It's no longer enough to just fight with yourself. On his third solo album, BOYSETSFIRE singer NATHAN GRAY sounds more political than he ever has since his band's very first records while at the same time recognizing that no protest can bring change without the people behind it. "Rebel Songs" transforms this realization into twelve tracks full of changeability that not only spread a spirit of optimism through their lyrical character, but also convey a sense of "we" stronger than ever through the involvement of numerous guests - most notably in the title track, which features TIM MCILRATH from RISE AGAINST. Nathan Gray also weaves in other exciting collaborators on a record that repeatedly brings up what are for the singer unusually snappy influences from archetypal punk heroes like The Clash or heartland rock in the style of The Hold Steady while at the same time daring to conduct many new experiments quite apart from any cherished structures.
In order to tell the back story of "Rebel Songs," one basically has to throw a glance over the singer's entire discography which spans over several decades. When Boysetsfire released their first songs in the 90s, Nathan Gray gave expression to his political anger on them often talking about left-wing politics and communism in interviews. Over time, however, the image has changed. The singer's songs became more introspective and dealt with inner struggles - even on his latest solo records. "It’s no secret that I have always been a person who is passionate about politics and how it affects the world," Gray reflects on his own trajectory as a person and musician. "But there came a time in my life where it was critical for me to stop and focus on my own demons, heartaches and growth. Those things were almost suffocating, and I needed to work through them in order to be in a place to think and act more on a macro level. Once the fog lifted a bit, it became clear to me that I was ready for my next step, but wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. "
Gray has finally found that step in a record that shows the singer more political than he has been in a long time while adding very personal feelings of solidarity, cohesion and reflection to the equation. "Rebel Songs" is therefore an album that is like a cross-section of the Boysetsfire singer's entire history and also draws a connection to the current world situation. "When the pandemic hit, suddenly it was painfully obvious that the political is very personal," Gray says. "We had this global incident that we were all experiencing simultaneously, but in very different ways, many times separated by political leanings. It influenced how seriously people took the virus, whether or not to mask, whether or not to close schools, whether or not people deserved financial assistance to recover from not being able to work for a year. It shone a light on how horribly underserved many particular groups were - women, people of color, the lower class, the middle class, people experiencing homelessness, and LGBTQIA+ folks. Every single day we were seeing how they were being put in dangerously vulnerable situations, and it broke my heart to see the divide of people."
In the songs of the new album, this feeling is also expressed through numerous collaborations, some of which fundamentally change the sound of Nathan Gray. Only recently, the singer released a series of singles with a wide variety of bands and artists under the title "Nathan & Friends." On his new album, this new penchant for expanding horizons now continues. The first single and title track "Rebel Songs" features none other than Tim McIlrath from Rise Against, who lends his distinctive voice to the soaring and unifying melodic punk song. In "Look Alive," Gray even partners up with the rapper Eugenius, who feels amazingly natural in the album's diverse soundscape, as well as his label mate Matze Rossi in the song "Million."
The record was produced by Brian McTernan, who made hardcore history with his bands like Battery and Be Well. On top of that, two remixes were recorded for "Rebel Songs" that show Gray's music in a previously completely unknown light: Jaya The Cat conjured a groovy dub song out of said "Look Alive"
and Munich-based soft-grunge artist Elena Rud gave "Grace" a great bit of orchestration and melancholy.
"Rebel Songs," however, dresses all these experiments, collaborations and new approaches above all in a record on which Nathan Gray sounds more rooted in punk than ever before and on which the singer not only raises his fist atmospherically as on the cover, but at the same time opens his arms for a better world. "I want to remind us all that we still have fight in us, and that the people can drive the machine," Gray reflects. "Community is more powerful than anything else, and having that drive to better our community is what politics should be all about."
01. The Reckoning
02. Look Alive
03. Rebel Songs
04. Radio Silence
05. Fired Up
06. Capitol Stairs
07. No Pasaran
09. Don't Wait Up
12. That Said