I had a conversation with Nate Newton from Converge recently. We talked about how there's a certain atmosphere in everything we're hearing in music right now. There's an increasing frequency and anger in the air. Current events are bringing out deep emotions. We spoke about how music has got to get people through whatever the hell we're all living through. Nate put it best when he said, "In addition to speaking up and advocating, people like us have an important job. People need an emotional release. They need a place where they can feel like they're part of something and they aren't alone. It's up to us to create that with music."
I believe there is a movement happening in music today. It feels like everyone is a bit more willing to take it to the edge, to try and change things. Two such bands that represent this for me, in different ways, are Converge and Youth Code. Connected in subversion and in cross-pollinating scenes, all of our bands also transcend the scenes they sprang from. On the eve of our new album with Grave Pleasures, Motherblood, I decided to talk a little bit more to Nate and Sara and see where our common threads started to weave unusual patterns.
Mat McNerney: One of my first music memories where music kind of exploded for me was when I was listening to Slayer in my best friend's back yard and running and jumping into his paddling pool from trees and stuff. We must have been 10 years old. When I look back we were just stupid kids with nowhere to go and too young to even go into the city without our parents. We listened to "Angel Of Death" and it felt really, really extreme. We played that song over and over. It was pure freedom. We were nice, well brought up Catholic boys. I don't think I even put the WW2 themed lyrics into context back then. They were necessarily brutal. Music from that moment just became about so much more than background sounds. It was a way of life and something that started to define us and set us apart. I realise music was my escape and way out of my life and a chance to help me be a person. Do you have a memory like that when it all changed for you?
Nate Newton: I think music was always something that interested me. My parents were pretty cool and let me use the record player at an early age so I remember digging through their records and being totally enthralled by the covers of Diamond Dogs and Rock And Roll Animal and Houses Of The Holy. I was a little scared of them. I needed to listen. Future Legend at the beginning of Diamond Dogs..... I was hooked. I remember thinking "What is this???" So that just made me hungry for music. When I realized it was possible to make my own music I had to. I got a guitar when I was about 12. Took lessons for a few months but didn't care about theory or technique. I wanted to make my own noise. That was pretty much it. I got hungry and stayed hungry I guess. Also, my grandfather was a country western musician. He passed away when I was very young but hearing stories about him growing up made me want to play music too.
Sara Taylor: For me I also kinda got into different music through reading album credits and seeing band names. I am sure you and Nate have similar experiences with getting zines and what turned you on to other bands too. Like really having to dig to find your taste. I remember that my family had just moved from LA to Hawaii right after the riots in 92. I felt so isolated and removed from everyone and I remember being in 6th grade and seeing these kids who were seniors in high school and they were dressed all in black and they were looking all morose and I was like they're the coolest fucking people ever. So like Antichrist Superstar had just come out there was the boom of the Manson thing. And I just wanted to be cool like they are. I went from a kid who loved Metallica to buying Antichrist Superstar and then I got into Skinny Puppy by exploring who produced that album and then from there to really going into all that stuff. That was pre-internet and you depended on magazines to be your tastemaker when you were young.
Mat: Yeah I think having no internet made the passion for music so strong. The whole mythology of it—cause my folks had a vinyl player and I also was able to dig in to what they had, and raid my sisters when she wasn't home. I got into Siouxsie and the banshees that way and Duran Duran, those kind of things started me on a dark path. Our generation of musicians and music lovers, do this with such passion, even though in many ways we're being told it's "a dying art form."
Nate: Music isn't a dying art form. People will always find a new way to explore it and learn from it. People will always come up with something new. So I'm pretty excited to see what's on the horizon. In the meantime I'll just keep making noise the way I enjoy and hopefully keep learning.
Mat: I think in many ways things have actually become more innovative and exciting in this day and age.
Nate: It's all a weird double edged sword. We can wax poetic about how different it was when we were kids and how our experience was different and in our minds somehow more valid (which is silly), or we can realize just how lucky we are that all of this music is available and the fact that it's so readily available is making younger artists come up with new ideas we'd never have imagined. It's amazing!
Mat: It's interesting to me that basically we all come from different scenes, especially when you think of how purist it used to be back in those days, but we have tons of the same influences and touch stones musically. There are a lot of those things about the punk stuff like Samhain and Misfits that went on to influence black metal bands, in the same way it influenced hardcore kids, but it ended up with different genres of music for example. Nowadays it's much more accepted socially to listen to all kinds of music, and wear whatever shirt you want to a show, but I remember that back in the height of death metal you had rumors of people getting their asses handed to them for wearing the wrong shirts at certain shows! Now the "scene" is just an open playing field. I can't think of a better example of that than Roadburn where music is appreciated in the deepest sense
Sara: There are merits to the cross pollination of scenes and at times it is cool. Maybe it's this weird kind of "get off my lawn" mentality I have as I got older but I find that as great as the whole internet thing has been for making things accessible it also makes things are more easily disposable. So the music that I got shit talked for when I was younger, you don't easily have to be into any more. You can go and get a Morbid Angel long sleeve and wear it to some completely different music scene show and people go oh cool you must really know what's up. But do you? Is that something that you really like and that resonates with you. Or have you just bought into it to stand out? So I have this kind of "are you a poser?" mindset that I had when I was younger where I'm like "oh cool you're wearing a Nitzer Ebb shirt, but do you know about Babyland or Wumpscut?" It's like Kim Kardashian wearing a Morbid Angel shirt; you don't have to actually like what you brand yourself with. And that's really scary because subculture was so important to me growing up and still is really important.
Mat: Yeah it's almost like the price to pay for things being much more eclectic and cross-overs being more prolific is that it opens up these once very purist scenes to tourists.
Nate: I cut my teeth in the hardcore punk scene. It's absolutely what I grew up on. There was definitely a uniform and an air of militancy in what was or was not acceptable. In my younger years I totally fell victim to that, so now it's pretty funny to be able to look back at the history of all this stuff and see exactly what you're talking about. How all of these genres that seemed to be polar opposites of one another were pulling from the same small pool of influences and the further you trace it back the smaller that pool becomes. Now it's easy to sort of follow the lines between a band like Converge and a band like Grave Pleasures. We can find the common things in the history of influences and it's so interesting to see how different people utilized those influences over the years and how it influenced us to do what we do. Roadburn seems to be one of the only festivals that really understands that. They seem to really grasp the weird family tree all of this sprung from and understand how it all fits together.
Mat: I always get asked what kind of pre-stage rituals I do. I don't know what they imagine. But I do always try to imagine what Axl Rose does for example. I guess I really don't want to imagine that he's just watching Netflix or something. I don't want it to kill my picture of like what someone I really respect does to create magic on stage!
Nate: I'd love to know what Axl does! I get a little obsessive compulsive with the pre show stuff. Down to getting thrown off if the water bottle on top of my amp is on the wrong side. It's silly I know but if it gets in my head I start making mistakes. So the more calm I am before a show the better.
Mat: When I'm playing I'm in another world. It's like I'm out of my body. The other guys in the band sometimes tell me they saw someone in the crowd or something. But I wouldn't see faces or people. I just feel like all time has stopped. I think Hetfield from Metallica described it as like time travel. In that moment you can live forever.
Sara: For me I really have a chip on my shoulder, that because it's just Ryan and I on stage I have to play as hard as fucking possible. I have to get myself into this weird, self-deprecating state of mind that says you are not good enough but you have to be better and stronger more feral that what you thought you were, you have to be better. And I get into that space, that's when the best performances come out.
Nate: There's that whole scene in Almost Famous when Jason Lee is talking about how he has to turn his mind off to play a show. As silly as it sounded it's actually kind of true. I feel like you spend all this time rehearsing and getting the muscle memory to play your songs just so that when you get on stage you can almost go on autopilot. It's not so you can play everything perfectly or the same every time... it's so you can transcend that. Not to sound like a hippy or anything but the best shows (for me) are the ones where the band is so locked in together that we aren't even thinking about the music anymore. The music is just happening and we're communicating with each other and the audience on a totally different plane. The music is just a base level for that. That's where you find the real energy, and the real passion. When you're beyond the point of just playing your songs.
Mat: We do that musically too I think, with a very crossover fanbase of goths, punks, and metal heads. I still have that need to break free of those constraints and to try to push things musically and to. I guess in feeling like you have achieved that, you feel liberated.
Nate: Exactly! It just makes me hungry to figure out new ways to make whatever it is my bands do fresh and interesting. I think ultimately if you have passion for what you're doing and it shows then people will be interested in it. I think that is what people are hungry for. Passion.
Mat: It's that passion I think that makes things so magical for me about what we do. Touring and life on the road. Connecting with people and the experiences that brings.
Sara: I mean once you live in it for a month, on those magic tours, you don't get back to being normal. One thing about being in this industry, what is really magical is when you get into music at that tender age, it really shapes everything about you. It has fully changed me as a human being. I wouldn't know what kind of person I would be if I hadn't been 18 years old and living in a van with a bunch of psychopaths. It's beautiful. I wouldn't trade this weird carnie life I have made for myself for anything in the world. Like sure it would be nice to walk away with a million dollars. But imagine how fucking boring life would be without these elements of danger that we've experienced from being people that have travelled and performed for a living.
Grave Pleasures' new record Motherblood is out September 29 on Century Media Records. Pre-order it here.
Grave Pleasures Tour Dates
9/22 Tampere, FI - Olympia
9/28 Oslo, NO - Revolver
9/30 Helsinki, FI - Kuudes Linja
10/11 Frankfurt, DE - Zoom
10/12 Berlin, DE - Cassiopeia
10/13 Hamburg, DE - Markthalle
10/14 Cologne, DE - Jungle
10/28 Mannheim, DE - Wir Sind Die Toten Fest
11/1 Paris, FR - Point Ephemere
11/4 Leeds, UK - Damnation Festival
11/5 Brighton, UK - Hope & Ruin
11/6 Bristol, UK - Exchange
11/7 London, UK - Electrowerkz
11/9 Glasgow, UK - Garage Attic
11/10 Wolverhampton, UK - The Slade Rooms