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Adrift on the Seas of Doom: Spirit Adrift’s Nate Garrett Talks “Divided by Darkness”

divided by darkness

Nate Garrett used to espouse his love of martial arts and metal on a podcast called Riffs & Fists — when searching the name and martial arts, however, you won’t find the guy that doom metal fans know as the man behind Spirit Adrift (and death metal fans recognize for his contributions to Gatecreeper). That one is a short-haired kid from Knoxville who fights MMA cage battles in Tennessee to mixed results.

Metal Nate never heard of the kid, but takes mild umbrage because “that motherfucker took my nickname in my dirt doing days.”

“I mean, Nasty Nate is not the most rare of nicknames,” he concedes via telephone from his Arizona home. “I got to say I didn’t come up with it. So I’ll let Nate from Knoxville have it.”

He gave up the podcast because he didn’t have the time. This isn’t a trite excuse: right before I spoke with Garrett, he wrapped up recording the forthcoming Gatecreeper album and it was mere weeks away from the release of Divided by Darkness, the latest album from Spirit Adrift which is now out today.

Being in one band with a rapidly ascending profile is rife with obligations and expectations. Garrett happens to be bin two such groups at once.

He doesn’t have a lot of time these days, but he set aside some of it to discuss how he continues to make time for both bands and dissect Divided by Darkness, one of the more anticipated metal albums of the year, plus how his love and scholarly obsession with metal history shaped its creation and inform his life.

And don’t believe the rumors; he wasn’t nasty in the slightest.

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Let’s flash back to the Curse of Conception album. That album was very well-received and critically acclaimed. When you went into doing that record, did you get the feeling that something special was afoot?

Yeah, I did actually. It’s always hard to tell in the demo stages, but I remember listening to the [studio] playback of the song “Spotless Age,” when it goes from a clean verse into the chugged-out [part] going into the chorus. I just remember that being the moment everybody in the room — nobody said anything, but everybody reacted. I had a feeling that we were onto something special.

I remember asking Sanford [Parker], who recorded that album and also recorded this album, I asked him at the time — acknowledging the fact that he’s recorded a million albums, so I was just, “Do you think this is something special?” And he was like, “Yeah.”

With this album, I didn’t ask him that because I didn’t ever feel any doubt.

So Curse was kind of an epiphany, the moment where you figured you knew what the sweet spot was and now it’s just a matter of getting there and knowing when you do?

Yeah, I think that’s pretty accurate. I learned a lot during the last record. I feel like Spirit Adrift is so intrinsically connected to me as a person. I don’t just casually make an album; it’s a really big deal to me on a lot of different levels. I feel like every time I make an album, it makes me a better person. It makes me better at music and better at singing and playing guitar and writing songs. It sounds kind of corny, but I really believe it makes me better just in my daily life, more appreciative, more grateful, and more perceptive.

That really was the case making Curse of Conception. I learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of. Then I just took those lessons and ran with it — and I mean like really, really ran with it, really dug in. I’m grateful to have made that record. And I’m grateful that is was received so well. It did a lot for me personally, so that’s like a cycle of positivity.

I think that that manifests itself on the new album Divided by Darkness. The overall vibe of the album just seems a lot more hopeful. It’s like with Curse you were looking for something, whereas on Divided by Darkness you found it.

I think that’s a pretty accurate way of looking at it. I’ve become so much more confident between the two albums and that wasn’t a passive transformation. I was very actively involved in making myself more confident by improving. Every day between these two albums, I did something to get better at my craft — something measurable, something tangible.

I’ve always been an obsessive person, but in making Divided by Darkness, it got so extreme. I don’t think I’ll make an album the same way again. But I’m glad I did.

I think the last album I was still dealing with a lot of internal issues and trying to exorcise some internal struggles and pain. There’s still plenty of pain and negativity on the new record, but it’s almost focused in a more violent way. It’s triumphant in the sense that it’s an us-against-them type of story.

And yeah, it’s a lot more focused. I can see there being hope in that, for sure. The process for me… I think hope was a crucial part of it. But violence and anger — I was trying to exorcise violence and negativity toward external things that I perceive as being evil, rather than negativity towards internal things that I perceived as being difficulties in my own life.

Is Divided by Darkness is a concept record? It does sound like there is an underlying theme that kind of runs through all eight songs of it.

I don’t know that it’s technically a concept album, but it kind of is. The way I’ve made albums thus far, they’re all sort of concept albums. It’s exactly like you said; there’s a thread with all the songs. I’m very much an album guy, even though it’s more than likely a dying format. I don’t care. I grew up appreciating albums start to finish. I was never a dude that would make a random playlist and listen to that or a mixtape or whatever. I would get an album and listen to the whole album.

Like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, I don’t think that the songs are all about the same thing, but every song connects in some sort of way. It’s almost an intangible kind of way. All those songs sound like they’re part of the same tapestry. It’s all one body of work. It all came from the same process and the same period in those people’s lives.

Spirit Adrift began as a solo project. As time has gone on, you’ve let more people into the project. How much has that changed things?

The last album was the first time that other people started contributing. Other people played certain parts on the album. We didn’t have enough time to get everybody on as a full band but other people played certain parts here and there. I’m trying to think if anybody contributed in the writing of the last album. I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure it was done already.

Whereas for this one, I knew for sure that I wanted Marcus [Bryant] to play drums on it. As far as the writing and recording of it, other than Marcus playing on it, it was still relatively similar. His brother [Preston] played all the synth and keyboard parts, which he came in pretty prepared and then any final arrangement things we kind of did together. I helped guide him through certain parts but it was nice to have somebody else actually playing that. He was a little more skilled in arranging the chord progressions and stuff like that than what I would have done. The Bryant brothers definitely collabed in the studio and that helped relieve my workload a lot.

Jeff [Owens] helped write a couple riffs here and there. Chase [Mason] always throws in his two cents on the arrangements. But other than people actually playing on the record, it’s kind of been that way since the beginning.

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Did the success of Curse of Conception make you feel any added pressure to follow it up?

One hundred percent, yeah. So what I did is I pinpointed the things about making music that are not subjective that I could improve upon. And I did something every fucking day to get better.

I mentioned earlier my obsession went into overdrive. I’m very competitive with myself. I’m obsessed with the idea of improving every day and being of better service to the world and to my friends and family and my wife and everyone and being a better songwriter, musician, guitar player, singer, a better person. I’m fucking obsessed with that. I put that obsession into the album.

I don’t listen to my own albums once they’re done. I just don’t do it unless I have to. We were about to play Psycho Las Vegas last year. I was in my hotel room and I put Curse of Conception on so I could play along with the songs and warm up for our set. I felt this huge sense of relief because all I could hear was everything that was wrong with it. I was just like, “Fuck, man. The next album is going to be better for sure.”

It just became so clear to me that moment that I was going to fucking crush the last record. No problem.

Although Spirit Adrift is tagged a doom band, and not entirely without justification, one of the impressions I got from Divided by Darkness is that it’s not a doom record. It’s just a heavy metal record that reminds of the days when Dio, Sabbath and Ozzy were metal, not some doom progenitors.

That’s the shit I grew up on. I was raised by my grandparents who spent their whole fucking lives working their ass off, raising kids, dealing with all kinds of shit that people should never have to deal with. So they weren’t really hip to current music or anything like that. I didn’t have any older siblings. I grew up in a small, super-Christian town in Oklahoma so there was nobody. Nobody knew shit about metal. And I just happened to find out about Black Sabbath just on my own. And that’s the shit I liked.

I don’t know if I’m an old soul or if it’s being raised by people from an older generation. I heard Jimi Hendrix and CCR and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I loved all that shit. Jimi Hendrix is the reason I started playing guitar, but then when I heard Black Sabbath, I was, “Oh, that’s my shit, I’m a metalhead. That’s what I am.” I felt it in my fucking DNA.

So all my music discovery from there was just through Black Sabbath. I got into Metallica. I got into Pantera. I would just look at promo photos of Pantera and see what fucking shirts they were wearing and check those bands out — Eyehategod, Crowbar, whatever. [Then] I moved to Arkansas, found out about a ton of shit through there. I’m in a place where I can see the connecting threads.

And like you said, nobody was calling Black Sabbath a doom metal band even though they invented it. They didn’t even call themselves heavy metal. They still don’t, even though they invented it. They were Black Sabbath.

All the bands that invented [doom metal] — Trouble, Saint Vitus — they got superfast, shreddy shit. They play riffs. They don’t just sit on one fucking chord ’till it feeds back. So, in that sense, you can call us a doom band if you’re comparing us to bands like Trouble or Candlemass or Pentagram or whatever, bands that have actual fucking riffs. But, in the modern sense, yeah, I don’t think we’re a doom band. We have too many riffs. There’s too much shit going on.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter to me what people call it. I want the people that need to hear it, to hear it and to feel something, to make them feel better or feel something like what Black Sabbath made me feel when I was younger. I needed that shit in my life, so I’m just trying to give that back. That’s what’s important to me: Does it resonate with you?

One song that did resonate was “Angel of Abyss.” It reminded me of one of those classic Ozzy power ballads.

I looked at some tried and true, very beloved metal albums and they all have a track four ballad. That’s a very common move! I did it on the last album [“Starless Age (Enshrined)”] and I knew before I even started writing this album that I was gonna that track four ballad shit again.

Curse and Divided are, in my eyes, companion albums much in the same sense as Ride the Lightning/Master of Puppets, or before that, Blizzard of Oz/Diary of a Madman. If you look at the sequencing of Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman, the overall arch and the type of songs that are on those albums, and then you look at Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, it’s very similar.

I’m not suggesting that Metallica ripped off Ozzy or anything like that, although I think they would be fine with that accusation. It’s no secret that they were fucking obsessed with Sabbath. But I thought that was a cool thing. There are parallels between the first two Ozzy albums, and Ride the Lightning/Master of Puppets. So I kind of used some of those ideas as frameworks. I said, okay, clearly this works. I’m going to do this in my own way. I’m going to use this format that works for these bands and I’m going to put my own music into that.

When I was working on that song, I was actually listening to a lot of Tony Martin [era] Sabbath, but oddly enough, there’s such a parallel there that I think you can hear an Ozzy solo thing, too. I was definitely listening to a lot of Randy Rhoads, specifically listening to his guitar work.

I even hear a little non-metallic influence; most specifically “The Way of Return” seems very much like Pink Floyd. The guitar solo has a David Gilmour vibe.

Hell yeah, good ear! Joe [Rowland] from Pallbearer got me into Tangerine Dream a couple years ago. He was really a fan of that electronic music. I grew up listening to fucking country and Black Flag; I never really got into the electronic stuff but I did in the past couple years and I got obsessed. I got every Tangerine Dream record from their Virgin Records period and just listened to that shit all day, every day, taking it in.

I knew I was going to do an instrumental — much like the track four ballad, I’m doing an instrumental! I wanted to close the album with an instrumental. And I was like, I can’t fuck around. I can’t do some two-minute interlude to close the album. I have to do something fucking insane, otherwise it’s going to be boring and what’s the point?

I struggled with it for a while but I got this “a-ha” moment where I was like, what would be cool is to do a song that sounds like Spirit Adrift, Tangerine Dream, and Pink Floyd are all on a stage together just playing at the same time! [Laughter] That was my guiding light. Once I came up with that idea, I was like fuck yeah, that’ll work. That will be exciting and weird, a powerful way to close the album.

You are also in Gatecreeper who have a lot going on as well. Is it becoming difficult to prioritize things?

Right now it’s okay. Both bands have just been saying no to everything because we had to get records done. Chase and I a long time ago scheduled out this year and next year to a certain extent so we already knew what was going down.

Right now it’s still working. I wouldn’t be surprised that at some point we’ll have to figure something out with the touring. But, you know, one day at a time, dude. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Right now, we’re good to go through the end of this year so I’m not going to trip on how to make this shit work.

We just finished the Gatecreeper record yesterday actually. That’ll be out in October.
But yeah man, it’s a good problem to have if it does end up becoming a problem. It’s a fucking good problem to have if you’re in two bands that people want to be on tour all the time.

Divided by Darkness released today via 20 Buck Spin on vinyl, CD, and digital. The band is touring North America from mid-May through mid-June with Haunt supporting West Coast dates and High Command opening on the East Coast. Stream Divided by Darkness in full below:

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