Inside the Terror One Musician Faced with His Addiction to Alcohol
Spirit Adrift’s Nate Garrett nearly died of alcoholism, but turned to doom instead.
Photo by Gabriele Burton
Spirit Adrift’s new EP, Behind – Beyond, is one of 2016’s most promising metal releases. The two tracks of long-form elemental doom metal found thereon convey an honest yearning that is sometimes painfully absent within the genre, too often replaced by weed worship and lazy Conanisms. It makes sense that the anguish behind Spirit Adrift sounds somewhat more genuine and mature than that of its competitors, given what the EP’s maker had to go through to create.
Nate Garrett is best known as the lead guitarist of Arizona experimental metallers Take Over And Destroy (as well as a more recent addition to death metal killers Gatecreeper). He has until now kept his involvement in Spirit Adrift—his solo project—a secret. This is in no small part because Garrett has only recently kicked his alcoholism. That he is still alive is, in his own words, “a miracle”, and Spirit Adrift is his way of expressing both his gratitude and all the horrible shit that led to it to the world.
Garrett is excited to discuss the new band, which he claims has its full-length debut set to come out later this year. “It’s been done for a while,” he says from his Phoenix home. “Things happened pretty fast when I decided to quit fucking my life up. “
When Spirit Adrift first started becoming a concept, where were you, mentally?
I was in a really bad place with drinking. I remember the first time I ever got really drunk. I had that feeling of, Oh, there’s an out! There’s an out where I can go and I don’t have to deal with certain things! At the time, I didn’t fully realize it as that, I just felt as good as I ever have in my entire life. Looking back, I’ve had a problem with alcohol since the first time I drank. It’s a weird drug, because the half-life for it ruining your life is a little bit longer than that of most mind-altering substances. So the last couple of years leading up to [Spirit Adrift] were rough. I had a lot of personal stuff going on, which doesn’t make me special—everyone does—but I wanted to escape from it. And you’re never going to fix your problems that way. You have to deal with them eventually. A lot of people die instead of being able to get through it. I almost did.
Had you tried to get help before then?
For the last couple years of my drinking, I’ve wanted to quit, I just didn’t take the necessary actions. And then the week after my 27th birthday, I said fuck it and detoxed. I’d never done anything like that. There were many times I’d “tried” to quit on my own. And I’ve studied psychology at college in Arkansas, so I knew they gave you benzos [benzodiazepines] to keep you from having a seizure and dying. My brilliant idea was to use Xanax instead of drinking. And that just turned into me drinking as much as I already was and putting pills on top of that. So I finally decided, I need help from people who know what they’re doing. Everything I did revolved around drinking.
What happened on your 27th birthday?
I went to Arkansas for my birthday. I hadn’t really been eating for years. I was eating what I could maybe once a day, but my body was so poisoned that I really couldn’t handle food. But I went down there to meet up with a really good friend of mine, who actually helped me with some of the lyrics on the Spirit EP, who’s a chef. And he told my girlfriend, now my fiancé, “I’m going to make sure he eats.” She was letting him know, “Dude, this guy is not in good shape.” He was making all this food, and I couldn’t eat any of it, but I was drinking constantly while I was down there. And on the plane ride back, I finally had this thought—it’s kind of silly, but, Man, how stupid would it be if I died at 27? I would never want to be associated with that. I don’t want to join the dumbass 27 Club. There’s definitely moments in my personal life where things were getting worse and worse, but that trip to Arkansas was when I realized I was gonna die.
So you’d felt it had been building up before then.
It was a pretty slow burn. There were many mornings, and nights, and afternoons where I was so sick that…I might sound crazy saying this, but when you’re about to die, your brain chemistry sends out weird signals saying, You’re going to die. Not just throwing up, but this profound terror and despair, accompanied with physical sensations you can’t describe. Your bones vibrating, that sort of thing. I was miserable, man. Towards the end I start having psychosis. I was having paranoid delusions.
When did the music itself first begin to come out of this?
Shortly after I got out of detox, I came up with all these riffs. Some of them were about being back in Arkansas—I moved out [to Arizona] in 2011, and in Arkansas, those guys showed me the way—the Deadbird dudes, the guys in Rwake, the guys in Sea Hag. They were all very important to my development as a musician. So I had all these riffs, and I didn’t really think they could work for TOAD. And before I knew it, I had these songs done. I demo-ed them. Because I was so out of it…it’s hard to describe where your head’s at after a solid ten years of drinking every day. I don’t want to say a fugue state. I had a friend who’s a drummer who let me use his kit, so I just started playing drums. The last time I’d played drums was when I was sixteen for a church band. But I sat down and it kind of came back, so I recorded the drums, and the rest is history. I recorded the songs shortly thereafter. As far as headspace, it’s hard to describe. I was hopeful for my life, but I was terrified. We all know the statistics about people who get sober and stay sober on their first attempt. I’m not saying I’m badass. It was a really intense time. Hopefully some of that desperation, and hope, and terror made its way into the music.
It sounds like Spirit Adrift came about during the transfer process. It’s not mired in booze, and it’s not the voice of New Sober Nate. It was created during the tensions.
That’s absolutely correct, man. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with alcohol or being sober. In the words of Crowbar, existence is punishment, but there’s a way—all kinds of different ways, depending on who you are—of living your life where you’re not just consumed by misery and negativity all the time. One of my biggest fears getting sober was, Who will I be? Will my entire personality be gone? Drugs are so tricky, because they convince you, cognitively, of things that aren’t true. And I was kind of convinced that my whole personality was dependent on my drinking. But then I got sober and realized that I’m more like me than I ever have been. Alcohol just amplified all the horrible things in my mind and my personality. All of a sudden, I cared about music again. I’m excited to go to practice again. My favorite albums speak to me again.
Losing interest in your favorite music is a really scary concept.
That’s another time that I realized something was wrong. I’d put on Black Sabbath’s Sabotage, and I wouldn’t feel anything. And I thought, This is fucked up, man. I first heard Sabotage when I was seventeen, and it wasn’t the first Sabbath album I’d heard, but it had the most profound impact on me mentally. And I remember this specific moment, when I was thinking about how people grow up and get jobs, get married, and mellow out. And I told myself when I was seventeen, listening to that record, If there’s ever a moment in your life where you’re not totally in love with this record, something is fucking wrong. And I just realized, that happened, but not in the way I thought it would. I was worried that one day I’d “grow up” and not care about Black Sabbath. But what happened was, I just destroyed any sort of feeling I had, and wound up in a place where I just didn’t care about Black Sabbath, or anything else.
For a lot of people, there’s a feeling that alcohol—and drugs in general, weed, booze, heroin, whatever—that it amplifies the music. That when you’re drunk, Iron Maiden sounds so much better. It’s an interesting tell that music not being exciting is the problem.
And I would agree with you! Pantera sounds pretty good sober, but then you drink a fifth of whiskey and Pantera’s the greatest thing you could ever hear. There is some truth to that. But I think it’s just a tried and true thing, that eventually, if you do drugs and alcohol enough, it’s going to ruin you. And I would never preach against doing drugs and alcohol! That part of me hasn’t changed. I love for people to party, period. I think every drug on the planet should be legal, for a lot of different reasons.
Throughout all this, how much were the other guys in TOAD aware of what was going on? How much did you communicate to them?
They were aware of it, but I don’t think anyone knew exactly how bad it was, other than my fiancé. They were definitely concerned. Me and the guys in that band really have the relationship of brothers. We deeply love each other. Alex, our guitar player, he told me later that when I went on that trip to Arkansas, he was praying I’d come back. He was worried that I wouldn’t make it. Which I wasn’t aware of at the time—I wasn’t aware of a whole lot. As far as Spirit Adrift, I kept it to myself because I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I have this habit where I have something exciting in the works, and I get excited and tell everybody about it, and it falls through. I was in a place where I hadn’t done anything in a long time that I felt proud of. That I felt confident of. So it was kind of a strange transition. When I had the EP recorded, I was still having a hard time accepting or believing that I’d done something I should be even a little bit stoked about. I think it was a little bit confusing for them, when I told them about it, about why I hadn’t told them sooner. But they’re supportive of it. The whole secrecy thing was all about deeply personal self-consciousness.
Do you think you could’ve made Spirit Adrift happen if you’d kept drinking?
I can answer that with all certainty—there’s no way it would’ve happened. I would be lucky, if I was still drinking like I was, to be alive right now. I don’t think it’s even physically possible. I quit drinking and things started getting better. Things that, in my mind, were totally unrelated to my drinking. And I still sometimes catch myself in these thoughts, Well, these things happened, but it’s not because I quit drinking. And that’s bullshit. These things happened to me because I took the appropriate action and started putting my energy into my life, and the lives of others, in a constructive way. I always want to do more, be better. But now, I’m not sitting around and hating myself because I’m not better than I am. I’m just working on it.
Chris Krovatin is adrift on Twitter.