Interview || The one with Nathan Gray Collective

To be completely honest, I had started preparing for an interview with Nathan and Daniel of Nathan Gray Collective before it was even confirmed. Missing a train on my way to Dresden and therefore being fashionably late for our interview, thankfully wasn't an obstacle. Long story short, when I finally made it to the venue, I found the guys lounging backstage having a couple of hours to kill before their set. I knew I would get some great answers out of them, something that became more apparent as they started warming up to me and didn't try to dodge any of my weird or super serious questions.

U: In the opening lyrics of “Tomorrow” you sing 'Have I missed the mark 'cause I feel the strain from getting old and starting over again'. After being in a punk rock band, how did it feel to start anew in an endeavor that carries your name?
Nathan Gray: Awesome! The main thing is that, starting over and starting something new, I'm not really good with probably what 80% of fans of any music want, which is usually the band they love to sound exactly the same for the rest of their lives and never change. I think it's awful to not progress, to not move forward, to not do new things. But I feel I've found a sort of home with this. Maybe for the next 20 years (laughs)

U: And how's the writing and recording process like now, that it's just the two of you and not 5 people writing and deciding? Is it more liberating?
N.G.: For me, FUCK YEAH!
Daniel Smith: It's interesting. On this latest album, it's hard to say that we had one way of writing because every song came together so differently. Nathan writes some of the songs on an acoustic guitar, he comes up with the melody lines, the lyrics and he'll present it to me and I'll listen and see what I can turn that into. On the new album, “Skin” is a very good example of that; very poppy, and dance-y, and upbeat and, you would think that me coming from an industrial/electronic background, I wrote it. Nathan will write them and I'll breathe some new life into them. Other ones, I'll write from scratch and kinda bring to Nathan and then he'll put some melody lines or make changes. It's definitely an equal effort on both sides... It's not to say that we're not butting heads.
N.G.: We do but it's so much easier to deal with one other person who, honestly, you're never too far off. Scheduling is also way easier.

U: Nathan, you are no doubt a very articulate person. Writing a book, however, is not an easy task, let alone an autobiography.
N.G.: Strangely, I found it easier than writing lyrics some times. Dan was giving me shit (laughs) I wrote the book fairly quick; we had some songs that I could not get the damn lyrics!
D.S.: We spent one evening trying to write four lines for one of the songs of the new album and finally got it, and a week later he comes and he’s like “I finished the book!”. I was like “Bullshit”. (both laugh) It took us four hours to write four sentences, there’s no way you’ve done an entire book yet.
N.G.: It’s a little more simple not trying to be as artistic with the words.You can be a little more blunt whereas with the lyrics, it means to say it differently.

U: A while back, you mentioned in an interview that “it’s far more interesting to be a revolutionary band than a political band”…
N.G.: I said that. And my point is, number one, politics are fucking boring. Especially now, it’s either one side or the other, there’s no in-between, so to become revolutionary, I feel that it strays away from that and into a more personal process, into something that’s not so black and white, into something that’s not divisive and more empowering. So, especially if you’re a band or an artist and you try to convey an idea to people, and how they can better themselves and the world around them, you can’t do that through party politics. If you’re going to talk about revolutionary action –and even that gets boring sometimes with all the parties and groupings- plain and simply, start from ditching every single one of us and how we empower ourselves. Happy people let other people to be happy.
That’s the first step for me and I put that forth in this music.
D.S.: To add to that, you have a lot better chance to succeed in making a change when you’re being the example of the life that you want people to have. If you live that way, and if people see that you’re happy, they’re gonna want to know how to do that too. With politics, you are told what to think, what to do and what to feel –and people naturally don’t react good to being told what to do, even if the intent is good.

U: There’s a second part to the question, and no way I can make it not sound leading, having seen Wolf Down about six hours ago [Nathan chuckles, probably seeing where this is going]. Do you think there are revolutionary bands today? If so, do you think they can have an actual impact?
N.G.: It’s not for me to say. I like these guys, we are friends and we toured with them [with Boysetsfire]. I make a big habit of not telling bands what they should or shouldn’t do. That seems to be a thing now, with bands or people slugging other bands about the way they do things when in actuality, it doesn’t affect them. That being said, do I think there are revolutionary bands out there? We’ve seen bands playing music, which is great, but what do they change? You can yell politics into the mic all you want but, at the end of the day, if no one is listening…
D.S.: It’s going to work for some. It’s hard, some people are going to get it, and they'll love it and find reasons to be motivated by it and change their lives. If it works for them, that’s great.
N.G.: Let’s be honest, the reason people get into political music is because they have some emptiness in their life, some sort of hurt or pain and they need to lash out at something. They grasp on to political music because it gives them an outlet to be angry or upset about something, which is fine; you need that to get through some things. At the end of the day, there is not a whole lot you can do with a lot of things, besides starting from square one and building from there. There are several ways to change your life to combat what you see wrong with “the system”. You can separate yourself from that system –which should probably entail you not buying vinyl and CDs, because those are made from certain sources that you probably don’t want to support- BUT backing up a little; separate yourself, get off the grid, you’ve done it for yourself. That’s all that matters.

U: If you guys had grown up in a different environment, do you think you would’ve turned out the same?
N.G.: Hard to say. What’s nature, what’s nurture I don’t know.
D.S.: The short answer is “no”, it’s the butterfly effect. Who we are individually, at our core would be the same but, the circumstances around us being different, we wouldn’t be the same.

U: What super power does your music have?
[Nathan was really amused with the transition, so I had to explain what the staple the superhero/villain question is, to which he exclaimed that “they are the music”. Fair enough.]
D.S.: For me personally, I’d be Inspector Gadget, just given how many things I have to hold down on stage; I play keys, guitar, the backing tracks, singing…
N.G.: …I’m terrible with this question.

[...] To become revolutionary, I feel that it strays away from that and into a more personal process, into something that’s not so black and white, into something that’s not divisive and more empowering -Nathan Gray

U: Moving on to the next one. What’s the worst trouble you ever gotten into?
N.G.: Ha! I’m trying to think because, honestly, the worst trouble I ever gotten into I’m hoping no one will ever find out about (laughs) It depends on how you base it. I guess the worst legal trouble I got into was going to jail overnight. It was for protesting. I was young and dumb, and in the town of Newark where we live, there used to be a lot more issues with the punk kids and cops and they would pick on us. So we set up a picnic on the police station’s lawn and about 50 people showed up. When it was time for the cops to come out, they got pushy and crazy and dumbass  was the only one who fought back. Everybody else ran and I’m sitting there [yelling profanities] so I spent the night in jail for that one (laughs)
D.S.: I don’t get into trouble, I’m a good boy! (laughs)

U: If you could have a one-minute phone conversation with a younger you, what age would you choose and what would you tell yourself?
D.S.: I would probably call 18-year-old me and tell me not to be dumb and try to go to college and get a real degree and a real job because at that point all I wanted to do was play music and be in a band, got swiped up by modern culture and did “the normal thing to do”. If there was one pivotal moment that I could change, it would be that. But, at the same time, I wouldn’t change anything because patience paid off. Just when I crossed the 30-year-old mark and I thought “this rock 'n' roll thing is not going to work for me”, Nathan came along and asked if I wanted to make some music. Now here I am! It didn’t happen in the right timeline, but it’s still happening (laughs)
N.G.: I would probably go somewhere between 16 and 19; I don’t know if I’d say much but I’d definitely give myself a hug and I’d tell myself that it’s gonna be different; “keep moving, keep pushing forward and you’re gonna get through it”.

U: What’s the last awkward situation you found yourselves in?
D.S.: Well, there was last tour, where it was all on me. Last tour I was running the backing tracks off of an I-pad and I forgot to turn it off in between two of the shows and it died completely in the track. When we set up for the next show and I plugged it in, it had to charge up from a dead battery so it went into low-power mode –without me knowing- and right in the middle of our set, on the quietest song we could possibly be playing, it decided to let the entire audience know that it was done charging! That was the moment when I pretty much wanted to get on a plane and come home (laughs)

U: If there was a problem you could swipe off the face of the earth, what would it be? 
N.G.: Half the people? [turns to Daniel] Your turn!
D.S.: The other half? Problem solved!
[ed –I love these guys]

U: Final question. If you were playing in the Spice Girls, what would be your Spice names?
D.S.: Anxiety Spice?
N.G.: Yes!!! With Dan, even when he’s calm, he has to maintain a level of anxiety or he will die (laughs) For me, I don’t know. Jaded Spice?
D.S.: No… Just Old Spice.
N.G.: Especially with the grandpa glasses. [fakes an old man’s voice] “Back in my day…”. Yeap, we’re sticking with that! (laughs)
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