“Go West, young man” is a phrase synonymous with manifest destiny, which itself is based in part on the idea American exceptionalism and the American Dream. In the microcosm of the Arkansas metal scene, Spirit Adrift’s Nate Garrett is kind of the epitome of the American Dream. Though born in Florida and raised in Oklahoma, Garrett spent his formative early adult years in Northwest Arkansas playing in many bands, and he specifically identifies himself as an Arkansan in interviews and such, usually in reference to his close ties with Arkansan metal royalty such as Pallbearer, RWAKE, and Deadbird. His work since leaving the Natural State for the Arizona desert several years ago has been lauded throughout the metal scene, not just in Arkansas, but both nationally and internationally. His band Spirit Adrift recently signed with stalwart metal label 20 Buck Spin and will release its second album “Curse of Conception” on October 6, 2017.
Garrett originally found larger scale success playing with Prosthetic Records recording artists Take Over and Destroy, and he also currently performs with Relapse Records’ Gatecreeper, with whom he will be touring Europe and Russia this fall before switching gears back to Spirit Adrift to support the release of “Curse of Conception”. Nate was kind enough to answer some questions for us shortly before Gatecreeper’s set at the Psycho Las Vegas festival.
After working with Bob Hoag (The Ataris, Gin Blossoms) on the first Spirit Adrift album and some of your other projects, you did this new record with Sanford Parker (EYEHATEGOD, Voivod). What were the recording sessions like and how were things different this time around?
It was tricky figuring out a time that would work between Sanford’s schedule and mine, and we ended up booking studio time in between two Gatecreeper tours. So, our asses were definitely on the chopping block. Sanford stayed at the house with my wife and me, and every day was pretty much the same. We would wake up early, she would cook breakfast for us because she’s awesome, I would do my vocal warmups, and we would go to the studio. We worked for 12 hours minimum, with one break, and we’d quit when we couldn’t function anymore. I think the longest day was 15 or 16 hours. It was some of the most physically and mentally exhausting work I’ve ever done, but the whole band was there for the entire process, and the vibe between us and Sanford was palpably off the charts. We were all certain that we were making something special. The work paid off for sure. Every producer and engineer has a different way of doing things, and I was familiar with Sanford’s process since we had worked together almost 10 years earlier. I want to make it very clear that I love Bob Hoag, and Spirit Adrift wouldn’t be nearly what it has become if it wasn’t for him. So, I will always be grateful. I plan on working with Bob again in the future. Sanford too.
This is your first record for 20 Buck Spin, easily one of the most highly regarded independent metal labels around right now. How have you enjoyed being part of the roster so far?
20 Buck Spin has been one of my favorite labels for a long time, and we are witnessing its peak right now. I think everything the label has released is great. Everything. Dave (Adelson, founder and owner of 20 Buck Spin) is an extraordinary person. Few in the business are as honest and passionate as him. I couldn’t be happier or more honored to be working with the guy.
Even though this is your second record, you only recently began playing live as Spirit Adrift. What’s that been like and how do you feel about the transition from non-gigging solo project to a more traditional band structure? Are you looking to tour heavily behind
Everything with this band has been done ass-backwards, because of the fact that I never planned to play live. We recorded an album having never played the songs together, not even once. Every show we’ve played so far and every show we have planned is pretty high profile, which is a good thing. It’s intense to think about what’s ahead and the work we have to put in to be prepared. Fortunately, everybody in the band works their asses off to the point of borderline insanity. Speaking personally, right now I am playing guitar and singing better than I ever have in my life. I have no doubt we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. We are for sure going to tour in support of Curse of Conception. There’s some big stuff for us in the works, most of which will be announced within a few months. Some of it has already been hinted at.
Your first album as Spirit Adrift was widely reviewed and well-received. The album itself was highly introspective and virtually all of the press surrounding it dealt in some way with your sobriety. Do you see this record as a continuation of the themes of the first one
or are you trying to take the music in a different direction?
When I heard Sturgill Simpson’s latest album, I realized it was a genius move to not try and follow an album as strong as Metamodern Sounds in Country Music with more of the same. It seems like he knew that the best way to maintain or even advance his relevance and artistic power, he would have to do something radically different. Musically, that’s how I approached this new album. Lyrically, this one is way more intense and painful than the subject of my addiction and path to sobriety. I don’t mind talking about my addiction at all, because I feel like maybe it could help someone. The issues I’m addressing on the new album are things I have a difficult time discussing or even thinking about. I tried to use language that was even more broad and metaphorical so that I wouldn’t really even have to actually talk about any of it. I think the best lyrics are the ones that are open to interpretation, anyway.
You recently filled in on vocals for your good friends Pallbearer for an entire show during their recent tour with Gatecreeper. Tell us about that experience and if maybe there might be more collaborations forthcoming.
Brett’s (Campell, Pallbearer vocalist) throat was in pretty rough shape from imitating Jim Dandy 24/7, so he texted me that afternoon asking if I could sing their set. They’re one of my favorite bands and I’ve been touring off and on with them since the beginning, so I never thought for a second about not doing it. I put on my headphones in the van on the way to the show and refreshed some of the lyrics and melodies. Fortunately, I’ve heard all those songs many times and I love them. Brett also sat with me at the venue after Gatecreeper’s set and we worked on some of the trickier melodies and cadences. It was a surreal situation. The Gatecreeper dudes were fully supportive of it, the Pallbearer guys appreciated the help, and I was flattered and thrilled to be able to do it. The crowd actually seemed to be into it too, so that was a plus. One of my favorite moments of the whole thing was right after the first song, TJ from Inter Arma broke the ice and yelled “you sound like Phil Anselmo!” It was smooth sailing after that.
Speaking of Gatecreeper, you’ve been awful busy touring with them and y’all are enjoying extraordinary success in the wake of releasing “Sonoran Depravation” on Relapse last year. What’s the current state of affairs with Gatecreeper and how do you plan to balance these two ever increasingly demanding projects going forward?
I write this at 3:30 AM after Gatecreeper practice. We’re playing Psycho Vegas fest on the 20th. Then Spirit Adrift plays Tucson the 24th. Then Gatecreeper plays Tucson the 31st. Then we fly to Europe for a few weeks. Then more Spirit shows in October when the record comes out. Then Gatecreeper tours with Cannibal Corpse and Power Trip for the last 2 months of the year. And that continues indefinitely. It’s all worked out naturally so far, and I’ve learned the best way to handle it is to not hope for, want, and certainly never force anything. We’re just letting it play out. That doesn’t mean it’s not constant, all-consuming work. I just work on the things I can control, like being a better guitar player and singer, and try not to care about the things I can’t control.
Anyone who follows you on social media knows how much you love your dog Lizzy and all about her harrowing knee surgery. How has her recovery gone?
The recovery process has been challenging for a lot of reasons, but she’s doing great physically. I think she’s been depressed these last few weeks. She used to run and wile out at the park every single day, but she hasn’t been able to do any more than go outside to use the bathroom for a month now. The good news is, she gets X-Rays on the 23rd, which we’re confident will yield great news. Just in time to spend a couple of days with her buddies in Inter Arma who will be crashing with us. After she gets cleared, the weather is going to start cooling down too so it’s perfect timing. We’ll get her back into crazy mode in no time. Thanks to everybody that helped with the GoFundMe too. That wasn’t easy for us to do and we’re appreciative beyond words.
Spirit Adrift recently recorded a cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow” and released it on a split single with Khemmis for War Crime Recordings. That’s pretty random. Where did that come from?
I was talking to my grandma via text about doom metal and why all the songs are so sad, and toward the end of the conversation, she just messaged me “man of constant sorrow.” And I was like, “oh I have to cover that.” The lyrics mention Kentucky, and my entire mother’s side of the family is comprised of some real Kentucky hillbillies. That’s why I changed the lyric to “The place where she was born and raised.” But I definitely feel that hillbilly blood in me. Couple all that with the fact that on paper, those lyrics are as doomed as it gets… it just made sense. The Khemmis guys are good friends of mine, and Steve Joh at War Crime actually released the last Spirit Adrift album on vinyl. Fortunately, everybody was onboard with the idea and we got it done. Khemmis’s track on that split is awesome too. It’s another song from O Brother Where Art Thou. Hence the name of the split itself.
You were also a member of Take Over and Destroy but left shortly before the release of their self-titled debut for Prosthetic Records. Can you tell us a little bit about what led to the split and what your relationship is like with them now?
Things change. Getting sober can be a monumental, life-changing event. Or it was for me, at least. Certain relationships can be affected, certain goals and priorities change. I just realized there were other things I wanted to do. We’re all still friends and we’ll always have love for each other. They’re even playing the album release show with us in October.
You’re a massive MMA fan and even sometimes do a podcast called Riffs & Fists about it. How do you feel about the current state of the sport? Who do you like in the Conor McGregor/Floyd Mayweather fight?
I predict that Bellator will be the more respected promotion within 5 years. I think the UFC is getting off track in a lot of ways. Doesn’t mean I don’t still watch, because I do. As far as Conor and Floyd, who knows. It would be easy to say a guy with a 0-0 boxing record doesn’t stand a chance against arguably one of the best who’s ever competed. There are just so many variables. The biggest variable to me isn’t age, or time off, or any of that. It’s Conor’s self-belief. It’s clear the guy is playing up certain characteristics in order to sell fights (which is brilliant), but I think his belief in himself is absolutely real. That’s got to be profoundly unnerving for his opponents. Except for Nate Diaz, who I guess is impervious to that sort of thing. We’ll just have to wait and see. I correctly predicted the outcome of the Nate Diaz/Conor fight, and I have a similar gut type of feeling that Conor is going to knock Floyd out, but logically I think that’s nearly impossible. So, I’m torn. But I hope he does. Floyd Mayweather is an actual sack of garbage.
You’re also a huge horror movie fan and specifically a big George A. Romero fan and you’ve also made frequent mention of their influence on your music. How do you feel about his passing and why are metal and horror movies so closely intertwined?
George Romero was pretty old and he clearly left behind a solid legacy, so there’s no real tragedy there. Though it did make me sad. It always makes me sad when an artist I love leaves us. As far as metal and horror… I’m constantly trying to figure out why I am the way I am, and why I like the things I do. I don’t think there’s a definitive answer, but my two cents are that heavy music and horror movies appeal to something primal in us. When I think back to the overwhelming rush of adrenaline and euphoria I felt the first time I heard Black Sabbath, it’s pretty similar to the experience I had watching Halloween for the first time. Horror movies are exciting, kind of dangerous. So is heavy metal.
Your music has traditionally been much more personal than political, but it seems like those lines are getting blurrier for everyone day by day, regardless of their beliefs. Do you see current events playing an influential role in Spirit Adrift anytime in the near future?
Spirit Adrift will never be a political band. Government is a system that’s just human interaction and decision-making on a grandiose scale. I think when you really boil it down, all our problems stem from lack of self-awareness and lack of genuine love. Greed stems from a lack of self-awareness and love. Hatred stems from a lack of self-awareness and love. So, I’d rather deal with those kinds of issues. I think if everyone could truly love themselves and understand themselves, then we could love and understand each other. I think if we figure out the deeper issues, the rest will solve itself. Rather than write a song that goes “Trump, you suck,” I want to write a song that goes “We all kind of suck. Why is that? How do we get better?” But just because Spirit Adrift isn’t political doesn’t mean that I don’t personally love political bands.
Stream the title track to “Curse of Conception” ahead of its October 6, 2017 release below.
Photos courtesy of Spirit Adrift/by Alvino Salcedo, Nate Garrett/by Gabriele Burton
Dave Morris is the Features Editor of Shindigmusic. He has written for the Arkansas Times, the Fayetteville Flyer, the Idle Class, and Fayettesound. His academic writing is featured in the book “First Amendment Studies in Arkansas”. He holds an M.A. in Rhetoric from the University of Arkansas and is a recipient of the Richard S. Arnold Prize in First Amendment Studies. He also attended Marquette University Law School. He currently performs with post-punk band The Inner Party when he is not dealing with his foolish cats or engaging in a shameful array of other geeky pursuits.