Chords of Change: THE IRON ROSES’ journey from personal struggle to punk activism

8 mins read

In the dimly lit studio of Audio Verite, the members of The Iron Roses gathered, instruments in hand, ready to channel their electrified blend of punk defiance and melodic hope into their debut album. The band, shedding its former moniker “Nathan Gray and the Iron Roses” for a more unified identity, stands as a testament to the transformative power of music, even—or especially—when it rages against the machine.

As their recent single “Justify The Lies” hit the airwaves on September 14, its reggae and hip-hop infused beats set a new precedent for what punk can encapsulate—fury paired with a groove that refuses to let the listener stand still. Nathan Gray’s vocal timbre, backed by Becky Fontaine’s harmonies, echoes the struggle against the systemic white supremacy ingrained within society’s fabric, particularly in law enforcement.

The video, stark and stripped of color, lets the poignant lyrics take center stage—a creative decision that underscores the gravity of the message.

This is a band that refuses to sugarcoat or dilute their message for the sake of comfort. With The Iron Roses, what you see is what you get: an amalgam of experienced artists using their platform to confront injustices head-on. Their music isn’t just a backdrop for the disenfranchised; it’s a battle cry for the weary, a beacon for the lost.

The Iron Roses comes as a collective force, each member bringing their unique perspective and sound to the table. From Eugenius’ guitar riffs that add an angular, atmospheric quality, to the solid backbone provided by Michael Espinosa on bass and Steve Cerri’s drumming, they create a sound that is unmistakable and unapologetic.

The Iron Roses

Their self-titled debut album, a patchwork of ’90s indie influences from grunge to shoegaze, stands as a declaration of independence, a bid to unite those who feel the sting of today’s political and social climate. It’s music to lift the spirits, even as it acknowledges the weight of the world on our shoulders.

With a European tour and a series of collaborative works under their belt, The Iron Roses have cemented their place in the punk pantheon, not just through their music but through their actions and ethos. They have proved themselves ready to take their message of change and resistance on the road, to sing it from the rooftops, and to let their music resonate in the hearts of those who hear it.

Iron Roses
Iron Roses European tour dates

The Iron Roses have arrived, not with the intent to merely entertain, but to incite, to inspire, and to ignite. Their journey, their evolution, and their music are laid out for all to see—an open book whose pages are filled with the kind of raw, unvarnished truth that can only be delivered by those who have walked through fire and come out ready to set the world ablaze with their art.

Dive deeper into the transformative journey of The Iron Roses and their bold steps into a future charged with change in our full interview below!

Here, Nathan Gray and Becky Fontaine articulate the metamorphosis from personal healing to a more expansive, societal canvas of punk resistance.

They reflect on the evolution of their dynamic, the conscious shift from a solo project to a collective identity, and their heartfelt connection with the global audience.

As they forge ahead, the band’s vision extends beyond the here and now, hinting at a horizon rich with tours, collaborations, and the promise of new anthems for the voiceless.

The complete dialogue is a testament to their raw authenticity and an invitation to understand the heart behind the music—a narrative not to be missed.

Nathan, your journey has been an evolution from personal introspection to punk resistance. Can you speak about the process of transitioning from your personal struggles to more global themes in your music?

As I see it, you can’t take on the problems of the world until you handle the problems within. It took handling my childhood abuse head on, and then realizing exactly who I am and acting on that truth before I was prepared to take on the world in such an honest and joyful way.

Obviously this journey is exactly that… a journey, BUT… the closer one gets to the peace of knowing oneself, the closer we get to being able to truly inspire change around us.

Becky, you’ve been a constant presence in Nathan’s solo albums. How has the dynamic between you two grown and evolved over time, especially now with “Rebel Songs” and the formation of The Iron Roses?

Nathan and I have been friends for 10 years at this point, but when I first joined them in the studio in 2017 to do some backing vocals for a few songs on their first solo album (Feral Hymns), I don’t think either of us knew what our musical partnership would evolve into.

One of my favorite parts of that evolution is how we have grown individually, each finding our own personal strength. It’s been very symbiotic, and being able to be more free to exist as we are has allowed us room to be very authentic in our art, in our brand, and in our community.

Building The Iron Roses together has been a journey over the last couple of years – sometimes painful, but mostly joyful, and by the time we got into the studio to create this first album as a band with these 6 wonderfully talented individuals, I think we knew we were right where we were meant to be.

For me personally, being able to step out from the background and take up space with Nathan as a co-front has been an incredible experience, and we are having a blast.

Phil, joining the studio team during “Rebel Songs” must have been a significant moment. How has your integration into the band influenced its sound and direction?

It was definitely interesting. After that recording session had finished, I remember thinking “Well…that was crazy, I wonder if I’ll run into them down the road sometime?” Just a couple of months later, I was jumping in an RV with them for a month-long tour.

Me being a rapper gives us flexibility to experiment vocally with ideas and sounds outside of traditional punk when we write. As for my guitar style, I tend to write angular and atmospheric riffs which I think adds a nice contrast to what the others bring to the table. I’ve spent a lot of time in hardcore and metal bands, so being able to add those influences into this was fun. Generally, my style of songwriting is “anything goes and the weirder the better”.

The Iron Roses

The decision to transition from “Nathan Gray & The Iron Roses” to simply “The Iron Roses” is a bold move. How has this shift impacted the band’s identity and the cohesion between the members?

Becky: It was pretty organic, honestly. Over the last couple of years Nathan shifted away from urgently needing to work through some personal catharsis with their music, really wrapping that chapter up with Rebel Songs where they started to get back to what they were known for. With that album, they had started bringing in other musicians to develop a full-band sound, and although those musicians who recorded with Nathan were not the group that we are now, (largely because they were unable to tour), the 6 of us developed that album in the live show together, hence, we were the “& The Iron Roses”. In 2022, we played a LOT of shows together, both in the U.S. and in Europe, and somewhere in the middle of the year, it became obvious that this group of artists had transformed itself into something bigger than we anticipated, and it made sense for everyone to have full autonomy and a member of a band, and not people standing behind Nathan Gray.

By the time we got into the studio together early 2023 (fresh off a European tour,) we knew without a doubt we were where we were meant to be. Making space for everyone’s talent and input made this album what it is, and we are stoked to see what happens next for us.

Nathan, the name “Nathan Gray & The Iron Roses” does humorously conjure bluesy imagery. How do you feel about the playful disconnect between the band’s name and its actual sound?

Hahaha it’s awful, right? Also… I just don’t have the inflated ego anymore for it. I’m not the sole writer in this band and I’m not the boss. We are an autonomous collective of folks creating art. I was so ready to drop my
name from the front of this and embrace The Iron Roses!

Becky, the video for “Justify The Lies” is crafted to let the words hit hard. Can you tell us about the experience of filming at Audio Verite and the intentions behind the visual choices?

When we wrote Justify The Lies, we knew we had to provide the right ambiance for a song that speaks directly to the critically systemic issues of white supremacy, especially within the ranks of law enforcement in the United States. It highlights frustration and sorrow, and is meant to shine light upon the work that still needs to be done to both acknowledge AND eradicate these fascist underpinnings in our world.

It was imperative to us that we create a video for Justify The Lies that properly respected that heavy theme. We wanted to film it at Audio Verite, the Richmond, VA studio where we recorded this album, which was done by our own guitar player, Pedro Aida. We asked our dear friend Alissa Williams, who is the gifted documentarian behind Thorn and Petal who perfectly filmed and directed this beautiful piece of visual art.

The Iron Roses stands out for its unique blend of uplifting music and furious lyrics. How do you strike the balance between music that energizes and lyrics that resonate deeply with the injustices of our times?

Nathan: The honest answer would be… I don’t know. We play what comes natural to us. We speak in a way that comes natural to us… when this final evolution of the iron roses gets together, it’s honestly magical. There is a joyful defiance to it all. An understanding that art and music can passionately take on the issues without getting lost in the hate and sorrow.

Nathan, Europe has played a significant role in your musical journey. How would you describe your relationship with the European audience, and how has it influenced your music?

For nearly 30 years Germany has been a second home to the art I help create. I wouldn’t even try to pretend I understand why. I simply accept it, and love that what I help put into music is respected and loved anywhere. It has certainly helped me become more well rounded and aware of other cultures and experiences outside my own.

The Iron Roses by @thorn_and_petal
The Iron Roses by @thorn_and_petal

The band has grown immensely over the past few years. Where do you see The Iron Roses in the next five years, both musically and in terms of its impact?

Nathan: I wouldn’t even dare to assume, but my HOPE is that in five years we have made such an impact as to be consistently on the roadmbringing our art to bigger and bigger audiences.

Are there any new bands or artists that have caught your attention recently? Any recommendations for fans looking for fresh sounds?

Becky: Absolutely yes. We would love for folks to check out One Fall – an incredible punk band from Salem, MA.

They were the first band we asked to play our album release show with us. Their frontwoman is so incredibly powerful and talented, that Nathan and I both cried our eyes out during their set.

Finally, what’s next on the horizon for The Iron Roses? Can fans expect more tours, collaborations, or perhaps another album in the near future?

Becky: We are currently celebrating an incredible release weekend as we tour down to FEST.

In December of this year we will be back in Europe and Switzerland, and we have some things in the works for next year in Europe as well.

It is our hope that now that we have introduced ourselves to the world, more opportunities to be on the road will continue to come our way.

Our live show is such a huge part of the Iron Roses experience, and we look forward to bringing that to as many locations as possible in 2024. And, of course, we are anxious to get to work on our sophomore album!

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