The evolution of Spirit Adrift over the last five years has been an electrifying transformation. Nate Garrett has turned his once doom-centric project into one of the brightest examples of neo-classical metal. He goes toe-to-toe with timeless bands' discographies these days. Spirit Adrift has been a vessel for Garrett to perfect his songwriting. Over the years as albums have dropped annually, every effort becomes a timestamp in Garrett's progression—an increase in his vocal range here, a new way to layer harmonies there. As expected, the evidence of dedication to his craft and development as a musician is at its peak once more on Enlightened in Eternity.
Garrett and drummer, Marcus Bryant, team up to construct eight soaring tracks of classic heavy metal thunder and empowering messages of hope and resilience. There are too many great moments to count—the opening salvo on "Harmony of the Spheres," the punchy grit of "Stronger Than Your Pain," or literally every second of "Cosmic Conquest"—but every single moment lands with fervent intensity.
To celebrate the release of Spirit Adrift's newest epic. The band has released a new video for the album's opening track. “'Ride into the Light'" is arguably the best song on the album," Garrett proclaims. "You can make a case for pretty much any song on the album, I think, but that one is the strongest opening track of our catalog. I really like that song."
The video for “Ride into the Light” is a fully animated cartoon packed with fantastical might and roaring adventure. "I was thinking about the old heavy metal cartoon and also Metalocalypse, which is a favorite of mine," Garrett states. "I found this guy, Zak Kirwin, who did a video for the band, Ghoul. It has a bunch of zombies skateboarding through a graveyard, chopping people up and stuff—he agreed to work with us."
"It's something we haven't done before. I think the song really lends itself to that sort of style of the old heavy metal cartoon of warriors, sci-fi landscapes, and violence," Garrett continues. "It's just fun. It's a fun song. It's a badass, fun heavy metal song and I thought it was kind of perfect for that style of video. He knocked it out of the park. It's really cool."
Enlightened in Eternity is available today through 20 Buck Spin (USA) and Century Media (EU). Check out an exclusive premiere of the animated video for “Ride into the Light” now and pick up a copy of the record as well—which is out today!
When we talked a little while back before this interview, you mentioned kismet and how music has always put you where you needed to be. When you started writing music years ago back in Arkansas when you were younger, did you think that you'd end up where you are now, having a beautiful family and the support around you to make this successful music as Spirit Adrift?
NATE GARRETT: No, dude. I was in Arkansas starting in 2006, so that's 14 years ago. Before that, I was writing in bands for probably four or five years in Oklahoma. I would have never guessed—because even five years ago I would have never guessed any of this was going to happen. I had no idea,
As recently as five and a half years ago, the only hope that I had in my life—the only desire or goal that I had in my life—was to go one entire day without putting some kind of mind-altering substance in my body.
I guess in tandem with that goal, the main thing was to not die.
When you get really close to death and you survive that, it changes you forever. It gives you an appreciation of life. Every single day, I can wake up and be grateful because this is not a given. If you can be grateful just to wake up, then you can be grateful for every little good thing that's happening to you throughout the day. In the beginning, I started writing these songs coming right out of that. It literally is one day at a time when you're in that position.
There have been so many little, tiny steps involved in this process. I was thinking about this today. We have some major life events happening this year and probably next year. The upside of the pandemic is that I'm going to finally get to be involved in some big family stuff that's happening. We're trying to get my folks down here to Texas. Every other major event that's happened with my family or major life event that's happened in the past five years, I haven't been there for because every waking moment I've either been in an album cycle or a tour cycle. The way I approach Spirit Adrift is if I'm doing something, that's all I think about.
Even when I got married, I was on tour and we dropped off the tour and I went home to get married. So even something as huge as that, it was like my own marriage was a footnote in what was going on with music in my life. For five years, it's taken up every single second of my life mentally and physically and every bit of my energy. So, it seems like all the big stuff that's happened with Spirit Adrift and all that good stuff that's happened isn’t that crazy because of the fact it's been such a daily, incremental grind for me.
From my perspective, it just seems like, “Finally! Goddammit, it's about time!” Sometimes, I have to take a step back and say, “OK. it's kind of a big deal to get on the cover of Decibel after only being a real band for like three years.” That's pretty fast. But to me, it didn't seem fast because every second of those three years of being a live band and five years of being a studio thing seems like it's been a million years.
To cap this off, you said, “music always puts me where I need to be.” When I moved to Arkansas, it was music that put me right in one of the most magical times in my life with all the dudes in Rwake, Deadbird, and Pallbearer. Anybody that's talked to any of us knows about the downtown music venue in Little Rock, which was one of the most magical places that have ever existed.
Then in Phoenix, things weren't really clicking with me until I started playing music again. Then it put me right where I needed to be. Then moving here. Doing an interview and talking about Spirit Adrift introduced me to a guy who introduced me to everyone that's significant in the music scene in my area and now—almost overnight—I went from not really knowing anybody here to being like 100% integrated into the artistic and musical scene of this area.
So, thinking back. You go back about five and a half years when Spirit Adrift is forming after you've been going through detox and overcoming addiction. Were Spirit Adrift and those changes in your personal life when playing music full time really started to stick?
GARRETT: Yeah. I've been touring since 2007, but there was never really a time where I thought, “Hey, we're making it. This is actually becoming like a feasible career.”
I have such a problem with perspective, I think everyone does. I have a hard time realizing how fast everything has happened for this band and exactly how successful we are versus how long we've been around and how long we've been doing certain things, but when I take a step back and realize every time Spirit Adrift does something, it's more successful than the last time—whether that's a record, a tour, putting merch on our online store.
I keep thinking it's the middle of a pandemic and there are no shows, and nobody really has any money. I don't need to be putting merch on our online store, that's ridiculous. Yet, every time I do it, we sell more stuff. I'm like, who are these people? [laughs]
I'm so used to being in bands that almost had to force people to come to our shows. I've been in a lot of good bands, it's just none of them really caught. You learn every time you fail and for me, that's really the only way I can learn. Nothing works for me like firsthand experience of doing something wrong and then it really hurts. Then you're like, “Oh. Don't do that.” [laughs]
Everything I've learned about writing songs or managing bands, touring, how to carry yourself, and all that stuff, it's all culminated with this project. Every bit of suffering that I've done in other bands has paid off with this project.
I know to people who are casually paying attention to certain bands that seem to just blow up overnight; almost 100% of the time, somebody in that band has been destroying their life for years to try to make it in music. I don't know of any overnight successes. There's a Black Oak Arkansas album called Ten Year Overnight Success, and that's what it feels like sometimes.
I can imagine. How much of Spirit Adrift’s success do you feel is this repetition with multiple bands over the years and learning things and how much of it is your full dedication and input to this band?
GARRETT: Well, I think the success is a combination of things. The older I've gotten, the more wisdom I've earned about success in general. It's a very cliché thing, but it takes relentless work ethic past the point of what any sane person would be willing to do.
The number one thing in music is good songs. That's it—good songs—and I think I've really figured out what makes a song really good and that's through years of studying people like Martin Birch, Rick Rubin, Quincy Jones, Kris Kristofferson, or John Prine. For a long time, I was just writing metal, but recently—since I’ve started Spirit Adrift—I've become more and more interested in how to craft a song that's timeless. That's what's really fascinating to me.
So, I think it's a combination of good songs, sincerity—the intention behind Spirit Adrift from the beginning has been completely pure. I didn't have any external material-based goals whatsoever. That created a situation in which the only thing that I was doing was being completely honest and expressing myself musically without any subconscious intention of getting a record deal or touring with this band or making a magazine like us.
So, the pure intention, the good songs, and the type of obsession that only people who are really flawed, slightly unhinged, and have a lot of pain have. They can put the kind of work into something that I've put into Spirit Adrift. Sane people don't do it. I think it's all of those things working together.
I think as long as I've known you, you've never stopped writing. I remember when we talked about Divided by Darkness, you had already written stuff for this record. Even before that, when we talked about Curse of Conception, you had already started Divided by Darkness. So, I definitely think that comment speaks to the output of Spirit Adrift. You have that repetition showing itself there as well as that writing and purity in crafting songs. It all coalesces on this new record.
You mentioned this is the first time with everything going on that you've had time to step away and spend more time with the family and dedicate more time to bringing happiness to your home. Talk to me a little bit about how the move from Phoenix to Texas has impacted you personally–whether it's your relationship with Nicole [Garrett’s wife] or Spirit Adrift’s music.
GARRETT: I think we're both much happier. It's really easy for me to be grateful every day being down here. When I left Arkansas in 2011, my first choice of places to go was Austin, Texas actually. I had some good friends down here. Then for a variety of reasons, I ended up in Phoenix, but I was only supposed to be in Phoenix for about six or eight months. I ended up in Phoenix for nine years because I met Nicole. So, I've been wanting to come back to the South for a really, really long time.
I never quite felt at home in Phoenix and down here it just feels like where I'm supposed to be. The weather, the environment, we live really close to the Colorado River. The little town we live next to is like—my friend, Jeff from Duel, calls it Mayberry because the downtown was built in the 1920s and a lot of the houses are still the same structures. Obviously, they've been like touched up over the years and the insides are all different. He lives in a house that was built in the 1920s and his whole neighborhood is that way. When you go down there, you feel like you're in a time warp.
If anybody's seen that Tim Burton movie Big Fish. The town the main character goes through—the most idealistic, perfect, little small town in the south—it's called Spectre. When we came down here to visit and Nicole was interviewing for jobs, I was like, “This is Spectre from Big Fish.” [laughs]
I feel so inspired down here. I feel totally at home with the people and totally at home with everything, because I grew up in the south and I love it. When the quarantine started, I wrote and demoed 10 songs, I have about 12 songs now. I don't even want to put a record out next year because I have some family stuff I have to take care of.
It's going to be nice to have some time off and approach the next record completely differently than I ever have. I'm just going to keep writing songs and get an excess of songs then pick the best ones or even take the best parts of ones and combine others. I'll probably have like 30 songs written or 40 songs by the time it's time to record and we'll whittle it down and figure out what kind of record we want to make. I’ve got some pretty good ideas, but I don't feel like I'm trying to outrun anything right now which is how I felt for the past five years. I've felt like I've been trying to outrun a lion that's trying to eat, basically.
I think overall, it speaks to the idea of kismet we kind of started this with, right? You’re only supposed to spend six to eight months in Phoenix. Then you meet Nicole and you're there for the next nine years. Also, you join Gatecreeper. Then to come back to the south where you are now and have within a very short time frame, established yourself in this in this music scene down there and have built this network where you can go and record.
We’ve talked in the past about this shed in the woods that is 10 minutes from your house. How did you come across recording in this shack?
GARRETT: Since, I started doing Spirit Adrift, there has been so much synchronicity and kismet that it's just become no longer surprising. It's become completely standard for impossible coincidences to occur.
I did an interview with Raoul Hernandez at the Austin Chronicle, who also writes for Decibel. He came out to our house, interviewed me, and then said he was going to the record store in the town we live close to. I almost didn't go, but my wife encouraged me to, and I did. We went down and met this guy, Lippy, who runs a record store. We got to talking with him and then he told me I needed to meet this guy, Jeff Olsen, who plays in Duel from Austin. So, he put me in touch with Jeff and we started talking and he gave me the address of his studio. Again, I live in the middle of nowhere. I live somewhere where there would never be a recording studio. It's 10 minutes from our house—we don't even have to take a highway.
His studio looks like a shack on the outside, it's just like the most nondescript building and that's intentional. It looks like it's falling down. He's got all this land with trees and wildflowers growing like crazy. There's a huge lake right there. It's a top-class studio on the inside of this shack that looks like it's falling apart.
But I realize in retrospect, I got really into this Lynyrd Skynyrd documentary that came out either last year or the year before. The part that inspired me and fascinated me the most was the fact that Lynyrd Skynyrd got together and would write their songs in a shack in the middle of the swamp in Florida in the summer with no A/C. They're all just living together and writing together in the shack, and they're all on psychedelics.
Ronnie Van Zandt would sit in for a little while, write lyrics, kind of give them some direction, then he would go down to the lake and go fishing. He could hear the band playing and working on music up the hill and he would maybe write another verse or chorus while he's fishing in this lake and then walk back up and give them some more direction. They would do that for eight, 12, however many hours a day every day.
People ask a lot these days what happened. Why is music not as good as it used to be? That's why! Who's doing that?! Nobody is doing that. Nobody is putting that kind of work into it anymore. I was so obsessed with that mental image of these ultimate, hard-ass rocker dudes that are super out there, super open-minded, they're on psychedelics in the South when it's not acceptable at all, and they're in a shack for what turned out to be some of the most legendary American rock and roll music ever made.
I know this is like way too egocentric way of thinking, but it almost felt like I manifested that place into my own life just by obsessing over it, because that's what it feels like down there, man. If those sorts of things didn't happen all the time relating to Spirit Adrift, it would really freak me out—it's still kind of freaks me out—but once that sort of stuff happens enough times, it just kind of becomes expected
I think you can, in a way, manifest some of this stuff, right? Your obsession with Spirit Adrift and crafting this music has allowed some of this to happen to some extent, but probably not to the coincidence of finding a shack similar to Lynyrd Skynyrd in this case. [laughs]
GARRETT: Yeah, I still can't believe it.
So, for the next record, are you dragging Marcus [Bryant, Drums] down to the shack and you guys are just going to live there and fish?
GARRETT: We've talked about it. I would like to try it out. I would like to do it a little differently when it's time to record and just do the A side or like five songs then sit on it and then maybe do another five at a later date. It’s definitely going to be more relaxed next time around. I’ve never approached a record by just taking as much time as possible and not having a deadline.
I like to change whatever I can from record to record—to create a new experience and to create a new record and not just more of the same. This guy. Jeff, who owns the studio, he's a producer producer. We've never really had like a full-blown producer relationship with anybody in the studio. He helps with arrangements. He'll help write certain parts. He's obsessed with Rick Rubin, which is another bit of kismet.
When we worked on Enlightened in Eternity, one of the new things I wanted to do was listen to all the old Rick Rubin albums like the early Danzig stuff, Slayer stuff, the self-titled Trouble and try to determine by process of elimination what Rick Rubin's tricks are because it's a safe assumption that if something happens on the Trouble album and let's say Reign in Blood and Danzig II, that's probably Rick Rubin's doing. If there's like a trick—like a chorus extension or “add this on the third verse”—and it's on all those albums, that's probably Rick Rubin. I went deep on that dude and really tried to figure out what his tricks were.
But what did you find out?
GARRETT: I'm not telling anybody that! [laughs]
You mentioned that you try to do something just a little bit different for each record. I know Enlightened In Eternity a much more positive record overall than previous albums. With that in mind and thinking of your ideas to tweak and change each record, what was the overall goal for you going into writing this record?
GARRETT: To have fun. That was our only goal and the only rule. There's a difference between fulfillment or a sense of accomplishment and having fun—they're not always mutually exclusive feelings. Every record I've made, I feel a profound sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, but I don't know that I've ever had fun making a Spirit Adrift record. [laughs]
I'm pretty sure I've never had fun making a Spirit Adrift record. I have fun playing shows and I have fun listening to albums back sometimes. I have had fun moments during the writing process, but they're pretty few and far between. With Enlightened in Eternity, I didn't want to make another record this soon and I actively was trying not to. Yet, every time I picked up my guitar, I’m writing something awesome.
Before I knew it, I had like four or five songs and I was like, “Fuck, these songs are too good to put on an EP. I don't want to see these songs on an EP. I guess I'm making another record.”
There was this little window where I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel with certain aspects of my life that I wasn't enjoying. Soon, I was going to be able to just completely dedicate myself to Spirit Adrift and hang out with my wife and my dog and just really focus on the music that my heart was fully into. There was this little window right there where things were great. I was feeling less pressure than I had felt in a long time. I was feeling very accomplished; I was feeling a lot of peace and I would venture to say I was pretty happy. I'm usually generally satisfied with my life and grateful, but real happiness is kind of hard for me to come by.
When I was writing Enlightened in Eternity, I would say I was happy. I wanted to write an album that made me feel like Vulgar Display of Power made me feel when I was 15 or Screaming for Vengeance or Powerslave or Heaven and Hell, you know? Just a badass metal record that makes people feel strong and powerful and overjoyed with the power of metal. I think a lot of bands are shying away from that because everything's supposed to be ironic and serious.
It's [Enlightened in Eternity] still a serious record. I'm still talking about how to cope with death and challenges and all kinds of really introspective and heavy stuff, all the records that I listed do as well. There is some heavy subject matter on those albums too, but they have this attitude of “Yeah, I'm the underdog, things are tough, we're all struggling, but we're fucking badass and we're going to crush everything that stands in our way.”
So that initial goal of me just enjoying the process and having fun kind of transformed into, “Well, let me make an album that makes everybody have fun and that makes everybody feel good.” and I'm really glad that I did, especially now with everything that's going on.
I noticed it within seconds of “Ride into the Light” and going through the album a couple of times then comparing it to reading our old interviews together about the last albums and knowing you personally and what your goals are. You definitely sounded like you had a lot more happiness, a lot more fulfillment, and a lot more fun with this new record.
GARRETT: That's good to hear. My dog died right before we went to the studio—it was not something we expected to happen. It was a really grueling, cruel process. I think about, “What if I had written another album that was super dark, angry, and painful, and then I had to record that after my dog died?” I don't think I could have done it. So, again, it’s like some sort of weird, external force at work through me just pushed me in the direction of making an album that was going to almost immediately turn around and help me get through one of the worst periods of my life that I've ever been through.
Absolutely. it does feel like there's a bit of kismet to it too. If you would have kept on that trend the last couple of records had through Lizzy passing away, you've got to wonder how things might have been different or if it would have turned out the same way.
GARRETT: Yeah, it's a scary thought. I'm glad it didn't work out that way because who knows what would have happened. I can't say I would have relapsed and fuck my life, but it would have been a lot harder not to, for sure. It would have been way more tempting to just say “fuck it.”
You mentioned some classic albums. You mentioned Vulgar Display of Power, Powerslave, Screaming for Vengeance, and Heaven and Hell. Those albums have a lot of big moments throughout the records. What are some of your kind of highlights or your favorite moments from the record?
GARRETT: During the writing process, I can tell you exactly what my favorite moment was because I leaped off of my couch and lost my mind. So, the song “Cosmic Conquest.” After the second chorus of that song, it goes into a section where the rhythm guitars drop completely out and it's just bass and drums playing a progression. There's a harmonized—it's not quite a guitar solo, but it's like an ascending harmonized guitar thing.
I struggled for a while as to what should follow the second chorus in that song, I tried a bunch of different stuff and nothing was really working. Then I was like, “Wait a minute, what if I did like one of those things that Trouble does where it's a borderline guitar solo, but both guys are soloing and they're harmonizing each other the whole time. I did a lot of that on the first Spirit Adrift album, but it was slower.
I wrote a solo out that was simple enough for me to figure out the harmonies for and I'm sitting there tracking it. I track the first solo—which I think is on the left channel. Normally I would write the whole solo out on paper then I would sit there and go one note at a time and figure out the harmonies, write that out, then sight-read it when I record the harmony.
For some reason that day that didn't really seem that appealing to me. It never seems that appealing because it's just kind of a boring process. So, instead of doing that, I just ran the demo back, hit record, and when it came upon that part, I somehow played the whole solo harmonized perfectly even though it's not in all the same positions. There are a lot of different intervals, so it doesn't follow the same fingering on a different string. It's completely different fingering on completely different strings.
On the first attempt, I played the whole solo and the harmonies of it. Every single note was right. [laughs] I've never done anything like that before in my life. When I got to the end, it was one of those things where I was halfway through and I was like, “I think every note's been right so far…” Then, I'm like three-quarters of the way through and I'm freaking out. I'm like, “Don't fuck it up, don't fuck it up…” And I hit the last note and I couldn't fucking believe it.
That's my favorite thing that I've ever done in a writing process, by far. The odds of being able to pull that off are infinitesimal. I played it note for note, and then I played it back and wrote it all down listening to it after I had already done it. I don't think I'll ever pull something like that off again for the rest of my life. This is like a hole in one on a par 1000.
It’s kismet, man! You move to Texas, you’re loving life, and you’re nailing harmonies.
GARRETT: Nicole pointed out to me that I'm becoming Hank Hill. I just thought it’s funny. My destiny in life is to become the heavy metal version of Hank Hill.
How does that happen? I have not watched a lot of King of the Hill…
GARRETT: Oh, dude! He is total, pure good. I feel like so many stories that are being told in this generation are nothing but gray area, which I think is like more accurate to reality, of course, but, Hank Hill just personifies everything decent, and has absolutely no tolerance for what he perceives to be bullshit. He's like the Texas version of Buddha or something. I'm just striving to be the heavy metal Hank Hill, basically.
You should watch that show. The whole thing’s on Hulu and it's fucking amazing. It's one of the best shows ever.
I'll have to go check it out! Are you going to start selling propane and propane accessories after Spirit Adrift is done?
GARRETT: I use propane and propane accessories on a daily basis. I be grilling out here, dude.