Austin Lucas vs. Converge’s Nate Newton: An Artist to Artist Interview
It's been a long time since we've hosted an "artist vs. artist" interview here at Invisible Oranges, and I wanted our first foray back into that world to be something interesting and special. Former death metal and hardcore frontman gone country artist Austin Lucas cherishes his musical background, having written about His Hero Is Gone for us in 2018. Nate Newton is, as many know, the legendary Converge's bassist and also exists among the ranks of bands the likes of Old Man Gloom, Doomriders, Split Cranium, and other metalpunk luminaries. Austin first had the idea to speak with Nate, with whom he had shared concert billings in the 1990s, in the summer of 2020, and it took a little wrangling to get just right (holidays, scheduling conflicts), but the result is an interesting, impassioned discussion about the old days of hardcore, social justice, memory, and inclusivity in martial arts.
Nate and I have known of each other loosely since the 1990's. Or maybe it's more honest to say that I've known who he was and have been watching him and his bands evolve for many years. While he has been someone who I long admired from afar, he became an ally of mine entirely unexpectedly sometime in the 2000's.
I want to talk about that, but first I want to set the stage for how I got to know who you were.
In 1997, my band Twenty Third Chapter played a festival in Indianapolis, and a Virginia band called Canephora shared the bill, that band completely blew us away. And, serendipitously, both bands walked away from that festival with slated releases on Moo Cow Records. I think it's fairly safe to say that we had formed a mutual admiration for each other following both of our sets that day.
I had no idea about that but this is totally blowing my mind!
It's funny, right? Anyway, I'm not sure if I was excited to see them before the festival because they had members of Jesuit, or if I checked out Jesuit directly following because they had been so fucking killer, but from that point on, many records were bought and I feel like I watched as your musical trajectory just accelerated, at least from an outsider's perspective. Regardless of how it felt, you quickly became someone whose projects I paid attention to because I always knew they were going to be outstanding. Which was why in 2006, when Brent Eyestone of Magic Bullet records reached out to me about releasing an album and said that he'd discovered me somehow through you my mind was thoroughly blown.
Yeah, I discovered you through our tour manager Tomaš Mladek.
That's cool because he had just released the first Guided Cradle album.
I love that album, by the way!
Wow, thanks so much! It makes sense now, but it seemed so insane at the time that someone whose musical endeavors I'd been following for years -- but had no direct contact with -- would end up having a direct effect on my life.
Well that's cool, I hope it was a positive effect.
It absolutely was!
I get what you mean though because I definitely have those moments where I'm like, wait, you know who I am? You've heard my band? Really??? I guess I've lived out in the suburbs for so long that I'm not really surrounded by people who know this world. So, when I do meet someone who is familiar with my bands, I'm always like, what? How do you know that? Because in my mind we're still the same band who played to 25 people. But with your stuff, from the first time I heard it I was like, this stuff is awesome and people need to hear it. So I was genuinely happy to help in any way that I could.
It was really cool, because I remember the first time I saw the logo for Magic Bullet was on the back of This Screaming, This Crying… by Boysetsfire. I had seen them play in Dayton and bought that record, then followed both them and Magic Bullet Records for years. So having Brent Eyestone write me and also telling me that he had discovered me through you was this whole full circle that just made my mind explode.
That's what's so cool about this little ecosystem we've created, people from our era are just genuinely interested in helping each other and making interesting things happen. That's the way I look at it at least and I hope that's how it is.
I think that's true with people from that era of hardcore who grew up in the way that we did. I've encountered it multiple times and I always kind of see it when I begin talking to someone from that era, before it starts to sink in how much we have in common. I had a similar moment of recognition with Trever Keith from Face To Face when he invited me to come out and open up for them.
I know, I was like... HOLY SHIT! Fucking Face To Face wants me to play shows with them!!! I've listened to them since I was in high school! But my point is that he and I were hanging out and he was like, wait, you were a hardcore kid in the 1990s?!?! And all of a sudden this whole world opened up and we started talking about our shared values and that was one of them, for sure! This desire to lift each other up is something that people from our DIY community from that era really do actually believe in.
Yeah, for sure! It was just so small then and it's just so different now. Culture in general is just so different now. Things that made you a freak when we were kids is just so par for the course now and because of us growing up back then it just kind of ingrained itself into us. Like, the freaks gotta look out for the other freaks! You gotta find your tribe and help each other out. It's sorta the same with skateboarding and the way I've approached my entire life, I guess.
That's interesting, I think we can maybe transition into talking about what it is that you're doing right now. Because I know that you've been spending a lot of time at the skatepark, helping kids learn to skate and that's been something you are passionate about. Do you want to talk about that some?
Yeah sure! I've been skateboarding since I was five years old, so it's just a part of my life as much as music is, although I've been a little more successful with music. I'm definitely not talented at skateboarding but I can get by and that's about it, but I've gotten to the point in my life where I can actually help make things happen. Like, in my town, where I've been 11 years now. There was no skate park and I've seen kids who were skateboarders grow up and become adults who had nowhere to go. So about 5 years ago I was introduced to the woman who runs the department of recreation here and I asked why isn't there a skate park, let's build a skate park. And she was all for it, she was like, I want to do it! And I was like, then we're gonna do it this time! So it was about 4 years of going back and forth with the town and doing all sorts of paperwork and fighting the good fight. Until we finally got the ok and also got a grant from the Essex county cultural foundation. Then pulled together a group of skaters who all worked in the trades and a bunch of them who actually build skateparks for a living now. We're really lucky in that respect where I am, because we've got a lot of people who do that and are good at it. So when I came to them with the idea, saying hey, I've got this spot to do this and the town is open to it, now we've got a grant and we just need help. Everyone came and worked for free and we got a bunch of materials donated and built a concrete skatepark. So to get to what you actually asked me, there really wasn't much of a culture here.
When the park opened it was about 90% kids on scooters. There were a couple of older kids who skated and then a bunch of old farts like me who were coming out and skating but we kind of watched slowly how the kids who were on scooters started to be like, I wanna skateboard! Then they started showing up with boards and wanting to learn, so it's gone from mostly scooters to mostly skaters now. Which has been really cool because the kids are excited now and you can kinda see that light go off over their heads. For a little while they were just a kid with a skateboard and now that kid IS a skateboarder y'know, you can tell!
So yeah, I just sorta fell into giving lessons because I was helping kids around the park, watching them do things wrong. I'd be like hey, push with your other foot, or the reason you're falling every time you try to drop in is because of this, and that kind of stuff. So parents started asking me if I'd give their kid a lesson too and at first I was like, I don't really do that, but sure. Then it just turned into everyday of the week when my daughter's in school, I'm giving lessons at the skatepark. It's been fun and I think it's a lot of the same thing we were talking about with punk and hardcore. It's just so cool to watch people realize that they can do something and to be able to help and cultivate a culture around here has been a really positive thing during COVID. With all the negative shit in the world, it would be really easy to just fall into a total depression, so I'm thankful that I've been able to do that.
It's so powerful for me to hear you talk about that, because I don't know if you charge for skate lessons but I'm assuming that if you do, you probably started out doing it mostly for free.
Dude, I tried to do it for free! Like, I was doing it for free and parents would ask me to teach a lesson and I'd just tell them to meet me in the park and I'd help them and they started just giving me money. I was like, I'd just do this for free anyway and they'd be like, you're helping our kid and we want to pay you, take the fucking money! And I was like, that's weird but... sure?
That's like my Muay Thai journey as a martial artist, I've only been doing it seriously for a little over five years but because of my job, being a professional musician, I've always got time. I can make my own schedule and when I'm on tour I can seek out a gym and do a drop in, which is another crazy community building thing that I've been able to do as well. But I started coaching really early on because I noticed that there were young people who were intimidated at the gym. Not to mentioned women, BIPOC members of the community, anyone who was queer or trans. If they walked into the gym it was a naturally uninviting environment for them and I noticed immediately that if someone didn't foster some type of a relationship with them, they wouldn't stick around. So well before I probably should have been coaching anyone, I was already going over and offering to work with new students and show them things. When I went to Thailand to train, I went there because I wanted to be a better coach. Most people who go there are going because they want to be a great fighter or they have some aspiration that they are going to be a professional or whatever. But for me, I've had a couple of fights and might take a few more but I'm in my 40's and I'm not trying to go pro. I only want to be able to pass on competent knowledge to other people, I want to be good at that!
So yeah, now I train people and they often try to pay me for it and I'm like, I just wanna hangout, of course I can help you but that's not what I'm trying to do. Whenever they're like, how much? I'm like, shut up, I don't want any money! It wasn't until parents started asking me to give their kids lessons that I started allowing it. Because I think parents feel that if you're spending time with their kid, you probably deserve to be paid for it. Haha, like it's some sort of thankless task that you need to get paid for. Which is funny because I legitimately get so much out of just helping people and enjoy watching them grow. But I think people are so used to this capitalist economy, where everyone expects to be paid for labor. Clearly I'm not saying that people don't deserve to be paid for their time and labor, not at all! What I am saying is that I do this thing for fun! I just like hanging out and teaching people how to kick and punch things and me... and other people. Haha, I get a lot out of consensual violence and I know a lot of other people might be able to gain something as well. Since it has given me so much confidence, allowed me to pretty much best my anxiety and depression disorders. So if I can give other people the tools to access what I've gotten, I'm just like dude, fucking take it!
I totally get it, I can tell you as an outsider, watching that journey online from afar. I could just see it happening for you and I was like damn, I'm so fucking stoked for Austin. Really, it genuinely made me happy.
Thank you, Nate!
And what you're saying about going to Thailand to learn how to teach is fucking great! It's kind of the same for me, like I know I'm not going to be a pro skater but I can teach you the basics but then again it's not about me. People go to train in Thailand because it's about them, it's for them, they want to prove to themselves that they can be a fighter and can meet a goal. And that's fucking great but what I really love about what you just told me is that it wasn't about you, it was about your love for martial arts and wanting to share that. There are a lot of similar dynamics with women and trans people and BIPOC within skateboarding. There are these weird kinds of walls, where if you show up at a skatepark, even if you don't fall into any of those categories but just if you've never really stood on a skateboard before, it's intimidating. Especially when you see these people who are charging and just going for it. You see people who feel like they don't belong there and I'm always just like, you do belong, get in here, come on! I'm welcoming you because you have a skateboard and because of that, we're friends now.
To bring it back to where we started, I really feel like that came from being a part of the DIY punk and hardcore scene. Because someone new would show up and you'd think, who's this person? Hey cool, new person... come hangout and meet all your new friends, we're here for you. So like everything in my life can be traced back to the first time I stepped on a skateboard. I never would have found hardcore, I never would have been interested in music... none of it! So skateboarding for me and sharing that with young people, I'm not just doing this because I want to see you get good at skateboarding. I'm doing this because I know all the different doors this can open in your life.
And it's not for everybody but just showing how being into something or anything and all the doors it can open for a person is important.
Well yeah, one thing is never going to be for everyone. Which is why different niches exist because everyone has different shit that they're into. That's what makes the world a panoply of awesome, there's no one size fits all. There are only many different things that you can get something out of and for me it's all about just being around and letting folks know that I'm available if they're interested in coming to learn. It's actually interesting because I've noticed that there are people who genuinely hate that I'm so open about sharing my knowledge. There are so many people who are like gatekeepers and their whole entire personality or business model is based upon acting like they are the only source for this thing. And you get serious contempt when you show up and are just willing to do something for the sheer joy of it and they see people start gravitating toward you.
For example, I've seen gym owners become suspicious or intimidated by me because when I start training at their gym, with my attitude about being open, people start coalescing around me. And I sometimes have a hard time convincing them that I'm not there to steal their students. I'm here to make your gym better, I'm just another person who's hanging out and is willing to put in the time and foster relationships with people because I want to see everyone do better.
Well that's like how just trying to be open and welcoming, rather than being a gatekeeper or something... I don't even know how to put it into words. Like, I know nothing about Muay Thai and have never set foot in a gym before but I imagine it's a lot like skateboarding. Where you show up at a spot and there're the heavy rippers over there and those dudes don't make eye contact, they don't talk to anybody and are like no, you aren't even on my level. And I'm like, fuck you! Yeah you are, everyone here is on the same fucking level, as long as you're being cool. If you're having fun, who gives a fuck! All I'm here to do, is show you that you're allowed to be here, you're welcome here and you can have fun! Have fucking fun!
I mean, there are gatekeepers in music, there are gatekeepers everywhere and it's fucking stupid. Like I understand the capitalist side of it because we all are trapped in this bullshit and have to make a living too but y'know, you can at least make it positive for people.
That's probably one of the things that I've had the most frustration with in music is that gatekeeper mentality. I'm sure you've seen this before, it's probably happened to you as well. But I've metaphorically speaking, given people the shirt off of my back on their way up in the music business and sort of watched them rise and been dedicated to figuring out the ways I could help them and who I might be able to connect them with or what I could do to help them along. And y'know, only to have them, like, slam the door in my face as I'm kind of like, following them along from behind. Which is always kind of like, what the fuck? I thought we were just hanging out and doing things together and being pals and now you're gatekeeping on me?
It's so weird and just goes to show that not everyone gets the same thing out of it and I've kind of spent a lot of my time in this world just trying my best to associate with lifers instead of careerists. That specific wording is something I took from Brent Eyestone, actually. He verbalized it and I was like oh, that's exactly what I was trying to say. And there's just such a stark difference between people who are in it because that's just who they are and someone who is trying to get somewhere. You can see those people from a mile away and you can see them when they are playing the game. And I don't have any interest in playing the game. I'm here to make music with my friends and share it with people and hopefully create some joy for myself and share some joy with people and that's it. Yeah, we live in a capitalist society and hopefully we can make some money doing this but whatever, that's kind of it.
It's crazy because I honestly never gave a shit about my "career" until I moved to Nashville, being there for 3 years totally fucking corrupted my psychology and made me start to see it as a hustle. It was fucking weird, never in my life have I felt so worthless and so much like I needed to improve my station than I did in that time period. I went from being a person who didn't give a shit about the music industry at all, to being someone who was chomping at the bit to figure out how I could get in there and satisfy those fucking people. It was such a weird experience because it had a huge part of my becoming suicidally depressed and anxious beyond comprehension. It wasn't until I fucking bailed on Nashville and went back home to Bloomington that I slowly started returning to normal. It was like the Hulk coming back to Bruce Banner and I was like where the fuck am I, my clothes are all fucking ripped and I don't even know what happened.
That makes sense man, because you come from a scene and a culture where that's never been the goal but then you go to a place like Nashville, which is a music factory. And it's filled with people who aren't necessarily there to follow their passion. They're there to make money and to work and that's fine but all the shit that goes along with that, it's just pointless in the world we come from. Like, I can see how you would succumb to that if you're in a place that's just steeped in it and people living with that mentality. How you might think that you were somehow fucking up. Then it takes some time to get away from it before you realize like, oh yeah, I don't need that. It's a weird thing and I'm grateful that none of my bands have been based in any industry cities. I mean, Boston has always had a music scene but you aren't in a "music city." We weren't in LA, we weren't in places where it was a business and we were just doing it for fun and got lucky that it sort of turned into something else but I think we've all worked really hard to avoid that whole world. I've had this conversation with people who are in that major label world and they're playing the game, doing all the stuff you're supposed to do and we just don't fucking care, why would you do that? I feel like the way to do it is to do your own thing, create something that can't be ignored and keep doing it your own way. So that world has to come to you and they have to do things the way that you want to do them. Or just keep doing what you're doing, your way and have fucking fun and survive that way. I don't know... it's all so fucking weird.
Yeah, I think it's funny because you say you got lucky but I think you just put out quality art and people responded to it and they kept responding to it. And you just kept doing the rad thing that you were doing. At the end of the day, that's the only thing you can do unless you're some sort of smash hit sensation in the world of music that just has some sort of explosion. If you're making something that's on your own terms, you have to keep working on it and chipping away at it and continue making the art that you want to see in the world. I always try to tell young or newer artists who ask me about my career or songwriting that they just gotta create the thing that they want to hear or see. If you want to hear something and you aren't hearing enough of this particular type of music then that's what you should do. You shouldn't do the thing that you think will make you a bunch of money, you should just be whatever you're missing.
It seems so simple.
It seems like it and it is actually, in a lot of ways.
But a lot of just people don't handle that and so they do things that they think they are supposed to do. Like oh, this is what people want and so this is what I'm going to do and sometimes that works, but I tell people basically the same thing as what you were saying. I tell people don't make any record they wouldn't buy themselves and enjoy what you're doing, because if people see you enjoying what you are doing, then they are going to believe in it and they're going to enjoy it too. Whereas if it just looks like you're going through the motions, nobody is going to fucking care.
That's fucking right, man... so fucking true. It's the simplest advice, which is kind of the thing that I'm always trying to tell people about all sorts of shit. Like, it's a lot easier than you think it is, even though finding your way to seeing that is way more difficult than I'm making it sound. I just think that you get different types of people, some do the thing that the industry wants and some do whatever they really want to do. Sometimes they do that and then don't understand why people aren't responding to it the way that they would like them to. That's actually been a big problem for me over the years, releasing some albums and seeing that people aren't responding to it the way that I hoped that they would. Or shopping a record to different labels and just being told no, over and over again.
Oh my god, that's the worst.
Totally, coming to terms with the fact that not everyone is going to respond positively to something that I'm passionate about has been a long and difficult process for me. Getting comfortable with what a weirdo I am and also realizing that not everyone is going to like the weird shit that I'm putting into the world.
Absolutely, but like, we sought it out when we were young. We wanted to be different, we wanted to find only a tiny little cluster of people that thought the same as us, so how can we expect large amounts of people to like this thing that we do, that we specifically created to turn people away. Haha, does that make sense?
[Laughs] Oh my god, totally, everyone except the folks who are like us.
Yep, and that's a hard thing for people to wrap their minds around, I mean it's hard for me to wrap my mind around. It's why I stopped reading reviews and it drew me to the conclusion that once you make art and you put it out into the world, it's not yours anymore. People are going to evaluate it or assign meaning to it that you never even would have thought of. They will think what they are going to think about it and you have no control over that, so all you can do is make sure that you said what you wanted to say and make sure that was clear. Beyond that, I don't fucking care what they do with it. I hope they like it but if they don't, it's not for them and that's fucking fine.
Well at least it's safe to say that you have released a lot of records that were definitely for me, over the years.
So have you, man!
Thanks so much, Nate, I really appreciate that! It's been so much fun talking to you.
Austin Lucas released Alive in the Hot Zone on October 30th, 2020 via Cornelius Chapel Records.
Converge released Beautiful Ruin on June 28th, 2018 via Epitaph and Deathwish.
The picture of Nate in the header image is from show photography by Ben Stas in Boston, 2017.