Nate Parrish: Punk Rock For An Era of Panic

The best punk rock has always been first and foremost reactionary: an unfiltered response to the reigning systems of power. And if 2020 has had any ideal that could be seen as central, it might be panic. The mood has infected our airwaves, driven us to find security and belonging in anyone who will sell us some easy answers.

That setting is where my conversation with Nate Parrish begins.

With an impressive musical resume including five years playing for Kutless and stints in rock worship bands Worth Dying For and Kingdom, Nate is an experienced instrumentalist. With his debut album I’m A Wreck, for the first time the world had the opportunity to hear his perspective as well as his notable guitar riff skills. The result is true Christian punk rock: the kind that challenges the ruling powers of our modern landscape while pledging allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven alone. We talked about that kind of music, and about his impressive DIY work ethic, in this exclusive interview.

Could you introduce yourself to anyone who might be hearing about you for the first time, kind of recap the other musical projects you’ve been a part of?

My name’s Nate Parrish, singer, songwriter, member of many bands. My first real band was Worth Dying For, which was a rock worship project. I did that for a couple years, then stayed in the rock worship vein with a band called Kingdom. We put out a few albums. I’ve done worship music with my wife here and there. And in 2015, I was asked to join Kutless, so I’ve been doing that for the past couple years.

I realized that I hadn’t done anything that was solely my own project. I’d just been in bands– which was fun. But it was time to really do my own thing. That’s why my project is just titled Nate Parrish. I couldn’t come up with a cool band name, so I just went with my name so I don’t forget it! I just released my album in June.

How do you feel like your experience in other bands shaped what you’ve done with your solo project? Does it draw on them musically at all?

Not really! It’s kind of funny, because if I do interviews, a lot of people will ask “so, this sounds so different from your work with Kutless. How did that happen?” And truthfully, I’ve been in Kutless for five years, but I haven’t written any songs with them or done any recording. It has pretty much just been playing shows.

So as far as the musical process, what’s recorded, I have had zero input into that. My role is fully in the live concert stuff. When we play the songs live, I put my own spin on it. So the Kutless thing is very different musically. But it makes sense to me, because I haven’t really contributed musically to any Kutless recordings or songwriting.

As far as Worth Dying For, I did start writing on our second album. I was the screamer in that band. Even then musically, I was just working within the confines of worship music and how it has to be accessible for audiences to be able to sing with you. So it didn’t really shape what I do now. I think now, with my album, there’s no parameters, there’s no specific audience I’m trying to reach. I think that’s why you’ll listen to it and go “oh, that’s different.” It’s just me without any parameters or bandmates.

Really, this project that you’ve been doing is very punk rock influenced in almost a nostalgic way. I was wondering if you could share a little bit about what has drawn you to that genre, what’s your history in it? Why is it where you chose to make a home when you were naming a project after yourself?

I started playing guitar late by most people’s standards. I got a guitar when I was 18. I’ve loved music forever, since I was a kid, but I guess I was intimidated to go for it. But when I got a guitar, I really got into the punk rock thing and sort of decided “this is my music.” Bands like Social Distortion, and MxPx, which is basically every Christian’s first punk rock band. That kind of leads you down the road of “who are they listening to?” And I found bands like Face to Face, and ultimately Ramones, and The Clash, and stuff like that. So I had a love for punk rock from highschool. 

I’d been playing guitar for about 6 months, and I joined a punk rock band. Our first show ever was opening up for The Huntingtons. They’re a Tooth & Nail band, and they’re still around now, they just put out an album actually. But at the time, that was one of my hero bands. I looked up to them like “oh man, they sound like the Ramones, but they’re Christian dudes.”

Then I was in and out of little punk rock bands until probably the early 2000s, mid-2000s? So it was all there, it’s just weird how I kind of fell into the worship thing when I got involved with church in the youth group. I was still doing my thing on the side, but the worship thing just happened to take off. We got signed to a label, did tours and stuff. That put me in that world, but I always had aspirations of being in a punk band. It just didn’t materialize; I always found myself in different projects.

So it started for me in highschool– I like all kinds of sub-genres of punk rock, the post hardcore stuff, the pop punk. So I think you’ll hear a little taste of all those genres on the album.

Yeah, so once you were starting to record I’m A Wreck– were you working with other instrumentalists or songwriters, or was it 100% DIY?

In April of 2019, I decided I was going to basically buy myself a home recording setup. Nothing crazy– just a laptop, microphone, speakers, stuff like that. And I was going to learn and do it myself. So I made a commitment to write and record and release a song a month for a year.

The first single was “Politicians and Celebrities,” which came out June of last year. I released it as a single, and then I had six more singles in the following months. But it’s literally just me, sitting down at my house with my guitar and my laptop, making a commitment to write whatever comes to mind. I wasn’t going to think about it too much, I wasn’t going to overproduce it, I wasn’t going to censor it at all. I didn’t work with any writers.

I did have some outside musicians because I can’t play drums. So on the album you’ll hear Drew Porter– he was in Kutless and was in Showbread before that. He plays on a few songs. You’ll hear Ethan Luck, who has played in every band on planet earth– he played drums on a couple songs. My buddy Jason played bass on a lot of the songs. And then on the saxophone is a guy named Chris Bellamy, who is a friend of mine who lives in Virginia Beach. So basically I’ll write a song, and I’ll think “oh, this would be cool if it had saxophone.” I’ll send it to Chris and say “do your thing,” and he’ll send it back and it’s always perfect. 

So in the writing process, I didn’t collaborate with anyone. I did it all in house. But I’d outsource some of the instruments. 

Lyrically, speaking of the songwriting, you followed in the age-old punk tradition of writing about current events and societal themes. I was wondering if you wanted to unpack that a little bit more and share what was on your mind as you were looking at culture and writing these songs?

Pretty much this is how the world ends. That’s what was on my mind!

I think one of the things I really loved about punk is that it was about the message more than it was about the musicianship. It was kind of the every person’s music. You could relate to it, because they were saying the things you thought, and the music wasn’t totally unattainable musicianship. It was about the message.

So lyrically, I wanted the songs to say something. I didn’t just want to write pop songs about nothing. I had a notebook of lyrics and different thoughts, and I’d just go through it. The cool thing about how the album was recorded is that it’s sort of a time capsule of 2019 and 2020. The songs were written in real time. When I was writing and releasing one a month, I would literally write about what was happening.

“Politicians and Celebrities” was the first one because I’d noticed that as humans, we have a way of creating our own idols. We like to take people and idolize them, and then destroy them when they fail us. I just had noticed that we were putting so much stock in what a person on TV says, or a politician. Not that they’re inherently bad people, but why do we worship them when they don’t even know who we are? And therefore they can’t really know us or care about us. We need to let that go and focus on what’s in front of us, what’s in our neighborhood, the people around us.

There are other songs that talk about the trend I’ve noticed where we don’t really have civil discourse anymore. We have a disagreement, then we have to demonize or vilify the other side. We don’t have to argue with them when we can just say “oh they’re wrong, they’re bad people, we’re just going to call them names and ignore them and not try to hear what their perspective is.” So there’s a song called “House Full of Mirrors” that’s about that. 

Then there’s the song “Permanence,” which I wrote after my father in law passed away. Just kind of watching that happen and going through that, and having the reaction of man, that stuff will test your faith. So that song is about how we’re temporary people, and we’re searching for permanence, but we don’t have a lot of that here on this planet.

It’s a lot about what was literally happening at the time. And if you’ve looked at the news at any point in the last year or two, there’s a lot of stuff to write about.

That leads us nicely to “Bullets and Blades,” which is releasing in a couple weeks here. What is that song about, and how is it reflective of current events?

That song, I had written the lyrics in I think June or July. I’ve still been writing, I’ve been working on an EP already. So I had written the lyrics to that: “I’m not your bullet, I’m not your blade” was the phrase I had. And it was just a reaction to the fact that it seems that we’re just so desperate for acceptance, or we want to belong, or we want recognition, so we join essentially a cult. I’ll just come out and say it: we turn political parties into cults. We worship people and these ideals. And movements too, whatever movement is going on at the time, we’re so quick to jump on them, and they become our identity. Then when someone attacks our political party, we get very defensive, because they’re actually attacking us if we are that party.

So instead of rooting our identity in Christ or anything else, we root it in these movements that are flawed, and they become our identity. It’s ironic to watch the people who try to recruit you to their side, and they convert you, and they fill you with propaganda, and they send you out like a weapon to fight their battles for them. But those people aren’t there next to us. The politicians, or the verified people on Twitter, they’re not the ones that are at the riot or the protest next to you. They’re sitting back watching while you’re fighting their battles for them. So the song is kind of a protest song, saying no, I’m not doing that. I’m not going to identify with your movement or your party. I’m not part of it. I’m not going to be used as a weapon, or as ammunition.

You’ve been releasing a lot of videos to accompany your songs. What have been some fo the challenges to creating both the videos and the music in the middle of 2020? What are some of the roadblocks you’ve had to overcome along the way?

So I released a video for the song “Hope,” which is the last song on the album. And that was filmed around May, June, right in the height of quarantine. So if you watch that video, it’s quarantine style– we’re all in different places recording ourselves, then I put it together. So I have some background vocals on the song recorded by a friend, and he lives in Napa. And different people have contributed to the song, they basically had to film themselves where they’re at. So that’s probably been the biggest roadblock, is when you do want to do something, people are all over the place, or there are quarantine issues.

The advantage I had is that I started the project writing and recording myself, so it didn’t really change once we got into quarantine. There haven’t been a ton of issues, it’s really when I want to do videos. That’s where it becomes a challenge.

As you’re putting this music out there, sharing this commentary on current events, do you have a hope in mind for how you want it to be impacting people who are hearing it?

How things work in the music industry is that typically, people will release an album, sit on it for two years, tour, then start working on another one. I don’t have the luxury of touring right now, with anyone. So I’m just writing, writing, writing, and recording. And the hardest part is when you write a song and you’re like “yes, this is really good, and it’s done! But according to the rules of the music industry, I can’t over-saturate the market, so I can’t do anything with it for two years.” That sucks. 

So I want to be smart, but it’s really not about the business. This is not a job. I’m not making money off it. It’s purely about the music and wanting to get messages out there. So you may see me release singles here and there, or an EP, just because I have music to release.

I think when people hear it, what I’d like them to take away is this: whether you’re a Christian, if you’re not a Christian, whatever your faith is, if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, just know why you are what you are. Ask questions. Know why you believe what you believe. Because the worst thing we could do is spend our whole life in denial, just buying someone else’s message because we didn’t have the courage to think for ourselves.

So I’m never going to try to tell you what to think, but I just want to encourage you to think. And I think that message is getting more and more dangerous now, because people don’t really want you to think, they want you to just accept. In a lot of ways, you’re bullied into picking a side. Everything is “are you for this guy or that guy? You’ve got to pick one!” And I’m like no, I don’t care about that. I’m for the guy upstairs. The rest of this stuff is not really my concern. Whoever is sitting in the White House doesn’t dictate if I love my neighbor or not. That’s my job. There’s no law that’s going to make me do that. That’s my job as a Christian.

I think when you hear the music, hopefully you’re inspired to think for yourself and do your research. And hopefully you like the music too!

What is ahead for you aside from the single? Do you have more on the calendar already?

Right now this single is coming out, and that’s my first release with IndieVision. I had been following IndieVision for a long time, because they were a website that featured cool bands. So through the release of this album I had been talking to Brandon, so we joined forces. 

Right now the plan is tentatively to release an EP probably spring of 2021. Like I said, I’ve just been writing and recording stuff. I feel like the songs are relevant, so I don’t want to sit on it. I want to try to keep putting out music and being creative. I think that’s the next step.

I’ve done some virtual concert type stuff, but hopefully we’ll be able to do some rocking in person soon. I can’t give you any dates on that obviously because everything is so out of our hands. But that’s the plan.

I may be starting a podcast soon, just because I like doing podcasts and talking with people. I’ve done a few myself, and I thought it would be cool to do a podcast that’s kind of a music and art type deal.

That’s a lot of different things from a lot of different angles, which is awesome in this time when people are mostly getting interaction digitally. So kind of just the final question I would ask would be where people can find you to connect with you?

The easiest is nateparrish.com, which has links to everything. I have Instagram and Facebook, and I have a Twitter, but I use it sparingly because you kind of have to mentally prepare to go on Twitter because you’re going to see the worst of humanity [laughs]. But at nateparrish.com there’s links to everything– YouTube, you can get my album, everything like that. 

Listen to I’m A Wreck on Spotify and Apple Music.

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