Band leader Nate Garrett talks anger, heavy metal as a lifeline and recording one of the year’s best records with his new bandmates.
Words by Jon Garcia
Spirit Adrift’s Nate Garrett can sum up their new album, Ghost at the Gallows, in very simple terms:
“For three years, I felt like a ghost that was haunting my own life.”
Though the worst days of the pandemic now feel like a distant nightmare, its effects still ripple through the world of the arts. Almost every creation colored with stress, fear, uncertainty or anxiety; time capsules when emotions redlined.
“At least a couple of the songs touch on the fact that I felt like I lost my life, even though I didn’t physically die,” Garett said about Ghost at the Gallows. “I know a lot of us can relate to that. I was 32 when all that stuff started happening, so literally in the prime of my life. I felt like Spirit Adrift was about to really break into another level of sustainability, you know? And that was all torn away from me.”
“So yeah, the best way to describe it is I felt like I lost my life, even though I was still alive.”
On their first album since 2020’s immaculate Enlightened in Eternity, Spirit Adrift tackle those emotions and then some. With a new full-time band consisting of bassist Sonny DeCarlo, drummer Mike Arellano, and ex-Carcass axeman Tom Draper, Garrett and company harness the soul of heavy metal into one of the year’s best records. It’s high-octane, hard-charging music at its finest, with infectious hooks and stellar leads that’ll have plenty of people dusting off their air guitars.
But Ghost at the Gallows isn’t all about the loss of a livelihood or the disintegration of dreams and ambitions. It reflects processing grief, whether it’s what the pandemic ripped away, family members suffering or the traumatic loss of friends and loved ones, including Riley Gale and Trevor Strnad.
“‘Hanged Man’s Revenge’ is the anger,” Garrett said. “Like, just fucking pissed off that my life was taken away from me at 32 years old, and my friends lives were literally taken away from them. Fucking wanting to hurt people but I don’t know who, you know? There’s not a single source that I can direct my anger at. So I’ve just been fucking angry for three years.”
While not every stage of grief is present – “Maybe I’m in denial about there not being denial on the record,” Garrett quips – there’s plenty to fuel a rip-roaring barn burner of a heavy metal album. From the melancholy clean intro of “Give Her To The River” which segues into classic and powerful Spirit Adrift riffing, to the final moments of the title track, Ghost at the Gallows is a middle-finger to death, suffering and toxicity.
“I want the music to be heavy and reflect the pain that we’re all going through at any point in our lives,” Garrett said. “I have found that there’s not much point in making hopeless music. I like listening to a lot of hopeless music, but I would rather write stuff that makes people want to get up and do something positive.”
For Garrett, heavy music isn’t just a career or a way to have a good time – it’s life. It’s the reason he was put on this planet.
“When I was growing up, I felt out of place until I found heavy music,” Garrett said. “And then I felt like my life had some kind of direction. It’s been that way since I was probably like 12 years old. Anytime I’ve strayed from playing in heavy bands, it’s like the universe just slaps me back into playing in heavy bands, you know? I just think, for better or worse, the reason that I exist is to play music, and particularly stuff that makes you want to headbang.”
Garrett’s sobriety journey has been well-documented over the years, and with his second chance at life he’s poured everything he has into Spirit Adrift. The album writing process consumes his entire life because every song – every lyric – has to be honest.
“Artists make whatever is true to their experience at that juncture in life, and that’s it,” he said. “There’s only so many ways you can talk about a corpse raping somebody to death, or like smashing somebody’s head with a hammer to where it sort of starts to feel disingenuous. There’s a point of diminishing returns with the brutality, whether it’s lyrically or musically.
“If you see bands that have long careers, they almost inevitably start doing different stuff. It’s a little more introspective and a little more real. That’s always a goal. I don’t ever want to write something that’s not true to what I’m experiencing at that juncture in my life.”
He cites the writing 2019’s Divided by Darkness and how creating the new album reminded him of that very angry and emotional time. Garrett called it a “really grueling process” that “took a lot out of me.”
When that album was wrapped he planned to take some time to recuperate, but the ideas didn’t stop. Instead, for his own well-being, he focused on writing songs that were positive, uplifting and fun, whatever was going to keep from upsetting him physically and emotionally.
“That’s what Enlightened was,” Garrett said. “There was no other goal of outdoing myself, or outdoing Divided, or impressing anybody, or making anything other than just what was going to be enjoyable for me.
“Now, the new album? Totally different story. The process for [Ghost at the Gallows] sort of reminded me more of Divided, where I was really putting every single bit of myself into it emotionally and pushing myself to every limit that I could, as far as a player and a songwriter.”
While in the past Spirit Adrift has largely been a solo effort, Gallows fills out every position in the band for the first time in years. It rounds out their sound and provides an extra punch that they didn’t even know was missing.
“The way that I see it is this is the second real lineup of this band,” Garrett said. He wrote all the music for Gallows, but his bandmate’s musical personalities elevated the recordings and their previous material so much, they’re already planning to showcase the full band.
“We’re going to be making a live album,” Garrett said. “Just because the playing caliber that these guys bring to previously recorded songs. I feel like the power of this band has not been fully represented on previous recordings. I feel like we captured it with a new album because these guys are involved with [it].”.
Garrett is effusive in his praise of Draper, a guitarist he’d wanted to work with since seeing him on stage with Carcass.
“Tom is the best guitarist this band has ever had, and I would say that includes me as far as lead guitar playing. We really pushed each other there. You understand by track one of the new album that it’s like a shootout [between us] the whole time. I mean, we’re pushing each other to the limits, you know. So that was a lot of fun.”
So much fun there’s even an audible “whoo!” seconds after the start of the guitar solo for the aptly titled, Iron Maiden-meets-Metallica tune “Barn Burner.”
“I’m so glad that you picked up on that!” Garrett said gleefully. “One of the most pervasive ideas during the writing and recording process is how over-manufactured and slick everything is now. We’re all very, very passionate about the human element of music. The imperfect, emotional, disruptive, adrenaline fueled, exciting humanity that’s in rock music.”
He referenced blues guitarist Freddie King’s 1971 album Getting Ready… as an influence for that humanity: “He’s hooting and hollering and screaming and shouting through that whole record at his own guitar playing, at stuff other people are doing. It’s just real, man.
“The whole key to making good art is to be vulnerable and to be imperfect and to show your personality. But it’s scary, and I feel like a lot of people tend to take that stuff out, edit that stuff or sterilize that stuff. With Ghost at the Gallows, we wanted to do the opposite. We wanted to get as much perfectly imperfect stuff. Now there’s mistakes that suck that could totally take you out of the mood. Obviously you don’t want that, but there’s imperfect glimpses of our humanity that we were very adamant about putting on this album and letting those things come out and leaving them.
“So that ‘whoo!’ was very, very much intentional.”
Garrett has never felt better about making a piece of music. He hopes Ghost at the Gallows will inspire people to do something positive – for themselves, for other people – because he knows full well what it’s like to feel like shit.
“It’s just a really honest documentation of what I’ve gone through the past few years, and if it makes you feel good, that’s great. That’s the intention. If it makes you feel nothing, then it’s not for you. If you hate it, then it’s not for you, so if people hate it then it ain’t no thing because I didn’t make it for them.
“And if it makes people feel like they can get up one more day and chase whatever dreams they’re trying to chase, or do whatever they got to do to make life more tolerable for themselves and others than this record is for you.”
Ghost at the Gallows is available August 18th via Century Media Records. Order the album – HERE