It’s been a turbulent year for Doomriders frontman Nate Newton. In January his friend and local Boston-area skate shop owner Shawn Clark was gunned down at his store, Patriot Skateboards. The two men responsible for the crime have still not been identified.
Two months later he saw the birth of his first child, an experience the filled him with both joy and dread since his young daughter needed spinal surgery only a few months later.
And through it all Newton has remained upbeat. The surgery went well and, as for the grief of losing a friend, he’s learned to cope with tragedy. It’s a vital survival tactic, he says, in a scene so rife with drug abuse and often-dangerous behavior.
“I was recording vocals, took a quick look at my phone and there it was,” he says of the news of Clark’s death. “It’s crazy that we’re at a point where our friends are just dying. And it’s normal. 10 years ago it was terrible. Now it’s like ‘hey he was this old, and he’s been living this way for a long time.’”
That sense of loss and the stark truth of mortality permeates the new Doomriders record Grand Blood. But despite the dark material the record deals with it’s not all doom and gloom. Far from it. Grand Blood, oddly enough, is by far the most punk-infused and upbeat Doomriders album to date.
Case in point: the song “Dead Friends” rattles off, verse by verse, the stories of four now-deceased people who touched Newton throughout his life. And it gets worse.
“There are about 20 other verses,” says Newton.
Despite that mountain of misery Newton took a profoundly stoic attitude about the song.
“I’ve thought about writing that song for a long time. I didn’t know how to approach it,” he says. “Ultimately, the conclusion I came to … I didn’t want it to be sad, I wanted it to be a celebration. I’m not going to sugar coat it. It’s sad. But you can’t spend your whole life in grief.”
And it’s not just the lack of desolation that makes the song – and the album as a whole – unique. It’s straightforward with little in the way of symbolism or metaphor. There’s no guesswork involved in divining the meaning of the tunes.
“I wanted this record to be just to the point about everything,” says Newton. “Just throw it all out on the table. This is who I am, this is what I think. Every song pretty much has its own point, its own story. Musically, too, each song has it’s own place.”
Newton is likewise blunt and assured when discussing these heavy subjects. But where he begins to show signs of uncertainty is when the topic of his vocals comes up. Grand Blood shows him eschewing his trademark growl for true singing on many songs. It’s something he admits has caused him a good deal of anxiety.