“It is wildly more vulnerable and nerve-wracking to sing these lyrics as opposed to screaming them – there’s no place to hide the words,” explains songwriter Nathan Gray about his noticeable shift from his past hardcore roots with its breakneck rhythms and vocal delivery toward a more melodic alt-rock approach to his message-driven music. While the tempo may have changed, the emotion hasn’t.  “It’s no longer rage induced,” he laughs. “It is a very exposed feeling, but it is exactly what I needed, and what my music needed – to be stripped back down to its core and the focus put back onto the message itself.”

Gray’s third solo album Rebel Songs brings him closer to his own truth as both a passionate songwriter and the vulnerable and exposed human that he’s become.  Once hiding behind the aggressive and in-your-face façade as frontman of hardcore stalwarts BoySetsFire, Gray’s personal reckoning came with his confrontation of his own painful and past – he couldn’t just keep pummeling his repressed emotions into submission… he had to slow down, dissect and examine it. A victim of sexual assault at the hands of the church (which he is rather open about on stage and in song), he once sublimated the bubbling-under pain and anger into hardcore’s demands for speed and fury.  These days, however, he battles his repressed demons by relaying his experience to his audience in a more relatable and therapeutic manner – though indie rock. “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. As such, what we do in our own lives influences our political leanings and world view.”

Rebel Songs is Gray’s reaction to not only his own personal past but the cultural and political unrest that infects this country and, on a larger scale, the world. “I think the impetus for the sound and style of Rebel Songs was to get back to my roots on what got me into hardcore in the first place, which was pure and simple punk rock,” he says of the album’s inspiration.  “Coming back to that place while 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 make sense.”

Melding all those music reference points into a 12-track album of fierce and passionate anthems, Gray and his band The Iron Roses takes all the experiences of their collective lives and coalesces it into melting pot of inclusivity.  “People like me (white men) have to set an example,” he says of his very conscious decision to make his band as culturally and racially inclusive as possible. “How would people in the audience experience the show if they didn’t feel represented? The Iron Roses include a trans woman, a black man, a mother of two, pansexuals, bisexuals, CIS straight folks, etc. We 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.”

This blend creates a fascinating and organic brew of the different corners of rock that he imbues in his album.  From the Elvis Costello-esque New Wave of “Reckoning” to the anthemic and earnest title track “Rebel Songs” (which features friend and Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath) to balladic album closer “That Said,” Rebel Songs covers a lot of ground – musically and thematically.  The reggae and hiphop-infused “Look Alive” was new ground for him. “It was the first time I ever tried adding hip-hop influences into my body of work, which was terrifying and invigorating all at once,” he explains. “It presented a perfect opportunity to add to the mix my friend Eugenius who had recently sampled one of my old band’s songs. 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.”