The following phone interview is the first interview Boysetsfire has done since their re-uniting. It's New Years Eve, and after playing phone tag for about an hour, vocalist Nathan Gray wins. We discuss everything from transitions in hardcore and music in general,the band's preparations since The Misery Index, to the rickety slope of politics within the scene.
Let me just say that it's great to have you guys back making music again.
As someone who's been going to hardcore shows for 12 or so years now…
[laughs] Thanks for making me feel old!
No problem. So, I witnessed the end of peaks in the scene more or less, when BSF helped build it up with bands like Snapcase, The Hope Conspiracy, and so on. Coming back to your home turf after a five year hiatus and touring with newer bands like letlive., what differences have you noticed?
Many. The one distinct being is that I'm not sure if there's a hardcore scene anymore really, you know? You could have bands like Split Lip play with bands like Damnation and Shai Hulud. There was no difference, it was just hardcore. I mean, the Promise Ring could play with Nausea. It was sort of like that. Bands that were pop, rock, metal, and actual hardcore were all under the umbrella of hardcore. And there was no difference, it was all called hardcore. It was more about sort of an ethic than it was about the actual music style. And now, it's uh…geez. There are so many different names for things [laughs]. And I hope it's not just because I've gotten old, it may be. But it was just more simple at that point, and I think more honest. And better for me as far as my viewpoint because there was an ethic and passion behind it that made it a certain thing. It wasn't just your music style, which is sort of cheap, you know? Who gives a shit what your music style is, it's music. And I guess that's sort of what propelled me and taught me who I am now, and what I listen to now, because I listen to everything. And I think that helps because a lot of kids today are sort of stuck up and have narrow views of what music is, and if you can't conform to that, then you're not in their scene. Which is not only a bad thing for bands, but it's bad for the kids themselves who never allow themselves to be open to other music that they can live and learn from.
So in that sense, would you consider BSF a nondescript band?
Very much so. You can say probably us and Grade really came out of the one-dimensional label. We had the screaming heavy songs, and the singy songs, and no real in between. And I find that it's more fun for me that way. To do something that breaks ground whether someone likes it or not. The new scene of music is a wave, and all the different styles have become so unoriginal and separate that all bands do now to be original is add dance beats. Or throw some techno in there. I want to blame Refused for that [laughs]. But I think it's more so that the new bands don't feel they can really branch out. Everybody adds more techno and feels that makes it different, when it just makes you sound like everyone else.
It just so happens that Dennis from Refused made some comments regarding this very topic, and when we posted it on AP the site exploded. Most of it was backlash, but some of it wasn't. I don't think he was taking the article too seriously, anyway.
Well, I would never pull out a band solo and say that this band sucks or that band sucks. Or talk about their scene in general because I think it's very derogatory. It's not progressive to sit around and shit-talk singular bands. What do I know about their thought processes? But stuff gets lost depending on how the tone was perceived or what was meant.
Thinking back about your Facebook page a few months ago, you guys sent out the statement: "Protest is patriotism." Could you elaborate a bit on what that means for us?
It's not a very vague statement, but it's open to interpretation and I guess we sort of like it that way. Even within the band, we don't all agree. That whole idea of "protest is patriotism" phrase came out of when we released an album after 9/11. And it wasn't always taken well [laughs]. There was a big backlash during that time period: protests against the war, protests against politicians, and things like that. But we felt that people were missing the point. The action in itself is patriotic because it shows that you care about where you are. Hopefully you'd want where you are to change, and if you don't, then what's the point?
As far back as I can remember, BSF has had a very long history of being fairly active in political events. Your name is Boysetsfire after all [laughs].
Our name came from a collection of stories called The Most Beautiful Woman In Town by Charles Bukowski. In the back there was a list of poems which I actually hadn't read until way later [laughs], including The Boy Who Set The Fire. So someone was like: "That's a bit too long, why don't we just cut it down to Boysetsfire." Perfect. Yes, we're political to an extent. We've joked a lot about being cheerleaders more than actual players. Being on the road, you don't really have much time to delve into it, other than inspire people to get motivated to change things in the world around them.
Not many bands are truly successful with ingraining their morals in the listener's mind. There are bands such as Propagandhi, where I'll meet fans who make me think to myself: "You didn't get anything out of their lyrics?" You can memorize every word for their shows, but then you go home and act fucked up to others.
You're going to have that. And that's where we actually try to separate ourselves from other bands that took themselves overly serious and expected everyone to follow what they say and just be better people because of it. It really came down to how we really didn't need to explain the songs ad nauseum. We didn't need to force others to give a shit about what we were saying. A lot of people are just going to like the music and there's nothing we can do about it. It definitely adds undue frustration to think about it. But you're just going to always have people that believe in certain things, and other people who don't want to be bothered with it. And in a way, that's sometimes a revolutionary act within itself. It gives them time to just relax after work. So sometimes it's just take what you can get and maybe down the road they'll read the lyrics [laughs]. But when it comes down to it that's really not our place or job. It's only about putting out good music with a message we believe in and that's it. And I try not to get too frustrated about it. On message boards you'll see people say: "You're talking about this, but you're not saying this." Well, why don't you start a band and do it? if you think we're doing it incorrectly, well then you go start a band and do it and stop bugging me [laughs]. The Misery Index: Notes From the Plague Years was where we left off; it was your final record pre-hiatus. The mood captured on it took us to a much darker and deeper realm than your previous works, and I assume this was a reflection of personally intense changes at the time?
Definitely. When you get to a certain age and time, you start to realize a lot of things, like how there are hopeless situations. They say you mellow out more as you get older, but we just got more angry [laughs]. As far as the hopeless situation, Misery Index starts off with an acoustic song in the beginning of "Walk Astray". And it was about not wanting to hear it anymore from people. I don't want to hear you talking about freedom and all that kind of shit if you're not going to do something about it, you know? We've got all the protest songs and all the bullshit, let's move past that and do something. I think we were really attracted to a more darker side, and feeling that there's sort of a force of nature that you can't really compete against. I feel that a lot of people have that frustration in them all the time, and it helped people relate a little. It made us seem more human; we weren't just a bunch of preachy freaks [laughs].
Stepping away from the tug-of-war artists endure with how they convey musical significance, there must be some amount of non-music inspiration you've embraced.
It was always either keep your eye on the news, things that are going on, current events, books you read. Not only that, but keeping an eye on the scene you're in, where you are, and making comments. Trying to point things out that you find. Besides the political aspect we had, we were always very personal, and things that would occur in our lives would go into our songs. I've always hated the "political band" moniker [laughs]. Being called a revolutionary band is different. We've always pushed ourselves past boundaries of anarchist, leftist, and so on to find something more revolutionary than just picking a party. That's something that will continue on as we go. We've grown together as friends and also apart on a lot of ideologies, but that helps us improve as a band and is very exciting.
Just recently you started writing again.
We're going to play two shows. Not to feel out new songs, but to try out a new bass player we have. He's our drummer's brother named Marc. This decision came about because we've always chosen members from the inside. Our former bass players were roadies. He's got great energy, and someone we know very well as a friend. He adds to the energy that BSF already has, which is very important for this band and what we're somewhat known for. You can't just have someone standing there with a blank look on their face. Josh and Chad have sent me a couple of songs and I can't wait. I feel that everybody in the band is on the same page right now musically, where you've been waiting so long it's that aggressive side that's going to come out. And that's what I'm excited to see when we get together. That aggressive heavy stuff will just come to the surface. We have no song titles yet, though. We've been working on the fly. When the lyrics come, the song titles do. Not one person does one thing. It's a collective effort with everything we put into it. So we'll see how it comes.
Is there any particular method to how the BSF albums progressed?
It is what it is. It's definitely a natural progression. On every album you do what you think is right with what you love and what inspires you. But Tomorrow Come Today was a very divisive album among the "scene". It followed After the Eulogy when we went to a bigger label. It was a love or hate relationship for fans with that one [laughs].
So I'd heard a variety of rumors as to why you guys broke up, so it both surprised and excited me to see you return.
Everything you've heard is probably bullshit [laughs], since it was a normal break-up. There were no fights, no nothing. We were in a basement of some show, and were like: "I'm tired." "Me too." [laughs] You know that type of thing where we were so burnt out and really spent. But coming back into this was actually sort of funny. It was Matt's fault. He's our drummer and he'd been pushing us to reunite. It'd gotten to a point where he'd had everyone convinced but me and I had made every excuse in the book. Finally I said "Meh, let's try it." We played one show and that was it. It was back to normal. You have all these doubts at first and then that first or second note hits and you're like: "Oh yes, I remember now." When we'd ended it, though, there was no argument or weirdness. We all went out and got something to eat that night.
That was the moment in which you felt as if you weren't getting as much out of it as you were putting in.
We're putting everything into something that's not making us feel anything right now. It took that hiatus to get back to the point where…[laughs]. You know, it's crazy getting back up there again with those guys, and to be able to feel something again is amazing.
You just started a project with your son called I Am Heresy, which in some ways is kind of crazy because I don't know if you knew this, but Billie Joe of Green Day is trying to start his own family band. So I don't know if it's something going around but…[laughs].
Well, if we could be the leaders of it then I'm all for it.
You guys could do a Family Band tour.
Yeah [laughs]. You know what's funny about it is that our drummer and bassist are brothers also. So it's bizarre. All kinds of family members are involved. But how it started is that I'd had an idea for a band probably since high school. And always in my head it was called Characteristics of a Housefly. But of course that name is just too weird and no one can remember it.
Sorry, could you repeat the name again?
Characteristics of a Housefly.
OK, yeah [laughs].
Yeah, exactly [laughs]. Perhaps we'll just name an album that or something. I've always had this band idea that I can't make sense of in my head that's sort of a noisy, hardcore, metal thing. Not really a way of explaining it. But it's been there since high school and my son, Simon, is 17 now. Him and Josh's (BSF) son are in a band called The May 4th Massacre and they were doing all this crazy stuff. So we started writing songs, then we got members from the Dead and Gone and Greg from Chambers in Jersey. We'd made a song called "I Am Heresy" and it stuck with us. We have two demo songs out now on www.facebook.com/iamheresy and people should go listen to it. It's just crazy, chaotic stuff. And it's cool since BSF is coming back it'll be a part time thing. It won't be as it was in the past. Both bands will have an equal amount of energy put into them.
Even though these bands will be part time, does I Am Heresy have any touring plans?
Absolutely. We're going to play a couple of shows coming up and put out an EP on Magic Bullet Records sometime next year. We'll be doing a split with some other bands as well. I don't feel it's necessary to have a band unless you're going to do something with it, same with BSF. I mean, I have a job and things to do, but I'm not going to start a band unless I plan to push it and do something with it.
What does this mean for your other project, The Casting Out? Does this mark the end?
Yes, it does. I think for it to come back it would have to take a lot of convincing [laughs]. But also, at the same time, I am The Casting Out at this point. Everyone else just quit and took off. So, it would entail there being a lot of demand for it for there to be a whole other band for there to do it for me. It did its time and rounds, which is all it really needed to do. If someone wants to prove me wrong, I'm totally fine with that [laughs]. But I think that's pretty much the end of that band. As far as BSF goes, we don't have any concrete plans with record labels at the moment. We'll start writing and see where it takes us. If we get inspired but only write two songs, we'll post them online...something that adds to our repertoire when we're out playing. We're free of any kind of deadlines. Now we've stopped worrying about that. I think that's the main thing that burned us out in the end. All the deadlines, all the commitments, and things that had to be a certain way.
The stress, worries, and everything else-- that's real. It's interesting that you went into that because there's definitely a growing trend at the moment, where bands are supporting themselves which is how it should've been all along.
Well see...bands now have a really good friend. The Internet [laughs]. You didn't have that back then, which is why bands are were so reliant on labels up to now. And I think with Facebook, Bandcamp, and all this shit on the Internet that I don't understand so I make other people do it [laughs] it's really freed up bands from labels. The ones that were smart were able to survive, and that's how it should be. The strong survive and the weak fall. You do your job right and you're going to win. But for the bands, it has affected them both positively and negatively. Now they have a way to control their own destinies, but at the same time, there's a huge influx of shitty bands that think they can do it, you know [laughs]. But that's just how it is. People who should be spending more time in the basement writing are just immediately uploading things onto the Internet and trying to be big.
But yet, that would be for us to determine.
That's true to an extent, but people get overwhelmed with the amount, you know what I mean? If you're sifting through all these shitty bands all day, even if you find one good band you're exhausted and you're like: "I'm going to bed" [laughs]. But as you say, that's a very small issue in comparison to what I feel is big. The important thing is that I feel very positive with the way the Internet has made it easier to break away from people cutting into their art, their profits, and things like that. It's made it a lot easier for bands to be self-sustaining and I think it's great.
Check out an earlier interview with Lou Koller of Sick of It All, here.
I guess I was one of those in the "divisive" crowd who loved "tomorrow come today". That's actually my overall favourite BSF record. Although, there is no denying the chills I get when I watch videos of them playing "rookie."