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Nathan Gray (BoySetsFire) Talks New Solo Album, Book, Tour, & Healing

Photo: Becky Fontaine

On January 31st Nathan Gray – vocalist of the prolific Hardcore-Punk act BoySetsFire – will be releasing his second solo record, Working Title, via End Hits Records and Deathwish Inc. Sonically this project is intentionally akin to The Replacements, Bob Mould, or The Cars and thematically stems from Gray’s desire to help others heal whether it be from past traumas or simply the jarring, dangerous world we live in. It also features a killer Chuck Ragan appearance, so you need to check it out.

I sat down with Nathan and we talked about everything. Check out a music video, the interview, and tour dates below. And make sure to order your copy of Working Title now!

Ty Dykema

Hi Nathan! Thank you for taking this time to talk with me. How are you doing?

I’m doing great man. Thank you! Those last couple of weeks before a release are always a bit nuts with interviews, announcements, and promotional to-do lists. But it’s the good kind of busy. I’m just really anxious to get this album out and complete the process of its creation.

Ty Dykema

Which song do you think best exemplifies the message you hope to portray on your brand new album, Working Title?

I would have to say “Never Alone.” That song is really about finding (and creating) places for ourselves and others to understand that no matter how they may feel in dark times, they are never alone. Someone out there feels similar pain, faces similar struggles, and is working to battle their demons.

Working Title has been a journey for myself in that way, and a journey in not only accepting, but becoming comfortable in who I am. It’s been a lot of work emotionally but I have grown so much in the past 2-3 years, and this album is a wonderful sort of documentation of that.

Ty Dykema

What are some of the differences you experienced between crafting this record and your past material, especially with BoySetsFire?

The major difference is that I wrote the whole album myself, not just my lyrics and vocal melodies. These songs were crafted at home, in my own safe place. I recorded each as every layer as I wrote to build the songs out for a full band experience. This was really my chance to challenge myself to take risks (like playing all the piano parts myself) and trust that I am capable of creating exactly what I felt a song should be, instead of crudely throwing together an idea and passing it off, hoping that someone else would hear it all the way I did in my head.

BoySetsFire is very much a collection of ideas and no single one of us can claim we wrote a song ourselves. So essentially, this is the antithesis of that. Even with Feral Hymns, my first solo full-length, I included songs that were from some of my other projects, so this is the first complete go at it writing solo. It’s honestly a little terrifying, haha! I have never wanted something to be well-received so badly in all my life.

Ty Dykema

Working Title is a solo record but mostly in name only. Your backing band is incredible. Who does it consist of and how did you pick them to work with?

When I started to think about who I would want at my side on stage, it really became a situation where I looked at someone’s talent as a secondary piece of the puzzle. Technical talent is easy to come by. What I REALLY needed was to choose people I knew I could trust with my fans. I have been at this over half my life now, and my fans mean everything to me. They have followed my journey faithfully. They count on me and my ideals. They trust me. There is no separation of my journey and theirs, so I needed to choose musicians who could be invested in continuing that legacy. ESPECIALLY at this place of my life.

I have bared my soul and that has been given back to me tenfold. I cannot tell you how many painful stories have been shared with me by my fans. I’m connecting with a lot of people who feel understood by what they hear in these songs. They feel seen and accepted and loved as they are. I HAVE to know that anyone I bring along for this journey can be trusted with that and not take advantage of it. I work really hard to create a safe place in a broken world, and I need everyone around me to take that responsibility as well, because at the end of the day, it’s my name on the line if that trust is broken. MY name on the line if people feel disrespected or hurt in any way whatsoever. Fortunately, I have been (and hope to continue to be) able to find some good people both the United States and in Europe who I believe can carry that.

Ty Dykema

How has it been working with End Hits Records and Deathwish Inc? And what’s the history behind those connections?

End Hits Records is of course a team I have known for decades now. Oise Ronsberger who runs the show there has been a part of my life since early BoySetsFire days, and End Hits was a place for BoySetsFire (and any of our side projects, really) to do our own thing as far as labels go. Oise is really the one who pushed me to get my solo material out to the world. Since they are a Euro based company, we have been looking at options on this side of the world to help our U.S. fans have access to my music a little easier, and Deathwish stepped up to the plate to handle distribution in the U.S. It’s been a wonderful partnership so far and I look forward to what the future brings us together.

Ty Dykema

Take a minute to plug your new book as well! What can we expect from it?

My new book was perhaps one of the most painful, necessary, and freeing parts to this part of my journey. Light & Love somewhat picks up where I left off in Until The Darkness Takes Us. It dives much deeper into my painful past and how I freed myself.

There were many days where I would dig into my memories and experiences so deeply that I would break apart for days. But, there are also some very celebratory parts, and parts I hope people find some inspiration in. Sitting down to write that book was huge in my “emotional recovery” so to speak.

Ty Dykema

Are you planning to tour? And if so, where to and with whom?

Yes, absolutely. Just after the January 31st release of the album, I am heading out to Europe. I will be bringing along my friends in Matze Rossi, Swain, and Norbert Buchmacher.

Just after I return from Europe, I will be heading out on a short U.S. tour that includes eight shows across the Northeast and Midwest.

Ty Dykema

This is the part where I ask the first thing that comes to my mind as I listen to each track of the new record. Please answer any/all you feel comfortable with in as much or little detail as you wish.

What is one thing you think everyone could collectively work on to better themselves and in turn the world around them?

I genuinely believe that happy people let other people be happy. There is absolutely no way we can go out and make positive changes in the world if we are carrying around a shitty attitude. It all has to start within each of us, and we have to be open to taking long, hard, honest looks at ourselves to see where we can be better, and then we have to commit to ourselves to do just that. Be better. Not perfect, just better.

Ty Dykema

What is something that helps you heal?

My music. My writing. My family.

Ty Dykema

Whether it be in music or otherwise, what is one of your biggest goals that you’ve yet to achieve?

Playing my music on Saturday Night Live. (Yes, I am serious.)

Ty Dykema

What is the truest thing about Nathan Gray?

That I struggle just like anyone else. That I have good days and bad days and messy days.

Ty Dykema

Has there ever been something you seemed to have to wait for forever and then when you finally got it or it finally happened, it was just so satisfying or joyful? And if so, can you share what it was?

This is absolutely what releasing albums feels like – you start with a melody that persists in your mind and begs to be given life, and then there is this incredibly long process of writing and tearing it all down and starting over. And when it’s all just right, you go to the studio and make an album. And THEN, because the music industry is how it is, you wait another six months or so to release it. It’s torturous! You get those songs recorded and mastered you feel just incredible, and the wait for release day somewhat deflates the balloon a bit. There is no joy like release day and seeing that all that hard work come to life.

Ty Dykema

What is something that makes your soul happy about still being here?

I’m pretty stoked that I’m still here – that I pushed on when I wanted to give up on life, on my dreams. Everything.

Ty Dykema

Describe your favorite tattoo you have and why it is.

I don’t think I have a “favorite.” They all represent very different times and places of life, and are equally important and personal.

Ty Dykema

Describe the best hug you can remember receiving.

The best hugs are the ones my family gives me when I walk off that plane after a tour. Those are unmatched.

Ty Dykema

How can we be more merciful to ourselves and to others?

We have to accept that the experience of life is that we WILL fail. We WILL have bad days. And those things are okay, because we can learn so much about ourselves in them.

Ty Dykema

What is the biggest struggle (that you’re willing to share) that you’ve overcome?

Telling the world that I was sexually abused as a child. That was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done, but one of the most healing.

Ty Dykema

Who is someone you lean on for guidance and support?

I think I’m pretty lucky in life – I keep a pretty tight circle in friends and family, and those chosen few are unparalleled. I can go to my parents, my wife, and a handful of friends who are like family and know that I will get both support and be told hard truths when I need to hear them.

Ty Dykema

How does it feel for you when you release a record like Working Title? Is it a relief? Is there a sense of letting go?

It feels freeing. Terrifying. Empowering.

Feb 14, 2020
Berlin, DE Columbia Theater
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Münster, DE Sputnikhalle
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Köln, DE Kantine
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Frankfurt, DE Batschkapp
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Stuttgart, DE Wizemann
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Saarbrücken, DE Garage
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London, UK Courtyard Studio
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Columbus, OH Spacebar
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Indianapolis, IN Black Circle Brewing Co.
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Chicago, IL Reggies
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Detroit, MI Smalls
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Toronto, ON Baby G
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Montreal, QC Turbo Haus
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Portland, ME Geno's Rock Club
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Boston, MA O’Briens
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