Originally published in: Wonka Vision Magazine
Album: The Misery Index: Notes from the Plague Years (Equal Vision Records)
Random thoughts: One of my all-time favourite interviews. Read on...
NATHAN GRAY OF BOYSETSFIRE
Misery and Triumph: Notes from the Gray Years
By Jason Schreurs
Those who have followed Boysetsfire over the years are well aware of their enigmatic singer, Nathan Gray. But how many know his story? Gray’s modest upbringing in Delaware and Florida shaped him, and a tragic case of abuse almost broke him, but he remains the leader of one of the world’s most integral hardcore bands despite having lived 10 dangerous years that almost cost him his life. Gray has inspired so many people in the past decade with his heartfelt lyrics and impassioned singing (and, yes, screaming), something that is only magnified in light of what he’s gone through.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in 1972 in Wilmington, Delaware. I grew in Newark until I was 13, and I grew up pretty fucking poor for most of my life. My parents struggled pretty hard. My mom worked in a diner and my dad worked in a factory for awhile and, at the same time, started thinking about becoming a minister. We moved when I was 13 from Newark to Pensacola, Florida so my dad could go to theological school. We struggled so hard but my parents always made sure I was fed, I never worried about getting hit, I never worried about them beating on each other, or getting loaded and leaving me abandoned somewhere. I had an awesome childhood because when you’re that poor, you don’t know it. That’s just how it is.
So when did you move back to Delaware?
Things weren’t working out in Florida and [my parents] wanted to move back. When I was 19, we moved to Maryland, which is right outside Delaware. We jumped from church to church for jobs for him.
How much was religion a part of your life when you were a kid?
Through no fault of my parents other than they didn’t notice, the one church in Pensacola really fucked me up. They were horrible, horrible people. And I have so many issues that I still deal with today. If you listen to the song “With Cold Eyes” [on Boysetsfire’s latest, The Misery Index: Notes from the Plague Years], it’s about that. I was abused by them in every shape, form, and idea. Up until I was 17, I was horrified of listening to rock music, drinking, smoking, having sex, or anything like that, and it wasn’t until I was 19 that I started becoming more comfortable with rock music—go figure, I’m in a band now. It wasn’t until 19 when I had my first drink. And I went fucking ballistic from there. That’s one of the most horrible things religion can do to kids. They repress you for so long and then you get to a certain point and you explode! I had 10 years of a near-death experience because of it. I was doing everything, trying everything, to the point where, seriously, it’s a miracle I’m not dead.
Why do we always hear rumors about you being gay?
[Laughs] I think it’s partially my fault and partially other people’s fault. During those 10 years, I was definitely a confused person. I was experimenting. Some things were good experiments. Some things were bad experiments. Coming from a repressed background, I did a lot of things I’m either proud of or not proud of, but they are a part of me. But I’m not gay, and I found that out pretty quickly.
Would you consider yourself bisexual?
No. And I went through both phases. Thinking I was bi, thinking I was gay, to the point I was convinced of both at one point or the other. And then it just wasn’t me. It just wasn’t. I went through a lot of soul-searching and realizing what I want out of life, out of a partner, sexually, emotionally, and it just doesn’t appeal to me. And I may be one of the only people that can say, “Yeah, I guess it was just a phase” [laughs].
Did some good come out of it because you were a positive role model for some kids in the hardcore scene?
Oh, absolutely. And even though I was confused, I’m glad I put that out there because I’m sure there were other people struggling with their sexuality, and that was probably a big help for them, either to think I was gay, or to realize I was struggling with my own sexuality and my own feelings, and to realize they’re not alone.
Does it get annoying having to answer the “gay” question all the time?
Only to the extent I don’t always care to talk about it because people make up their minds quick. They don’t know me. They don’t have any idea what I’m into. I am really glad I went through those years of experimenting and almost dying to find out who I was. Because now I’m so stable in who I am. I went through the homosexuality phase, I also went through a phase where I blew a good deal of money on coke and ended up in the hospital a couple of times before I realized, “This is stupid.” And I haven’t touched that stuff in years. This wasn’t that long ago, my experimenting with drugs probably ended around 2002 when Tomorrow Come Today came out, so I’ve been clean over three years. It was a rough time. That shit will fuck you. Cocaine is one of those drugs that you think is going to be fun, and it feels like a good time, but honestly it turns you into an asshole. There’s just nothing positive about that shit. It’s destroyed so many of my friends, it destroyed me, it almost killed me… yeah, I won’t get too preachy, but I’m glad I went through all of that. I know who I am now.
Do you feel like that phase of your life was a reaction to some of things that happened in your childhood?
It completely was. When I look back and think of some horrific things that happened to me as a child, especially with the church, it really shaped some of the dumb things I did sexually and with drugs. But I can look back at my childhood and not feel fear anymore. I can look back at almost any horrific incident in my past and say, “Hey, that taught me something. It’s for the better. Fuck it.”
How did you continue to be a spiritual person after what happened with the church?
The fact that I had one positive role model in my parents for my spirituality is probably what saved me from turning my back on it altogether. I’m not too stoked on it, and I’d say I’m more agnostic than anything, but I do still have a belief that there’s a God somewhere, and there’s something to it... But I’m not angry. I’m not angry at God. I’m not angry at my parents. I’m not even angry at people that have done me wrong in the past, because they’re gone; they’re part of my past.
Did you ever go through any therapy?
No. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve almost lost my mind and I think I’m too stubborn to let it happen. There’s one part of my brain that says, “You’re talking crazy. Step back a minute…” Even when I’m having panic attacks, I know I’m having them and I can rationalize it and get through it really quickly.
Now that I’ve heard your story it makes a lot more sense that you’re up there screaming in a band like Boysetsfire.
It definitely makes a lot more sense when you get to know us; who we are and what we’ve been through. We’ve all been through some weird shit and it’s why the band is so schizophrenic, and why we’re so angry. The band is almost like our psychiatric couch where we just put everything out there. I think that’s what keeps us alive. I can tell you if it wasn’t for this band, that 10 years of near-death experience would have turned out to be five years until I died. It would have been over… We give to the band by giving our neuroses to the band, and the band gives to us by taking those same neuroses.
For more info, go to: http://www.boysetsfire.org/