Interview mit Nathan Gray über Pantera und Phil Anselmo

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„This incident in general has given me a lot to write about.“

When Pantera were announced for the two german festivals Rock am Ring and Rock im Park, many fans of the band’s music were initially delighted. However, a queasy feeling quickly prevailed about the openly right-wing statements of their singer Phil Anselmo. A shitstorm was brewing in the social media and also in politics – the organisers remained silent at first and only half-baked statements followed (which have all been deleted from the official pages in the meantime). Among others, NATHAN GRAY, who has always been active for political statements with Boysetsfire as well as his new band The Iron Roses, was active in social media and tried to prevent a performance of the band.

After some chat messages on a cold January day, shortly after Pantera’s performances at the two festivals as well as the gig in Vienna were cancelled, we talked to Nathan about his handling of Phil Anselmo’s openly right-wing outbursts since the 1990s, activism, hate messages and his role in this matter.

Nathan Gray with the rest of the THE IRON ROSES
Nathan Gray with the rest of the THE IRON ROSES

How big a role would you say that you and your engagement on Social Media played on getting Rock am Ring to finally kick of Pantera of their line up?
I would say a minor role. I think it definitely gave a lot of inspiration to others to say something. It’s funny, because it was me as myself writing from my other band’s page, The Iron Roses. I first spoke out of frustration, because I saw that they were playing and I was like „Wait what? That close to Nuremberg? That is gross, why are they playing?” And honestly, I did not expect the reaction that I got. I thought I would say something, no one would care and we would move on – and I just did what I had to do.

But it obviously it got a huge reaction and people were like “I am so glad someone is saying something.” What is really cool is that a few people who are activists in the area like my now-friend Jasmina, who goes under quattromilf on Instagram and a rapper called Chefket got in touch, being like “Hey, this is something that we’ve been trying to get them to listen to for a while, thank you for being the only band playing there saying something.” And I wanted to mention them, because I feel like it’s important that when someone like me says something for me to represent it properly, so especially marginalized voices like Jasmina’s are heard and it’s not just an “I did it all” thing. There were voices speaking before me, just voices not being on the line up.

So, my postings obviously struck a chord and a lot of people got in touch and wanted to help and spread the word. I got in touch with Chefket if we could get a petition started or something else to really push them, and maybe motivate other bands to get involved. That was actually an idea of Jared from Boysetsfire, and I really wanted to try that. Then Chefket was like, hold on, they are about to make an announcement. Of course… there was nothing really said in their announcement and we were all very disappointed.

Nathan Gray live with BOYSETSFIRE
Nathan Gray live with BOYSETSFIRE

After that I got very upset and started to think about what I can do if they are not doing anything. And my thought was: Ok, I am gonna play that show. But I am going to speak out on that stage, not only against Phil Anselmo and Pantera but also about what the festival is doing and why it’s wrong. And I’ve let them know, that I wish that they would be doing the right thing, but at the moment they were not – and I am going to speak up on this. Whether that convinced them at all, who knows. But I know that I needed to do the right thing. So next to speaking out I decided to put out a portion of the money I make from that show towards Seapunks and other charities. It just made sense, if they are going to give money to a person that promotes white supremacy, then I am going to give my money to something worthwhile that goes against that.

Here is where the crazy part comes in: this word gets spread, and the festival finally kicks them off. Now, I don’t know if I had anything to do with that but I feel that there were probably some people that wouldn’t speak out publicly that might have gone the back route and telling the festival that they didn’t want Pantera to play. I just got sort of scapegoated in that.

A lot of Pantera fans and Phil Anselmo fans have been blowing up my inbox as if I did this on my own. I mean, I am one guy speaking from a band account from band that is not even playing the festival. But I am glad it worked out the way it did. I celebrated when the promoters said Pantera weren’t playing – and now the Foo Fighters are playing, so even better. I’ll much rather play with them.

It’s even more funny because those Pantera “fans” in my inbox were Americans that are not even going to the festival, giving me crap. Like, why are you doing this? And not only that, but Pantera are doing a whole tour. I don’t feel any necessities to go on with this “crusade” because at the end of the day, I just need to be cautious with who I am standing on stage with. I can’t take on everyone’s mission. I just heard that Austria has canceled the show, and good for them – I support that and I hope that other promoters and venues wake up and stand up for themselves. But I can only handle what I can and what I am presented with and what I have to live with at the end of the day.


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After the 2016 videos and the stuff surfacing from the 90s and early 2000s, I never really understood why people would stand up for some guy like that and defend a half-assed “apology”.
I think that a lot of people don’t understand, how many decades he’s been acting like that. That one incident 2016 was definitely not the only incident. And not only that, but really look at that video: he wasn’t joking. He was violently doing that, screaming it angrily. He was not joking about white wine or whatever.

But get beyond that and look at the other stuff. For example, the reason why I learned about that Superjoint Ritual lyrics was because that guy Dave, who’s nickname is The Butcher, he engineered Boysetsfire’s “Tomorrow Come Today” and he also produced some of Phil’s stuff. I heard the first Superjoint Riutual album and didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics, I just thought the music was cool. So, when the second album came out I really wanted to check it out. That song came on and I was like “Wait I need to check the lyrics, what did he just say?” And then I checked them and it was all that stuff about the “Jewish Elite” (Stealing A Page Or Tow) and I saw the N-word in there (Personal Insult). I called up Dave and was like “Dave, that new album… you know what I am going to ask.” And I just heard his exasperated voice like… “Man, I don’t know… yeah he said that…”

From there I was paying a lot more attention. Like the shirts he was wearing with the triple seven swastika, and the stuff he has been saying from the stage – a lot. This isn’t like a random thing he ran into, he’s been supporting this for decades.

And there is something else about Pantera that I didn’t even think about. When I spoke up, The Iron Roses, my band, immediately jumped on it to support me, although they weren’t even playing the festival. I was talking to Phil, our guitarist, who is black. He told me, that back then, the second someone told him to listen to Pantera, he got into it – but when he saw that rebel flag guitar, he knew he didn’t belong there. And that in of itself, that you’re in a band that promotes things that people feel like they could be in danger and are not wanted there… I mean it’s just such a long line of things and so many feelings and so many opinions to go into, but in the end of the day, one little apology video doesn’t make up for all that and it doesn’t stop anything.


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I can even go into my own things. Quite some years ago I did an interview with Visions and went on Facebook, were I made some pretty awful anti-islamic comments. I brought that up a couple of times and many people brought it up to me, going like “So, what about this?” What I tell people is how you react when people bring those things up. It’s not like “Yeah, I apologize for this, now fuck off”. It’s “You’re right, that was absolute horrible”. And I’ve done everything in my power and continue to do everything in my power to prove that that’s not who I am anymore. That’s the difference: You show that you’re for real. And when people bring it up, you don’t get mad at them for bringing it up, you go “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t blame you for thinking that was shit. It WAS shit.”

2016 everyone was talking about Phil Anselmo’s racist outburst – but after that and also when Pantera reunited, no one said anything. Why do you think that no one really talked about any other incidents?
It’s the cult of white supremacy. In my opinion, systemic racism and systemic white supremacy exist on a level that they don’t want it to go away. I think that a lot of white people are really comfortable with white supremacy and systemic racism and they don’t want it questioned because it brings themselves into question. It brings them into reevaluating their whole lives and them being lazy. It’s hard, because I think some people are being lazy but some people are sort of addicted to the systemic racism that they benefit of off. And that really sucks because a lot of people don’t want to do the work because they benefit of the work not being done.


Did anyone from the Rock am Ring promoters or other bands reach out to you after your posts on social media?
No. I actually talked to a few bands, and as I stated a couple of times, I am not doing any calling out because it’s not worth it. But honestly, I got blown off in a lot of ways, like “Oh, you know me, I am really against this, we’ll see what happens”. Well, let’s not just see what happens, I want to hear you say something. But it didn’t happen. And it’s a shame, because there are so many bands on that line up that really have a message to bring. And if you’re not bringing that message when the music’s not playing, what does it really mean to you?

Nathan Gray live with BOYSETSFIRE
Nathan Gray live with BOYSETSFIRE

There were more than one occasion that I was really heartbroken by the whole thing and by the scene in general and music in general. Now, there is an upside to that, and that is that you pour that into your art. You pour that into your music. This is where I stand, I am going to put that into this album that I am writing right now with The Iron Roses and speak to that feeling. This is what art is all about, it’s about getting that heart-brokenness, that hurt, that anger out, because you can’t hold it, or you’ll just die. So you use it to get an even bigger message out to others, that this can’t stand, this can’t keep happening, we can’t keep ignoring this just because you like a song. You know how many awesome metal bands are out there that aren’t racist? Come on.

I was having a conversation with someone who brought up a band called Harm’s Way, a really heavy hardcore band. They are fucking amazing and their lyrics are amazing. So, why don’t you listen to stuff like that? Why does it have to be this one fucking band? Just them let go. There are so many amazing bands out there that you can idolize, trust and have faith in to put forth a good message. You know there are some bands out there that sing about partying and having a good time. Ok! Sometimes you need that kind of band. But as long as they are not promoting or actively ignoring Nazi-ism… I mean…

Did you listen to Pantera back then?
Oh yeah, back then I definitely did. I also got into Superjoint Ritual because of them. Never really liked Down too much, they were always too Stoner Metal for me and that’s never been my genre.

But both, Pantera and Superjoint Ritual had some really catchy heavy songs, which I always go for. I don’t care about heavy and metal, I care more about the hook. And of course, songs like “Walk” and stuff like that have a cool hook in it. So I got into it. But I can let go of things when they speak against what I hold more dear than a cool hook. I don’t need to listen to that shit.

I remember when they really exploded with “Vulgar Display Of Power”, it was huge. That album came out and I was like “Wow, this is so heavy and cool!” And at that time I had no idea. But it presented itself quickly. I don’t know why it took people up until 2016 to notice. It was back then on MTV, the dude was literally wearing a South African swastika. So I was like “Oh, that Skinhead look isn’t just a look, is it?” And then I started looking into stuff he was wearing and saying on stage, and quickly decided that I didn’t want to be a part of that.

So even back in the 90s it was not that hard to find out to find out about those things?
No not at all, it was all over the place.

Nathan Gray with the rest of the THE IRON ROSES
Nathan Gray with the rest of the THE IRON ROSES

How was it back then being in the hardcore scene, why did no one really speak out on that?
You know what’s funny? It was different back then, because if you were in the hardcore scene, that band had nothing to do with you. It was such a weird separation, where the hardcore scene was so DIY and separate while now it is way more together with more mainstream acts. Back then, that wasn’t part of your world. You could go like “Fuck them”, and nobody cared. Of course, fuck them, they were a corporate metal band, right? They wouldn’t have cared. Right now it’s a little different since those worlds crossed.

There is also a big risk in exposing yourself and standing up for a cause like that. Pantera fans are starting a huge shit storm and threaten promoters online after the cancellation of Rock am Ring or the show in Vienna. You also mentioned your inbox getting flooded with hateful messages. How hard is it to not let that stop you from standing up for what you feel is right?
Courage isn’t the lack of fear, it’s doing it anyway. I’ll tell you right now, and I stated it online, when they were still playing, I wouldn’t have given a shit if Phil was standing on that stage when I said something, I was gonna say something. I mean I was going to wear a fucking dress and fucking say something. My legs would haven been shaking, my voice would have been cracking, I would have been scared as shit to get my ass kicked, but I was gonna do it. I still would and will if the situation arises.

Nathan Gray live with BOYSETSFIRE
Nathan Gray live with BOYSETSFIRE

It’s been something that’s been part of me for so long that the fear is there, but it doesn’t fucking matter because it’s not the point. Yeah, I could get my ass kicked, I could get shot, I could get killed. But what good is having something to say and staying silent? How do we fight for a better world if we’re not willing to risk it all. What’s the point? I’m scared out of my mind, that if I’m on stage someone could attack me, and that would suck. But it’s worth it. It will always be worth it to stand up.

And that’s the thing too: There are too many bullys in this world. Too many people being bullied not realizing that they can stand up. And if we stand up, it shows those people that are living with these bullies, that they can stand up too. There is no promise that you’re gonna win. You could lose, be beaten severely, you could die. But if I’ve learned anything from activists from the past: we can’t let that stop us and we have to keep pushing forward.

I’ll tell you right now, I am not afraid to have an opinion and if people have a problem with it, I am going to talk to them about it. I think we have gotten way to scared on the left to offend. The other side is always loud and abrasive, and I am like: Well, I can be like that too – for a good cause.

Nathan Gray live with BOYSETSFIRE
Nathan Gray live with BOYSETSFIRE

When Rock am Ring finally canceled Pantera, how did you feel about their statement, especially after the first non-statement when they tried to explain why they won’t cancel them?
I think it’s a bit suspect, to be honest. I mean… you knew. You knew that this was wrong when I spoke out, when a couple of people spoke out – and you made excuses. I still think something behind the curtain happened that made them stop. It wasn’t me. Little me didn’t cancel Pantera. But something happened to make them realize that it was worth doing. And money talks. I think, we can be grateful that it happened and still be like „Hm… a little too late, but still.“ It is what it is. We can celebrate a small victory and be like, hey, we as a group, not me, did this. We created this pressure and in whatever way, we made it happen.

So you don’t want to write in your Instagram bio „The guy who cancelled Pantera?“
Oh god no, absolutely not. But it’s funny… Like I said, I’ve gotten a lot of hate messages, obviously, that have been absolute vile and gross, and also Becky from The Iron Roses has gotten some herself, because that’s what these people do, they pick on women and that’s cool to them.

But what I find somewhat cool: There were at least two or three people that just wanted to have a conversation. We didn’t agree at the end of it, and that’s fine – but they just wanted to talk about it. That’s how we change things, when we can respectfully talk about these things and try to make people understand.

What happened was that someone put on a Pantera fanpage that I’ve canceled Pantera. So someone came to me with all this shit, and I was like “That is not even true, here’s the story.” And then they went like “Oh, ok. But why do you have a problem with the band?” And then they got to see my point. It probably didn’t change a whole lot, but at least there are some decent human beings out there that can have a proper conversation as opposed to what we see online all the time with death threats for no reason. So, some good happens from it and there is at least one guy who said that he sees my point and didn’t know about those things. It’s not like he’s going home and throwing away his Pantera albums – but I gave him something to think about because he actually listened.

Nathan Gray live with BOYSETSFIRE
Nathan Gray live with BOYSETSFIRE

You mentioned that you posted about all that from the account of The Iron Roses, but you’ll play with Boysetsfire at Rock am Ring. Although you’re not really an active band right now, did you also think about posting from their account, to reach more people?
No one in the band actively disagrees with me, quite the contrary. But I believe, from talking to the guys, there was a mixed opinion on what we should do. That was after I made my statement, because I only wanted to speak for me and I knew that I could do that from The Iron Roses page and it would be recognized as my voice. Then Josh from Boysetsfire opened up a conversation in our band chat, that we probably should do something – and unfortunately it didn’t get anywhere. It was something that had to happen fast and it couldn’t happen fast enough. It was just the question of HOW we should do it – and the way we do stuff in the band, everything in a committee, it took to long. In summer we stand on a stage together and I will say something – and it will be from all of us.

You said, it was mainly US fans flooding your inbox – are there any voices bringing up the racist and antisemitic stuff Phil Anselmo said and try to show that to promoters as well?
There is not really a discussion in the US, I think people just react, because some dude went into a group, and said “That guy canceled Pantera”. They didn’t really care what it was about, they had no idea what Rock am Ring was. The two or three people I had a nice conversation with admitted that they had no idea what I was about. So… you just attack someone without not knowing what it’s about? Which is pretty much the way people from the right act.

It sucks, but if I’d just start balling around what Pantera is doing… It’s like the question, why I am not doing this with every other band that’s touring and is probably worth taking a closer look on. But then I would lose myself and my own path. I think the most important thing is to inspire people to get out and do something where it’s needed. Do they play in Texas? Do you live in Texas? Do something about it! Say something! I can only say something when it’s directly affecting me – and I am going to be on the same stage. We do what we can, you know?

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