Doom as therapy. Probably not the first well Music & Memory would tap to help their elderly patients cope with dementia, but given enough time, metal’s most mournful subgenre will likely be filling the halls of treatment facilities across the land. Here’s to hoping, anyway.
For Nate Garrett, the healing power of heavy riffs is nothing new. Many know the Arizona-based musician as the guitarist in Gatecreeper and Take Over and Destroy, but 2016 introduces a new chapter in his musical career: the one-man doom project Spirit Adrift. A self-described exercise in catharsis, Garrett formed the band to expel some powerful demons from his life while simultaneously paying homage to influential genre heavyweights (think Pallbearer in a jam session with Robert Lowe’s Candlemass). With the release of Spirit Adrift’s debut LP, Chained to Oblivion, a mere week away, we caught up with him to talk about the events that led to its creation.
You’ve stated that Spirit Adrift was created out of necessity after dire circumstances came to a head in your life. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
Things had been pretty rough in my life for a while. I moved from Arkansas to Phoenix, Arizona because I wanted to pursue certain things, and I felt like everything I worked so hard toward ended up in monumental failure. Or at least moderate failure. Some incomprehensibly awful things were happening to my father, and I was right in the middle of that. My own life was pretty much falling apart as a result of my drinking. I was actively removing myself from reality 24/7. It got to the point where something had to change or I was going to die. So I did the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and with the help of my fiancé, I checked into a detox facility shortly after my 27th birthday. Spirit Adrift arose from one riff I’d been playing around with for a while. It was that first heavy riff in the song “Specter of Ruin” from the Behind – Beyond EP. When I got out of detox I did what everyone told me to do and began participating in my own recovery. This immediately changed my outlook on life. I was feeling overwhelming emotions. Every day was a total trip. That first song just fell out of me. It’s like it was floating through space and found me. It took basically zero effort, and to be honest, I don’t even have a clear memory of how it came together.
How did these experiences inform the Spirit Adrift sound?
As far as the sound of the band goes, it’s just me, I guess. I don’t really know how else to put it. I’m equally passionate and in love with some radically different types of music. In hindsight, especially from a guitar player’s standpoint, the music seems to combine everything I like about stuff like Waylon Jennings, Black Sabbath, Neil Young and Thin Lizzy. I’m not saying I’m as good as any of those dudes—stylistically, it’s just a mashup of those things. I’ve never played guitar the way I do in Spirit Adrift. The chord shapes and weird pedaling I’m doing…I don’t know where that came from. So, the music is as honest a representation of myself as I’m capable of, but there’s also some weird left field stuff that I’ve never done before. I’ve been super fortunate to watch guys like TJ from Inter Arma, Chuck from Deadbird and Jeff from Rwake absolutely kill it on the drums, even though guitar was their main instrument. Being around guys like that helped a lot with this whole process.
You’ve mostly played guitar in your other projects, but Spirit Adrift showcases your multi-instrumentalist skills on drums, vocals, piano, etc. Are you equally comfortable playing these other instruments as you are playing guitar, or did you have to sharpen certain skills before you were ready to create Spirit Adrift’s music?
I don’t consider myself a drummer at all. I hate hearing my own vocals, though I did sing in choir growing up and was pretty decent. I sang in heavy bands growing up, too, but it was hard for me to reconcile the traditional choral training with the raw rock and roll stuff. I sucked at singing rock and roll. I think bass is probably my best instrument. I used to be really good at piano; I took lessons starting at age 3 and competed in tournaments all the time. My grandparents had high expectations for me and instilled a pretty militant work ethic in me (still do), and I can’t express how grateful I am for that. Basically, I just applied that work ethic to everything, but particularly the drums. My hands were shredded from May 2015 to October 2015. As far as vocals, I think I pulled it off just through sheer stubbornness. I’m confident that I did the absolute best I personally could have, so I’m happy with everything. None of it is perfect, but it’s me at my best. It shouldn’t be perfect anyway—none of my favorite music is.
How did you come up with the name Spirit Adrift? Does it have emotional significance for you?
I wanted a doom metal-sounding name, but also nothing typically misanthropic or negative…but still dark. I didn’t think there was any way I could find a cool two-word name that wasn’t taken, but it happened. One little added bonus is that it’s a mashup of my favorite Wino band and one of my favorite YOB songs, so anything I can do to pay tribute to those guys is great. I cannot overstate their influence both as people and as musicians. As far as emotional significance for me, I suppose the name does have some meaning, but like everything else with this project, I didn’t realize it until much later. My mother died when I was about four months old. I named Spirit Adrift’s mascot after her. As it turns out, I suppose there’s some pretty profound significance to the name of the band, and I’ve only recently put the pieces together in my mind.
In terms of the Spirit Adrift writing process, do you start with ideas on the guitar or do you write with an entire band in mind? When do lyrics come into the process?
I think every song is a bit different. If I ever have a lyric idea, I write it down. Period. As far as the music, usually a riff will hit me from out of nowhere and I’ll go from there. For all the Spirit Adrift stuff, I tracked guitar, bass, drums and vocals in that order. Then I re-recorded everything every day, and re-wrote whatever I thought had any room for improvement. I did that all the way into the studio with the EP and with Chained to Oblivion. I was re-writing “Psychic Tide” while I was recording it in the studio. It’s still not done.
Speaking of lyrics, what themes are you exploring on Chained to Oblivion?
The major theme is the overwhelming terror and dread that I feel when I think about how I’m going to be dead one day and I might have wasted my entire life. This is also my greatest motivator, though. It’s freeing in a way, because nothing really matters other than being nice to each other and to yourself. The only thing that matters in this life is working hard every day at being the best person you can be. That’s the short version, but there’s a lot going on in the lyrics. I avoid getting into specifics, because I want the words to resonate with as many people as possible. I don’t want to limit the story to my own life and experiences.
Chained to Oblivion is coming out just six months after your debut EP, Behind – Beyond. Was all this material written and recorded at the same time, or did you record the EP and then get straight to work on the LP?
I wrote the EP over a few weeks in May 2015 and recorded it in three days that same month. Then I wrote some of the LP, went on tour with Gatecreeper over the summer, got back and finished writing the LP. I recorded that in October 2015. I already have a couple of songs demoed for the next one. If there was a market for it and the vinyl pressing process didn’t take so long, I would love to put out four or five of these every year. If the songs are there, they’re there.
You’ve said your “experience in the climate of southern heavy music left an impression that will last a lifetime.” What is it about southern metal/doom that’s so powerful and affecting? Are there certain sonic qualities you can point to, or is it more of an intangible thing that’s rooted in culture?
You nailed it [with] the last sentence. It’s both. I’ve come to believe that people pick up on two things when they listen to music: how it sounds and how much actual feeling was put into it. There are so many good players in the south, and on top of that, there’s a lot of genuine suffering. There are still a lot of disenfranchised people. So, you’re talking about a whole region full of people who have played music their entire lives, who are also the realest and toughest motherfuckers you’ll ever meet. That sincerity is encoded into the music subconsciously, I’m convinced of that.
You’re currently working on bringing Spirit Adrift to the stage. Was the plan always to have a live version of the band or is this something that happened unexpectedly?
The original plan with Spirit Adrift was never even framed in a way that playing live would be considered. My only goal was to record the music and hold vinyl copies in my hands. I love vinyl. The Spirit Adrift recordings are meant to be heard that way. The way we recorded it specifically lends the material to vinyl. And this ain’t a sales pitch, I’m just saying. I’ve heard Chained to Oblivion on vinyl and it smokes every other version. It’s a totally different experience. So, as far as my original goal, mission accomplished. Everything else is just extra from here on out.
Who will be joining you in the live band and how did you decide on the lineup?
I lucked out on the lineup because all of my first choices were down to do it. The live band is Jeff Owens from Goya on guitar and backing vocals, Christopher Coons from Sorxe and Dark Markers on bass, and Marcus Bryant from Gale on drums. They’re all pros in every way. They have tons of experience with this whole way of life. We’ve all been through some turmoil and suffering and have come out stronger people. It just fell into place, like everything else has with this band. When I stopped trying to control everything in my life, awesome things started happening.
Which instrument will you be playing in the live band?
I’m playing guitar and singing, because my heroes are guys like Jimi Hendrix, James Hetfield, Matt Pike, Waylon Jennings, Tom Petty, Billy Gibbons, Mike Scheidt, Buzzo, Wino and Scott Kelly/Steve Von Till (sorry dudes, I know you’re not one person). So, I have to keep trying (and failing) to be half as cool as any of them. Sorry for the grocery list, but those dudes are literally the reason why.
What’s the biggest challenge of creating music by yourself? Conversely, what’s the most rewarding aspect?
If people hate it, I look like an asshole. If people love it, I look like a genius. I’m kidding…sort of. In all honesty, there’s nothing specifically challenging about making music by myself compared to making music with other people. It’s just two sides of the same coin. What made it challenging was the timeline I put on myself to do the EP and the full-length. But I thrive in those situations. The most rewarding part of this by far is when another person tells me that my music means something to them. Music has literally saved my life over and over again. If I can pay that back even just a little bit, that’s the single greatest reward there is.