Track By Track: Nathan Gray & The Iron Roses – Rebel Songs

Nathan Gray & The Iron Roses
Photo by Nicole Dixon

Rebel Songs” by Nathan Gray & The Iron Roses is coming out on vinyl on July 22nd via Iodine Records. Nathan was kind to break down each song exclusively for Thoughts Words Action.

You can pre-order “Rebel SongsHERE


The ReckoningI think many artists know the second they write the song that was meant to open an album. That was The Reckoning for me – I wrote that chorus, and that was it for me. It was the first time I had ever started demoing songs in Logic as opposed to just writing with a busted old guitar and recording bits and pieced on the voice memo function of my iphone. It gave me Elvis Costello vibes and it set the tone for the whole album. I tried many times to replace it as the “first” song but couldn’t see anything else holding that spot – that line “The system might have got you but it won’t get me” is a nod to Crass’ song “Big A little a”.

Look Alive was the first time I ever tried adding hip-hop influences into my body of work, which was terrifying and invigorating all at once. It presented a perfect opportunity to add my friend Eugenuis into the mix, who had recently sampled one of my old band’s songs. He really added a bit of his own style into this song, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It’s the first song on the album that shows what an insane mix of influences the rest of this album will bring – reggae, punk, hip hop, fuck…it’s like a “buckle up!” moment.

Rebel Songs was always going to be the title track – I came up with this one in the parking lot of my grocery store! It was this melody and some words that kept nagging at the back of my brain, and I ran out to the car and kept singing it over and over into my phone because I was terrified to forget it by the time I got back home. It is a straightforward Nathan Gray song – melodic punk rock. It was one that I just allowed to be what it is. It made sense to get in touch with my friend Tim McIlrath to see if he would be interested in throwing in his own bit on this – stylistically and thematically, he felt like someone who just made sense on this.

Radio Silence is one of my favorite songs on the album. It is also the amalgamation of all that look Alive was, but I felt like Radio Silence would be more difficult for people to digest, being just a little bit riskier – unlike Look Alive, where I left the rapping to Eugenius, I took it on myself for this one. It was the first time I have EVER recorded myself in such a style. The guitar tones and chorus have definite nods to Joe Strummer. I love how those two very opposite styles came together here.

Fired Up is a straightforward punk rock doo-wop song. It does exactly what it says it does – inspires joy. It’s such a fun, simple song.

Capitol Stairs is the first foray into more topical political ideas on this album, discussing the January 6th riots on the Capitol, and was actually the last song written for Rebel Songs, having been written just a couple of weeks before we entered the studio. It was something that I absolutely had to draw attention to, because that event was a huge moment in time. I needed to speak less in anger to the actions of those who breached the building, and more to their hearts so that they would see how mislead they were, and how they were drawn into such behavior by terrible leaders. To see this riot, after all the protests that Black folks had been going through for true genuine oppression, was upsetting. These Capital rioters felt they lost something. Black folks were actually losing something – their lives. The difference in cops in riot gear at peaceful protests vs these white folks who were walking right into the capitol building was abbhorent. This was something I had to document so we never, ever forget.

No Pasarán was the first super weird song I wrote with an unusual beat that I had never used before. I was really forcing myself to write outside of my comfort one, like using full chords instead of power chords. It came out with a Reggae/Hispanic/Caribbean style that brings that joyful, dance-driven style. The theme spoke to me as I was reading a book about the Spanish civil war, and thinking of the line No Pasarán – “they shall not pass”, and how that battle cry became so important to those fighting fascism. I thought is was a beautiful expression of standing up and saying no. And so, this became a joyful fight song! Racist systems have no love or joy – it is broken. So the only way to combat that is with life-affirming positivity. Because those negative forces are a minority but they feed off of hurt and broken people, and instead of healing them, they use them to push hate. Our job is to show them there is a better way – to heal the hurt and live abundantly.

Million is another one of those songs I let be what it is. It wrote itself as a straight-forward catchy song. Every album needs that stand on the mountaintop with your fist in the air song, and that is Million.It is a battle cry to keep moving – even if you have to go alone, even if you have to go against the odds.

Don’t Wait Up is a song which speaks not just to the murder of George Floyd, but to the systemic racism and bigotry which led to his murder, and the murder of Breonna Taylor, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and the murder of Tamir Rice, and the murder of Elijah McClain, and the murder of Kiér Laprí Kartier…a list so long I wouldn’t be able to write it out due to Instagram’s caption length restrictions. But, this song doesn’t JUST speak to anger, sorrow, and frustration of the struggle to overcome injustice. It also speaks to the joy, the purpose, and the necessity of getting out into the streets AND STAYING THERE TILL THE WORK IS DONE.  It demands that BLACK LIVES MATTER well after the hashtag stops trending. It insists on us all being an advocate for justice when the back patting stops, and standing tall in the face of bigotry, hatred, fear, and a privileged indifference that resides both in others AND ourselves.

“I wanna be the first in line, the last to leave, fist in the air and out in the streets…don’t wait up for me tonight”.

This is a call to action beyond words and algorithms. Past social media trends and self aggrandizing selfies. The real work. The exhausting, rarely glamorous, and purposeful work.

Lost was the first purely personal song on the album. Which was a huge shift from the albums prior to this! It speaks to something people don’t acknowledge when speaking on social issues… it’s ok to admit that you are also lost in the world, but that you are doing the best you can. Its a personal experience we can all attach to. It’s important to hear this on an album that is socially and politically driven – being vulnerable to say “this is what I see, and I know I don’t have all the solutions and I’m not always right but I am doing what I can to be better.” We should all do that.

Grace is about getting lost in the frustration – in the verses you head all these things going on the world and the chorus reminds us that we need to fight for and struggle for these things but not get lost in and lose ourselves. Burnout is a real thing, and impedes our ability to progress. This is the first songs I ever wrote without a guitar… it was just was beats and lyrics. A computer driven song that I molded into a rock type song adding guitars in later.

That Said was one where I pushed myself with the guitars parts. It was one of the first I wrote for this albums, but was always meant to be last if you listen to the lyrics. Its a good reminder that winning battles isn’t about not failing, its about the ability to pick yourself up after you fail, and keep trying. The world WILL knock us down, but if we keep getting back up, we are unstoppable.


Nathan Gray & The Iron Roses - Rebel Songs

With a sound as diverse as its bandmates, Nathan Gray & The Iron Roses deliver high-energy, punk-driven music for the excluded, unheard and unseen self-healers of the world. The band brings a mission-like feel to what they do —no doubt in part to Gray’s upbringing in the church he abandoned long ago — with a live show that draws the audience in for intense and joyful community building. They seamlessly bring together three parts harmonies, doo-wop, reggae, heart-pounding anthemic punk guitars, AND hip-hop into one set while bringing a message of love and support for all.
         
Led by Nathan Gray, a 25 year veteran of the stage, Nathan Gray & The Iron Roses’ latest release Rebel Songs is a melting pot of influences that Gray grew up on. It was a intentional move by the singer in effort to get back to his roots in his need to call attention to the injustices in the world around him, while working to free himself from the expectations others have of him, and mending the wounds of childhood sexual assaut and the subsequent havoc it wrecked upon his life.
                      
“In my own journey through healing, I started to understand that no one can influence change in the world without turning that inward to heal themselves first. Redefining myself through my roots was freeing. I grew up listening to The Clash, The Ramones, Fat Boys, RUN DMC, Black Flag, and NWA. These artists defined and shaped me..they were there for me during the good times and the horrific times. Taking those inspirations with me into this place of my life and career just makes sense.” 
         
For Gray, it was important to build a band that represents many, and the formation of the Iron Roses brought together a group of humans who share Gray’s passion for music and the human experience. The band knows the value of being seen — the members themselves represent multiple cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations and stages of life. Many of them are very open about their own struggles with mental illness, trauma and differentness, and that vulnerability has made their live show and their fanbase what it is — a loving, inclusive gathering of people unafraid to be broken.
                   
“People like me (white men) have to set an example,” Gray says. “We (as a band) represent many, because it is our duty to. It’s important to me to create a space to allow others to express themselves on stage by using my own privilege. I’d be full of shit if I didn’t back my words. I see no point in talking about inclusion and diversity, about Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights and Women’s rights if I didn’t back it up. It would be a mockery.” 

Rebel Songs is powerful, energetic, and politically charged — featuring Tim McIlrath of Rise Against and produced by Brian McTernan of Be Well/Salad Days Studio. Pre-order it HERE                   

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