Spirit Adrift – Spontaneous InspirationTuesday, 8th August 2023
Prolific creativity comes to mind when checking out the work of Spirit Adrift. Active since 2015, they’ve released a series of EP’s, singles, and full-length records faithfully year after year – arriving at their fifth studio album for Ghost at the Gallows. If you are familiar with the band, you’ll love even more that deep affinity for heavy metal hooks, melodies, and layers of harmonies both vocally and musically which make listeners take a deep dive into the history of this genre. To learn even more about the new record, what makes for a great song, the great work being on 20 Buck Spin as well as Century Media, how the past three years have been a huge learning experience for the band, plus thoughts on classic metal versus nu-metal and more, check out my talk with vocalist/guitarist Nate Garrett.
Dead Rhetoric: Ghost at the Gallows is the fifth studio full-length for Spirit Adrift. Where do you see this record sitting in the catalog of work for the band – as it’s been described in the background information as your most fully realized work to date for a very prolific band?
Nate Garrett: Yeah, I’m not sure who said that, but that’s cool! I’ll take it. It’s a record of where I was the last three years I was working on it. I started writing it in 2020, and then we began recording in the fall of 2022. As with the other records, it’s a document of that period of time in my life. I feel like I learn something every time I do it. I bring those lessons into each subsequent album, maybe that’s what was meant by more fully realized. If you keep your mind open, you can learn every time you make a record how to get better at it.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your songwriting, are you the type of person that it takes a long time to have ideas fleshed out and come to life, or do you end up capturing things and being more spontaneous?
Garrett: That’s a great question. It’s actually both. I’ve found now that in order for me to feel good enough about a riff to make it on an album, it’s usually a riff that just shows up. It’s rarely something that I’ll have to sit down and agonize over. I guess the same probably goes for lyrics. I can sit and try to write something really clever, but usually the best lyrics just hit me in a flash from somewhere else. A lot of songwriters talk about that spontaneous inspiration. When it comes to the individual parts of a song like a riff or a lyric, I try to only use stuff that hits me in that magic, spontaneous moment. But then when it comes to arranging, that process can sometimes be two years. The title track “Ghost at the Gallows”, I think I had all the parts and the riffs in December of 2020, and those were all things that hit me spontaneously. But then the arrangement of the song, I look at it horizontally, like how many times does a part repeat, what does this part turn into – but I also look at it vertically, layering guitars, layering vocal harmonies. And that process for the song was almost two years. It’s a combination – the arranging can be an endless process that takes forever.
Dead Rhetoric: Grief ended up being a main theme for the lyrical content of this record – can you tell us how you were able to channel many different losses and events, experiences, as well as the pandemic into the topics that appear in this material? As you mention that instead of seeking out therapy, you use your songs as that vessel – does this become a cathartic, cleansing process?
Garrett: Yeah, it always has been, since the beginning. I’ve used music from the very beginning of my life as a coping mechanism, even though I wasn’t aware of it for most of my life. Spirit Adrift, when I started this project, I’m not even sure I was aware of it at the beginning of this. It’s a reliable way for me to cope with whatever is going on. I have a few things that I do throughout the day to cope mentally and physically with existing, but picking up a guitar seems to be the most reliable way of really making myself feel better. Everything that was going on, I lost a lot of friends, a lot of fellow touring musicians, family members, stuff like that. I feel like it’s in me to write songs and write guitar riffs. Every song starts with a guitar riff, it gets me really excited, and I put whatever I am going through into the music.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the guest appearance with David Wiley come about for “These Two Hands” on cello?
Garrett: We were working on that song. We tracked drums in Chicago – Mike our drummer and I went up there, and we played the songs live so we could capture that live feel to it. The best takes, we took back to Texas where we finished the record with my friend Jeff Henson. Jeff has been making records in Texas for a really long time, he knows everybody. He used to work with people like Clutch, Lamb of God. Originally, we could tell that song “These Two Hands” needed something extra. People may not realize that with every Spirit Adrift album, there’s been keyboards in there, it may be subtle. We were going to hit up Bryan (Richie) from The Sword, the bass player, he lives nearby and he’s a synth wizard. We were going to have him play some synth, thinking about a string part. Jeff said he knew a guy who plays cello, he’s really good and can turn out stuff quickly. I believe he’s in Dallas, I never met the guy. We sent him the song; he tracked his parts in a few days and sent them back to us. It’s not too over the top, it’s a texture, and he did a great job.
Dead Rhetoric: Were there any particular songs that came together easier than others – or one or two songs that may have been the challenging ones to get right?
Garrett: Yeah, I can tell you which song was the hardest to get right in the studio, and that was “I Shall Return”. I demo everything at home, well in advance of recording the actual record. That song was magical to me in the demo phase. It was one of those strange things that as we were working on it in the studio, it didn’t have the vibe or the sound I was imagining. The good thing about finishing this album in Texas is that the studio is fifteen minutes away from my house. We were able to bounce the version that we were sitting on, took it home for the weekend, and I rearranged a lot of it. The song had a lot more vocals in it, and I took out huge chunks of vocals, put in those Blue Oyster Cult guitar harmony things, and Tom Draper played more lead guitar on it than we were planning on doing. We tweaked it and tweaked it. That was the first song that blew my mind when it was being mixed. As far as any coming easy… I would say maybe “Death Won’t Stop Me”. It’s so straightforward and the vocal melody is really well-established. A very obvious vocal melody in the verses and in the choruses.
Dead Rhetoric: A couple of years ago you released the 20 Centuries Gone EP, with six special covers next to the new songs on the record. Did you get any feedback from any of the artists you covered?
Garrett: I’ve heard Type O Negative reposted our cover, whoever is running their social media is pretty diehard about it. I have a lot of mutual friends with Phil Anselmo, and he was into our cover. Some of the guys involved in the New Orleans bands were impressed with the production and the sound of it. Trying to figure out what we did to sort of split the difference between Pantera’s guitar sounds and our guitar sounds. We wanted a happy medium there, we don’t use solid state amps or Randalls, and Dimebag did. We knew from the jump we didn’t want to use Randall amps just for that song, we wanted our sound to split the difference. People see Billy Gibbons wandering around town, maybe I’ll send him a link if I run into him.
Dead Rhetoric: The early years of Spirit Adrift were spent on 20 Buck Spin before moving up to Century Media in 2020 for Enlightened in Eternity. Do you feel you’ve been treated fairly and understood by both labels when it comes to all the goals and ambitions you have for the band?
Garrett: Yeah, obviously. 20 Buck Spin, it’s essentially one guy and he has one employee. We remain really close friends, I talk to him every day. Dave’s a great guy. With a label like that, the work ethic is unparalleled. We are in similar positions. If I fail, the whole thing I go down with the ship. I love Dave, he works as hard as anybody I’ve ever met. Century Media was kind of an experiment for me. I was perfectly content on 20 Buck Spin; I felt no real urge to go to another label. It was a win/win situation for me in the negotiations. I took advantage of that and got a deal I was very happy with. I really like everyone I have dealt with at the label. Mike Gitter, the A&R guy in North America, he’s a real believer in what I’m doing. A lot of people say they are, but he really is. I can get ahold of him 24 hours a day. Philipp the vice-president over in Germany, he’s a die-hard believer. They are both fans, actual fans of the band, that helps a lot.
Dead Rhetoric: Last year was the most prolific for the band in terms of live performances. Where do you see the major differences between the studio work and the stage – and what do you hope to get across to the audiences through your live shows, either in the club settings or at the bigger festivals?
Garrett: One big difference, we are working on a live record right now, mixing it Jeff and me. Every band experiences the fact that the songs get faster when played live. It’s a little more energy. They are stripped down, a little rawer. In the studio, one of the most fun parts of studio recording is layering stuff, guitars, harmony vocals, making it like a four-dimensional experience as much as possible. There are certain things that just can’t be recreated live, and that’s good. It’s two different experiences. If you want the studio experience, you have our albums to listen to at home or in your car. If you want the live experience, you can come see us for a totally different vibe.
Bob Rock told Metallica after …And Justice For All, and seeing them live, nobody had captured how they sound live. Part of the reason we are doing a live record is because it’s really tricky. Even if you track live in the studio, it’s tricky to make it sound as intense as it does live. You can make it sound fancier, bigger, more epic, but it’s tough to get things to have that same punch that a live show has. They are two pretty different things, but I love them both, equally.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think you’ve learned the most in all of your years involved in music regarding what you want to achieve musically – as well as what success means to you that may differ from how others view success at this point?
Garrett: I’ve learned more in the past three years than I have in my entire life of making music. Seeing how people in the industry react to difficult situations that are affecting the whole world. When I was kid, I wanted to be a big rock star. You start playing shows when you are young, girls that wouldn’t give you the time of day are now paying a lot of attention to you, and that was very appealing. I’m married now, and I’m not interested in that anymore. I’m not interested in making a ton of money through music – because once you start mixing those two things, you will be half-assed at both of them. I’ve found that success can only be determined by me, internally. There’s no other metric that will ever satisfy me.
Like money, that metric will never satisfy me because somebody is always going to be making more. Online popularity – that’s about the most bullshit metric that existed in the history of the world. Success to me means, I’ve been writing new material the past three days. That’s success to me – I got caught up in the business side of things, trying to play your favorite shows with bigger bands, or your favorite bands. I’ve played with Metallica and Iron Maiden now, so there’s not really more that I can do. Writing good songs, that’s the ultimate measure of success. And it always has been, and always will be. That will never change. Writing a good song is an unwavering measure of success.
Dead Rhetoric: When looking at the career and discography of Spirit Adrift, are there specific game changing moments where you knew you were making more of an impact with your music?
Garrett: It sounds really weird, but starting my podcast has been such a crazy experience. I started it as a way to build up awareness leading up to the release of this new album. And as a means to an end, turn people onto the band. It’s become so much more. I have an email address specifically for fans of the band to write me, and it’s been very eye-opening some of the feedback I get. As artists, we are always very hard on ourselves, we think we are doing worse than what we are actually doing. We struggle with a lot of self-consciousness, very critical of ourselves – which is good in a way because you’ll make good art. Having this podcast, opening myself to one-on-one feedback, has just been incredible. I’m fortunate to be able to make music that resonates with people – that’s the whole point. It’s a game changer for me. People from the outside will think – oh they played Download, they played Hellfest. A lot of that stuff, it’s just gradual steps and seems like another day. Being able to talk to fans one on one and hear how this music has impacted people, it’s crazy. Just in the past six months, I’ve realized this band is a little bit bigger of a deal than I thought it was.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges facing Spirit Adrift at this point in establishing more of a foothold on the scene, not just domestically but also on a global scale?
Garrett: Touring is very difficult right now. It’s hard on people in general, and a lot of people think they want to tour, find out they don’t. I’ve been doing it since I was seventeen, so I’m wired that way now. As far as the industry is concerned, it’s very tough financially. There will be prevailing trends in music and society, and the type of music we are making, old school metal with a lot of melody and hooks, I don’t think it’s a part of the prevailing trend right now. Do I care? No. It always changes. We don’t have the flavor of the week type of hype behind us. But I know we will at some point, as it just comes and goes. Nobody gave a shit about Sleep or Saint Vitus when they were touring in the 90’s, and when they came back in the 2000’s, all of a sudden it was like all this new found nostalgia for people who didn’t know who they were when they were functioning bands. That will happen to us, I’m certain.
The economic state of the world. Middle class people are having a hard enough time just eating and paying their bills. It will be tough for a lot of people to buy records and come to shows. Especially people in our demographic, working class type of people at our age. It’s a tough time for the working class, we are under assault. Hopefully we get that figured out. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing songs that will get me excited.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn about you as a person away from what they know of you as a musician, songwriter, and performer in this band?
Garrett: I was thinking about this the other day. One of the weirdest and most ironic things in my life is I was born to two parents who are deaf that cannot hear at all – and they were both born deaf. I ended up being a musician, and I’ve tried to do other stuff. I’d get fed up in other bands, try to do other stuff, and it just didn’t work. I believe it’s my purpose on earth to play music, and it’s ironic and fascinating that I’m in that position. I think maybe my fascination with sound was a result of having deaf parents around.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the state of the heavy metal movement in current times? What changes (if any) would you like to consider for the overall health and well-being of things?
Garrett: It’s not my favorite time in music. When I started working on this album, I started at 1970 and wrote my ten favorite albums of each year until 2021 at the time. The worst year ever for me in music was 1997, I don’t know why, but there were three good records that came out that year. And I think the second worst year in music for me personally was 2022. All the stuff that is hyped up now because of false nostalgia like people who didn’t even exist when this shit was popular. Nu-metal and all that is my least favorite kind of music. Maybe pop country, I dislike that more than I dislike nu-metal. I was around when that stuff came up, I’m sure you were too. I didn’t like it then. Slipknot I don’t consider nu-metal so much, they do their own thing. I respect them. I think the first two Godsmack records are alright. They have guitar solos, riffs, melodies. A lot of that nu-metal stuff doesn’t. I think a lot of the people are sorry ass people. It bums me out that all these kids, a lot of them are super progressive types, they ignore the fact that guys like Fred Durst are a piece of shit. If Limp Bizkit came out today, all these kids going to see him would have cancelled this guy. The shit he was doing in the 90’s, he would have been cancelled day one. All these kids are ignorant of that. I heard Wes Borland is cool.
Black Sabbath and Judas Priest will always be cool. Bands like that, you don’t ever have to act like you’ve never listened to that. Our leaders need to figure out a way to stop destroying the working class. That would help with touring a lot.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for anything related to Spirit Adrift over the next twelve months?
Garrett: We just confirmed some album release shows. Where do we go after playing Download and getting to see Metallica, then playing Hellfest and getting to see Iron Maiden? There are some bands we will be playing with that are really meaningful to me, and a couple of Arkansas bands. We have the Metal Injection fest in Anaheim in September, with Testament and Fear Factory. Wait for the album to come out, working on a live album, writing new stuff. The new stuff is probably the heaviest stuff I’ve ever written. We have some other plans. I know High On Fire is putting a new record out next year, I’d love to tour with them. Maybe tour with Baroness. Have been talking to Green Lung over in the UK. We will see what happens.