudes like Tom Petty, Neil Young, the guys in the band. None of those guys are technically that great of singers—they sound weird, their voices crack and they pop. Dylan misses notes more than he fucking hits them, but those kinds of vocals… You know, Nate Hall is a perfect example. He’s not technically a perfect fucking singer, but you wanna do something special that’s unique and resonates with people. I’m not trying to fucking sing like I’m in a musical. If you want perfect vocals, then go to a Broadway show.

That’s always my biggest problem with some vocals. Even if they are the best I’ve ever heard, if it’s not convincing, then the music doesn’t resonate with me. There’s no feeling and no connection to them. What I love about your new album is, from the first note to the last, it’s completely convincing and it sucks me right in. So much so that it actually devastates me and reminds me of those dark times in my life.

Thank you, man. That’s more important to me. The emotion that resonates with people is more important to me than impressing some fucking vocal coach that coaches metalcore bands that all sound exactly the same.

So, how do you come up with the solos? Do you plan them out or do they just sorta develop in the song?

It’s kinda both, man. I noticed, lots of times, Tony Iommi will have licks he’ll go back to when he plays a solo live, but then, maybe the middle of the solo will be a little different every time. On Chained to Oblivion, I had to write every single solo because I harmonized every single fucking solo. Which was insane and hardly anyone noticed. Which blew my mind. So, on this album, I wanted there to be harmony guitar parts that were catchy. But, I decided, fuck it, when I do a guitar solo, I’m not going to harmonize it because nobody cares. I’m going to do a real guitar solo. Which allowed me to cut loose a lot more and I think most of the straight-up guitar solos—of shredding guitar shit—I would have these touchstones I would come back to. I’d know the first thing I was going to do and not know the next thing. And then, have the next thing and not know the one after that. And then have the end, you know what I mean? I’d just keep playing it and keep playing it, while we were tracking, and then, for the spots that were blank, I would write something just naturally while we were tracking over and over in the studio. I mean, some of it I do the same every time. Mostly the middle sections, where I improvise.

Since you’re a big guitar guy, how many different guitars did you use for this album? What are your go-to guitars? What guitar are you playing with tonight?

Probably only four. My go-to has always been Gibson SGs. There’s just something about them, I don’t know. They fit my hand really well and I like the way they look. Angus Young, Tony Iommi, those guys always used them. I tried ESP for a while but that didn’t work out. I use Jackson guitars for Gatecreeper. Those are nice guitars. Right now, I have two Gibson SGs… actually, I have three Gibson SGs and one of them I’ve had since Arkansas. That’s definitely my go-to, for sure. Tonight, it’s the 2017 Pelham Blue Gibson S, the T model. But, Sacha Dunable and a guy here in Arizona (from a company called Brother Coyote) are building me two R2D2s right now. Once those are done, they will be my main guitars.

Who would you say is your guitar hero and your greatest inspiration?

Hmmmm… there’s a lot more than one… I think Jimi Hendrix is on such a different level than anybody that’s ever done it. Like, spiritually speaking, I think he’s the greatest—as far as artistry and putting your soul and life into your playing. He’s the man. I don’t think anyone will ever be as good as him. He got me into guitar. Other than that, Tony Iommi (obviously), Matt Pike (obviously), Waylon Jennings—that motherfucker played rhythm guitar, sang, and played his leads because he could play better than anybody he could get into the band. And that’s badass. Tom Petty’s a fucking hero, period, in life. Neil Young, Buzzo, Wino… all kinds of guys.

During the writing process, are there certain bands or albums that inspire you?

Hell yeah, absolutely. For the EP and Chained to Oblivion, I was listening to Warning and Yob and Pallbearer, and that’s pretty much it. Always Black Sabbath and Neurosis and shit like that. For the new one, it was Trouble and Pentagram… always Black Sabbath… and Metallica, Judas Priest, Type O Negative… trying to think of a wild card… I’ll listen to the radio, too. I was driving for Uber a lot and I’d hear a hook, even from a song like “Land Down Under” from Men at Work and think, alright, that’s… I like to listen to stuff and when something really hits me and makes me feel something, I don’t want to lift the riff, but I want to lift the feeling. It can be literally anything.

OK, here’s the final Grymm question: So, what was the inspiration behind “Onward, Inward?” It goes from being emotionally-crushing to uplifting and beautiful. Was that the intention from the outset?

Yeah, that is the whole intention behind Spirit Adrift. It’s a representation of my life and, you know, life for everyone. Well, I guess some people’s lives just suck, period, and there’s no joy, which is really fucked up. But, most people, you’re gonna have moments of joy, you’re gonna have moments of severe fucking pain. And I have extreme emotional reactions to shit, maybe more than some people and I’ve reined that in a lot. But, I just wanted the band to be a representation of my life and it’s pain and joy. At the same time, all the time. That just happens to be my life: suffering but laughter. Laughing at your own plight. So, yeah, that song, in particular. When I wrote that, I wanted this to the be the heaviest song we’d ever done, by far. I did the same thing on Chained to Oblivion—I wanted to close out the album and just fuck people up. LIke, fuuuuck people up. I think I did more so on this one. And then also leave that glimmer of hope, you know. I wanted to be even more extreme in the hopefulness and the beauty and everything.

I demo things in my house, in our tiny guest room, and set up the mic. And I was laying down those harmony vocals at the end, just on the demo, and Trump had just been elected and shit and I was just feeling really fucked up. And, the second I finished the last of the three-part harmony, I fell down on the ground and just started crying. And, that happened to me once on the demo process for that song and it happened to me when we were recording another song on the album. I mean, that’s never happened to me, ever. Chained to Oblivion wasn’t easy to make, emotionally, but I never just broke down like that. It sucked at the time and really hurt. But, immediately after, I knew it was good. Hopefully, it’ll affect other people as much as it affected me.

Well, it definitely affected me. From beginning to end, the album drains me and then that song just crushes me. It goes back to what we were talking about earlier with convincing vocals and songwriting. Like, with Jimi Hendrix and your other influences.

There was something wrong with him, man. I mean, really. The best artists are fucking deeply, deeply flawed. I think Jimi Hendrix said “Foxy Lady” is the only happy song he ever wrote. I mean, it’s true. I don’t want to listen to fucking happy music. It doesn’t do anything for me.

OK, so what is the instrumental called? [Then I dumbassedly try to pronounce “Wakien” two or three different ways.]

Man, I don’t even know how to pronounce it. It’s a nod to the band Rwake because their band name used to just be Wake. So, I was going to call it “Wake” but I thought, man, this is too obvious. And I don’t care, you can publish this. I just looked up all the “proto” versions of the word “wake” and that one looked the coolest. So, I just went with that. But that’s definitely my favorite shout out to Rwake.

Is that mandolin in there?

Yeah, I learned to play mandolin the week before we recorded the album. I barely learned how to play it.

Well, it’s different but it still fits the vibe of the album.

Thanks, man. Well, get this shit, man. I was dead-set on getting a Moog synthesizer for the album. We had a really hard time getting it but my buddy, Scott Murray, finally came through. I went and picked it up and brought it to the studio and Sanford was like, “What the fuck? That’s the exact same Moog synthesizer that Brittany, from Rwake, used on every Rwake record.” Because Sanford recorded almost all the Rwake shit. Dude, there was a lot of really weird shit that happened tracking that album. Coincidences that were tied to Arkansas shit and our lives and our pasts that could not rationally be explained, at all.

Speaking of Sanford Parker, was it the Mirrors of Psychic Warfare show you, Shane Ocell, and I saw in Flagstaff, Arizona, and your reunion with Sanford that night, that sparked the collaboration on the new album?

Absolutely. See, I did a record with him in Chicago in 2008 and I went and saw Barack Obama do his acceptance speech. It was insane. And then we didn’t really talk for nine years. But I saw he was playing in Flagstaff and hit up Shane and went up there and was, like… I was still on Prosthetic Records and I didn’t want to do an album with Sanford and have it come out on Prosthetic Records. So, I asked him if he would do the one after that one. And he said “Sure.” I got out of that Prosthetic deal, which rules, and I told him, “well, it looks like I’m getting out of this deal, so let’s do this one.” So, we flew him out and he stayed with my wife and I. It was fucking badass, it was great. I got to reconnect and we are better friends now. I love that dude.

So, you’ve been doing a lot of writing for metal websites lately. How do you like that?

I love it, man. Honestly, this is a good opportunity to shout out my senior-year English teacher, Ms. Robertson. She whooped my ass to be a good writer. I’ve always naturally been a decent writer and it’s something I’ve always gravitated towards, you know, wanting to express myself. It’s probably from a lot of deep-seeded childhood shit. Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed writing. Maybe not so much in high school because I had partying and riffs on my mind, but she really kicked my ass to be a great writer. Max Rotvel, from Metal Bandcamp, hit me up one day after a couple Facebook posts I made. I love doing it, so if anybody needs a writer, hit me up.

Would you ever want to guest write for Angry Metal Guy?

Yeah, fuck yeah. I love Angry Metal Guy. Honestly, it’s one of the few sites that doesn’t fucking suck.

Anything else you would like to add?

Get the album, listen to the album, send a message about it. We got a lot of cool shit coming up next year and ya’ll don’t even know, so keep your eyes open.

Thanks, man. I really appreciate your time.

Thank you, man.

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