Boysetsfire is the new self-titled album from a band we’ve become familiar with over many years, but it also represents the new start the band has been working on for years. Having hit rock bottom, resulting in a brief break-up in 2007, Boysetsfire came out stronger at the other end of the dark tunnel. ‘While A Nation Sleeps’, the band’s return to the front lines, didn’t show their true power, and confidence. However, this confidence is felt in every note of every song of the new record and in every word spoken, and sung, by singer Nathan Gray
Interview by Martijn Welzen
MM: Usually the debut album of a band is self-titled, but for you that record has arrived well into your discography. Is it really a new start? One that comes with the complete freedom of being able to release the record on End Hits?
Nathan: The self-titling of this album is more about the place we are as a band, and as people. We’ve been at this for so many years now, and it just sort of feels right to call this album BOYSETSFIRE. It encapsulates who we are, and where we are. In a way, we feel like we’ve earned it, you know? Like Prince when he decided to start using the symbol in place of his name, you’ve really gotta earn that kind of thing, ha, ha!
MM: Very often you hear artists complaining about the internet and the negative impact of downloading, but for you guys it seems to have really helped you get to where you needed to be, as it’s allowed you to take things into your own hands. Was it some sort of blessing in disguise for you?
Nathan: I see no reason to complain about the effect the internet has had on music. Why wouldn’t I want MORE people to hear and love what we do? That’s why we do this, right? Back when we became a band, there was no ease of the internet. There was stapling flyers to light poles, and making cassette tapes to pass around, and you really had this community of other bands in your area that you sort of worked together with. It was certainly harder to get your music out to the masses, but not impossible. I know there are a lot of people who kind of freak out about illegal downloading, or free-sharing of music. Even streaming music services. But to me, all that means is that my music is available to more people. Those people are still going to come to shows, still going to buy merch, and are still going to support us in every possible way.
MM: Is that feeling of refound freedom also the reason why ‘Boysetsfire’ is much more anthemic than ‘While A Nation Sleeps’? There’s the energy and drive to make it all work, to push forward and drive everything home. Much more so than on your previous record…
Nathan: I think it boils down to simple growth. The music, the lyrics… it all reflects a “growing into” ourselves, and being comfortable in who we are – which then allows us to feel more free to create in new ways. I guess you can somewhat look at it as a celebration of who we are. We are proud and excited to be ourselves, and so of course, the whole vibe of the album will reflect that.
MM: Can you me tell about about what the band must have gone through when you became a pawn in a some sort of business plan? A group of intelligent artists who always stood for sincerity, hard-work and great music, fell victim of something you really didn’t want, and even worse couldn’t control.
Nathan: And did our damnedest to get right back out of it, didn’t we?
MM: I can imagine, especially shortly before your hiatus, things were very rough, but in hindsight did that also teach you a lot?
Nathan: Of course. ANY time you go through something tough in life, there are lots of things to learn from the experience. I would say the fact that we came back stronger than ever is a reflection of that. I prefer to look forward, instead of back.
MM: Bands who have a social or political angle always talk to people about their songs, but for Boysetsfire it also seems that the other side of being in a band, the business side, and control over your own destiny is also an important part of who you are. Is that also a topic which comes up when talking to fans? Do younger bands ask you about it?
Nathan: I have definitely had newer bands ask for advice on how to successfully build and maintain a band. To start, Boysetsfire has always been very into doing things the DIY way. We’ve always been extremely hands-on in all aspects of the creation, and promotion of what we do. The internet can be both a blessing and a curse in this day and age. Like I just mentioned, on one hand it gives you this incredibly easy way to reach millions of people with the click of the button. But at the same time, it almost makes it TOO easy. I think maybe that’s why we don’t see the longevity out of bands like we used to. My advice is simple: Don’t skip the hard stuff. The hard stuff is how you grow into a solid band that stands the test of time. Having a lot of Facebook fans is one thing, and that’s great! But, you still have to hit the road and play shitty shows to 10 people who aren’t even paying attention. And then you have to sit in a smelly van with people you can hardly stand to look at one more day and do it over and over again, night after night. The magic happens when you step on the stage and it all melts away. If you play to those 10 people as if they were 300 screaming fans, then you’re doing it right. If you want to be headlining festivals, not just this summer or next, but in 10 years from now, you HAVE to earn your way there. Create your own destiny…It’s gotta be your own blood, sweat and tears.
MM: What I personally love most about your band is the tension, often within a song, between the melodic, or even sad / melancholic parts, and the sincere anger. The new album also has this feeling of empowerment. Are you less introspective now? Has the messenger also become a teacher in some way?
Nathan: That dichotomy is great, isn’t it? And it’s really quite the opposite! I would say I am even MORE introspective now. That may be why there has been such a shift. And yes, I would certainly say there is much to be learned from my message in this particular album. I have worked my ass off for many years to find my footing, and I feel that I have been hugely rewarded in that. If my journey serves to teach others how to find their own path, then I will of course be pleased. My hope for everyone that listens, is that they accept personal responsibility and commit themselves to the work and create the best possible life for themselves. That IS empowerment. I know for a fact that many people DO look to me as both messenger and teacher, and I am honored by that. I don’t take the responsibility lightly. I cannot tell you how many amazing messages I have received over the years from people who have expressed appreciation for our music and what it has given them; be it encouragement, understanding, or even just a safe vessel to exercise certain emotions. That’s really a bonus to what I do. The songs I put out have served such a therapeutic purpose for me, and knowing that it has been helpful to others as well, is an incomparable feeling.
MM: Is that change something you think this world needs now, or is that personal growth? Have you matured to the extent you can also ‘help’ your listeners?
Nathan: I think they go hand in hand. Nothing in the world changes without personal growth first. While everyone knows I am certainly no Christian, I can’t deny that there are still words of wisdom hidden in the Bible. One of my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 13:11, and it says “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” I think I encourage people to help themselves. To examine the truths presented to them, and to draw their own conclusions. This is a process, and one that I have spent many years on myself. In the end, I came to the conclusion I’ve known all along; that I am the god of me, and that I am free to nurture and celebrate my carnality, and enjoy the fruits of my labor.
MM: And even though there are beautiful, often melancholic parts in your songs you never give your listeners the idea that you feel disappointed or defeated. It that also on purpose? It’s okay to cry, but that doesn’t mean you should give up…
Nathan: I may be disappointed in things in this world, but I would never say I feel defeated. What kind of life is that to live? Feeling defeated means you’ve given up the fight. I am nowhere NEAR done fighting, and I will do so until I take my last breath.
MM: What’s the ‘Filth Is Rising’ about? In all honesty American media came to mind, who the US, but also the rest of the world seems to care more about the Kardashians and the silly things Donald Trump says than the humanitarian crises happening right in front of us in countries like Syria or Afghanistan.
Nathan: ‘The Filth Is Rising’ is about the danger in stifling the natural, carnal urges of humans. If you do not allow yourself reasonable exercising of your urges, you are in danger of having them control you. The become compulsions instead of indulgences.
MM: Regardless of what ‘filth’ is meant in that song, be it pollution, ignorance, racism, greed or corruption, can we ever stop it from rising? It’s always a let down to see how much people can achieve working together, but after some time will follow their own agenda (of greed)…
Nathan: We can stop that filth from rising, by tending to those urges and desires safely, and giving ourselves permission to enjoy them.
MM: Following on from that, I also have to come back to the cover of the new album. Is that snake humanity? Are we devouring our own future?
Nathan: The Serpent represents the shedding of old life to reveal the new. It is self healing. I feel that perfectly encapsulates the whole of this album.
MM: It is a strong metaphor, but you chose this serpent, instead of, let’s say a dog…. again a reference to the Bible?
Nathan: Animal Symbology is important to me. The Goat, The Wolf, The Owl, The Serpent…each of those animals represent certain attributes of the carnal self that I find I can draw strength from. There is certainly reference to the serpent in the bible, where it is seen as the evil in the Garden of Eden. I, however, tend to think the serpent was a representation of wisdom.
MM: The album will come out via End Hits, your own label. What does that name mean. Is it to end ‘hit-songs’, like we hear them on the radio, and start working on good albums with content, much like your own? Also what are you looking for in other bands being able to sign to End Hits?
Nathan: End Hits has been forging an extremely successful path as of late, and has a lot of great stuff in the works for the future, including the release of BOYSETSFIRE 20th anniversary DVDs, a record by MATZE ROSSI and a WOLF DOWN full length album. The End Hits family is small but mighty, and that’s just how we like it.
‘Boysetsfire’ will be released through End Hits Records on 2nd October.