I’ve never really been much into the bands that you’ve mentioned to be your influences for this but in the end – I am a kid from the 80s and I really like what you did there. It reminded me of “The Alchemy Index – Water” from THRICE but darker and definitely angrier and from the 80s. It’s like a modern version of something from back then. A modern version of something else. But to get the story straight. Let’s start at the beginning. It is your solo work but you have asked other people to work with you on this…
As far as the other musicians, even Simon, are concerned, they are all just hired on to do stuff. It is basically me and Daniel (Daniel E. Smith) on this project. What has happened is… well… ok. Let’s go all the way back!
When THE CASTING OUT got started, it was actually just me, a drummer, and Alice, who plays Cello on the new stuff. Darby played some piano. It was very different from what THE CASTING OUT became. It was supposed to be my solo work. Then – honestly – I chickened out. I was like ‘I just can’t do it. I can’t just have my name there.’ It was weird to me. As I get older, and as I’ve gone through all these different bands and things where I have to rely on other people, it has become a lot more comfortable to me to be like ‘ah fuck, I’m just gonna do it myself’. So, basically, what happened is that I wanted to get back into the idea of doing, what I feel, can be my (pause) … my work for the rest of my life! I do feel that BOYSETSFIRE and I AM HERESY can last a very long time and we’re gonna take it as long as we can but solo material like this, you can go on with it up until your 80s. There’s pretty much no boundaries to it. And not only that. After a while, you get sort of, ehm, sick of relying on other people. You get to a point where you just wanna show the world who you are as a person and who you are as an artist and musician and not have to constantly go like ‘Ah, it’s the other guys, really!’. Which is the case. BOYSETSFIRE is not me. I can only account for a certain percentage of what BOYSETSFIRE does. And after that, I have to say, well it’s actually Chad and Josh mostly in that band. They are the talent behind that band. That’s just the truth. I’m the frontman. Without Chad and Josh, I wouldn’t be able to play those songs!
So, with this, I was like: I want to put my songs out but I do not want to do what everybody else fucking does. It works and it is fine. You got CHUCK RAGAN and TIM BARRY and artists like that who do amazing music but – ehm – let THEM do it. You know what I mean? There are so many new people that come from that hardcore punk background and then immediately bite what’s already been done. So that whole folk country thing is … I don’t wanna say it’s played out because people like CHUCK RAGAN and TIM BARRY still do it very well but that should be the end of it. THEY should be doing it.
Especially CHUCK RAGAN. He is actually living by a lake fishing all day and building his own house… It’s what he is.
Tim and Chuck both are these kinda redneck dudes – great dudes! They want to do that kind of redneck music, simple music. They do that. And they do it excellent! And they are excellent people, also! I just find that I don’t wanna be cheap. I wanna do something new, exciting, and different when I’m gonna do something solo. The problem is that when you only know a third of four chords and only play an acoustic guitar, you’re gonna sound like these guys if you don’t step it up and do something different. And that’s where Daniel came in. As much as I don’t want to have any one to rely on, he is the ghostwriter/secret member/in the background guy. But it doesn’t make any sense to start the ‘Nathan & Daniel Band’ or to start yet another band that no one’s gonna care about because it’s not me. You know?
There is a big difference between me as Nathan Gray coming out with a new band and me as NATHAN GRAY coming out as myself. The point is that I reached out to Daniel and said that I don’t wanna be doing anything that has already been done. I’ve known Daniel for a long time and he’s an industrial kid. He’s into SKINNY PUPPY and that kinda stuff. And I thought that’s how I can show my music differently. Go with someone who will put things in to what I do that no one’s going to expect and that’s not really been done. Also being inspired a bit more by the neofolk acts – that sort of darker folk. It’s been a challenge to take that and make it to some of your own because, honestly, a lot of times that darker neofolk stuff tends to be pretty monotonous and boring sometimes. So, to add a form of melody to it, to add some dynamics, to add a catchy hook… These where all the ideas. And I know it sounds like chaos and well, that is sort of what it was! ‘I’m going solo! Let’s get crazy! Let’s do this right!’. That’s basically how this came about. So we sat down and thought about what we’re gonna do, talked to my manager about the business aspects and we’re going from there.
We have a show coming up in February in New York. It will be our first show. It will always be me and Dan. But also Chad from BOYSETSFIRE is gonna play some drums for us…
Hold on! Chad is going to be on the drums?? No way!
Uhum! He’s always wanted to be a drummer!
Yep! Secret fact about Chad. He’s not a drummer.. I mean.. he’s definitely confident. He’s good enough to play some backup tracks and stuff with what we’re doing.
So, it’s sorta cool because we get to have Chad play music with me and get to utilize that he and I harmonize very well together. We’ve been doing it for 20 years. And also to let him have his little dream come true and play drums.
I always fall in love with the drummer…But now I’ve known this guy for almost 20 years.. damn!
Haha! Right! But it will be different. I mean, Chad can play live with us whenever he wants but it will always be Dan and I will maybe just hire a third person depending on where we are. I don’t see myself bringing on more than one other person. Three people is enough for this. A lot of this is done with the computer and the synthesizer and acoustic guitars. All you need is a couple of drums and you’re all set. I guess we’ll keep it to that unless it blows up and gets huge. In that case I will hire an orchstra. And that will be BAD AAAASSSS!
That’s what I thought when I listened to the EP. It could be just you and a computer and a guitar in the smallest venue or a huge stage with a full orchestra which would be mind blowing! You couldn’t just do it with any kind of music but definitely with this!
Yes! We can do it as small or as big as we like. And that makes it very easy to travel, to record, to do whatever we want to do. Daniel has a recording studio at his home. We can just hang out there. It’s very freeing and nice. I have to admit that it is very ego-gratifying that it will just be my name, you know? Haha. It’s nice to say ‘It starts and ends with me’. If I get up there and it’s a failure than that’s on me. If it is a success, it is on me. It’s nice to be able not to blame anyone and not to be like wohaa…
And from a very pragmatic point of view: If you wanna get up in the morning and do it, then you just do it.. without having to ask five other people first if they feel like it …
I don’t have to worry about people quitting or finding new members. I don’t have to worry about shit. If Daniel and I wanna fly to Germany to play, we just hire a couple of people to play with us, we could come over early, have a couple of practice sessions and go on tour. It wouldn’t matter.
Man, I would be down for that! I can play two songs straight on the drums without fucking it up. I cannot grow a beard though,.. if that’s a requirement.
Well, I’m sorry.. you’re out then! Haha!
But seriously, I’m just sick of relying on other people. Obviously, with BOYSETSFIRE it’s a lot easier. Oh! And here’s another thing that is really gratifying about this solo project! I can even do this on a BOYSETSFIRE tour! Easily! Because it’s not like I AM HERESY and BOYSETSFIRE playing back to back where I’m going to wear myself out. I get up and do these creepy crazy tunes and then play a BOYSETSFIRE show the same night. That would be very easy to do.
You’ve a teaser out for the song ‘Corson’ and the full EP will be out in January…
Yes! The release will be on January 13. And we have some really cool and interesting things that we’re gonna do! Daniel and another friend who will be doing some remixes of some of the songs. Also we’re gonna do an acoustic session of all the songs with Daniel, me, and Alice playing the Cello and maybe we could even get Rebecca, who played piano on these songs, to play with us. I would like to create some live videos. I will call them the ritual chamber sessions where we’ll go into a room and set it up as a ritual chamber and play these songs acousticly. It will be these creepy cool videos. Later on, since this is just a digital EP, release – on vinyl – this version and the acoustic version together. Just to keep people constantly entertained. I have a lot of great ideas to get out before we sit down and record a full length album. .. which we’re already working on.
I was about to ask if you have more songs ready by now…
Uhm, yes! I have personally probably a good ten songs ready to go and get into the studio and see what instruments they need and what crazy atmosphere Daniel can put on them
Ha! About that! The samples you used on some of the songs, like “Wolves”, where are they taken from?
‘Dreams In The Witch House’. It’s an old movie based on H.P. Lovecraft’s work. We took it from these old movies. I really love the feel of what it brings to the songs. Obvioulsy, they are not on all the songs but I think it will be a running thing for this band, especially with what I am used to with BOYSETSFIRE – doing samples live – but also coming from this neofolk/goth/industrial thing. There’s a lot of that in that music. It really adds a certain eeriness and meaningfulness to the music.
Also on “Wolves” you have a sample of that woman screeching…
I loved finding that! It’s a neat thing. It’s part of the chorus. So, (laughing) we took this screaming (laughing harder) and it’s from one of these movies where this woman is being ripped apart (haha). So we took that and grabbed that section, looping it. And wow! It’s got this rhythmic cool thing that will add to the chorus. We had a lot of fun with this.
”Corson”, the last track on the EP, is quite different to the rest of the songs.. being rather acoustic, having the vocals more upfront… but what does the word actually relate to? I found that Corson County is the poorest county in the U.S. and one third of the inhabitants are of German ancestry. But that couldn’t be it..?
Haha! That would be awesome if that would be the meaning! ‘Really weird that they deal with that!’ A lot of the songs had working titles before I titled them. And all of the working titles were names of demons. And that’s one of the names. Funny enough, for that song, that name just stuck. There’s a hidden title to it: “Ode to vital existence”. But I decided not to use that because with that song it’s a little heavy handed. It’s an almost direct quote from Anton Lavey and I didn’t want to be too heavy handed and cheesy.
Over the last couple of months, you posted youtube videos on facebook from several different neofolk bands. Was that to see how people would react to this kind of music or check it’s popularity?
Sort of. But it was more to play with the audience to an extent. It wasn’t so much to see if people would be accepting of it but more because to show a precursor to what I would do. So, I would post them off and obviously there would be a reaction. I liked toying around before I was able to release the teaser. It was cool to just put out stuff that I was into as sort of a wink to fans. And it’s also always funny to put up stuff that is divisive. Everybody has a very strong opinion on DEATH IN JUNE. Either they like it or they hate it but either way it’s usually for some really strange reasons. It’s really fun to post something of them and then have people argue.
Many neo-folk bands use symbols that are also used a lot by radical right wing circles. Many symbols have Germanic background but are partly banned in Germany because they are used so much by neo Nazi groups…. such as the Wolfsangel. Why is it – in your opinion - that some people from the neo folk scene use them? Is it because or despite the Nazi-connection?
I would say and this is just my opinion – I can’t speak for any other band and I wouldn’t dare to – sometimes there is this fascination. Not only an aesthetic fascination with fascism. I don’t think it necessarily means ‘Yes, I love Hitler!’. Nothing like that but symbols like the Wolfsangel are very powerful. The Black Sun is a very powerful symbol. I honestly believe that they need to be reclaimed in a way. You have these ancient symbols that were not stolen but used by the Nazi regime. They were used by other fascist organizations also. I feel that it’s somehow unfair that they can’t be used for the purposes they were originally intended for. And let’s be honest! The reason why the Nazis used them is because they are powerful symbols. When you see them – even without that fascist ideology behind them – there’s a power to them. And you immediately feel that when you see them. That is why they were used. As far as neofolk bands are concerned..
I personally chose not to use many of those symbols that create that feel to what I do, like the Wolfsangel or a lot of these runes that are used by Nazi organisations. I chose not to use them more because they’ve been used. I’d rather create my own symbols. And you know I also really enjoy using other symbols and skulls and such because they focus on a sense of knowing one’s mortality and driving strength to the fact that you’re limited. There are some symbols that have been used three million times but I use them in a different manner. And I try that many neofolk bands try to do the same thing. Now, I can’t argue that there are probably influenced by fascist ideals. It’s almost a post-industrial theme. And there’s absolutely no questioning that there are definitely those who were in the industrial scene and are in the post-industrial/folk/neo-folk scene that are influenced by fascist ideals.
And if a person is to rigorously and actively make themselves part of an neo-Nazi organization then I lose any of my give-a-fuck about that. And I don’t mean band that are just being protested by Antifa or whatever because that shit is silly, too. The fact that DEATH IN JUNE can’t play a show without bomb threats is stupid. How many fans to they get to? They play in front of what? 200 faces? They are not doing anything. I think some organizations would be of more use attacking real neo-Nazi organizations and not neo-folk bands that are not gonna do anything anyway. So that gets a little silly.
It’s a very complex situation, especially as I am speaking to a German, haha. It is a touchy subject in many ways. So, some of those bands: sure. Some of them: Have an aesthetic fetish.
A friend and fan of your work was wondering if you would ever sign with a label that is affiliated with radical right wing ideas... if the deal was good enough... Knowing you long enough, I feel ridiculous even asking this. But people should get the right idea here…
Would I? I personally? Let’s be very – VERY – frank an honest here! Anyone that calls himself a Nazi is a fucking idiot! So although I have defended bands that have a certain aesthetic, like BLOOD AXIS, DEATH IN JUNE, and bands like that. At the same time, if a band or person actually comes out and says ‘I’m a Nazi’, they are fucking idiots. There is absolutely no reason and no place!
I experience this sometimes. As you know, I am a Satanist. Within that there are not only neo-folk bands that are also involved in that thing but a lot of times people get fascism and Satanism and Nazi-ism confused. Not just outside but people within who have these weird Nazi sympathies that confuse the hell out of me. To the great respect of Peter Gilmore, who is now the head of the Church of Satan, he has many times come against that. If you claim to be an atheist or a free thinker or anything like that, to also consider yourself a herd animal is to be pitied. There is nothing individualistic, special, or strong about being a Nazi. You’re nothing but a herd animal.
On a much broader scale, when you’re not related to these scenes, you still have confusion with this. I don’t believe in anything than myself, music,.. and maybe DAVE GROHL
Hahah! Fair enough!
But I listen to a lot of 30s swing music and go to events where people even dress up like that. And some people judge me by saying that I am glorifying the Nazi-days. Which is ridiculous.
Exactly! And that is why I said that I also have a problem with certain groups that use the titles of Antifa, who come out against these bands. Give it a break! At some point, move the fuck on and fight the real enemy. I try not to go with left or right. I always try to see a third way and to find out what the truth is. And I don’t think that people who use the label of fascism, whether they are pro or against fascism, understand what the word actually fucking means.
To get back to the release of the EP. You also use symbolism on the cover artwork. Is that something you made up? Do you just leave it open for interpretation?
It came from a dream. I love to keep it open for interpretation. It’s sort of a combination of many symbols that came together. What’s funny is, is that when you turn it on its side – and this was not intentional – you can either read the roman numerals and read the number 100 or the number 99. They all have a lot of different meanings; especially in this cult world the number 99. There are 99 names for God, 99 is the numeric value of Amen. It’s a lot of fun stuff that I love to play with. I love symbology, I love numerology. I don’t put stock in it. I don’t actually believe in a spirit realm but I really love symbols and I love what they can invoke and what they can mean to people. And the power that they can have. Especially with this I wanted to have a personal note that would symbolize me. And this is it. This is what I came up with.
And is this one something that will stick with the project as your symbol, sort of like a corporate identity or is it just for this one EP? I don’t wanna refer to PRINCE now, but…
I will never use it instead of my name like Prince, haha. But it will be on every release. I’ll probably put it on patches and shirts and it will definitely play a role on every album. Whether it’s huge or tiny.. As I’m working on our stage set up – I actually wanna be very dramatic. I want the stage to be part living room, part ritual chamber. I’m creating these things. You’ve seen me post my goat skull that I always have with me and I’m getting someone to draw the symbol on the goat’s head to go with it. I really wanna invoke a feel. The music is big. There’s an anthem-like quality to it and at the same time there’s a sort of laid-back ritualistic feel to it. And I wanna bring that to the stage so that everyone can be a part of it. I want a lot of symbols, smoke, light, incense. A dark and atmospheric feel. When going into these songs, I wanted to create this feeling of importance and this feeling of being in a ritual chamber of sorts. And I’ll state where this comes from. Within Satanism there’s this thing called Greater Magic. That is when people ritualize out their feelings. You go into a ritual chamber. Let’s say you hate somebody and you want them dead. Instead of actually doing something horrible, you go into your ritual chamber. You do a ritual and you scream and you cry and you get out all these emotions and you leave them there. You forget about that person and you go about your life. It’s a very healthy psychological way to deal with your feelings. And it made me think: That’s what I do when I play music. So why not combine the two? So why don’t I do music and create an atmosphere where people can join in in a ritual and we can all experience the love, hate, the anger, the sadness, the depression, whatever it is! Feel it and let it go in that chamber where everyone can just feel comfortable to let out how you feel, leave it there, leave the show, and go on to lead your live. That’s how music should be. It should be a ritual. It should be an unwinding; a relief. A way to leave behind all that bullshit.
I spend two hours a day in a bunker behind a drum set to do exactly that. And you come out and instantly feel better. You’re very right.
And to get back to your question before. I think this is why people sometimes misuse strong imagery even when they don’t actually associate themselves with national socialism or fascism. They use the strong symbology because it represents a strengths; something dark. It represents something to them; where they are able to release because of that. All I know is that as far as me and my bands are concerned, we’re never gonna have a Nazi symbol.
Everybody knows by now that BOYSETSFIRE is more like a nice hobby and you focused a lot on I AM HERESY during the last couple of years. How do you prioritize now with your solo project and the other bands?
My priority will definitely be… well. It’s my name. It’s gonna be my main priority. There’s just no way around it. BOYSETSFIRE is a labor of love. It’s my essence to an extent. It’s playing with Josh and Chad and Robert – and now Jared. It will never die. The feeling of wanting to go on stage with these guys and go into the studio and playing music and to see how we do will never die. It will definitely be a priority.
And you’ve tried to have it otherwise, haha
Haha! Yeah! But as I said: I’ll be mixing my personal thing in with that; hopefully playing songs with BOYSETSFIRE. I AM HERSY will be what it will be able to be. We have a lot of member/line-up changes and issues and the other guys are definitely trying to keep it together. They found a new drummer. They’re practicing with him. I am removing myself to an extent from that because I have so many other things to do. But I am happy to play with that band. I love that band. I love I AM HERESY. We will continue to play shows and record as long as we’re able to do it. But honestly, my main force will be my solo project.
It’s my past, my present, and my future. It’s me. When I listen to it, it’s just me. That’s important. At least to me it is. If it’s not important to anyone else, then I don’t care. It will be my main priority.
And it should be. Thanks for taking the time, Nathan!