A punk band without a socio-political message is like a body with no bones. In the case of Maryland’s Iron Roses, they have lots of bones—to pick.
“It’s not like everything has been quieted or healed or calmed down since Biden came into office,” vocalist Nathan Gray states. “Unfortunately, some of the things that we’re talking about—equality and justice for people of color, women, and the queer community—will [likely] be talked about for many generations [to come].”
The Iron Roses is a new band, technically speaking. But that designation doesn’t tell the full story. Gray—who readers will recognize as the front person of Boysetsfire—launched the Iron Roses as a solution to problems Gray encountered as a solo artist.
“I missed the band atmosphere and playing music with people,” Gray says.
As such, it made all the sense in the world for Gray to rope in vocalist Becky Fontaine—as well as Pedro Aida (guitar/backing vocals), Philip “Eugenias” Smith (lead guitar/backing vocals), Michael Espinosa (bass/backing vocals) and Steve Cerri (drums).
“Becky has been on every single one of my solo albums before this, doing backup vocals,” Gray notes. “With [the Iron Roses,] I do the melodies, she does the harmonies. We made sure that when we did them, it was more of a duet-style thing—which I thought was clever, to be honest.”
Clever, yes—but not necessarily original. The Iron Roses’ sharing of main vocal duties is reminiscent of Jane Doe and Exene Cervenka’s approach with their band X. Moreover, Gray says the harmonies/melodies dynamic is shared by another like-minded band, Alkaline Trio.
Fontaine admits that, at first, the musicians that Gray recruited for the project weren’t sure of their place or role in the band.
“In the studio, we realized, ‘Oh, wait, we are the Iron Roses. We’re drawing a line right now. It’s not a solo project. It’s not like Nathan Gray and Company. This belongs to all of us,’” she explains.
With that said, the self-titled debut by the Iron Roses is like a page ripped out of Gray’s private journal. Specifically, the record partially documents Gray’s “own little journey” of figuring out Gray’s sexual identity.
“When I was younger, I went in and out of the closet several friggin’ times,” Gray reveals. “I’ve always been on this sort of middle ground—leaning hard towards the feminine, but a middle ground nonetheless. I didn’t know if I was gay or bi or straight or what the hell was going on.”
They continue: “It’s not so confusing anymore, because we didn’t have words to describe how I felt. Stating that I’m pansexual or nonbinary made sense. I started changing the way I dressed, the way I behaved. Figuring out who I am through gender and sexuality [has] made a world of difference with how our act of rebellion and our form of protest works.”
Proving that they don’t just talk the talk but rock the rock, the Iron Roses recently played at a benefit concert for an LGBTQ+ youth center in New York. Also on the docket at the time of this interview was a gig with American Television in Washington, D.C.; a set at Fest 2023 in Gainesville, Florida; and an eight-show stint in Germany in December.
That said, Gray wants Iron Roses to have fully blossomed before the band starts touring in earnest.
“There’s a lot of album pushing because [their debut LP will] come out in October, but we’re keeping the touring close to a minimum while we figure out what we want to do,” Gray reveals. “And then next year, we’ll really hit the ground running.”
Photo courtesy of Ian Jared Bell