Nathan Gray & The Iron Roses rock Askew

Posted 2/23/22

Nathan Gray is looking to bring people together with a new project. The vocalist of the Newark, Delaware posthardcore act BoySetsFire already has the lineup completed, but he wants to create a much …

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Nathan Gray & The Iron Roses rock Askew


Nathan Gray is looking to bring people together with a new project. The vocalist of the Newark, Delaware posthardcore act BoySetsFire already has the lineup completed, but he wants to create a much needed dose of unity within the audience. Via his latest solo release Rebel Songs that he put out on December 21 with his backing band The Iron Roses, he aims to accomplish this with messages and themes that everyone can identify with while undergoing a slight artistic reinvention. In support of the album, he and the band will be kicking off their tour at Askew on 150 Chestnut Street in Providence. Cumberland, Maryland alt-folk artist Black Guy Fawkes and Boston rockers The Quins will be rounding out the bill.

Gray and I talked ahead of the show about how the band he’s currently with is different than his main band, weaving in different styles, experiencing a musical reawakening and running the cycle of being on tour and writing new material.

Rob Duguay: The music you create with The Iron Roses has more of a straight ahead rock vibe than the posthardcore and punk leaning material you’ve done with BoySetsFire. What inspired this artistic route with the new band?

Nathan Gray: The biggest emphasis behind the change in sound was not only going back to the roots of what I loved, which stemmed from punk like The Clash and ElvisCostello. The latter could be taken more as rock but not only that, there’s also a lot of experimentation with reggae and hip hop. That’s what I think is one of the biggest highlights of our album Rebel Songs, songs like “Look Alive”, “Radio Silence”, “Grace” and certain parts throughout where I just wanted to expand from where I had been. Obviously for 25-30 years I’ve been doing hardcore music but that’s not the only thing I’m interested in and it’s not the only thing I do. If I were to take away my part from BoySetsFire it would have been the more melodic stuff that we did.

Doing a more melodic, power pop vibe and then throwing hints of reggae, hip hop, dub and stuff like that into it was just a way to break away from what’s been done already and to forge new ground. 

RD: How would you describe the experience of making Rebel Songs? Did you feel like it was a reawakening for you or a new chapter in your career as a musician?

NG: Oh yeah, without a doubt. Despite the fact that I’ve released a couple of other albums solo, those were very different from this. I count this as my first real solo album because it’s really the direction I wanted to go in whereas the other ones were sort of me finding my way to where I wanted to be. With Rebel Songs I finally hit the nail on the head in my own opinion and this is where I’ll be going from here with my music.

RD: You mentioned how the album weaves in elements of hip hop, dub and reggae but it’s not overbearing. At the same time, they’re noticeable within the rock sound that’s being created and it makes for an interesting listening experience. It’s kind of like a musical trifle in a sense where these different layers of styles and sounds are coming through but it’s all digestible.

NG: Right.

RD: What made you want to include hip hop, reggae and dub? Were you listening to a lot of that stuff while making the album?

NG: It’s funny, a lot of the stuff that I was listening to was by this artist named Tobe Nwigwe and he’s been blowing up recently on the internet. Atmosphere is also definitely something I’ve listened to a lot but there was a lot of hip hop and a lot of reggae with Toots & The Maytals, Bob Marley and things like that. You have this music that influences you and inspires you but you never go “Hey!

Maybe I can do that.” I really needed to test myself first before trying it because you could really ruin it by doing something like that. I got in touch with friends and people who were helping me write that were in touch with the hip hop scene and who were into reggae.

For real, that was their style and I was like “Look, don’t let me look like an idiot here, you’re my friend and please help me out. If I send this to you and you think it sucks then tell me it sucks and I will steer away from it.” When I sent some of that influence up to people who knew what they were talking about they said “This is great, keep going. It sounds like you’re doing your own take on it as opposed to just doing a rap song or just doing a reggae song.” That was great, it was a great inspiration to keep going with it and honestly it was one of those things where it was organic but I was also looking back at those old punk albums that I listened to. I realized that these types of music can mix so I figured why not?

RD: I totally got that, putting your own spin on it really astounded me. There’s ways to do it wrong and there’s ways to do it right and you did it right which I really enjoyed while listening to the album. Overall, There’s definitely a triumphant and resilient tone within the music. Was that something you were going for from the beginning with this record or did it sort of materialize by itself as the process went along?

NG: It happened fairly early in the writing process which I started in March of 2020 exactly when the pandemic hit and exactly when our tour got canceled right in the middle of it. I came home feeling pretty defeated but of course like a lot of us I figured it would be a couple weeks not nearly two years. Through that time as I started writing I was trying to figure out since BoySetsFire has always been a politically based band with political and social overtones and those were things I brought into the band with my lyrics. I was thinking about bringing this without it being so heavy-handed, without being so angry, without being so frustrated and while also not having any real solution to it. We’ve all been through some pretty dark crap recently, we’ve all been through this and I needed to find a way to make this situation a bit more positive, a bit more joyful, a bit more inspiring than just angry.

I’ve been making angry music for too long and in my own opinion I don’t think anybody needs angry music right now, we got plenty of anger going on. In order to inspire folks with the message that I’m bringing, it’s the idea of bringing people into your message and your ideas by not being a jerk about it. Not being so heavy-handed and angry, I think that’s the main overall focus when I sat down to write. Political and social commentary is going to come up but how do I do it differently than I’ve done it before in the past and make it a bit more personal, joyful and energetic? That’s what I was going for.

RD: After this run of shows you have going on with the Iron Roses until next month, what are your plans?

NG: Usually as far as I’m concerned, I think that the schedule keeps me moving and keeps me on the road but then I start writing after that first tour. We’ll go out to do these shows, see how it goes and then just keep moving. We already started planning into October after this summer and we already got some dates in Europe and things like that if that works out. I think that’s the cycle, after the first tour you focus mainly on the first album, then you keep moving and touring as you write and then we’ll see what comes from there. Right now, since this album is sort of my first solo album with the Iron Roses we really need to get out and prove ourselves. We need to get into these clubs, get out to these shows and play these songs live so people can pay attention to what we’re doing.


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